The actor attended Harrow, where he claims to have witnessed entrenched prejudice against gay pupils.
“In an all-male boarding school, in the olden days, it was seen as being something that ‘just happened’ since there were no girls, so you had a bit of an experience,” said Cumberbatch. “But there was incredible homophobia at my school, to the point where two boys who were caught doing something were literally chased down the street.”
He was 18 when he came across one particularly strong display of homophobia, after two boys “were just discovered in bed together doing something”.
“I was just finishing an essay in the school dining hall at breakfast, and I looked out the window and heard a commotion, a pair of feet scampering by, and then a horde just charging after shouting, ‘W**kers! Faggots!’ and I thought, ‘What the f**k is going on?’” he recalled.
Cumberbatch decided to make a bid to sway the mindset of his peers.
“I asked these kids coming back from the house who were breathless from the hunt, ‘What are you doing, you insane idiots? What the f**k?’” he told The Daily Beast.
“They explained it, and I said, ‘And you’re a Sikh, you’re Jewish, and you’re from Kenya. Do you want to just sit down and talk about the strife that your people have suffered because of your religion, race, creed, or colour? I mean, f**k me! You’ve really got to wake up to the fact that the world is full of disgusting prejudice because we are all different from one another.
“’You have to learn acceptance at this school, and you have to go into the world as a better person, and you have to try and embrace the fact that people are different rather than defining yourself by not being like them. Who cares that they’re gay? You have to coexist.’”
In July 2013, Cumberbatch officiated the gay marriage of his friends, Seth Cummings and Rob Rinder, in Ibiza.
He is thought to tipped for an Oscar for his current role in The Imitation Game, in which he plays Alan Turing, the Second World War code-breaker who in 1951 was convicted for gross indecency over a homosexual act.