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Although billed as an autobiography, The Fry Books actually cover a very small section of Stephen Fry's life. For those who are unaware, and in Britain I'd imagine that to be very few people, Stephen Fry is best known as one of the stalwarts of British comedy, appearing in classics such as QI, Blackadder, and the sketch show, A Bit of Fry and Laurie. But to call him just a comedian would do him a disservice; he is also a prolific writer and serious actor. The Fry Chronicles tell us the early part of his life, touching briefly on his boarding school before chronicling his three years at Cambridge, and then the early part of his writing and comedy career.
Fry has written another volume of autobiography, which I have not yet read, entitled 'Moab is my Washpot'. This covered the first twenty years of his life, and for this reason, 'The Fry Chronicles' does not greatly detail them. He discusses his feelings on first leaving home, and focuses particularly on his sugar addiction which led him to steal, but it is clear that there are plenty of events during this period that he doesn't touch on; attempted suicide and incarceration being the two major examples. The book really begins to go into detail the summer before he is due to go up to Cambridge. He gets a job teaching at a prep school, and discovers he has an aptitude for it, gaining himself a holiday job either side of Cambridge terms, and at this stage he plans to go into teaching as a career.
Half of the book is taken up with tales of his time reading English at Cambridge. He does a decent job of explaining the idiosyncrasies of Cambridge life; the collegiate system, and the May Week which actually occurs in June. I am about to start my third year at Cambridge, so am well aware of how odd it can seem to an outsider, but I think Stephen does a good job of explaining it. Most of his time as an undergraduate was not taken up with his degree, but with his budding acting career, taking roles in every sort of play imaginable, in college productions, and in university-wide productions. He also penned a play, and in his third year, became involved with the famous Cambridge Footlights, penning sketches and performing with Hugh Laurie, who would go on to become his long time comedy partner. On the way, he ran into seemingly almost every star of British acting and comedy: Emma Thompson, Sandi Toksvig, and Tony Slattery to name but a few.
After graduating, Stephen Fry takes us through the first few years of his comedy and acting career. After being snatched up by an agent, he and Hugh Laurie collaborated with Ben Elton on their own sketch show, Alfresco, while he alone re-wrote the musical 'Me and My Girl', which eventually made it to Broadway. Other notable work includes radio sketches, and roles in stage productions, giving him enough money to buy a large house in the country, as well as the London house he shared with Laurie and two others, several expensive cars, and a new Apple Macintosh, costing £1000. The book ends with the filming of the second series of Blackadder, which really catapulted him to fame, and the beginnings of 'A Bit of Fry and Laurie'.
We get an odd picture of Stephen Fry through this book. On the one hand, there is the immensely open man, who is happy to talk about his innermost feelings. He did a documentary on manic depression, so is clearly happy to talk about it, and what we get here is an insight into the mind of a manic depressive. We are witness to all of the self-doubt and self-loathing that goes through his mind, told in a frank manner, and pulling no punches. On the other hand, we get very few details of his personal life. His relationship with a friend Kim is mentioned only as an afterthought, and we are not told of how that relationship ended, or what influenced his decision to be celibate; we are only told of this decision in the context of the article he wrote on it for Tatler. So his autobiography is the story of his professional life, and the story of his mental torment, but not his personal life.
The narrative slips out of chronological order at times in the second half, which can make it a little difficult to keep track of events. Overall, I preferred the first half to the second. I read this over the summer holidays, and his stories of Cambridge, while very different to what I have experienced, made me nostalgic to return to that beautiful city. Being already familiar with the subject matter, I hence enjoyed this section more. However, I am quite unfamiliar with a lot of Stephen fry's earliest work, and given that this section seemed to be a roll call of people he had worked with and jobs he had done, I found it less engaging. I was filled with the utmost admiration for his talent and hard work, but I was not left entertained.
As you might expect from Stephan Fry the book is beautifully written, although I found myself reaching for a dictionary on a couple of occasions! Thus he portrays the beauty and decadence of his Cambridge, the Bohemian nature of 1980s London and its gay scene, and his own mental anguishes exquisitely. It is with his thought processes that his writing really shines; one of my favourite quotes come from when he talks about his hope that he is not alone in his torment: "And if I am not alone, then neither are you, and hand in hand we can marvel together at the strangeness of the human condition."
