John Hurt, one of the grand figures of TV and film, has been awarded a knighthood for his services to drama.

His distinguished career has taken him through a series of mesmerising performances, from the ground-breaking TV portrayal of Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant, through his title role in The Elephant Man to his brief incarnation as The Doctor last year in BBC One’s Doctor Who.

John Hurt at the National Theatre Live Gala performance of War Horse in London.
John Hurt (Anthony Devlin/PA Wire)

Few viewers would ever forget the heart-stopping moment Sir John met his end in Alien, or his role as Winston Smith in 1984.

The 74-year-old, the son of a clergyman, developed an interest in acting at school but was discouraged by his parents and headteacher, and instead went to art college with an eye to becoming a teacher.

However, he went on to land a scholarship for the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada) and picked up TV and film roles until he had his major breakthrough, appearing in A Man For All Seasons as Richard Rich.

Sir John achieved further prominence in the film 10 Rillington Place as Timothy Evans who was wrongly executed for the crimes of serial killer John Christie (played by Richard Attenborough), and as Caligula in the celebrated BBC drama I, Claudius.

His distinctive voice graced a chilling Aids awareness ad campaign in the 1980s, the character of Hazel in the animated film Watership Down and Kilgharrah the dragon in the BBC series Merlin.

Other roles have included occasional appearances as wand-maker Mr Ollivander in the Harry Potter films, his performance as Stephen Ward – a key figure in the Profumo affair – in Scandal and a reprisal of his role as Crisp for An Englishman In New York in 2009, 34 years after his original portrayal of the flamboyant figure.