Playwrights Arnold Wesker was knighted this weekend in the New Year Honours List, the annual gift of HM The Queen for notable achievements in all areas of public life, including the arts. Amongst the other theatre names honoured was actress Imelda Staunton (pictured), who became an OBE.

Wesker burst onto the scene in 1958 when his second play, Chicken Soup with Barley, had its London premiere at the Royal Court Theatre. Under Royal Court commission, two more semi-autobiographical dramas, Roots and I’m Talking About Jerusalem, followed in 1960 to form The Wesker Trilogy.

In the wake of the 1956 premiere of John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger, Wesker - whose early plays, based around his own experiences growing up in a politicised Jewish family in east London, also had working class settings – was grouped together with Osborne, Edward Bond, Howard Brenton and others as one of the “angry young men” who transformed British theatre.

To date, Wesker has written more than 40 other plays, including Chips with Everything (revived at the National in 1997), The Kitchen, The Four Seasons, Love Letters on Blue Paper, Shylock, Annie Wobbler, When God Wanted a Son, Caritas, Circles of Perception, Denial, Groupie, Letter to a Daughter, Blood Libel and Wild Spring.

In 2005, Nottingham Playhouse presented the first major UK revival of Wesker’s Chicken Soup with Barley. The production transferred to north London’s Tricycle Theatre in October, the same month that Wesker’s latest play, Longitude, premiered at south London’s Greenwich Theatre.

Staunton’s acting credits on stage include Guys and Dolls, Life x 3, Habeas Corpus and, most recently, 2004’s Calico in the West End. On screen, she’s well known for the likes of Bright Young Things, Blackball, Shakespeare in Love, Sense and Sensibility, Peter’s Friends and Mike Leigh’s Vera Drake for which she won a 2005 BAFTA for her title performance.

- by Terri Paddock