Joan Plowright, aka Lady Olivier, the widow of Laurence Olivier, was made a Dame in her own right in today’s New Year Honours List, the annual gift of HM The Queen for notable achievements in all areas of public life, including the arts.

A member of George Devine's original English Stage Company in the 1950s and of the nascent National Theatre in the 1960s, Plowright's many renowned stage credits include The Country Wife, Roots, Saint Joan, The Master Builder, Filumena, Enjoy, The Bed Before Yesterday, The House of Bernarda Alba and Saturday, Sunday, Monday. Earlier this year, she made a rare re-appearance on stage in Franco Zeffirelli’s West End revival of Pirandello’s Absolutely! (perhaps).

On screen, Plowright has been seen in the likes of The Entertainer, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Birthday Party, Last Action Hero, Widow's Peak, Surviving Picasso, Tom's Midnight Garden, Enchanted April and 1999's Tea with Mussolini, in which she and fellow British stage dames Maggie Smith and Judi Dench were directed by Zeffirelli.

Other stage actors singled out this year, with OBEs, include: comedian Roy Hudd, of radio’s News Huddlines, who was most recently seen in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Hard Times; Pete Postlethwaite (pictured) who won the 2003 Whatsonstage.com Best Solo Performance Award for Scaramouche Jones; and Penelope Wilton, most recently seen in the West End in Afterplay and Little Foxes and, on screen, in Calendar Girls.

Stephen Daldry, formerly the artistic director of the Royal Court Theatre, also received an OBE. His film credits include The Hours and Billy Elliot, which he’ll bring to the musical stage next year. Also honoured for their services to drama were Sue Higginson (OBE), who previously headed up the National Theatre Studio, and Anthony Perch (MBE) of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Children’s author Philip Pullman, whose His Dark Materials trilogy will next week receive its stage premiere at the National, received a CBE for services to literature.

- by Terri Paddock