Actors Ian McKellen (pictured), Richard Griffiths and Julie Walters were named last week 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 were former artistic director of Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre Ian Talbot, chief executive of the Ambassador Theatre Group Rosemary Squire, managing director of the Barbican Nicholas Kenyon and veteran actor Roy Dotrice.

Currently starring in the title role in King Lear at the New London Theatre (until 12 January), McKellen, who already holds a knighthood, joins the exclusive Order of the Companions of Honour, which is restricted to just 65 members alongside the Queen. Accepting this latest honour, the actor said he was pleased that his gay rights campaigning had been recognised as well as his acting. "I am honoured to join an order which includes such distinguished practitioners in the arts. It is particularly pleasing that 'equality' is included in my citation." McKellen is well known for his Shakespearean performances as well as his film work of recent years, notably as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, Magneto in X-Men, The Da Vinci Code and The Golden Compass (currently on general release in the UK).

Richard Griffiths, star of The History Boys and Equus, picked up an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) whilst Julie Walters and Leslie Phillips received CBEs. Griffiths, now well known for his performances in the Harry Potter films, has many theatre credits under his belt including Rules of the Game and Galileo at the Almeida, Volpone, The White Guard, Red Star, Once In A Lifetime and Hnery VIII with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Heroes directed by Thea Sharrock, and Art, both at Wyndham's Theatre.

Julie Walters is perhaps best known for her television and film roles in Dinner Ladies, Billy Elliot, Becoming Jane and Calendar Girls. Her last major stage role was in Acorn Antiques - the Musical at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, which was written by Victoria Wood. Leslie Phillips will forever be famous for his extensive film career, including several Carry On films, and his catchphrases "Helloooo" and "Ding dong!".

Ian Talbot, who stepped down as artistic director of the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park last year, also received an OBE for his services to the industry. He was with the Open Air Theatre for 20 seasons seeing the venue through into its 75th anniversary. He is well known for his Shakespearean roles, having played Bottom in A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream on several occasions, including just before he left the park. Bottom was the role that first brought Talbot, who took over as artistic director in 1987, to the venue as an actor in 1971. Other stage credits include Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing, Taming of the Shrew and Run for Your Wife by Ray Cooney.

Rosemary Squire, who is joint chief executive of the Ambassador Theatre Group (one of the UK’s leading theatre owners and producers) with Howard Panter, was honoured with an OBE. She told The Stage newspaper that, “I feel tremendously honoured to be recognised in The Queen’s New Year Honours List, this is a real privilege and I am absolutely delighted. I’m extremely proud of the pioneering work that ATG has achieved over the past 15 years and it is wonderful that the company and the industry have been recognised in this way.” Squire is currently the President of the Society of London Theatre and has won other awards including the CBI Real Business First Women Award, a major award which recognises the achievements of pioneering women in business.

Nicholas Kenyon took over as managing director of the Barbican Centre in August last year (See News, 26 Feb 2007) after Sir John Tusa retired after 12 years at the helm. Although already the recipient of a CBE in 2001, his work at the Barbican, and previously as controller of the BBC Proms, Live Events and TV Classical Music at the BBC, has put him up for another honour. He has been knighted in this year’s New Year’s Honours, following in the footsteps of Tusa.

Emmy and Tony award winning actor Roy Dotrice was honoured with an OBE. Dotrice is shortly to revive his solo performance as John Aubrey on a short tour of Brief Lives by Patrick Garland, who also directs, prior to an anticipated West End run. The play premiered with Dotrice in 1967 at the Hampstead Theatre Club in London and earned him a place in the Guiness Book of Records for the greatest number of solo performances - totalling 1,782. His other theatre credits include dozens of productions for the RSC, which he joined when it was still called the Shakespeare Memorial Company, and Oliver!, Great Expectations, A Moon for the Misbegotten, Hay Fever, The Homecoming, The Best of Friends and Henry IV.

Other theatre industry people honoured this year included former Really Useful Group chairman John Whitney, television presenter Michael Parkinson, artistic director of Pegasus Theatre Euton Daley and Graham Pullen, director of special projects at Live National – recently responsible for organising the Concert for Diana.

- by Tom Atkins