One of the most beloved of Britain’s living national treasures, Stephen Fry’s career is one of the most multifaceted that has ever emerged from Britain. Not only is a comedian with a wit to match Oscar Wilde, Fry is also an accomplished novelist, actor, producer, and television host. Not only that, Fry has also been surprisingly open about his own struggles in life and has lent his clout to noble and philanthropic causes. If you wish to learn more of Fry’s life and legacy, here are 44 facts about this fascinating man.
It’s safe to say that anyone who is familiar with Fry’s career knows how closely affiliated he has always been with Hugh Laurie. The two men met in college and proceeded to work on three major television series together (Jeeves & Wooster, Blackadder, and A Bit of Fry & Laurie). In a sign that it wasn’t just a professional relationship, Fry stood as godfather to all three of Laurie’s children.
In recent years, Fry has become most well-known for being the original host of the panel show Qi (which stands for “Quite Interesting”). Focusing on the pursuit of interesting facts to learn, the show became wildly popular over the years, gaining the highest viewing figures of any BBC show that was currently airing. Fry was the host for 13 seasons before stepping down from the job. He was replaced by his friend and frequent Qi panellist Sandi Toksvig. Interestingly, both Toksvig and Fry are prominent members of Britain’s LGBTQ community.
We’ve mentioned Oscar Wilde already, so let’s get it out of the way again. Many have noticed the similarities between Fry and Wilde in looks, career choices, and even alleged orientation. Even when his lack of star power in the United States, he was acknowledged as the perfect choice to play the famed playwright and was cast in 1997 film adaptation of his life titled Wilde.
Interestingly, Fry also had experience portraying Wilde, having already done so in the mini-series Ned Blessing: The Story of My Life and Times.
Portraying Oscar Wilde onscreen was a wonderful opportunity for Fry, as he’d been a passionate fan of Wilde’s writing and his personal history ever since he was only 13, and also served as an inspiring figure to Fry as he came to terms with his sexuality.
Stephen John Fry was born in the London district of Hampstead on August 24, 1957. He is the middle of two children, having an older brother named Roger and a younger sister named Joanna, or Jo for short.
Aside from acting or comedy work, Stephen Fry is also an accomplished writer. Several of the A Bit of Fry & Laurie sketches were written by Fry himself. Additionally, as of October 2019, he’s written 14 different literary works that range from fiction to non-fiction to autobiographical.
Speaking of autobiography, Stephen Fry has actually written three different autobiographies of his life. Each book (Moab is My Washpot, The Fry Chronicles, and More Fool Me) focuses on a different part of Fry’s life, such as his childhood, his early adulthood, and his career up until the mid-1990s.
Fry went through quite the rebellious phase—and it landed him in hot water. As a young man in Norfolk College of Arts and Technology, Fry came into possession of a credit card that didn’t belong to him. He used it, and was eventually detained. He spent three months of his life in Pucklechurch Prison while on remand.
Unofficially, Fry’s first ever appearance onscreen was as an uncredited cameo role in the sports drama Chariots of Fire. This film went on to win Best Picture at the 1982 Academy Awards. He wasn’t the only would-be star of British film and television to sneak his way into a feature film debut. Another person to do that was none other than Kenneth Branagh.
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One way that Fry’s popularity surged during the 2000s was his affiliation with the wildly popular Harry Potter book series. Fry provided his voice for the recording of Harry Potter into audiobook format. As you can imagine, a whole generation of kids grew up listening to Fry reading the books to them. On top of that, Fry is good friends with Harry himself—Daniel Radcliffe.
While Fry was never raised in a religious household, his parent had wildly different backgrounds, and a tragic past. Fry’s maternal family consisted mainly of Jews from the mainland of Europe who were displaced by WWII. Many of Fry’s relatives living during this time period were rounded up and exterminated by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
By contrast, Fry’s paternal roots firmly lie within English history. Fry’s original family roots have been found in Dorset, though this changed in the early 19th century when the Fry family relocated to Surrey. Among his paternal relatives is Joseph Fry, a renowned chocolate maker who helped found the British chocolate company Fry, Vaughan, & Company.
One of Fry’s defining physical features is his crooked nose. Fry wasn’t born with this look, either. At the age of six, he accidentally fell while playing in school and broke his nose, which remained crooked thereafter.
In 2003, Fry made his directorial debut with the film Bright Young Things. Based on Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies, the film stars Emily Mortimer, Michael Sheen, James McAvoy, and Dan Aykroyd. Bright Young Things was smiled on by most critics, though it wasn’t a particularly noted commercial success.
Although he was sure of his sexuality virtually from childhood, Fry attempted to keep it a secret during his education years. Moreover, Fry alleges that he did not engage in any sort of bedroom activity for a 16-year period between 1979 and 1995. He went on to have a 15-year long relationship with Daniel Cohen before marrying Elliot Spencer in 2015.
