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on 7 October 2013
Sir Derek Jacobi is one of Britain's greatest actors and therefore it was with immense pleasure that I heard a few months ago that he was publishing his autobiography in view of the rich and impressive career he has had so far (and hopefully this will continue for many years to come!). And Sir Derek the man emerges from this book very much like his acting portrayals: honest, truthful and moreover, wonderfully human.

The course of his life, from his childhood to the present, is pretty comprehensive and we get a nice balance of his experiences from both his personal and professional life, along with numerous interesting and amusing anecdotes. For those following the history of British theatre, this is a treasure trove of information regarding his time with the Marlowe Society at Cambridge, the Birmingham Rep, the National Theatre, the Old Vic/Prospect Theatre Company and of course, his highly successful tenure at the Royal Shakespeare Company in the early 1980s and after. Sadly, all this isn't indexed and one has to navigate via the chapter titles which of course is more than possible but not so convenient.

As mentioned by other reviewers though, a lack of proofreading and factual errors sometimes mar one's enjoyment of this otherwise very lovely book. As this is a collaborative effort between Sir Derek and Garry O'Connor (or to be more precise, the inside cover states that this is an 'as told to' book...it would have perhaps been better to explicitly state this on the front cover, or even in HarperCollins' press release/book description), it is rather difficult to know who (along with the proofreaders) is responsible for this.

It was disconcerting, for example, to see Shakespeare's 'Benedick' after having been spelt in the correct way for a great many pages suddenly spelt 'Benedict' - though this happened only once - in the following chapter. With regard to Christine Edzard's film 'The Fool' in which Sir Derek plays two roles, Frederick is the name of the clerk and not the name of the speculator who is named Sir John. In Chapter 13, 'The Passport Prince', it is stated that about thirty years into his acting career, Sir Derek's passport was discovered to have an Israeli visa whereupon he was hastily issued with a new passport to enable him to survive immigration in Cairo. In fact, this story was related in Peter Lewis's book, 'The Facts about a Theatre Company: Featuring the Prospect Company' (G. Whizzard Publications, 1978) which described the Prospect Company's 1977 tour when this took place. So therefore it was not about thirty but about twenty years into his career. But seeing that Sir Derek has played hundreds of roles in his long career, he can be forgiven for the occasional slip of memory. However, it can't be denied that it was extremely troubling to see a section of Lewis's book being used (pages 188-189 in 'As Luck Would Have It' read almost the same as pages 25-26 in 'The Facts...') without proper attribution. It also speaks, and I hate to say it, of laziness on the part of the writer and like one reviewer mentioned before me, Sir Derek deserves so much better than that.

Had this been proofread, and more importantly, thoroughly read through by those familiar with Sir Derek's career and the numerous roles he's done, these errors might have easily been avoided. These problems aside however, there is still much to enjoy in this memoir and fans will learn a good deal about this great man as well as his craft.
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on 3 October 2013
Sir Derek Jacobi's book is an engrossing read, but with reservations - a treasure trove of theatrical stories, featuring the likes of "Sir" (Laurence Olivier), The Master (Noel Coward), Maggie Smith, Edith Evans, Richard Burton, Ian McKellen, Michael York and all the others Jacobi worked with, particularly during those great National Theatre days of the '60s. As I said, a fascinating, easy read. It is though the standard price for a theatrical memoir but seems to have been done on the cheap, surely with a memoir like this one needs an Index and a full list of stage/film/tv credits (Jacobi keeps busy, with over 130 credits according to IMDB), but they haven't bothered. The book is by Derek "as told to Garry O'Connor" - and indeed reads like Sir Derek is talking to us himself. Just one howler: Veteran director Fred Zinnemann (Derek had a part in his DAY OF THE JACKAL) is referred to as Fred Zimmermann the 3 or 4 times he is mentioned! - perhaps the price of transcribing someone's story.
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on 16 June 2014
Jacobi is one of the finest classical actors in the world - even if his very famous portrayal of Hamlet in the 1979 BBC production now seems pretty hammy - and considering this and his vast experience and body of work, you would guess that this would be an exceptionally enjoyable and detailed memoir. But while the book is certainly readable and quite absorbing, Jacobi is no writer, and even with experienced biographer Garry O'Connor (incidentally, a former drama school colleague of Jacobi) to assist, this is a superficial and sometimes remarkably clumsy book. Some of the earlier chapters are merely two or three pages long, while later on Jacobi fails to go into much depth at all regarding how he plays characters. Several anecdotes are far from memorable, proving badly told and anticlimactic. (Perhaps the longest and most passionate of these is one about his dog recently going missing for a time on a walk). He even misspells the names of two of his most famous collaborators - Fred Zinnemann who directed him in 'Day of the Jackal' is spelled Zimmermann, and Jon Voight from 'The Odessa File' is now Voigt, although of course these may be the fault of the editor. We get only a brief mention of his superb Emmy-winning guest spot on Frasier, and even his work with Kenneth Branagh, who was inspired to become an actor after seeing Jacobi play Hamlet and who directed Jacobi in one of the finest ever Shakespearean performances put on film - as Claudius in his 1996 epic - is given surprisingly short shrift. But despite these major problems, this a very likeable and warm autobiography, at its best in the often very funny recollections of his time working with Olivier, Maggie Smith, and Edith Evans etc., while he is exceptionally generous and kind more often than not in his assessment of fellow actors. It is a book that is well worth reading. It's just a pity that given Jacobi's brilliance and near-sixty-year career, there is not an awful lot to sink your teeth into - I read the entire book in just under three hours.
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on 4 January 2014
What has happened to our once great publishing houses? This autobiography by one of our finest and best loved actors is published by Harper Collins, a firm that I would have expected to produce better than this shoddy, cynical piece of work. The "Afterword and Acknowledgements" indicate that the book had been in preparation for seven years and that Garry O'Connor, its ghostwriter, had interviewed dozens of people during that period, presumably with the intention of producing a full biography. Did the publishers become impatient? Did someone at Harpers think it would be a great idea to cash in quickly on the success of Last Tango in Halifax? Who knows. But I strongly suspect the book is based entirely on an unedited transcription of tape recorded reminiscences by Jacobi, rushed into print without care or attention. No proof reading, no index, no fact checking, no second or third draft, no appendix listing his theatre, TV and film credits. Well, here's one member of the reading public who cares very much about omissions and errors, and who is becoming tired of books that reveal too clearly that some publishers are not doing their job properly.
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on 7 October 2013
This was a pleasant quick read and Derek Jacobi emerges as a nice man (as you probably do from autobiography). But I was left with some serious doubts about the book.

