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A great read about a great actor - numerous factual errors aside
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.