My favourite thing about this book is the chance to compare Cambridge in the 1970s with Cambridge today. However, I realise this will only make it appeal to a small audience of Cambridge alumni. What is probably the bigger draw is the touching and beautifully portrayed insight into the mind of a manic depressive, who also happens to be one of Britain's greatest personalities.
I bought this paperback 446 page biography of Stephen Fry in Asda a few months ago for less than the RRP of £8.99 and read it within 4 days. I watch QI frequently and follow Twitter etc so I am quite fond of Stephen Fry and as I love reading biographies I thought this book was a must-buy.
The first thing to point out is the book only covers a short span of Stephen's career- as stated on the back cover:- "from Fry's success at Cambridge.... to his first forays into television". I had read this in the shop, but it didn't register with me, so I did partially assume this was going to be a biography covering more years than it does.
The book is chronologically written with Stephen's reminiscing tilt on some of the stories - and some narrative about hindsight etc., I did enjoy reading the book but would have liked it to cover more than it did. I like biographies that span more of someone's life and career- not just the starting points. But- this is my error for misjudging the book and not reading the cover well enough to know what I was getting.
It goes without saying that the book is well written and contains a lot of words I had to make a note of and google what they meant- the language and words used are what you would expect from someone as esteemed in the English language as Stephen Fry.
The book covers his days at school briefly- the background to him meeting up with people such as Hugh Laurie and the birth of their comedy ventures - playing small comedy nights and also covers things such as Stephen's obsession with new technology and how he came to end up being arrested for imprisoned. I won't divulge the entire contents of the book, but will say it is a nice read. Interesting and informative but it only covers his life up to a point, then stops.
I wanted to read on- and was disappointed the book does not cover more than it does- but I suppose this is reserved for future books (the title "Chronicles" does indicate more than one book). I wanted to read all about Stephen's manic depression (suffering with clinical depression myself)- but each chapter in the book is entitled with a word beginning with C-- making me wonder if there are prequels of A and B and 20 more books to follow....
Overall- I wouldn't pay £8.99 for this as it is a read-once type of book. I would recommend hiring this from a library or getting it from Green Metropolis or another book buying site (amazon etc). The print is a decent size too- but you will need to have a thesaurus to hand to interpret some of the more flowery words.
As he has so much going on in his life, it is hardly surprising that Stephen Fry has written another autobiography. At a time when the likes of Jordan and Wayne Rooney have a number of them under their belts, it is about time there was the next instalment from someone I would consider one of the most interesting people on television. He at least has something of interest to add to his original one - Moab is my Washpot and I think that this book shows a lot of the person he is.
I was expecting this to be a written version of what I see on QI, but this was not the case. He is open and honest but there are a few occasions when the stories are not particularly entertaining. I don't know if this is deliberate in an attempt to show us that he has some pretty boring days as well or if they are including for some cathartic reason of Stephens. The most likely reason is that he is so nice that he will not want to offend friends and colleagues by including the nasty things they say or do.
I think he has put a lot of time and effort into the book as for the couple of months he wrote it, he was away from Twitter and in the past that will have taken up a great deal of his time. It is full of stories about the people he worked with and how they all came into his life, and includes the work they did together before he left University and begin his career as a writer/actor/celebrity.
He writes with a clear amount of affection about Hugh Laurie and how they met and from the beginning were able to think the same way and wanted each article they wrote to have the same meaning or message.
One of the main things I remember about the book is how he writes so kindly and affectionately about other people and yet is so critical of himself. Even when writing the introduction there are apologies in case certain stories are not understood, or if there are any repetitions from the first volume. This book starts where the previous one ended and outlines his time at University and a little bit afterward - up until he reaches 30.
One thing that makes it easy to see that Stephen Fry wrote this book is the way the chapters are written. Many writers would condense the 425 pages down to a lot less but his flamboyant use of language means that he writes 6 words when 1 would do. One of the first things I noticed was that all the chapters begin with the letter C and whil this is referred to in the introduction it is not explained.
