Stephen Fry’s new volume of memoirs, The Fry Chronicles: An Autobiography, is a delightful account of the legendary British comedian/actor’s years at Cambridge, and his first years in show business. Even his occasional overwriting is so quickly followed by witty self-deprecation that he never loses the reader’s sympathy and interest. To read this book is to fall in love (perhaps not for the first time) with its subjects: one of the world’s greatest universities, and the British comic tradition. Strongly recommended.
And the second recommendation is like unto it. One of Fry’s first assignments in broadcasting was a low-budget Granada sketch-comedy show called Alfresco (1983–4). In addition to Fry, it featured his longtime comedy partner Hugh Laurie, and the splendid Robbie Coltrane; but the real revelation is a very young, just-out-of-college Emma Thompson. We all know her, of course, as a serious actress in Shakespearean and other venues; but she turns out to be immensely gifted in sketch comedy, a real treat playing both upper-class and lower-class characters. (In my personal favorite, she plays a tweedy upper-class lady delivering a lecture to a parish-hall audience on her recent visit to the missions: She occasionally interrupts her clipped, almost Joan Greenwood-style speech with imitations of animal noises from the bush. Hilarious, and absolutely classic. Film acting’s gain is comedy’s loss.) I had never heard of this show before reading Fry’s book; I ordered it from Netflix and loved it.
Fry is well-known for his views on politics and religion. I asked a conservative British acquaintance whether Fry is generally beloved in the U.K., or viewed as more of a partisan figure. My acquaintance said, Definitely the former: Even conservatives really like the guy.