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Benedict Cumberbatch (Photo: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images)

The audience for Letters Live got more than they bargained for at the Hay Festival on Saturday (May 28).

The event, part of an annual celebration of books in the small town of Hay-on-Wye in England, saw actors and celebrities read out correspondence from some of the most fascinating figures in history, including classic letters by Roald Dahl, Beatrix Potter, Barack Obama, and Kurt Vonnegut.

Among those actors reading were Olivia Colman, Tom Hollander (both seen recently in The Night Manager), Maxine Peake (The Theory of Everything), Toby Jones (The Detectorists), Louise Brealey (Sherlock), and Mark Strong (Kingsman: The Secret Service).

Here they are preparing their pieces backstage…

And yes, you’ve spotted him, Benedict Cumberbatch was also there with wife Sophie Hunter, who read out a heartbreaking letter from Chrissy Hart, the mother of a young girl with cancer, to her favorite author J. K. Rowling.

Benedict, Louise Brealey and Toby Jones are all currently filming Sherlock in nearby Cardiff.

Until finally, it was Benedict’s turn to take to the stage.

Benedict read a famous letter written in the seventeenth century by a band of Zaporozhian Cossacks to the Sultan Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire, which has been called the “rudest diplomatic letter ever written,” including as it does a few insults Sherlock himself would be proud of:

And he also read out an open letter written by Dr Mark Talbot, a palliative care consultant based in Cardiff, to David Bowie, following the star’s death in January.

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By Kat Sommers
Kat is a freelance writer for Anglophenia.