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Stephen Fry - Comedian, Actor and Writer

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Stephen Fry.

Stephen John Fry is a comedic actor and writer who was born in Hampstead, London, UK on 24 August, 1957. He is the middle child of Alan Fry and Marianne Neumann. Stephen's father is a scientist and inventor and his mother is Austrian and of Jewish descent. Stephen's two siblings are his older brother, Roger and his younger sister, Jo.

Stephen is now one of Britain's most beloved comedians, and has become something of a national icon. He has appeared in nearly all facets of entertainment: television, movies, radio, books and stage. In 2005, a poll taken by various other comedians, Stephen was placed in one of the top 50 comedy acts. Much of Stephen's comedy relies on his hilarious use of language: word play, double meanings, use of silly words and aided by his very rich, warm, very English voice.

Early Life

Stephen attended Gresham's School in Holt before he went to Stout's Hill Preparatory School in Rutland. After taking his A-levels at another school and during summer break, he stole a credit card and a Diner's Club card to take travelling. He was later arrested and spent three months in Pucklechurch Prison. When he was released he went to Norwich City College but then was later accepted to Queen's College, Cambridge and later earned a 2:1 in English.

During public school, made great efforts to keep his homosexuality secret. He is now openly gay, and later joked:

I suppose it all began when I came out of the womb. I looked back up at my mother and thought to myself: that's the last time I'm going up one of those.
90 percent gay, 10 percent other.
- Emma Thompson, describing Stephen

However, Stephen was once celibate for a 16-year period.

Theatrical Career

It was at Cambridge where he became involved in Footlights, a comedy theatre group to which a number of people belonged and later became prominent performers or writers. Stephen was in over 30 different performances in Footlights. It was here that Emma Thompson introduced her boyfriend, Hugh Laurie, to Stephen because Hugh was looking for someone to help him write a pantomime. Stephen and Hugh later became a quite successful comedy team, as discussed later.

In 1979, Stephen wrote a play called Latin! This won the Fringe First at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1980 (Fringe Festivals are theatre 'festivals' that occur worldwide).

In 1984, Stephen revised the script of Me and My Girl, the musical by Noel Gay, for a West End production. This job made him a millionaire before he was 30. When the show went to Broadway, Stephen was nominated for a Tony award in 1987 for his work.

In 1990, Stephen was in an unsuccessful play called Look, Look, written by Michael Frayn.

In 1995, Stephen was in a West End play called Cell Mates. Before one performance, he was consumed by a terrible bout of stage fright and ran away from the theatre, leaving only a note of apology backstage. He disappeared for a few days during which the incident was covered by the media and many were worried about him. Luckily, he eventually turned up in Belgium.

Television Career

Since the 1980s, Stephen has been a prominent figure on British television. One of his first roles was in Al Fresco, with Emma Thompson and Ben Elton; he had a cameo as Lord Snot in The Young Ones; he was in Happy Families which also featured Hugh Laurie; he has been on the original, UK version of Whose Line is it Anyway, an improvisational comedy show and hosts QI, a quiz show.

Blackadder

In the second series of Blackadder, a comedy starring Rowan Atkinson as various incarnations of Edmund Blackadder throughout British history, Stephen played Lord Melchett, an advisor to Queen Elizabeth I.

In series three, he had a small role in one episode, as the bad-tempered Duke of Wellington. As this character, he got to physically and verbally abuse Hugh Laurie, who was playing the dimwitted George, Prince of Wales.

In the fourth and final series, he resumed a major role again as General Sir Anthony Cecil Hogmanay Melchett and co-starred again with Hugh Laurie. Stephen has also been in the various special episodes of Blackadder.

A Bit of Fry and Laurie

However, Stephen's first large role on television came in A Bit of Fry and Laurie, a sketch comedy Stephen and Hugh Laurie wrote and acted in, alongside featured guests. The pilot aired at Christmastime in 1986 and was successful enough to lead to a series which eventually ran to 26 episodes over four series from 1989 to 1995.

Jeeves and Wooster

In the early 1990s, Stephen was privileged to play the role of Jeeves in the television series Jeeves and Wooster. This series was based on PG Wodehouse's novels and short stories about the idiotic 'upper class twit' Bertie Wooster and his incredibly intelligent valet, Reginald Jeeves. In the show, Bertie was played by (surprise) Hugh Laurie.

Both Stephen and Hugh are longtime fans of the works of PG Wodehouse, and they were both wonderful matches for the roles.

Film Career

Stephen has been in quite a large number of films - much too many to list here in entirety. However, here are a few highlights:

  • Peter's Friends (1992) - A story, co-starring Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson and others, about the reunion of old friends. This movie has been described as a British version of The Big Chill.

  • Wilde (1997) - A biopic about the author and playwright Oscar Wilde. Stephen played the title role, and beared an uncanny resemblance to the actual character. Stephen said he was 'born to be Wilde'.

  • Bright Young Things (2003) - With this, Stephen made his film directing debut in this adaptation of the Evelyn Waugh novel Vile Bodies.

  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005) - The long-awaited movie adaptation of the book of the same title, Stephen was the Voice of the Guide.

  • V for Vendetta (2006) - This takes place in the future and is about a man who is intent on carrying out Guy Fawkes's plans of blowing up Parliament. Stephen plays Gordon Dietrich, a television host, and supplies the little comic relief in this dark film. Unfortunately, Stephen's character later gets killed by the government.

