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I, Claudius (TV series)

I, Claudius
Created by Robert Graves
Based on I, Claudius and
Claudius the God 
by Robert Graves
Written by Jack Pulman
Directed by Herbert Wise
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of episodes 12 (list of episodes)
Producer(s) Martin Lisemore
Running time 50+ minutes per episode
Production company(s) BBC/London Films
Original channel BBC2
Original release 20 September 1976 (1976-09-20) – 6 December 1976 (1976-12-06)

I, Claudius is a 1976 BBC Television adaptation of Robert Graves's I, Claudius and Claudius the God. Written by Jack Pulman,[1] it starred Derek Jacobi as Claudius, with Siân Phillips, Brian Blessed, George Baker, Margaret Tyzack, John Hurt, Patricia Quinn, Ian Ogilvy, Kevin McNally, Patrick Stewart, and John Rhys-Davies. The serial sent Jacobi, Stewart, and Hurt's careers into the limelight, and it proved one of the corporation's most successful drama serials of all time.

Among many other productions and adaptations, Graves's Claudius novels have also been adapted for BBC Radio 4 broadcast (2010) and for the theatre (1972).


I, Claudius follows the history of Rome, narrated by the elderly Claudius, from the death of Marcellus in the first episode to Claudius' own death in the last.

The series opens with Augustus, the emperor of Rome, attempting to find an heir, and his wife, Livia, plotting to elevate her own son Tiberius to this position. The plotting and double-crossing continue for many decades, through the conspiracy of Sejanus and the rule of the lunatic emperor Caligula, culminating in the seemingly accidental rise to power by Claudius. Claudius' enlightened reign is marred by the betrayals of his adulterous wife Messalina and his boyhood friend Herod Agrippa. Eventually, Claudius comes to accept the inevitability of his own assassination and the ascension of his mad stepson, Nero.


The series was produced by Joan Sullivan and Martin Lisemore, and directed by Herbert Wise in the studios at BBC Television Centre. Production was delayed because of complex negotiations between the BBC and the copyright holders of Alexander Korda's aborted 1937 film version. This did, however, give the scriptwriter Jack Pulman more time to fine-tune his script.

Filming was studio based, for artistic rather than budgetary reasons.[2] I, Claudius was made at a relatively low cost of £60,000 for an hour of broadcast material, in a series that had a total running time of 650 minutes.[3] Considering pound sterling inflation, the entire show would have cost £3,960,000 in 2013.

As discussed in the 2002 documentary I, Claudius: A Television Epic, the scene in episode 8, "Zeus, by Jove!" where Caligula cuts the fetus from Drusilla's womb was considered too shocking and was therefore re-edited several times, even on the day of its premiere by order of Bill Slater, then head of Serials Department. After initial broadcast and a rerun two days later, the shot of the fetus was removed so that the episode now ends with Claudius looking in shock and horror but the audience does not see what he sees. The deleted shot was only shown twice in 1976 and is now lost since the BBC no longer has a copy of it.[4]

The 2002 documentary, which features extensive interviews with all the principal cast members, revealed many previously unknown facts about the casting and development of the series:

  • Derek Jacobi was well down the list of those considered to play Claudius - among those considered for or offered the part before him were American film star Charlton Heston and British actor-comedian Ronnie Barker. Jacobi explained that he only secured the role after another prominent (unnamed) British actor who had taken the part proved to be unsuitable, and had to be replaced at short notice.
  • Brian Blessed originally auditioned for the role of Tiberius, but was eventually convinced to play Augustus instead. He recounted some of director Herbert Wise's key pieces of advice on how to play Augustus - Wise told Blessed that he should "... be as you are - full of flannel ...", and that he should always play Augustus as an ordinary person, because the reactions of those around him would make him the Emperor.
  • John Hurt revealed that he declined the role of Caligula when it was first offered to him. Because of the time-span of the production, the fact that Derek Jacobi would be the only actor to appear in every episode, and the subsequent commitments of the other actors, it was decided that rather than the customary "wrap party" at the end of the series, there would be a special pre-production party instead, to give the entire cast and crew the chance to meet. Hurt explained that series director Herbert Wise deliberately invited him to attend the party, hoping he would reconsider, and that he was so impressed on meeting the cast and crew that he immediately reversed his decision and took the part.


