Philip Pullman surveyed the scene as he received an honorary degree from Oxford University and said no other institution could do it better.

The writer of the His Dark Materials trilogy, set in a parallel version of Oxford, had the honour bestowed upon him at the university’s Sheldonian Theatre, along with five other people on Wednesday.

Mr Pullman, who read English at Exeter College, and now lives near Oxford, said he had enjoyed the day “enormously”.

The 62-year-old added: “It’s the sort of thing that Oxford does far better than any other university, I’m sure.

“The setting’s so magnificent. You couldn’t wish for a finer backdrop.”

The author said he was very surprised to be chosen for the Doctor of Letters degree.

He said: “When I was a very idle undergraduate, 40-odd years ago, it never occurred to me that I would be back here in circumstances like these.

“It’s humbling and very exciting, and something to be very, very proud of.

“Oxford has provided the most beautiful weather I have seen for a very long time. It’s a lovely, wonderful occasion.”

Prof Richard Jenkyns, the university’s Public Orator, described Mr Pullman as a “most skilful weaver of tales.”

He added Mr Pullman’s name to a list of authors who have lived in Oxford, including Kenneth Grahame, Lewis Carroll and CS Lewis, asking: “What have the British done better than anybody else? They do not surpass all other peoples in tennis, I think, or cookery or opera.

“But if we turn our attention to books written for the pleasure of children, we may perhaps venture the thought that this is a genre in which we have outclassed every other nation.”

Mr Pullman had paid Oxford a great tribute, Prof Jenkyns added, by making the city a character in his stories.

The applause as Mr Pullman received his Doctor of Letters degree, drowned out the shouts of animal rights protesters staging a demonstration outside the theatre in Broad Street.

Onlooker Ed Phillips, 67, said: “The protesters spoil the event, particularly for the people for whom it is a special occasion.”

Also receiving honorary degrees were Dr Fazle Hasan Abed, founder of Brac (formerly Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee), architect Dr Santiago Calatrava Valls, physicist Prof Erwin Hahn, microbiologist Prof Barry Marshall and pianist Mitsuko Uchida.