"Judi Dench is not an actor who takes bad reviews lying down - "you're an absolute shit," she wrote to one critic of her stage performance last year - but she found herself dumbstruck yesterday after being awarded the ultimate accolade: readers of the Stage newspaper have named her the greatest stage actor ever.
"Dench beat off dauntingly impressive competition, including Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Paul Scofield and Ralph Richardson, to be named best of the best after a reader vote carried out over 10 weeks.
"To be fair, live actors clearly had a distinct advantage over dead ones as the voters will have seen them on stage and this was reflected in Maggie Smith coming second, Mark Rylance third and Ian McKellen fourth. After that came Olivier, Scofield and Gielgud with Michael Gambon eighth and Vanessa Redgrave ninth. Richardson, who died in 1983, came 10th."