The X-Men star portrays an ageing version of legendary fictional detective Sherlock Holmes in the movie, in which his retired character becomes a professional apiculturist.

The British actor reveals he flat out refused to work with the insects when director Bill Condon first told him about his character's hobby, but film finances quickly forced Ian to rethink his position.

Discussing the movie at a recent question-and-answer session at New York literary organisation the Lotos Club, Sir Ian admitted, "Then they explained that this is an independent movie, which means a cheap movie... You can't have all the CGI (computer-generated imagery)!

"So I went to bee school - which was fashionably located at (posh London department store) Fortnum & Mason in Piccadilly. There's a guy there who keeps bees, in rather fancy hives, as you can imagine. I hope the bees appreciate it."

Sir Ian, who managed to avoid being stung on-set, learned all about caring for the critters from the professional and he was also given an inside tip about the quality of the Fortnum & Mason honey, as the bees feed on flowers at Queen Elizabeth II's home at Buckingham Palace.

"So the royal family are being robbed daily of their nectar by the other queen in the hive," he quipped, according to the New York Post.