Stephen has also had numerous appearances in other movies such as Spiceworld, A Fish Called Wanda, The Wind in the Willows, Gosford Park and MirrorMask.

Radio Career

Stephen has been a regular guest panellist on BBC radio quiz shows like I'm Sorry, I Haven't a Clue and the long-running Just a Minute. In 1988 he had his own show on BBC 4 called Saturday Night Fry, which ran for six episodes.

In 1994, previously-performed excerpts from A Bit of Fry and Laurie were broadcast on the radio. In 2000, he played Charles Prentiss in Absolute Power, a radio play. A few years later in 2005 he had a small part in another radio play: the Quandary Phase of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, when the remaining three Hitchhiker books were made into a miniseries similar to the original. Stephen played Murray Bost Henson, a journalist friend of Arthur Dent's.

Writing Career

1992 saw the debut of Stephen's novel writing career, The Liar. On the back cover of this book, it says that Stephen has no intention to write a second novel, but is planning a third and fourth.

Stephen's literary characters often bear close similarities to his own personality. In every book, at least one character is either gay, a Cambridge student, or Jewish, reflecting Stephen's Jewish descent. Some of the stories have a slightly fantastical twist to them, though fall short of being outright fantasy.

The Liar (1992)

Stephen's first novel it follows the life of Adrian Healey, a Cambridge student secretly in love with his classmate Hugo Cartwright. Another character, one of Adrian's professors, is the eccentric Donald Trefusis who is also a character in Stephen's wireless essays from the radio show Loose Ends.

Paperweight (1992)

This is not a novel, but a collection of Stephen's previously published works. It consists of a selection of his many newspaper pieces: journalism, reviews, commentaries etc mainly from when he was a columnist for the Daily Telegraph and The Listener. Paperweight also contains the script to his play Latin!

The Hippopotamus (1994)

Stephen's second novel, this is about a writer, Ted Wallace, and his nephew, 15 year-old Davey, who seems to have inherited strange healing powers from one of the family's Jewish immigrant ancestors. The story is written first-person by Ted, but contains many third-person flashbacks throughout.

Moab is My Washpot (1997)

This is Stephen's autobiography, telling us about the first twenty years of his life. It deals with his homosexuality, and his obsession with 'Matthew Osborne'. Moab is my Washpot is something of a non-fiction version of The Liar, which in some ways parallels Stephen's own life. 'Moab is my washpot' is taken from the Bible, Psalm 60:8 and 108:9:

Moab is my washpot; over Edom will I cast my shoe.

Making History (1998)

This is Stephen's third novel and first non-humorous story, making it quite a bit different from the rest of his output. It centres around the old question: what would the world be like if Hitler was never born? Michael Young, a Cambridge student, finds out when he and an old man, who lived through Hitler's rule, make a device that will enable them to prevent Hitler's birth. When it is successful, Michael wakes up in an alternate history in which a different and more terrible fascist changed the world, and Michael is American, homosexual and living and attending college in Princeton, New Jersey!

The Stars' Tennis Balls aka Revenge (2003)

Novel number four, and again, non-humorous. This story is a modern day version of the Count of Monte Cristo, and many elements parallel the story. In fact, many of the names of the characters are anagrams of characters from Monte Cristo. The Stars' Tennis Balls is about Ned Maddstone, who is wrongfully imprisoned for years but escapes and gets revenge on the people who framed him.

Other Books

In 2002, Stephen published a diary, Rescuing the Spectacled Bear: A Peruvian Diary, about his conservation efforts for the spectacled bear in Peru, which contains many full-page colour photographs.

Stephen Fry's Incomplete and Utter History of Classical Music was published in 2004, and is what the title suggests. However, this book was in fact ghostwritten by another person.

In 2006 his how-to guide to poetry, The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within, was published, revealing Stephen's poetic talent.

Tish and Pish: How to Be of a Speakingness Like Stephen Fry, written by Stewart Ferris, teaches you about Stephen's eccentric use of the English language.

Titbits

  • Stephen has admitted to being bipolar, and had contemplated suicide. In autumn of 2006, BBC 2 aired his television programme Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive.

  • Stephen is six foot four and-a-half inches tall.

  • He has asthma.

  • He has appeared in many UK advertisements for products such as Twinings Tea.

  • In 2003, he won the last ever Pipe Smoker of the Year award.

  • He is the narrator on the British versions of the Harry Potter audio books.

  • He was one of the small number of guests at the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles.

  • He is a cricket fan.

  • His favourite authors are PG Wodehouse, Anthony Buckeridge and Douglas Adams. He is also a Sherlockian - the term for a Sherlock Holmes enthusiast.

  • He was close friends with Douglas Adams. When Douglas died in 2001, Stephen was the first person to post a tribute message on the DNA website. Stephen also wrote a foreword for The Salmon of Doubt, a collection of short pieces written by Douglas and published after his death.

  • Stephen holds the UK record for saying the 'f'-word the most times on a live television broadcast.

  • In a television remake of Watership Down, Stephen provided the voice of Cowslip, a rabbit.

  • He hosted the BAFTA awards in 2001 and 2002.

  • He pilots his own biplane.

  • Stephen uses an Apple Macintosh computer. He claims to have bought the third Mac ever sold in the UK - the first two were bought by Douglas Adams.

  • He is godfather to Hugh Laurie's children.

  • He is a fan of the band Jethro Tull.

  • Stephen despises Dan Brown's novel, The Da Vinci Code.


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