Lester, best known for his work with The Beatles in the 1960s, was presented with the BFI's highest accolade in London on Thursday (22Mar12) in honour of his film and TV achievements.
Accepting his prize, the American-born filmmaker acknowledged the harsh reviews he received at the start of his career working in TV with comedians Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers.
He quipped, "When my career was just beginning, the elegant TV critic Bernard Levin came to see me in rehearsal with Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers. He wrote, 'He seems an amiable young man who climbed into a lion's cage and realised he's forgotten his chair and his whip.' Some 50 years later, I still haven't found a whip, but with this extraordinary honour, the BFI has kindly given me a chair."
Lester's work with Milligan and Sellers caught the attention of John Lennon, and he was hired by the Fab Four to direct A Hard Day's Night and Help! in the 1960s.
Lester joins a prestigious list of previous BFI Fellowship recipients including Dame Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, David Cronenberg and Martin Scorsese.