The co-founder of Richmond’s Orange Tree Theatre described receiving the freedom of the borough as "the greatest of all compliments".

Sam Walters and his wife Auriol Smith founded the playhouse in 1971, located then in a room above the Orange Tree pub.

The couple grew the theatre, which moved to its current Clarence Street home in 1991, before stepping down from their roles in July.

Richmond Council honoured them with a special meeting on Tuesday night, bestowing upon them the freedom of the borough, last awarded to Sir David Attenborough earlier this year.

Speaking at the ceremony, Mr Walters said: "It is such a great honour and a privilege to be joining such a small and distinguished group.

"The council represents the people of Richmond and therefore it represents a large percentage of our audience.

"To be recognised by you and, therefore, by the audience is the greatest of all compliments."

Ms Smith said she was proud to become the first woman to be admitted as an honorary freeman of Richmond.

She said: "I have reason to feel doubly privileged having recently learned I am the first woman in the borough to receive such an honour - I do so with gratitude and humility."

Mayor of Richmond Councillor Jane Boulton said: "I have been many, many times to the Orange Tree Theatre and have seen you both give a great amount of pleasure to our community."

On a night when the Orange Tree Theatre’s vast achievements were celebrated, including festive trees with orange baubles lining the chamber, councillors came together to pay tribute.

Council leader Lord True said: "You have made your place here in Richmond and Twickenham and you have made this borough a better place and a happier place and more thoughtful place."

Leader of the opposition Councillor Stephen Knight said: "I know that Sam and Auriol made their reputations in a room above a pub and people forget that when they see today’s Orange Tree Theatre.

"Their vision with a very strong choice of plays and strong casts and a very loyal following of audiences has made it the success it undoubtedly is."