TV Cream

TV: I is for...

I, Claudius

C-c-c-c-come on n-n-n-now, Ger-ger-ger-ger-Granville... Ancient Rome wasn't rebuilt in a day, y'know

THIS IS THE ONE. Premium pulling-out-the-stops affair courtesy of a benevolent Beeb looking for something to celebrate 40 years of telly and coming up with a toga-encrused blood-soaked poison-splattered latex-smothered wine-soused vine-doused epic of Romanic empire proportions. Which was convenient, for that was the subject; specifically the decline and fall of Italy’s finest, told from the perspective of a limping, twitching, stuttering DEREK JACOBI dodging the cutting remarks and cutting down of his entire family to somehow survive 70 odd years of palatial pandemonium. Passing through: BRIAN BLESSED as a majestically befuddled Augustus (“Where are my eagles?!”), SIAN LLOYD as his missus Livia (“By the way: don’t touch the figs”), GEORGE BAKER as doomed deviant Tiberias (“Why doesn’t he like me?”), JOHN HURT as demented loon Caligula (“Haven’t you noticed? I have become a God!”), PATRICK STEWART as tyro henchman Sejanus (“Let’s hold another treason trial!”), CHRISTOPHER BIGGINS as Nero (“What a pretty thing a fire is!”), SHEILA WHITE as the near-permanently topless Messalina (“Let’s have a tournament…of sex!”), BERNARD HILL as a Scouse guard (“You’re our emperor now, mate!”), STRATFORD JOHNS as treacherous senator Piso (“Let’s open our veins together!”), IAN OGILVY as naive nuisance Drusus (“I can match you black for black”), SIMON MCCORKINDALE as equally naive nicompoop Lucius, BERNARD HEPTON as meddling aide Pallas and PETER BOWLES as silver-haired Brit (of course) CARACTACUS.



  1. harryfielder

    June 29, 2009 at 9:09 pm

    I CLAUDIUS…BBC TV…Director Herbert Wise…
    Cast Inc…Derek Jacobi (BAFTA Award) John Hurt…Brian Blessed…
    This was British Actors at their best…
    I worked on quite a few of the thirteen episodes and just used to watch in amazement at the way the actors could remember the very long speeches and the many moves they had to make during a scene.
    Derek and John stole the show as far as I was concerned.
    It was an education in acting to watch these people work.
    I was lucky enough to be on the last day of shooting and when Derek finished.
    The whole cast and crew stood up and gave him a standing ovation.
    (I can still hear the applause to this day)
    On one episode I was playing a guard and at the end of it I had to chop off Messalina’s (Sheila White) head…
    After I had done the dirty deed Sheila cried her eye’s out and come to me and sobbed on my shoulder. (Perhaps I’m not all bad?)
    Herbert Wise held the show together for many months and is still directing today.
    Well done Herbie…


  2. Mr Grimsdale

    July 1, 2009 at 9:27 am

    I’m old enough to be able to say I saw it first time round, and I recall that when it was originally transmitted it didn’t initially get good reviews. The first couple of episodes were heavily panned in the press due to awful hammy acting, cliche-ridden script and just generally not-being-very-good. Then suddenly at around episode 3 everything went right and it improved beyond recognition, to become the c-c-c-classic that we n-n-n-n-ow remember (well, those of us of a certain age).

  3. John

    July 1, 2009 at 11:33 am

    Now the BBC throws its millions at lucrative contracts for Ross, Norton and the serried ranks of executives on £300K a year. And what passes for BBC drama is downmarket shite. What a shame.

  4. Bob V

    September 3, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    I never tire of watching this.

    The acting even in minor supporting roles is stunning, the script razor sharp and full of delicious dark humor and the idiosyncratic theme tune perfect.

    Can’t agree with Mr Grimsdales early episodes assesment, yeah it did seem to be finding it’s way before hitting it’s stride, but they are still more watchable than the identekit, franchised drama you see to-day.

    They really don’t make em like this anymore!

  5. Paul

    October 28, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    It’s still the best BBC drama ever. No location shooting. No special effects. Scenes in the arena that would be dripping with CG these days was conveyed with sound effects and a scattering of petals – and tons more effective. Long, long takes without second-to-second editing. Proof positive that we had longer attention spans in those days. Top show!

  6. Richard16378

    August 2, 2011 at 5:38 pm

    I’ve recently finished watching this on DVD, it was very good throughout.

    As normal John Hurt’s character comes to a sticky end.

    No mention of the lame I, Clavidvis pun.

    John Sullivan was a scene shifter on some episodes of this, before the writing money began to roll in.

  7. Jules

    September 3, 2012 at 10:26 am

    Yes the “don’t go in there!” still haunts me.

    (This is Caligula’s advice to Claudius after Caligula has eaten his own sister’s foetus after cutting her open).

    Even Jeremy Kyle’s “contestants” are not fond of that one – although people from South Yorkshire are getting pretty close.

  8. Enoch Sneed

    September 24, 2013 at 8:50 am

    Another production triumph by Martin Lisemore, who seemed to produce every classic serial at the BBC in the 1970’s. Tragically killed aged 38 early in 1977.

  9. Turik Karadin

    July 8, 2015 at 6:04 pm

    Sian Phillips as Livia, surely, not Sian Lloyd.

    • Mick B

      September 17, 2019 at 3:22 pm

      Put it down to TV Cream’s dry wit, even is it is a mistake.

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