Dame Judi Dench and Sir Ian McKellen have paid tribute to Sir John Gielgud, with Dame Judi describing him as a “brilliant actor and brilliant friend”.

The Oscar-award winning British actor and director, who was a master of Shakespearean roles, died aged 96 in May 2000.

A memorial stone honouring his life and work was unveiled at Westminster Abbey on Monday, with a memorial service taking place on Tuesday.

During the service in the Abbey’s Poets’ Corner, Dame Judi, 87, read Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29 as a tribute to Sir John.

Sir Ian, 82, also paid tribute to Sir John who starred in more than 60 feature films and TV productions, including Julius Caesar with Marlon Brando, Gandhi, Chariots Of Fire and Gulliver’s Travels.

Before reading an extract from Shakespeare’s play Sir Thomas More, Sir Ian said: “All I know of him is a witty tongue and a keen eye, but also a generosity.”

Sir Ian also recalled his first meeting with Sir John, during which the late actor said: “When I die the only reason I’ll be remembered is because I’m the first queer actor to be knighted.”

Sir Ian added: “Isn’t that sad. He was a victim of cruel laws.”

English film and theatre director Sir Richard Eyre described Sir John’s acting as “casting a spell that’s lasted a lifetime”.

Sir John Gielgud memorial stone
A memorial stone to actor Sir John Gielgud has been installed in the floor of Westminster Abbey (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Reflecting on Sir John’s career, which spanned seven decades, Sir Richard, 79, added: “It seems odd to say it now, but he convinced West End audiences of the joys of Shakespeare.”

He added: “He consistently took risks and accepted challenges.”

English playwright and director David Hare also paid tribute to Sir John, saying: “John Gielgud was loved by audiences as much for his character, for who he was, as for his brilliant acting.”

Sir John won the best supporting actor Academy Award in 1982 for playing Dudley Moore’s valet in Arthur.

Sir John was knighted in 1953 and was appointed to the Order of Merit in 1996.