OSCAR-WINNING producer Lord David Puttnam, Sage Gateshead general director Anthony Sargent and Royal Northern Sinfonia have all become Freemen of Gateshead.

The title is the highest honour that Gateshead Council can bestow and was presented yesterday (Thursday, March 26) in recognition of the significant contribution that all three have made to the success of Sage Gateshead.

Lord Puttnam of Queensgate, best known for his 30 years as an award-winning independent film producer, was chair of Sage Gateshead for five years.

He has continued to be involved with Sage Gateshead, particularly around the time of its 10th birthday celebrations.

The ten-times Oscar and 25-times BAFTA winner said: “I am truly honoured to have received the Honorary Freedom of Gateshead.

“The depth of affection I feel for the people of the North-East has been well time-tested, having outlasted the completion of terms of office at the University of Sunderland, Durham Cathedral and most recently, Sage Gateshead.

“The sense of pride I feel having received this honour from Gateshead Council is the latest manifestation of what's been a 20-year love affair.

"It is befitting that myself, Anthony Sargent and the Royal Northern Sinfonia should all receive this honour today, having recently celebrated the first decade of Sage Gateshead.”

Mr Sargent, who is also chair of the International Society for Performing Arts and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, said: "I have been honoured beyond words by this decision by our council.

“For more than a decade before I moved here in 2000 I marvelled at Gateshead's visionary, deep-rooted belief in the contribution arts investments can make to communities.”

Royal Northern Sinfonia, represented by leader Bradley Creswick, is the only full-time chamber orchestra in the UK and has been associated with Sage Gateshead since 2004. They become the first orchestra to become freemen, certainly in the North-East - if not the country.