British historian Mary Beard was left humiliated at Heathrow airport after being forced to strip down to her underwear in front of other passengers. Picture: AP

London - British historian Mary Beard was left humiliated at Heathrow airport after being forced to strip down to her underwear in front of other passengers.

She was called aside by officials as she passed through security and told to remove her "jacket", which she describes as a tunic dress.

The 64-year-old Cambridge scholar and broadcaster said that even after she told airport officials she would be left standing in her underwear, they insisted she remove the tunic dress.

Britain’s biggest airport has apologised to her and is looking into the incident.

Relating the embarrassing incident to her Twitter followers, Beard said: "I know rules are rules (and we all depend on airport security) but was a bit surprised to be told to take off what I think is a “tunic” (they thought was a “jacket”) at Heathrow security this morning, down to my scrappy undies.

"Much to curiosity/embarrassment of other passengers! My little black vest, no bra, not a good look!"

She suggested it was an issue over what was a tunic and what was a jacket, saying: "It was a definitional issue in part. Though I did say that I only had undies underneath! A mistake at root, but shouldn’t happen."

Heathrow Airport responded: "We are very sorry to hear this and apologise for the experience you have had." The airport requested more details so "that we can look into the matter".

Professor Beard responded that she did not want staff to get into trouble but suggested some "general consciousness-raising".

"I am tough, and I have no desire to see the staff concerned told off (so I am carefully not telling you which terminal)," she replied. "But maybe some general consciousness-raising on this one would be a jolly good idea!"

"To be honest, I’m not very easily humiliated, but it was a surprise! Staff polite but insistent (following instructions, I guess, don’t want to get them into trouble)."

A spokesperson for Heathrow later said: "Our colleagues work incredibly hard to keep Britain’s skies safe and any passenger is able to be searched in private. We apologise that this did not happen in this instance."

Daily Mail