Wilfred Josephs wrote the title music. David Wulstan and the Clerkes of Oxenford ensemble provided the (diegetic) music for most episodes.

Awards and reception

United Kingdom

During its original airing in 1976, the BBC estimated that I, Claudius had an average audience of 2,500,000 viewers per episode, based on rating surveys.[5]

Among other awards, the series won three BAFTAs in 1977 (Derek Jacobi, Best Actor (TV); Siân Phillips, Best Actress (TV); Tim Harvey, Best Design (TV)).

Director Herbert Wise won Outstanding Contribution Award at BAFTAs in 1978.

In a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, voted for by industry professionals, I, Claudius was placed 12th.

United States

The series was subsequently broadcast in the United States as part of PBS's Masterpiece Theatre series, where it received critical acclaim. Tim Harvey won a 1978 Emmy for Outstanding Art Direction. The producers and director received nominations for Emmys.

In 2007 it was listed as one of Time magazine's "100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME".[6]



I, Claudius was preceded by the 1968 ITV historical drama The Caesars which covered very similar ground, but differed in its less sensationalist approach to the main characters and their motivations.[7] The BBC's subsequent historical dramas The Borgias (1981) and The Cleopatras (1983) were produced in a similar vein, although they did not match the critical and commercial success of I, Claudius.


Cover of the US release of the first I, Claudius DVD. There has since been a remastered edition with a different cover.

Most VHS and DVD versions of the TV series include the 1965 BBC documentary The Epic That Never Was, about the uncompleted Korda film version of the first book, featuring interviews with key production staff and actors as well as most of the surviving footage. The 2002 UK DVD edition also contains a documentary on the series, I, Claudius – a Television Epic, as well as some alternate and deleted scenes. The DVD release was updated on 2 December 2008. While this release has better-improved audio and video than the 2000 US DVD version, it was met with hostile reviews from some customers. This version, for example, had some parts either cut or censored from the original version and no subtitles or closed captioning.[8][9] A 35th anniversary edition was released on 27 March 2012. It includes the twelve episodes (uncut except for "Zeus, by Jove!", which in 1976 originally contained a shot of the fetus that Caligula cut from Drusilla's womb, cut from all later repeats and now lost[4]) on four discs, SDH subtitles, and one disc of bonus features.[10]

See also


  1. In Pulman's script for Claudius's speech to the Senate in the final episode, Claudius prophesies that "the man who dwells by the pool shall open graves, and the dead shall live again". This is a reference to the scriptwriter, Jack Pulman, and a pun on the book's author, Robert Graves.
  2. Happy Birthday BBC 2, BBC 2 16 April 2014
  3. Last, Richard (17 March 1977). "I, Claudius and the Jinx". The Statesman. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 "I, Claudius (TV Mini-Series 1976)". IMDb. 
  5. British Broadcasting Corporation (1977). BBC Handbook 1977: Incorporating the Annual Report and Accounts 1975-76. London: British Broadcasting Corporation. p. 47. 
  6. Poniewozik, James (September 6, 2007). "The 100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME". Time ( Retrieved April 8, 2013.    See I, Claudius.
  7. The Caesars at the Internet Movie Database
  8. " I, Claudius: Derek Jacobi, John Hurt, Siân Phillips, Brian Blessed, George Baker, Ian Ogilvy, Frances White, Margaret Tyzack, John Paul, Christopher Guard, Angela Morant, Sheila Ruskin, Herbert Wise, Dave Hillier, Martin Lisemore, Jack Pulman, Robert Graves: Movies & TV". 
  9. "[DVD Reviews] HTF DVD REVIEW: I, Claudius The Epic That Never Was - DVD, Blu-ray & Digital HD Reviews - Home Theater Forum". Home Theater Forum. 
  10. " I, Claudius (35th Anniversary Edition): Sian Phillips, Derek Jacobi, Patrick Stewart, John Hurt: Movies & TV". 

External links