Stephen Fry: 50 Not Out, BBC4

by | Aug 17, 2007 | All, Reviews

Did we like it?

A hollow tribute without any words from Fry himself (he only appeared in archive clips), which gave it the impression of an obituary rather than a celebration. (Much better was Fry’s one-on-one interview with Mark Lawson.)

What was good about it?

• Stephen Fry is one of the most intelligent, witty and likeable ‘celebrities’ in the country, but such was the unending torrent of gushing praise for every atom of his career that you ended up feeling slightly resentful towards him. However, the excerpts from Blackadder Goes Forth and QI showed why he is such an icon far more so than the words of his peers.

• The clips of A Bit Of Fry And Laurie were as amusing as ever as were the radio clips of Saturday Night Fry in which he used his exquisite control of the English language to humorous effect.

• The best contributors were those who just said things that the viewer could identify with that didn’t seem over-rehearsed to the point of agony such as Jo Brand (“It’s great that Stephen gets on telly and says long sentences no one understands”) and Alan Davies.

What was bad about it?

• While some of the tributes, notably from Hugh Laurie, were heartfelt tributes to a truly talented individual, many of the others seemed to be jostling to genuflect before Fry’s legend like fawning courtiers in a king’s throne room.

• And speaking of ‘grovellers’ (TM Spike Milligan), Prince Charles was amongst the most sycophantic and inappropriate of the legion of idolaters. He’s the very inversion of Fry, who has scaled the lofty peaks of fame through his own talent, while Charles has done so through an accident of birth which makes his views and opinions as valid as someone as equally artistically bereft such as Jodie Marsh.

• Phill Jupitus’s belief that A Bit Of Fry And Laurie is “missed out” when “they talk of great comedy” exemplifies the flaw with such tribute shows. Each and every action of the subject is elevated to a spurious zenith. Sure Fry & Laurie was a funny show with plenty of ideas but never grabbed the popular consciousness nor became a cult hit, yet thanks to this re-writing of history the viewer is supposed to swallow the conceit that the show was cruelly disdained in its bid to enter the pantheon of “great comedy”.

• Ben Elton has fallen so far from his perch as the godfather of alternative comedy that his nauseating eulogies about Fry make you question your appreciation of Fry in much the same way Wagner’s reputation took a battering after it was revealed Adolf Hitler was a great fan. Elton claimed that “Stephen is a great lover of language, like me.”

• Richard Curtis also stretched his praise beyond the orbit of credibility, spouting such obsequious nonsense as claiming Fry’s “performance in Blackadder Goes Forth was the definitive attack on the officer class”, when something more subtle such as Alec Guinness in Bridge On The River Kwai is infinitely more powerful. Blackadder was a bloody good comedy and Fry was great in it, but it wasn’t a state-of-the-art coruscation of the British class system.

• Also annoying was the way in which Curtis used thespian melodrama to enunciate an opinion on The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive. “It’s one of those… great bits of television.” He’s right. It was a great bit of television, but in order to distinguish this tritely-expressed observation he consciously and extraneously paused.

• A number of contributors also used that loathsome narrative device that has been popularised by fraudulent shows such as X-Factor and Big Brother where specious doubt is expressed about the person’s ability to accomplish something in order to make the accomplishment seem all that more impressive when it is achieved. Michael Sheen noted about Fry in Wilde: “I wasn’t sure he was going to be able to do it.” Before following it with an avalanche of unverifiable rapture.

• While Sanjeev Bhaskar claimed to be “depressed” at the conclusion of the Harry Potter novels as it would mean that he wouldn’t be able to look forward to listening to Fry’s narration any longer.

• Whenever Jonathan Ross uses the word ‘genuinely’ we don’t believe him. This is because this is the word he uses to American actors when pleading how much he adores their dreadful celluloid atrocity in order to extort a decent interview out of them. At least here he pronounced it correctly rather than saying ‘jen-u-wine’ as if auditioning for a role in the follow-up to The Sopranos.

• The Cellmates episode when Fry fled to Europe was skated over with no comment from his co-star Rik Mayall.

Luke Knowles

Luke Knowles


Editor of the website and host of the podcast. A general TV obsessive. I've been running the site since 2008 and you can usually find me in front of the TV. My Favourite show of all time is Breaking Bad with Cracker coming a close second. I feel so passionately that television can change the world and I'm doing my little bit by running this site. You're Welcome!


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