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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 November, 2004, 22:45 GMT
UK honour for director Zeffirelli
Franco Zeffirelli with his knighthood
Zeffirelli is known for his love of English culture
Film-maker Franco Zeffirelli has become the first Italian citizen to receive an honorary knighthood from the UK.

The director, whose films include the Oscar-winning Romeo and Juliet, was honoured at Rome's British Embassy.

Zeffirelli, 81, received a KBE for his "valuable services to British performing arts".

Zeffirelli is an anglophile and his 1999 film Tea With Mussolini was inspired by his childhood in Florence in the company of British expatriates.

The honorary knighthood sees Zeffirelli join a host of legendary names from the arts world, including Andre Previn, Yehudi Menuhin, Steven Spielberg and Bob Hope.

His decoration stands for Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

"It's the greatest conquest, recognition, I have received in my life, practically," the director told The Associated Press on the sidelines of the ceremony.

"I can't believe it."

Academy awards

One of the world's most respected directors of stage and screen, Zeffirelli rose to prominence in the 1960s with his feature film debut Taming of the Shrew, starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor as the warring lovers.

Franco Zeffirelli (L) with Silvio Berlusconi
Italy's prime minister was on hand for the cameras too

His 1968 film Romeo and Juliet received best film and best director Oscar nominations, and won a further two Academy Awards for costume design and cinematography.

Zeffirelli's other films include 1979 tearjerker The Champ, starring Jon Voight and Faye Dunaway, and Hamlet (1990) starring Mel Gibson, Alan Bates and Glenn Close.

Last year, he directed Joan Plowright and Liza Tarbuck in the West End play Absolutely!.

His most recent film, Forever Callas, starring Fanny Ardant as the opera diva, was released in the UK this month.

A close friend of opera star Callas, Zeffirelli directed her in the classic production of Tosca at London's Royal Opera House.

His film productions of opera include an acclaimed version of La Traviata.

The director is also an ally of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and has represented Berlusconi's party Forza Italia in the Italian senate since 1996.

See Franco Zeffirelli receive his honorary knighthood

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