IT was at 11.03am on Wednesday, July 5, 2000, that Scotland's most famous son was finally recognised for his acting achievements which have taken him from a humble Edinburgh tenement to the silver screens of Hollywood.

In a ceremony lasting a little over an hour, former milkman Sean Connery knelt before the Queen in Edinburgh to receive his long-awaited knighthood for an acting career spanning 40 years and 69 films.

It was a dignified event that laid to rest an undignified fight among politicians that preceded the honour over his membership of the Scottish National Party and his role as one of the party's biggest funders, despite his high-profile support for the cross-party campaign for the Scottish Parliament two years ago.

He admitted it was one of the greatest moments of his life, adding that the accolade was ''a great honour for Scotland as well''.

Congratulating Sir Sean on the honour, SNP leader Alex Salmond said: ''This is a thoroughly well-deserved recognition of Sean

Connery's achievements and con-

tribution to Scotland's national life. As Sean himself said, it is as much an honour for Scotland as it is for him.

''Sean Connery has Scotland Forever tattooed on his forearm, and Scotland Forever emblazoned on his heart.''

Sir Sean left the ceremony for a private lunch for family and friends at Edinburgh's Caledonian Hotel, which was attended by Lord Provost Eric Milligan and Mr Salmond. It is understood some of his Hollywood friends were flying to the city for a celebratory dinner last night.

Surrounded by portraits of Scotland's historic royal family, the archetypal James Bond was among 89 people honoured by the Queen at the ceremony at the Palace of Holyroodhouse.

Sir Sean, 69, received his honour only seconds after the formal proceedings began. Resplendent in full Highland dress in the Hunting McLean tartan, he stood at the side of the historic picture gallery for a few seconds before being called forward by the Lord Steward as the orchestra of the Scots Guards performed a selection of Scottish melodies.

He knelt on a velvet investiture stool before the Queen as she tapped him on each shoulder with a sword before presenting him with the insignia of the award. The Queen, dressed in an azure blue silk blouse and skirt, chatted animatedly for more than a minute.

He was escorted from the room, to return seconds later carrying a presentation box and a commemorative programme.

His joy was evident when he jumped to his feet after spotting his wife, Micheline, and brother, Neil, in the audience on the opposite side of the room and waving across.

He was the first to take his seat and exchanged pleasantries with his fellow knight, Sir Ian Robinson, chief executive of ScottishPower, who was honoured for services to the electricity industry, and the former head of the Scottish Prison Service, Eddie Frizzell, who was presented with the Order of the Bath.

Mrs Margaret Archibald, who received the MBE for services to the community in Inverkeithing, Fife, stopped to congratulate the newly-dubbed Sir Sean as she took her seat.

After the ceremony, Sir Sean said: ''It is great. I am very pleased.'' Recalling his conversation with the Queen, he said: ''She just asked how often I come up here. It was very moving in there. It is a great honour.''

He said he had not really been nervous before the ceremony, but was glad it had taken place in Scotland.

Asked about any plans to return to Scotland, he joked: ''I haven't left yet.''

He ignored further questions about whether he planned to live again permanently in Scotland.

Accompanied by his wife, who was wearing a cream ankle-length suit and black hat, and his brother Neil and his wife, Elinor, he was cheered by about 100 well-

wishers as he left the palace.

The award came as it emerged that open-air screenings of his best-known films, including Dr No and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, will take place during the 54th Edinburgh International Festival in August, to mark his 70th birthday on August 25.

A festival spokeswoman confirmed yesterday that the screenings would begin at dusk in East Princes Street Gardens.

Among those who joined the screen star at the ceremony were Glasgow councillor Bashir Maan, who received the CBE for his services to race relations and the community, and the former Scotland rugby captain Gary Armstrong and Olympic athlete Steve Ovett, who both received OBEs.

Admitting he had been overcome by nerves, Mr Maan explained: ''I couldn't find my way, so I abandoned the car and took a taxi.

''I was 10 minutes late.''

Mr Armstrong, accompanied by his wife and family, said he was delighted to receive the award but emphasised that it was an honour not just for him, but the rest of the team.

The chauffeur to First Minister Donald Dewar, Mr James Martin, was also honoured for his work with an MBE and was driven to the palace by Deputy First Minister Jim Wallace.

The Queen later visited the Royal Society of Edinburgh to recognise the achievements of three Fellows with the presentation of a new award, the Royal Medal.

Professor Kenneth Murray was honoured for his work in healthcare, including the development of a vaccine for Hepatitis B, while Professor Peter Higgs was presented with the Royal Medal for his contribution to science and the development of a key to the problem of the origin of mass.

Lord Perry of Walton was similarly honoured for his pioneering work in the development of the Open University.

n Born in 1930 as plain Thomas Connery, he lived in a tenement in Edinburgh's Fountainbridge opposite a brewery.

n Tam, as he was known, worked as a milkman on a horse-drawn float.

n One of the two tattoos he got in the Royal Navy says Scotland Forever (the other reads Mam and Dad).

n His earliest roles included a singing part in Disney's Darby O'Gill and The Little People.

n He appeared as the world's most famous secret agent in seven Bond films, starting in Dr No with Ursula Andress, and has had a string of recent successes including Entrapment with Catherine Zeta Jones