Dame Judi Dench has criticised young actors for their apparent lack of interest in theatre greats.

The 82-year-old legend of stage and screen was unveiling a plaque of Sir John Gielgud at his former home in London alongside fellow icon Sir Ian McKellen when she decided to take a swipe at the new generation of performers who, in her opinion, lack respect for the work of their predecessors.

She said: ''What is so shocking is that young actors don't want to find out about the legacy that we've been left. They don't want to know about David Garrick and Sir Henry Irving and Peggy Ashcroft and Edith Evans, and that seems to me to be a terrible shame.

''Because although the fashion now may not be to speak the way that John and Peggy and Ralph Richardson and Sir Laurence Olivier spoke, nevertheless if you listen to Sir John you will always get what Shakespeare means.

''They're just not curious. It's just non-curiosity. I think it's terribly important to know the huge history of theatre that we have, why you're in it, what people did before, the lives of actors.''

Dench was speaking outside Cowley Street, which was Gielgud's home from 1945 to 1976. The actor-and-director was given his knighthood in 1953 and also had a theatre named after him.

Gielgud was arrested after having sex in a public toilet and thought his career was over but his case became one of a number that moved the landmark legislation that decriminalised homosexual acts.

'Skyfall' star Dench said how unveiling the plaque reminded her how Gielgud had helped her as a young actor.

She said: ''The director, Michael Saint-Denis, gave me a very hard time and almost destroyed my confidence. But at one rehearsal, as we exited at the end of act one, Sir John said, 'Oh if you'd been doing that for me in one of my productions, I'd have been delighted.' I was devoted to him for evermore.''