Playwrights Ray Cooney (pictured) and Alan Plater, directors Philip Hedley, Simon McBurney and Jill Fraser, and actors Eric Sykes, Anna Massey, Tom Wilkinson and Geoffrey Palmer are amongst the theatre names receiving awards 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.

Cooney, who receives an OBE, began his theatrical career in 1946 as a child actor. In 1956, he joined Brian Rix's troupe at the Whitehall Theatre, where he went on to pen several of the famous Whitehall farces. Over the years, his hit comedies have included Chase Me Comrade, Wife Begins at Forty, Run for Your Wife!, Out of Order and Funny Money and, most recently, 2001’s Caught in the Net, a sequel to Run for Your Wife!. His latest, Tom, Dick and Harry, which he’s co-written with his son, is due to transfer to the West End in spring 2005, starring comedian Joe Pasquale (See News, 17 Dec 2004).

Plater, who gets a CBE, was last represented in the West End with 2000’s Peggy for You, a tribute to his late agent, which starred Maureen Lipman as the legendary Peggy Ramsay. His more recent plays have included Only a Matter of Time and, at Leeds’ West Yorkshire Playhouse this past April, Blonde Bombshells of 1943, inspired by his 2002 television film The Last of the Blonde Bombshells. His earlier plays included Rent Party and On Your Way, Riley, which were written for east London’s Theatre Royal Stratford East.

Philip Hedley, who also receives a CBE for his services to drama, stepped down in September after 25 years of as artistic director of Stratford East (See News, 10 Sep 2004). During his time there, Hedley staged over 200 premieres of plays and musicals, including the only professional English-language production ever of Lorca’s play The Public, which championed homosexual love.

Amongst the Stratford East shows transferred to the West End during Hedley’s reign were Steaming, The Invisible Man, Five Guys Named Moe and Ken Hill’s Phantom of the Opera. Hedley is now working as a producer on the transfer of Award-nominated British Black musical The Big Life, which will return to the Stratford East in February ahead of the West End (See News, 25 Sep 2004).

Simon McBurney, the founder and artistic director of the multi award-winning experimental theatre troupe Complicité - which recently marked its 21st birthday with news that it hopes to establish a semi-permanent base at north London’s Alexandra Palace (See News, 9 Jul 2004) - receives an OBE. And Jill Fraser, the artistic director of the Watermill Theatre in Newbury, which has recently scored West End transfers with its revival of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd and Propeller productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Rose Rage, is given an MBE.

From the field of performers, Eric Sykes, the much-loved veteran comic actor, receives a CBE. Though now 81 and almost completely deaf with limited eyesight, Sykes continues to appear regularly on stage. He’s most recently been seen in Cooney’s Caught in the Net and Three Sisters in the West End as well as Peter Hall’s production of As You Like It for Theatre Royal Bath. Sykes first found fame in the 1950s as a radio personality, but is probably best known for his long-running TV sitcom Sykes, which co-starred Hattie Jacques. His other TV and radio credits include The Goon Show, Educating Archie and The Nineteenth Hole.

Fellow acting veteran Anna Massey receives a CBE in today’s honours. Massey made her stage debut as The Reluctant Debutante in 1955 and went on to appear in numerous plays including The Doctor’s Dilemma, The School for Scandal, The Glass Menagerie and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Another veteran, Hugh Lloyd, 81, gets an MBE.

Tom Wilkinson and Geoffrey Palmer both receive OBEs. Although best known for their screen successes – Wilkinson for films such as The Full Monty, The Patriot, Martin Chuzzlewit and In the Bedroom for which he was Oscar-nominated, and Palmer for TV sitcoms like The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin and As Time Goes By with Dame Judi Dench – both have also returned regularly to the stage over the years. Wilkinson most recently appeared on stage in the 2000 premiere of David Hare’s My Zinc Bed at the Royal Court, while Palmer’s theatre credits include Savages and Kafka’s Dick, also at the Royal Court.

- by Terri Paddock