Dame Penelope Wilton awarded honorary doctorate by Coventry University

Dame Penelope Wilton has been awarded an honorary doctorate by Coventry University in recognition of her extensive contribution to drama and the arts.

The 76-year-old British actress has had a varied acting career both on stage and screen, and is known for her roles in BBC sitcom Ever Decreasing Circles and hit ITV period drama Downton Abbey.

After being presented with the honorary doctorate during a Coventry University graduation ceremony in Scarborough on Thursday, Dame Penelope described the award as “one of the most wonderful things to be given”.

During her acceptance speech, she said: “This is one of the most wonderful things to be given and I am greatly honoured by this award, and I’m sharing it today with [Coventry University students].

“Of course you have had a much harder time, I’ve just come up and got this.

“You’ve all been working for ages and through very difficult circumstances, so I feel a bit of a fraud really.

“But I’m very pleased to be here, and sharing this day with you, in Scarborough, which is where I was born, so it’s very very nice to come back and have the day with you all.

“Thank you so much.”

Dame Penelope was born in the seaside town of Scarborough, where Coventry University Group has a location, in 1946.

She later attended the Drama Centre London from 1965 to 1968, before beginning her career on stage in 1969 at the Nottingham Playhouse.

For her work on stage, Dame Penelope has received six Olivier Award nominations, winning best actress in 2015 for her role in Taken At Midnight.

She became a household name after starring in the 1984 BBC sitcom Ever Decreasing Circles, in which she played Ann – the long-suffering wife of Martin, played by Richard Briers.

Dame Penelope has also starred in Doctor Who and Netflix hit After Life and her films include Calendar Girls, Shaun Of The Dead and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Downton Abbey series 5
Dame Penelope Wilton as Isobel Crawley in hit ITV period drama Downton Abbey (Nick Briggs/ITV)

Away from acting, Dame Penelope is a patron of York-based charity Kyra, which helps women recover from domestic abuse and mental illness.

She recently launched a fundraising appeal to help the charity’s move into a larger premises.

Dame Penelope also publicly supports CBM, a charity that works overseas to help individuals suffering from disabilities in some of the world’s poorest communities, is a patron of Halifax’s Square Chapel Arts Centre and is an ambassador for educational charity Children & the Arts.

She was appointed an OBE in the 2004 New Years Honours, and was later elevated to a DBE in the 2016 Birthday Honours for her services to drama.

Coventry University vice chancellor Professor John Latham said: “We are thrilled to be able to recognise Dame Penelope Wilton’s amazing contribution to drama and the arts with the awarding of an honorary doctorate.

“Her work has not only served to entertain the nation, it has doubtless helped to inspire others to pursue careers within the industry.

“She has also used her profile to help a number of good causes and we are proud to honour an individual as highly respected as Penelope.”