Taping an episode of BBC genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are, which airs next week (25Jan17), the Lord of the Rings star was stunned to learn his ancestor came up with the idea of the end of the working week in England.

In the mid-1800s Robert Lowes petitioned business leaders in Manchester to allow for a half-day on Saturdays, and finally convinced the industrialists to allow workers to go home at 1pm.

"I’m very, very impressed with what Robert did," MCKellen says. "The world changes because somebody has an argument with somebody, a discussion and then an agreement. One initiative like this doesn’t change the world, but it certainly helps."

Historian Amanda Wilkinson told the actor his ancestor's half-day 'holiday' was adopted by other cities across England, eventually becoming what we know today as the weekend.