DAME Judi Dench paid tribute to efforts to promote the arts in Taunton after enthralling a packed audience with tales of her life and career on stage and screen.

She was speaking after she was quizzed by Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes at Taunton Brewhouse last Wednesday (November 2).

The two stars donated their services for free in aid of Arts Taunton, whose founder Kit Chapman hosted Dame Judi at The Castle Hotel.

Dame Judi, widely considered to be this country's foremost theatrical dame, told the County Gazette: "I was so glad to be back at The Castle Hotel and Taunton’s Brewhouse Theatre last week to see Kit Chapman and the trustees of Arts Taunton who are doing so much to promote the arts in the town.

"This charity does great work to help the community, particularly young people through their Tyca Festival, and in every sphere of creative endeavour.

"After the bleakness of the Covid lockdown it is so encouraging to have such wonderful support. Thank you Taunton."

While every seat in the Brewhouse was taken, there were hundreds of bitterly disappointed fans who had been placed on the waiting list.

Following her interview with Julian Fellowes, Dame Judi answered several questions from the audience.

She has appeared on stage in many classical roles, including Ophelia, Juliet and Lady Macbeth, while she took the part of M in several James Bond movies and appeared in TV shows such as As Time Goes By and Cranford.

Mr Chapman said: "The evening was the most extraordinary success.

"What was so wonderful was that The Brewhouse was absolutely packed out. There was not a single seat empty.

"It demonstrated that Taunton, county town of Somerset, deserves a bigger theatre. We could have had several evenings like this.

"It is quite extraordinary how big names can bring people to Taunton.

"Our hope and aspiration is to develop a regional centre for arts and culture.

"We need to think like a city, start being a destination rather than a punctuation mark on the M5."