I have given 4 out of 5 stars as there is the feeling that it is a little bit longer than it needs to be, but would certainly recommend it.
"All that love tobacco and boys are but fools"
Let's face it, Stephen Fry has become a bit of a wind bag of late, his only stick now seemingly throwing big words at the upper working-classes that seem to love what ever he does, maybe how Fry amuse himself to lift him out of his manic depression, but those of his higher social class rejecting him as the intellectual he seems to think he is and so not buying into him.
Fry tends to lay down the rules early on in his books that he is smarter than you because he knows big words and doesn't apologise for it, Will Self another in this category although in Self's case often feeling just contempt for his readers. I have got nothing against the bloke, Fry & Laurie and the Blackadder stuff some of the smartest comedy we have seen since the Pythons, but was has he done since, other than ramble on about things in documentaries that anyone else could do? Yes his reassuring tones put a lot of middle-class kids to sleep with his Harry Potter audio books but even I could drive across America in a black taxi and discover more than he did. He has become the token loveable dusty monacled duffer from Oxbridge, almost a parody of one of the wonderful characters he created in in his comedy, a lazy and no doubt flatulent man.
The trouble with Fry's books - fiction and non fiction - are they are all rather pretentious and laced with big words. It's almost as it you are stepping through a verbal minefield, having you reaching for the thesaurus if you step on one, blown up in embarrassment for not knowing what vituperation' means. It's almost as if he can't resist alienating the reader that he feels are not befitting of his erudite tongue twisting, more of that subliminal contempt to the lower orders. He can't help it because he suffers from something called breeding.
Mohab is my Washboard, the title of first volume of Fry's autobiography, is an example of that need to feel superior to those around him with the baffling title although to be fair his second book here backs off some from that wordplay showing off, The Fry Chronicles exploring the next eight years of his life straight after the first book about his blissful and boring boarding school youth up until A-Levels. Only Fry would right a 500 page book about the time when they weren't a celebrity.
Baring that in mind book two would hopefully be more about the stuff we buy autobiographies for - slagging off fellow celebrities. Sadly there's not much of that here and if there is it's done in a way only Stephen Fry knows about. I think the problem with Fry is he has become the person the country wants him to be and so rather comfortable with that and doesn't want to jeopardise it. He is not being stretched anymore and no longer delivering the type of brilliant sketch comedy he and Hugh were capable of. In fact a lot of that generation of Oxbridge Footlights comics have backed off and got lazy in future projects. Why write jokes for your supper if your supper is already paid for? The Pythons never did do that and kept producing great solo stuff. When is Stephen Fry going to give us his Ripping Yarns?
"Sugar Puffs were born in 1951, as was I"
The book briefly recaps the first chapter of his life, that of idyllic rural Norfolk, various public schools and the realisation that he may well be a screamer. We also delve into his brief and surprising crime career, stealing credit cards and cheques that earned him a proper prison sentence. Thankfully Fry has always been articulate and intelligent enough not to make 'camp' his selling point in his TV like the dreadful Alan Carr and Graeme Norton have and so his comedy more erudite because of that. There's YouTube footage of both Carr and Norton at 17 and they don't sound anything like they do now. Fry is all about words and nuances for his humour and he learnt that from the gentry he was educated with.
Fry spends the first 100 pages of book two by blaming Sugar Puffs for why he is fat and cigarettes for why he is unhealthy; waffling on in great detail on how these two things set the boundaries of his life, which gets all rather tedious. This is the Stephen Fry I don't like, the awkward gauche bumbling fool.
His halcyon university days are most of the book, even though they are only three years of his life. Fry talks about being very lazy at Oxford (Maudlin...Magdalene) and doing the minimum amount of work and lecture attendance to get a 2:1, even cheating in his exams. He bluffs over it as if education was a breeze in away that you believe him. He also talks about the gentle rivalry between Oxford and Cambridge and the different style of top comics that have come out of these esteemed universities. Half of the pythons were from Cambridge and half from Oxford, the Cambridge style of humour silly and surreal to the Oxford of cutting sarcastic satire. Intriguingly Cambridge Graduates are, on average, one inch taller than their intellectual counterparts.
