Ialways find it irritating to be told by newspapers or media pundits, concerning any area of human achievement, that so-and-so is “the greatest”. These judgments can only ever be a matter of opinion and it is annoying to have someone else’s views paraded as if they were shared by everyone.

There was a double whammy of this earlier in the year from the Sunday Times ahead of the opening of the National Theatre’s production of King Lear. This was said to be a collaboration between “our greatest director and actor” in the shape of Sam Mendes and Simon Russell Beale.

Last Saturday, the Daily Telegraph was at it, describing Russell Beale as “our greatest Shakespearean actor” above an article in which he sought to justify some of the peculiarities of Mendes’s production. These include the mad monarch’s bludgeoning to death of the Fool in a moorland hovel that comes oddly equipped with a bath.

Now Russell Beale is indeed a very fine Shakespearian actor who has not fought shy of challenges like, say, playing Hamlet when he was old enough to be his uncle Claudius. But the greatest . . . ?

Asked for my own nomination, I would suggest that Sir Antony Sher is considerably his superior. Over 30 years, since his groundbreaking Richard III, I have praised his work with the RSC in many of the key roles in the canon, including Macbeth, Leontes, Iago, Shylock and Malvolio. As The Oxford Times went to press, I was witnessing his opening night performance as Falstaff in Stratford’s new production of Henry IV Parts I and II. I do not think that I shall have been disappointed.