FILMING on The Hobbit, the long-awaited prequel to The Lord of the Rings, should start in the new year, according to former Bolton School boy Sir Ian McKellen.

“The aim is to start filming in January,” he said.

The actor is slated to reprise his role as the wizard Gandalf, for which he received two Oscar nominations, but has said he wouldn’t be “sitting waiting” for shooting to start.

In the meantime the actor is filming in the archives of The Lowry, in Salford Quays, for a new documentary about the painter.

And he has revealed he owns a painting by Lowry, which he has bequeathed to Bolton School in his will, “on the understanding it will not be hung in the headmaster’s office but somewhere everyone can see”, he said. “However, hopefully they won’t be receiving it any time soon.”

The star visited his former school the day after filming for the documentary, which is produced by Foxtrot Films and will receive a cinema release next year, took place in Manchester.

“I think Lowry was a great painter — many other people do too,” said the actor. “I do think Lowry had a bad rap from a lot of people in the art establishment, mainly for snobbish reasons,” he said. “He was a working man and he was from the North, he didn’t fit with their idea of an artist.”

However, he sees him as one of the most important British painters.

“He taught us how to look at a crowd,” he said. “No-one had done that before, but we are all part of the crowds he painted, we are all like the people in his pictures.”

Margy Kinmouth, who is directing the documentary, agreed Lowry was often overlooked.

“The purpose of the film is to put Lowry’s stature to rights with the art world,” she said.

“Despite his immense popularity he is not completely accepted by the art establishment.”

She described Sir Ian’s involvement in the documentary as “fantastic”, and said: “Sir Ian is someone who has had a long term interest in the theatricality of Lowry.”