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Preeminent British classical actor of the first post-Olivier generation, Derek Jacobi was knighted in 1994 for his services to the theatre, and, in fact, is only the second to enjoy the honor of holding TWO knighthoods, Danish and English (Olivier was the other). Modest and unassuming in nature, Jacobi's firm place in theatre history centers around his fearless display of his characters' more unappealing aspects, their great flaws, eccentricities and, more often than not, their primal torment.
Jacobi was born in Leytonstone, London, England, the only child of Alfred George Jacobi, a department store manager, and Daisy Gertrude (Masters) Jacobi, a secretary. His paternal great-grandfather was German (from Hoxter, Germany). His interest in drama began while quite young. He made his debut at age six in the local library drama group production of "The Prince and the Swineherd" in which he appeared as both the title characters. In his teens he attended Leyton County High School and eventually joined the school's drama club ("The Players of Leyton").
Derek portrayed Hamlet at the English National Youth Theatre prior to receiving his high school diploma, and earned a scholarship to the University of Cambridge, where he initially studied history before focusing completely on the stage. A standout role as Edward II at Cambridge led to an invite by the Birmingham Repertory in 1960 following college graduation. He made an immediate impression wherein his Henry VIII (both in 1960) just happened to catch the interest of Olivier himself, who took him the talented actor under his wing. Derek became one of the eight founding members of Olivier's National Theatre Company and gradually rose in stature with performances in "The Royal Hunt of the Sun," "Othello" (as Cassio) and in "Hay Fever", among others. He also made appearances at the Chichester Festival and the Old Vic.
He and his life-time companion of three decades, Richard Clifford, filed as domestic partners in England in 2006. Clifford, a fine classical actor and producer in his own right, has shared movie time with Jacobi in Little Dorrit (1987), Henry V (1989), and the TV version of Cyrano de Bergerac (1985).