Brian Blessed, the actor and explorer
Brian Blessed, the actor and explorer
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

I look on Britain as a kind of floating museum. That's in the nicest possible sense. From John O'Groats to Lands' End we're a country of opera, musicals, galleries and theatre: we are an incredibly artistic nation.

And we should thank the Bard for a lot of that. But in my opinion the best Shakespeare is not done best at the National Theatre or the Royal Shakespeare Company. It's done best in schools.

When I grew up I was surrounded by a great love of Shakespeare. I remember in my maths lesson my teacher would often stop and say ‘I'm bored by this, I'm going to give you a wonderful speech from Othello'.

My father was a Yorkshire miner – a coal hewer who shifted 17 tons a day - and he could do the whole of Cassius from Julius Caesar. All the coal miners could give you a Shakespeare speech. They put on amateur shows that rivalled Sheffield Rep.

I love the adaptability of Shakespeare. I'd love to direct a film of King Lear where he starts off on a submarine! He'd have a fleet of subs alongside him and the red arrows would fly through the sky and bring him in at speed to Canary Wharf. I don't like gimmicks but Lear lends itself to a very vast landscape that you can choose yourself. You can make Shakespeare's plays into anything you want, you can even make it very simple with no scenery at all. Shakespeare, I feel, just had a phenomenal grasp of human nature.

There's often a suggestion that Shakespeare is unreal, but in actual fact, if his plays are done really well there is nothing more real. It's also worth remembering that Shakespeare's vocabulary was 15,700 words. A lot of the modern words we have today of course are Shakespeare's and all kind of modern expressions are his too. We're still catching up.

Shakespeare belongs to the planet. The earth has had its author: when the sun swallows us up in five billion year's time, it will be greedy to have wanted another.

So I think one needs to beat the drum about Shakespeare, and why not do it in this year – 400 years since he died? This year I'm going to go round the country and see what's on and get to as many productions as possible. I'm going to have a marvellous year. And so should you.

Brian Blessed is patron of Guildford Shakespeare Company. Their production of The Winter's Tale runs from February 8 to 27 at The Holy Trinity Church Guildford.

For all our pieces on Shakespeare 400 visit our dedicated page

Read our calendar of events happening to celebrate this year here