On his sex life Fry puts it, he didn't 'bum' his way through university and was the closet public school gay young man. He claims to have had only two sexual partners at college, one his roommate, another unnamed. He says he was in love with Hugh Laurie but not in a sexual way, why they clicked together in their comedy.
After enjoying the drama side of college by appearing in lots of plays and productions his first TV appearance would be the infamous one on University Challenge, that familiar bent nose driving Oxford to the final. Meanwhile Hugh Laurie was on TV in the boat race, losing to Cambridge, another surprise revelation in the book. I can't imagine Hugh Laurie in any sort of boat. Fry would then get a walk on part for the film Chariots of Fire, starring Nigel Havers, ironic really as Fry has almost become Nigel Havers.
Once Fry is cut three from Oxford the book does get more contemporary as we delve into his early media success as the biography amble towards his brilliant television series A Bit of Fry & Laurie. For most alternative style comedians (ones that were posh and not blue) Channel Four is where the started their career and Fry no different, popping up on shows like Saturday Night Live and The Tube, before his move to the BBC. Most Footlights comics get a perfunctory contract from the BBC, regardless of how funny they are, but in Fry & Laurie's case well worth it. But again his commentary on his fellow pros in the biz is pleasant and respectful. The end of the book sets up volume three- I presume - all the interesting stuff, Blackadder and the like still to come, the book I should have bought.
I'm afraid this one is really just the publisher indulging our national treasure and our national treasure writing to encourage that indulgence. Only Stephen Fry would believe 450 pages on just 8 years of his life is a book worth buying, by my calculation his completed autobiographic tone likely to be well over 4000 pages long for the 60-year-old Fry the way its going, more, even, than Nelson Mandela, but not as much as Bill Clintons pompous brick.
If you like Fry's round the log fire smoking his pipe telling stories style then this is for you. But for me, like the man, it's full of too much bluff and bluster and drags on and on. There are no new anecdotes and little revelation, Fry just waffling on about stuff we have heard before. If you can put up with his big words and loquaciously irritating minutia and exploration of his world then good luck to you. This, however, is not for me.
Show me an autobiography that's as much fun to read as humorous fiction and I'll show you "The Fry Chronicles" by Steven Fry.
This particular book takes Fry from his years at University through to his turning 30, discussing mostly how he gained his reputation and fame. One thing you'll notice here is that all of his chapter headings start with the letter "C". Perhaps this is because most of this book talks about his college days at Cambridge; both of which star with the letter "c". Of course, it could be because he's a comic. Then again, maybe it's because this is a chronicle of his climbing career. But for whatever reason he chose the letter "c", it certainly was a fruitful choice, and worked with exactly the amount of wit and intelligence which personifies such an amazing man.
Having not had the advantage of reading his earlier autobiography ("Moab is my Washpot"), I may have been at a slight disadvantage here. There were in some places passages which referred to this first book which covered his first 20 years of life, which did leave me a bit confused. Despite the fact that he noted them with a dagger symbol (+), I couldn't help but think that every time I saw one of these, perhaps he was berating me with this little knife because I started reading the 2nd part of his life before having concluded the 1st. Still, I don't think that I missed out on too much, and I couldn't, in all honesty, say that I felt left out of most of the in-jokes associated with this. I will, however, note that I probably will be purchasing his first autobiography at one point in the future. One doesn't want to feel like they missed any of the best bits just because they were a touch late to the party, do they?
The meat of this book takes place during his most formative years - those being while he was at Cambridge and the years afterwards as he was making his name in print, radio, television and on the stage. Once the world started to sit up and take notice, his talents as a comedian and an actor and a writer brought him fame and fortune. And while this book drops names more often than you'd drop your shorts to change them, Fry is almost never patronising or full of himself. His self-depreciating nature and general dissatisfaction in his looks, combined with a large slathering of insecurity is more than obvious here. You'll find out about how he met Hugh Laurie, what his addictions were back then, and all the while giving you hints into his present life with nods to his younger years as well. He holds little if anything back, and throughout the book you feel like he's writing just for your eyes only. But the most charming thing about this book is that you'll find yourself laughing out loud at every turn of the page.
