Sir Derek Jacobi, President of Hall Green Little Theatre, has officially opened the theatre's newly refurbished auditorium, mingling with members and guests and talking to Roger Clarke from Behind The Arras.

Sir Derek is only hglt's second president in 62 years incidentally, taking over from Lord Olivier, who died in 1989.

A knight . . . and dame in waiting 

SIR Derek Jacobi might well be in his eighth decade but that has hardly slowed him down.

The 74-year-old  is currently starring in Last Tango in Halifax on TV, narrates the BBC Children's series In the Night Garden, is filming a biopic about Grace Kelly, Grace of Monaco, with Nicole Kidman and is soon to star in a sitcom with Sir Ian Mckellen.

Oh, and amid all that he found time to officially reopen Hall Green Little Theatre's newly refurbished impressive auditorium.

Sir Derek may be a true international star but he still has an affection and admiration for amateur theatre.

He said: “I don't think there is that much difference, basically, between me as a professional and the part timers here. In a sense they have it much more difficult because they have to hold down a job during the day – I spend all my day thinking what I am doing and the evening show et cetera.

“I know amateur dramatics is easy to send-up, or conversely to look down upon, but I don't do either of those things. I think if people have the fire in the belly to act, it is not an easy thing to do, and a lot of amateur theatre is very, very good indeed. We saw rehearsing for the pantomime here and the energy that is coming off the stage and the commitment is wonderful.

“Before I became a professional actor I acted as an amateur at Cambridge. My first part when I was six years-old in Leytonstone in the library. I had done a lot of, in a sense, of the blind leading the blind before I became a professional. I didn't go to drama school, as many of us at Cambridge didn't in those days, and I managed to get into Birmingham Rep in 1960 – I was very lucky – and stayed there for three years.

Derek Jacobi as Alan and Anne Reid as Celia in BBC TV's Last Tango in Halifax

That was my drama school. A different play every four weeks over three years I got through a lot of plays.

“I worked my way up through the company to sort of leading young man and that was a great learning experience.”

Sir Derek might have watched pantomime but admitted in his 52 years as a professional actor he had never actually appeared in one “The nearest I got to it was several years ago Ian McKellen played Widow Twankey at the Old Vic and I went to see him and I went round to see him afterwards and he said ‘How about ugly sisters next year?' but it never happened.

But there is still time in Sir Derek's packed schedule. “I am filming at the moment with Nicole Kidman, who is very nice, in a film about Grace Kelly and then early next year Ian McKellen and I are going to do a sit-come together, with a live audience and it is a six-episode sit-com, so I start that in January.”

Sir Derek and Sir Ian were at Cambridge together so could their new venture mean the day of the dame and ugly sisters could come back? “Absolutely”. And would Sir Derek look forward to it? “I don't think I am pantomime material – but perhaps I am selling myself short. Give me the frock, put me out there, give me the ear rings, and it could happen, It could be fun - but", with a laugh "I am not panting for it.”

Beyond that Sir Derek has little intention of slowing down let alone retiring. “It is the great thing about this profession. As long as everything is working, nothing has dropped off, you can still talk, learn lines or whatever; physically and mentally if that is all working, why retire?

“When you are young you play the juveniles, I have done the middle age parts and I'm on to grandfathers now so it is a whole new world out there." 

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