British National Treasures You Should Know: Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry on QI.jpg

Stephen Fry on quiz show "QI" (Photo: BBC)
If you follow UK entertainment news like I do, you may have heard the announcement earlier in the week that Stephen Fry has resigned his position as quizmaster extraordinaire on the comedy panel show QI. Mr. Fry’s final series is in the can and set to premiere this weekend in the UK. In fact, his replacement has already been announced – the formidable writer, presenter, activist and comedy panel show staple, Sandi Toksvig.

Of his tenure on this beloved and critically acclaimed program and his decision to depart, Fry said, "For thirteen years I had one of the best jobs on television. Behind the camera squadrons of quite extraordinarily brilliant researchers, programme makers and uniquely curious (in both senses of the word) people making that job so much easier.”

"In front of the camera generations of lively minds and above all, of course, the wonder of nature that is Alan Davies. After passing the alphabetical halfway mark I thought it time to move on, but I will never cease to be grateful to John Lloyd for devising QI and for everyone else for making it such fun."

If you hadn’t heard about Fry’s exit from the show, that’s understandable.  I don’t really have much of a life. If you aren’t familiar with QI, you can see what it’s all about for yourself. Series 1-4 can be streamed on Acorn TV and series 9-11 on Hulu Plus.  Also there are loads of clips on YouTube that give you a very good feel for the tone and structure of the show.

However, if you aren’t familiar with all the varied talents Mr. Fry possesses which make him a British national treasure, you and I need to have a talk. 

He's an accomplished...

Sketch comedian: Stephen attended Queen’s College, Cambridge where he earned a degree in English literature. More importantly, it was the time he spent with the Cambridge Footlights Dramatic Club that changed the direction of his life. Fry became acquainted with fellow student Hugh Laurie and a long-term comedy partnership was born. The duo are probably best known for their titular roles in the P.G. Woodhouse-inspired Jeeves and Wooster and four series of their own sketch comedy show, A Bit of Fry and Laurie.

Welcome to the Private Police Force - A Bit of Fry and Laurie - BBC

Documentary presenter: Stephen is the ideal person to host documentaries because he has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.   He’s presented, or been a part of, dozens of documentaries and other factual programs. Their topics have ranged from travel and nature programs to mental health and LGBT issues. Regarding the latter, Fry has been candidly open about his personal life as a gay and bi-polar man.

The clip below comes from the 2008 six-part travel series, Stephen Fry in America, a coast to coast journey of discovery for a man who feels in some way he missed his chance to be born an American. 

Stephen Fry in America

Shakespearean actor.  Mr. Fry has been involved in the theater as a playwright and actor since the 1980’s. Most recently he appeared as Malvolio in Twelfth Night. The production started at the Globe Theatre, moved to the West End and finally ended its run in New York in 2013. For his comic efforts, Stephen earned a Tony nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play.

Globe On Screen: Twelfth Night clip

Movie star.  Stephen has made his way to the big screen in his acting career as well. He appeared in movies including V for Vendetta, The Hobbit Trilogy, Gosford Park and played the title role in Wilde. He also adapted the screenplay for Bright Young Things and made his directorial debut on that film too.

You may also remember his memorable turn as Mycroft in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows Meeting Mycroft Scene HD

Author. Mr. Fry is known for his impressive vocabulary and turn of phrase so it should come as no surprise that he is an accomplished author.  He has written four novels, a number of non-fiction titles and a technology column for the UK paper, the Guardian. But if you’ve ever read any of Stephen’s three volumes of autobiography, you’re likely to find them to be stranger than fiction. (Yes, he did go to prison for credit card fraud!)

Stephen Fry - The Fry Chronicles (Clip 2)

Award Show Presenter. A perennial favorite at the British Academy of Film, Fry has hosted their awards ceremony ten times. His quick wit, slightly naughty banter and ability to keep the show moving at a lively pace are no doubt just a few of the reasons he has been invited back to emcee London’s most glittering evening. Hollywood stars are not exempt from Stephen’s playful jibes as this opening speech from the 2006 event demonstrates.

Stephen Fry - The Orange British Academy Film Awards

Audio Book Narrator. Fry’s vocal skills are also in great demand. He has provided voices for animated characters such as the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland and Colonel K in the new series of Danger Mouse. His dulcet tones have graced video games and his narration has enhanced TV and film productions for adults and children alike.

Perhaps one of the most recognized and beloved projects to employ Stephen’s voice has been as the reader of all seven Harry Potter audiobooks in the UK. Below is a comparison of a passage from the Chamber of Secrets read first by actor Jim Dale, narrator of all the American HP audiobooks, followed by Stephen Fry’s version. 

Comparing Audiobooks of "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets"

Though I’m admittedly a huge fan and therefore obviously not impartial, I think I have put forward enough hard evidence to support the national treasure status of Stephen Fry.  I hope I’ve provided you with a better understanding and appreciation for the man and his talents. Rest assured even without QI, I think we’ll be seeing him around for some time to come.