For the last week I have mostly been reading three books by Stephen Fry. This was for work, you understand, not for pleasure. I am not a fan.
What an interesting fellow he must be: not yet 60, he has published three volumes about himself. In 1997, Moab is My Washpot, billed on the cover of the paperback edition as “The Bestselling Autobiography”. In 2010, The Fry Chronicles: an autobiography. In 2014, More Fool Me: a memoir.
Whether memoir or autobiography, they are all frightful. I am not sure if it is the faux self-deprecating preening self-regard and self-absorption or… No, it is the faux self-deprecating preening self-regard and self-absorption. But.
One has to admire the work ethic. More Fool Me especially details a work rate that is nothing less than Stakhanovite. A voice-over in the morning, writing session with Hugh Laurie in the afternoon, a speech delivered in the evening, possibly in Manchester – and then the Groucho Club back in London and a drug intake that is astonishing. He was the Keith Richards of comedy. And as with Keef the work was good in the decade or so this book covers: four series of Blackadder, several series of A Little Bit of Fry and Laurie, roles in movies I’ve never seen – Peter’s Friends, anyone? – and a couple of novels. Terrible novels, imho, but bestsellers. And two more novels to come. So, respect.
What comes out of this third volume especially is what a saint Hugh Laurie must be to have put up with all of Fry’s bad behaviour for all those years. What’s also striking – maybe this is because of all the drugs – is that the best jokes are by others. A friend calls Sir Ian McKellen “Serena McKellen”. Once heard, that cannot be unheard. And this from Barry Humphries as Dame Edna on Virginia Woolf:
Darling Virginia, a woman with whom I have so much in common, except of course that I can swim.
So here is a clip from A Little Bit of Fry and Laurie which Fry refers to approvingly as a parody of The Two Ronnies but – well, see if you think it’s funny: