But I want to be Stephen Fry’s mate too…

I watched something on television about Stephen Fry the other weekend. Apparently it was his 50th birthday, which came as a bit of a surprise because while I might possibly have guessed that he was in his forties, he certainly doesn’t look 50 to me. But it says he’s fifty on the official Stephen Fry website (where bizarrely he appears to be made out of fruit), and presumably he ought to know…

Anyway, there was a little kind of a documentary about him, talking about his career, what people thought of him, all that sort of thing. In fact, for a moment I wondered if he’d died, because you don’t normally see TV programmes “in honour of” someone unless they’ve just bought the farm or are doddering through their eighties. However, I watched it all with a great deal of interest because for some unknown reason Stephen Fry has cast some sort of spell of fascination over me.

And given that he’s just had a 50th birthday, now seems like the opportune time to talk about it. You can consider it my birthday present to Stephen. Although he’s probably have preferred a book — but since he’s never bought me anything, he can just get what he’s given!

I’m not particularly interested in his fiction: I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read, but I can take it or leave it, but it’s when he’s speaking as Stephen Fry that the spell is at its most powerful. Ordinarily, I’d just put this down to me being some kind of weirdo, but I don’t think that’s what it is in this particular case, because a few of my friends have encountered it similarly.

No, I think it’s just that I’ve grown up with him. He’s been part of my life, taking part in my favourite TV programs for … ooh, the majority of my life … and I’m so used to seeing him in my living room that I think he’s a friend of long-standing.

Possibly the most worrying thing about this is that were I to actually meet him, I feel I’d be likely to say something along the lines of:

All right Stephen? How are you mate — here, I’m going out with the lads for a pint on thursday, can you make it this week?

Which would no doubt take him somewhat by surprise.

But he’s been a part of my life since 1986, when he first arrived as Lord Melchett in Blackadder II, more Blackadder, a whole pile of Fry and Laurie things, with Laurie again (who is another favourite of mine as that curmudgeonly House) in Jeeves and Wooster, as Oscar Wilde, as the quiz master on QI (more of which later) and also revealing the secret life of the manic depressive.

It was particularly interesting to hear Stephen talking about his bipolar disorder, and about how he finds himself thinking about death a lot, because this was not long after I had written my first post on thanatophobia (my so-called irrational fear of death) and what was particularly interesting was the complete difference in attitudes between the bipolar and the thanatophobe: the bipolar sufferer thinks the world would possibly be better of without him, the thanatophobe couldn’t care less whether the world is better off or not, he still wants to be here.

He’s also referred to as a ‘flawed genius’ from time to time.

I’m not going to spare Stephen’s modesty (partly because I doubt he’s going to read this), but I don’t think the ‘genius’ point is worth arguing. The man plainly is a genius. Flawed, I’m not so sure.

Admittedly, you could come up with a list of mistakes he’s made — anyone having read his autobiography ‘Moab is my Washpot’ will understand that he probably could have been just a teensy bit of a pain at various times. But in many cases the mistakes have just reinforced the fact that he’s our Stephen, and we want to make sure he’s all right. Sure, there was a certain media spin initially suggesting he’d flounced off in a huff that time because of a bad review, but for the most part people were more concerned about him and wanted him to be ok (I’m not wishing to gloss over what was a serious inicident, merely trying to remember what the initial reaction was like).

He’s human. He’s made mistakes. So has every-bleeding-one else.

At let’s be clear: having bipolar disorder doesn’t make him flawed; any more than him being a big whoopsie would make him flawed; or someone needing to wear glasses would be flawed; or someone with one leg would be flawed; or someone who doesn’t like cats would be flawed. It’s just part of him, same as my thanatophobia is part of me, or Imaginary Alf the Greengrocer’s prosthetic backside is part of him, or whatever.

The human race is not a homogenic mass: we’re a bunch of people who all have different character traits, abilities, and preferences, and gosh darn it, but I think that’s a good thing!

But is it the fact that Stephen Fry is seen as a ‘flawed genius’ that means the Great British Public™ have welcomed him into the warmth of their bosom? No, it’s a combination of factors: Stephen isn’t perfect but we don’t expect him to be; he’s funny, witty, intelligent, urbane and uses entertainly flowery words and phrases which we wished we used in conversation more often but don’t because we don’t think of them.

Stephen Fry — or at least the Stephen Fry we get to see as the quiz master of the rather excellent QI comes over, in addition to being witty, intelligent, charming and a touch high-brow intellectual, to be an all-round good egg.

In short, Stephen Fry is a hero to the Great British Public because we want to be like him.

Okay, maybe not exactly like him: maybe we want to be sufficiently low-brow to have used beer goggles rather than a Madeira pince-nez

…but at the very least we’d all like to be more like him. We’d like to have been there, sharing that joke with him. We know he’s not perfect, but that humanises him, and makes him seem like a jolly nice chap that we’d like to hang around with, and tell us entertaining stories about all sorts of things, and come up with lovely phrases and we’d all have a jolly nice time…

Which is why so many people seem to want to be his friend on things like Facebook. So many people wanted to be Stephen’s friend that he either had to basically spend all of his free time accepting friendships, or seem to be rude by ignoring them. Stephen of course, being the typically jolly nice chap, found this dreadfully unpleasant to deal with.

But then of course, demonstrating his genius and niceness at the same time, he solved the problem (heh! I really hope he’s reading. He’d probably be thoroughly embarrassed by now. Unless of course his private persona is very different to his public one and he’s really some unpleasant arrogant egotistical individual. But I doubt that. I suspect he’s a nice genius who worries that he might be an unpleasant arrogant egotistical individual). Where was I? Oh yes, his idea:

The actor attempted to avert social meltdown by creating “Stephen Fry’s Friendship Proxy Group”, open to all-comers. “If you join this group instead of applying for friendship, you might save me a fair amount of heartache in having to turn you down on account of there not being enough hours in the day,” he wrote. “Some of you are friends, of course, and some of you technically aren’t, but you’re all very welcome to this group, which I hope you’ll enjoy. Consider membership to be congruent to friendship.” Currently it has 2,500 members.Times Online

So there you have it. My theory to account for Stephen Fry’s immense popularity is basically that the man deserves to be popular; we all want to be his friend because he’s the sort of friend we’d all like to have.

So anyway Stephen, drop me a line and we’ll get together for that pint, eh? It’s about time — I’ve not seen you in ages…

2 Responses to “But I want to be Stephen Fry’s mate too…”

  1. paul canning responds:

    more QI > http://tinyurl.com/2nrl23

  2. Seb Crump responds:

    I quite agree - Stephen does seem to sum up the niceness (I know he’d hate that word being use though) of the English character. It’s the warmth along with the acumen that means he’ll talk with you and not down to you along with the self-effacing charm that is so becoming in him. My wife and I - rather the equivalent of you wanting to invite him to the pub - want to bring him home for tea and cake.

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