THE actor Ian McKellen, star of the The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, delighted fans by posing for photos, signing autographs and raising thousands of pound for an Oxford theatre.

The national treasure, one of the world's greatest actors, appeared on stage at the Oxford Playhouse last night for the first of two nights to share stories from his career, including his defining role as Gandalf in the films based on the JRR Tolkien epics.

After a standing ovation, he urged audience members to support the Oxford Playhouse's work in supporting grassroots theatre and nurturing homegrown talent before making his way to the foyer to collect cash in a bucket.

The collection along with ticket sales and proceeds from souvenir programmes made nearly £45,000, which will go towards supporting new plays and Oxford Playhouse productions.

The shows are part of a national tour of theatres which have featured in Sir Ian's life, and see him celebrating his 80th birthday.

Playhouse Director Louise Chantal said:"What Ian McKellan is doing to support theatres across the whole of the country is truly unique - a year-long marathon of giving back to the industry he so clearly adores.

"We adore him too, and last night was one of the most spellbinding performances I have ever seen - a two-hour love letter to British theatre."

The X Men star said earlier: "As a Visiting Fellow to neighbouring Worcester College, I’m delighted to be back in support of the Playhouse’s Offstage Fund, working with thousands of children across the county each year."

During the show, Sir Ian, wearing his trademark wizard's hat, invited a young fan onto the stage to wield the sword he used as Gandalf.

He talked about his early love for theatre as a boy, his first experiences on stage and spoke fondly of fellow actors with whom he has worked. He also performed powerful passages from his favourite Shakespeare plays, following prompts from the audience, talked about his experiences as a gay man, and spoke of his previous visits to the Oxford Playhouse, where he first appeared in 1966 in the Russian play The Promise with Judi Dench and Ian McShane.

Talking about the Playhouse he asked: "Is anyone here for the first time? Oh good... aren't you lucky to have discovered it."

He also revealed he was turned down for a place at Jesus College, Oxford.

Oxford Mail:

Sir Ian said of playing Gandalf: "JRR Tolkien was writing at Pembroke while I was in the north waiting to be born.

"I had never read The Lord of the Rings but I have since met friends... and complete strangers who say they read it every year!"

He added: "Has anyone here been on a stamp? A coin? I have. Well, it wasn't me, it was Gandalf!"

Sir Ian, who was only the second openly gay man to have received a knighthood, also shared stories about 'outing' himself as a homosexual, saying: "I heard a closet door slam... the weight was off my shoulders and I joined the human race."

Oxford Mail:

'None shall pass... without donating': Sir Ian rattles the collection bucket 

Sir Ian, who performs his show at the Playhouse again tonight, was this morning enjoying the festivities for May Morning as a guest of Magdalen College. He was also spotted in the Turf pub.