First, it really does need an index. Surely part of the pleasure of theatrical memoirs is to be able to look up what the author says about his various contemporaries.

Secondly, there seems a worrying level of factual error. At least in the areas of Jacobi's life I'm familiar with. On just the first page of his account of student life at Cambridge, he begins by describing St. John's (his college) as the "third on the left down King's Parade after King's, Clare's and Trinity". Well... that would make it the fourth on the left, "Clare's" College is spelt "Clare" College, and neither Clare nor Trinity is actually on King's Parade (and nor is St John's for that matter). Immediately afterwards he mentions the beautiful St John's College chapel built by the college founder Lady Margaret Beaufort. But it wasn't - it's a nineteenth century building more than 400 years later than Beaufort. And Beaufort was John of Gaunt's great grand-daughter not, as the book would have it, his daughter.

On the same page Magdalene Bridge is spelt Magdalen Bridge, which is in Oxford. And a few pages earlier he tells us about his college admissions interview with a Fellow called Harry Hinsley who he describes, on several occasions, as The Master. But Hinsley wasn't Master of the College until twenty years later.

On one level this is of course nit-picking. But it did make me wonder about the rest of book. I'm not very familiar with the theatrical world, so how far could I trust what I was reading elsewhere? Perhaps it doesn't matter too much in a cosy memoir such as this, but if these "as told to" books aren't adequately copy-edited and fact-checked they can come across as shoddy, produced on the cheap efforts that reflect very poorly on the author. Derek Jacobi deserves better.
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VINE VOICEon 10 September 2014
Derek Jacobi has always been a favourite of mine and I loved his Hamlet (at the Old Vic) and fell off my seat laughing at his rendition of Benedict and his witty exchanges with Sinead Cusack as Beatrice in "Much Ado About Nothing". I adored his Claudius with the whole nation and lately enjoyed his portrayal of Alan in "Last Tango in Halifax". His gentle persona shines through this new autobiography as it has done through all his stage and TV performances.

Charming and unpretentious, in this book Jacobi has given his readers a tantalising glimpse of his life, focussing mainly on his career as an actor. He name-drops with aplomb, from "Sir" (Sir Laurence Olivier) to Ian McKellen and the book tends to read like a Who's Who of British theatre since the 1950s, but as Derek has spent his life in this world, the theatrical personalities are vital and essential threads of Jacobi's rich tapestry. There is an endearing candour in his writing - he doesn't pretend to be a great writer, telling his story in short, straightforward chapters without labouring points or boring his readers with tedious detail. An only child in a close-knit family, Jacobi makes no bones about his gay propensities, and delights in sly touches of humour and sometimes bold language and reference, but without a touch of malice. Jacobi's benign character shines through the pages as an Ariel "doing his spiriting gently".

Anyone interested in British theatre over the last half-century will enjoy this autobiography, and the refreshing lightness of touch which is Derek Jacobi's signature. A lovely book.
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on 8 August 2014
Being the same age as Derek most of his early childhood recollection reflected my own and it was a treat to go back down memory lane. It was an easy interesting read from start to finish. I admire Sir Derek Jacobi,s acting he is always a pleasure to watch.
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on 25 November 2013
I wanted to read this as I am a huge fan of Derek Jacobi. I found the book interesting bit not as entertaining a read as I had hoped. It is very detailed in the descriptions of the productions he has acted in, but it is well written and the photographs are superb.
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on 19 August 2016
Firstly, thank you Sir Derek Jacobi for sharing your life's journey with us. This autobiography tells of one man's struggle in doing what he does best - act! It has been an intellectual treat to follow this wonderful man's career. This must surely indicate just how great Derek is by being Knighted twice! A great read - I couldn't put the book down. May Shakespeare bow down to you, Sir. I'm sure he would definitely approve!
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on 31 January 2014
Jacobi is a brilliant actor, and i could watch him forever. But he's really only an okay writer. He's articulate and clear, but ultimately I didn't feel engaged.
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