Granted, not everyone likes to read autobiographies. Even more granted is that not everyone likes Steven Fry or his type of humour. However, if you happen to find yourself not included in the latter group, then this book might just change your mind about the former. In which case, I highly recommend you read this most impressively entertaining book, and get to know one of England's comic jewels in its crown. All hail and five stars out of five for Steven Fry's "The Fry Chronicles".
Davida Chazan © July, 2011
This book is available new, from Amazon in paperback for £4.49, hardcover for £10.60 or used starting from £0.89 through their marketplace. It is also available for download and in Kindle editions.
Details of my edition: Paperback: 464 pages, Publisher: Penguin (12 May 2011), Language English, ISBN-10: 0141039809, ISBN-13: 978-0141039800.
The Fry Chronicles was one of the few surprise presents I received this xmas not least because I had never really expressed much of an interest in him however I did enjoy him in Jeeves and Wooster and more recently in the travel programme he did when he drove a London cab around North America.
This book is his second series of memoirs and having not read the first I did feel at a slight disadvantage but to be honest this did not really reduce my enjoyment of the book much. Fry is rather self defacing in the way he often talks about himself and he adopts a similar style in his writing, this particular book delves back into his university days when he was at Cambridge and was involved in the comedy scene at the university. Also in his style of writing he does sort of ranble a bit however the fact that he moves from topic to anecdote and then sort of back to topic, or maybe onto something different is not really a problem as overall the book works.
It is certainly an entertaining read however I would say that if you find him annoying then this book will do nothing to change your opinion of him. At times he appears to be overly apologetic about the success that he has enjoyed and this was something that I really noticed when I read this book, just how much good quality work he has done, of course I was aware of it all individually just perhaps never linked together all the things he has been in and played a pivotal role in as well, he is certainly an intelligent person that is very obvious indeed but I had forgotten that he was in Black Adder as well.
I had expected him to refer to the darker episodes in his life and his mental illness that he suffers but no real reference was made to this, I was not looking for it out of a morbid curiosity rather it seems to be a rather pivotel series of events that you would expect an auto biography to include such details but that is rather lacking here.
I did find this to be an entertaining read and while it was a book I found I could put down I also found myself enjoying it as well, it was just not a gripping page turner rather an interesting and amusing little book from a man who would make rather good company for a dinner party.
The hardback version has an rrp of £20 but on Amazon it is selling for £8.20 which apparently is cheaper than the e-book version.
The Fry Chronicles
University Challenge - Runner-Up - Cambridge University
Fry in the early nineties, thanks to his duo with Hugh Laurie in P G Wodehouse's, 'Jeeves and Wooster' became a trinket of British treasure. I wouldn't be surprised inside the Pudsey Bear was indeed Stephen Fry, after all these years - he has been about for what seems like a century, his polished quips vibrating the television as he hits the low notes and ends off with a high note. No-one does a 'vibrating television' deep vocal tone than Fry does, awakening sleepy-heads morphed in their sofas. And the British public love him for it; woken up startled at first, but warmed when they see Fry at the helm doing QI - "Ah it's only you dear Stephen." They sigh with relief that it wasn't some-one at the door at a frightfully late hour of 6.45pm.
The Fry Chronicles is Fry's second volume of memoirs; he entertains us by delving into his early adulthood while at Cambridge University then being catapulted into media spot-lights without any noticeable grounding to warrant such grandeur gestures of stardom. Fry in the demising Thatcher years was sought after as an anecdotal comedian - quite refreshing due to the boredom factor had reached its limits with the likes of Jimmy Tarbuck and Davidson; the beeb was shoehorning for a contemporary alternative comedian and Fry did fit the bill - he was ear-marked for his whimsical satire. Self-aware as it may've been Fry forged a career by simply divulging inner most turmoil; as his own self-talk was elevated as the humour itself. Being tough on oneself is part of the theatrics with being Fry; maybe it is a self analogy 'protective mechanism' against the dark shadows of the critics. Inadvertently, his style whatever it is; bumbling, dithering, over elaborated, self obsessed? It has hit a nerve with the public and in return has gathered adoration for a man who yearns to be loved by the masses, one at a time.
