On 20 September 1976, the first episode of the 12-part historical drama I, Claudius aired. Adapted from two novels by Robert Graves – I, Claudius and Claudius the God, it depicted decadent imperial Roman life and was a ratings success.
Derek Jacobi’s portrayal of Claudius was matched by an outstanding performance from Sian Phillips as Livia, his scheming grandmother. Both actors had to age through the series, and required hours in the make-up chair.
I, Claudius proved that historical drama did not have to be staid. The popularity of the programme led to a repeat the following year, and inspired other historical dramas not to shy away from adult themes. I, Claudius won BAFTA awards for Jacobi and Phillips, as well as one for designer Tim Harvey.
The title sequence featuring a snake slithering across a mosaic portrait of Claudius was parodied in the second series of popular BBC comedy Blackadder.