Alan Bennett once overheard an old lady say, ‘I think a knighthood was wasted on Derek Jacobi,’ and I know what she means. It’s strange how he has always been singled out for prizes and high honours — why not Ronald Pickup, Charles Kay, Edward Petherbridge, Frank Finlay or the late Jeremy Brett? Ian Richardson absolutely hated him — just couldn’t contain his envy and incredulity, at least in my presence.
Though I’ve never been able to believe in Jacobi on stage or screen as a villain or as a passionate lover, by being fundamentally unthreatening (and shrewd), he is esteemed — just like the Emperor Claudius, his signature role. He is a good courtier, having been a pal of Princess Margaret’s and a guest at Windsor Castle, where the Queen said to him, regarding the plot of Richard III, ‘Some things never change!’ He even holds the Order of the Dannebrog, first class, awarded to him by Queen Margrethe ‘during a celebration in Tivoli Gardens’.