The veteran actor, currently filming The Hobbit in New Zealand, couldn’t look more different to his role as grey-bearded wizard Gandalf in the rediscovered gem.
He appears as a dark-haired and fresh-faced 25-year-old in the black-and-white period drama “The Tomb Of His Ancestors”, made by the BBC in 1964.
McKellen plays a character named Plowden in the 50-minute production (tx 09.08.64), based on a short story by Jungle Book author Rudyard Kipling.
The programme, filmed as part of series “Kipling: The Indian Tales of Rudyard Kipling”, was no longer thought to exist – a victim of the BBC’s once-common policy of wiping or simply throwing away old recordings.
But a single print survived in a private collection belonging to a historical society in Illinois, America, and was bought by a consortium led by classic TV organisation Kaleidoscope.
Speaking for the consortium, also comprising missing episode enthusiasts Steve Birt and Tim Disney, Kaleidoscope’s Chris Perry described the McKellen drama as an “important find”.
He said: “The Tomb Of His Ancestors is a vintage piece of BBC drama set in the days of the British Raj and is especially important because of its connection to Sir Ian McKellen.
“For the first time in nearly 50 years we can once again watch the very first TV appearance by one of the UK’s greatest living actors.”
Broadcast between July and December 1964, Kipling featured performances from the likes of David Hemmings, Michael Bates, Alfred Burke, Barbara Murray, Keith Barron and Patrick Troughton.
The new discovery doubles the number of known surviving Kipling episodes from one to two, with 23 out of the original 25 still missing.
Also recovered by the consortium were two other previously believed-lost BBC programmes: a 1950s ballet production, Giselle, and a 1963 episode of the BBC series Suspense, starring Sylvia Simms and entitled “Miranda and a Salesman” (tx 19.08.63).
You can watch a clip from “The Tomb Of His Ancestors” below (uploaded to Tim Disney’s YouTube channel).
Read On: “Sir Ian McKellen’s precious television debut is rediscovered!” (story on Tim Disney’s website www.findaclip.co.uk).