Our Host, Derek Jacobi
Jacobi was invited by Laurence Olivier to join the National Theatre Company after study at Cambridge and training with the Birmingham Repertory Company. He has been featured in numerous stage productions and films and has won or been nominated for many international awards including a Tony Award for his role onstage as Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing (1985) and an Emmy award for a guest appearance on Frasier. He is perhaps best known in the United States for his stunning TV work in Masterpiece Theatre's I, Claudius and has also appeared in Miss Marple: The Murder at the Vicarage, The Jury, Breaking the Code and MYSTERY!s Cadfael. His film credits include Gladiator, Gosford Park, Nanny McPhee and Underworld: Evolution.
Sir Derek Jacobi presents The Best of Masterpiece Theatre, a 90-minute feast of glorious excerpts from the best-loved programs in 35 seasons, selected by viewers in a nationwide survey.
At the time, it seemed a night like any other. But January 10, 1971 made television history, with the premiere of a new series called Masterpiece Theatre, a showcase for the best of British drama. Now, more than 35 years later, it's become so much a part of popular culture that even many who have never seen it know what it is -- or think they do, at least, because Masterpiece Theatre has been many things to many people: literary adaptations, costume dramas, contemporary stories, even the occasional comedy and crime thriller.
After more than 250 stories -- and counting -- we've decided it's high time to celebrate Masterpiece Theatre's legacy. So, we're taking a look at its most memorable stories and characters. And to do so, we turned to the experts -- you, the audience. We asked you to vote for your favorite Masterpiece Theatre, and you responded with enthusiasm and passion -- and more than a little frustration that you could only choose a single favorite! But with your help, we've narrowed the list to an even dozen stories, and starting right now, we're going to count them down from number twelve to number one. Will your favorite make the list? Well, watch this...
Daniel Defoe, the author of Moll Flanders, once observed, "All men would be tyrants if they could." Perhaps that's why, in our favorite stories, it's often the villains we find most compelling -- even as we revile them for their wickedness, we're secretly fascinated by their audacity. You'll come across several memorable scoundrels in our next round of Masterpiece Theatre favorites. Fortunately, there's no shortage of heroes on hand to balance the scales. After all, the struggle between good and evil lies at the heart of many a classic tale -- as you're about to see in stories whose settings span more than two hundred years. Of course, the line between good and evil is often not entirely clear. Our heroes are not always infallible, and our villains not always repellent. Sometimes, in fact, they're downright charming...
We're entering the final stretch of our celebration of Masterpiece Theatre favorites. Thanks to you, we've taken more than three-and-a-half decades' worth of great stories and narrowed them down to the twelve you told us you loved most. With only four more to go, we've now reached the best of the best. Have you seen your choice yet? If not, don't give up hope, there's still a chance. I confess I'm hoping that a particular favorite of my own will yet appear. You may know the one: t-t-togas, assassinations, the occasional orgy...
Without ruining the suspense, what can I tell you about our final four? Simply that when you hear the words "Masterpiece Theatre," these are the stories that are most likely to spring to mind -- the ones that you recall most fondly, whose characters you've taken most to heart. The ones, in short, that put the "masterpiece" in Masterpiece Theatre. These are your favorite stories. Enjoy.
And there you have it, the best of Masterpiece Theatre as chosen by viewers like you, from more than 250 productions airing over more than 35 years. These are the stories you've told us best embody Masterpiece Theatre for you. We knew when we asked you to pick your favorite that it would be a difficult choice. Even so, we weren't quite prepared for the outpouring of feeling you expressed in voting for your favorite episodes.
We thank you for your enthusiasm, and hope in turn that you will thank your public television station with a gift of support, for providing you with so many hours of enthralling storytelling. Of course, narrowing our list to twelve means that many wonderful dramas were left on the cutting room floor. Even if your top choice didn't make the final cut, you can rest assured that there were many other viewers who shared your passion for it. And who knows? Perhaps your favorite Masterpiece Theatre story is still to come, maybe even next time...
I'm Derek Jacobi. For all of us at Masterpiece Theatre, thank you and good night.