Having had no apparent misfortunes on the career front or been particularly dreadful at anything Stephen Fry like. Other than his irritating verbiage on subjects he not necessarily knows two hoots about. He'll cover up his profound muses by contradiction banter at his expense; a hidden joke. Ah time to adjourn quips about his obscene obsessions of extravagant card usage and leather interiors; satisfying hollow taps from a keyboard. The list goes on. How many words can he mean 'nice' without saying 'nice?' A written task evidently creating inner turmoil for the reader as you guess the wordage may've gone through 'painstaking editing' just to get to the point of publishing. Every penultimate paragraph really should read "I've digressed!" followed by "Please excuse my rambling prevarications." I can't imagine an explosive productive Fry if truth being told. A workaholic - yes - but only duly to the observation he needs to be to get a script past the Fry edit suite. Not that he edits but keeps it all in but adds feverishly, adjectives to anecdotal qualms and personal experiences. Dissecting Fry's memoirs resembles plucking a puppy from his mother's teat. As much as it as may be fascinating to do, the publishing hierarchies may ostracize my writings and put me on an offending register; in turn - a small fee has probably gone to Fry's grotesque bank balance because Fry followers plough the cyber networks and search engines for 'tweets' or anything of note regarding their waffle king.
Overly plays the incredibly lucky card in this second volume of memoirs; I suppose it is a diplomatic effort to keep in touch with his readership; although the social group who'd be able to have kinship with Fry nevertheless would also be fortunate to reap in successful careers. Perhaps it is a hand of false sympathy to the underclass - it is baffling to put it bluntly. Fry's almost apologetic for being successful, for not living in a hovel or in a state of hardship like his contemporaries. His nostalgic tone takes on several disguises while reminiscing his early adult years; to me this course is a measure of his love of the written word - he is able to manifest glimmers of joy and wonderment to the reader - to ponderings and intellect; all of which is charismatic and endearing to his readership. A readership who aspires to be another Stephen Fry type - or one who chuckles at is inept deciphering and deems to try to relate to an intellectual who is gifted for being Stephen Fry. He does at least stimulate the grey matter. Whether via his complex characters and muses or by a clever chronologic structural criteria Fry has adapted whilst rummaging through fascinating data during his time at Cambridge University. Everything seemed to have had a reason - the relationships - projects - and obsessions.
A starter for ten - Who's got the honey mummy?
Fry's capacity for information is tireless - you can only imagine what the brain activity would be while attending university - flashes of salivating inspiration from a T S Eliott quotation. For a young Fry it was information overload so experimentation was high on the agenda, purely as a relax aid. His analogy conveying the taste of sugar-puffs is legendary Fry - Creativity flowed from the crop who'd gained from having an enthused Fry amongst their peers - Those who doused in Fry's creativity included Emma Thompson a British actress, her poise, presence, and aura, danced to 'the Fry creative pen,' a potent concoction that has instilled a period dramatic career, lasting over thirty years.
The second volume of his memoirs lacks the snap-stick anecdotes from the first one that ended in the mid 1980s' - It was called: 'Moab is My Washpot.' The Fry Chronicles is a sobering announcement to the world he has yet completed his utopian journey, there is more to come. Being fifty three, he is embarking on his most perusing times has yet to manifest itself to the public along with a deliberate wink, wearing brown slip-on slippers, and finger flirting with a Havanna Cigar. He has not yet allowed himself to honour such decadence, yet - nor has he offloaded his well publicised bipolar diagnosis or discussed anything remotely as dark as that life changing episode. So expect another memoir helping - each of them completely different in approach and tone. One matter is for sure, Stephen Fry does not lack egomaniac tendencies - he believes in his own rhetorical state. Whether it is damaging or a self medicated, only he would know. The best therapy for Fry is to write, preening his ultra ego; reaching out for accolades, from those adoring Fry sufferers - Restrain in bowing to him - I fear the best is yet to come.