Throughout his life, Fry has developed a friendship with Charles, who is the current Prince of Wales and heir to Queen Elizabeth II. Fry not only hosted Charles and his then-wife, Princess Diana, at his home over the Christmas holidays one year, but he was a guest at the Prince’s later wedding to Camilla Parker Bowles. Moreover, Fry admitted in an episode of Qi that he, like the Royal Family, gets his Christmas trees from the Sandringham Estate.
Between 1996 and 1997, Stephen Fry appeared in two different films in the relatively small role of an unnamed judge. One of these films was an adaptation of the classic children’s story The Wind in the Willows, and the other film was the beloved classic Spice World. Many years later, on an episode of Qi, Fry once again dressed up in a judge’s costume to fit the theme of the episode (“Justice”).
One element of A Bit of Fry & Laurie that gave Stephen Fry some trouble was when the comedy sketches involved physical confrontation. One weakness in Fry’s acting was an inability to mime fighting in a way that it looked realistic enough. Therefore, whenever the script called for him to hit Hugh Laurie, he would often hit Laurie for real. We can assume that he paid for a lot of Laurie’s lunches during that production!
Stephen Fry has thus far worked with acclaimed thespian Sir Kenneth Branagh on two different film projects. The first occasion was the 1992 reunion flick Peter’s Friends, often hailed as the British version of The Big Chill. Fry starred in it, as did Branagh (who also directed), Emma Thompson (who was married to Branagh at the time), Hugh Laurie, Imelda Staunton, and Tony Slattery.
The second occasion was a musical film adaptation of Wolfgang Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Branagh directed once again, but rather than acting, Fry wrote the dialogue for the film’s screenplay.
In the case of Peter’s Friends, you might have noticed that all the cast members we mentioned (apart from Branagh) were former classmates at Cambridge, and this served to create a meta-cast situation. Ironically, this wonderful reunion of old friends on a film set caused quite a bit of stress for Fry! According to Fry himself, he was worrying half the time of what a scathing bunch of comments they were going to earn with this stunt casting.
Branagh, however, cheerfully waved away any of Fry’s concerns and urged him to enjoy the ride. Branagh proved right in the end; while the film didn’t recoup its money, it is nevertheless well regarded by critics to this day.
As of October 2019, Fry has been nominated for seven BAFTA awards, six of them for his hosting of the show Qi. If you’re curious about any American accolades that he’s gotten, Fry was nominated for a Golden Globe Award in 1999. The nomination was for his dramatic performance in Wilde.
Speaking of the BAFTA awards, Fry wasn’t just nominated for these British awards for film and television. He’s also hosted the BAFTA awards show several times. Two of these occasions, in 2001 and 2002, were named as the two most successful years for the BAFTA awards’ ratings.
There is a scene in the 2005 film adaptation of Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta where Fry shares some champagne with the protagonist. What few might know about this scene is that it had to be faked because in real life, Fry is so allergic to champagne that he can’t even be in the same room as the bubbly stuff due to risk of necessary hospitalization.
In 2009, British society was shocked by the premature passing of Stephen Gately, an Irish pop star and member of the boy band known as Boyzone. Gately’s passing was determined to be due to pulmonary edema, which occurred thanks to a heart condition that had gone unnoticed beforehand. Soon after, Jan Moir of the Daily Mail wrote an article that cryptically blamed Gately’s passing on substance misuse and a “dangerous lifestyle,” which was determined to be a veiled hint towards Gately’s LGBTQ orientation.
Like so many other people in Britain, Fry took serious exception with Jan Moir’s condemnation of the recently deceased Stephen Gately and called her out for displaying a homophobic attitude. To be specific, Fry took to Twitter to airily state “I gather a repulsive nobody writing in a paper no one of any decency would be seen dead with has written something loathsome and inhumane.” Very cutting, Mr. Fry!
During the 1990s, the Spice Girls were at the height of their popularity. As a result, they made the movie Spice World, which became a cult classic. Surprisingly enough, Fry makes a cameo appearance. Years later, Fry explained that he was willing to act in the film because his nephews were huge fans of the Spice Girls and he was able to acquire signed posters for them.
Fry was actually the last ever person to hold the title “Pipe Smoker of the Year.” Shortly before Qi was about to air for the first time, Fry gave an interview to The Independent as part of the promotion for the show. Running late, Fry was frustrated at not finding any available cigarettes in his house. Instead, he settled for a pipe and some tobacco that he brought along for the interview. Just two days after Fry’s interview came out, he was awarded the title of "Pipe Smoker of the Year."
As so many of us would do in that situation, Fry gladly took the accolade—though he eventually quit smoking.
Of all the decisions that Fry’s made in his life, he revealed which one was the best that he’s ever made in his autobiographical book More Fool Me. During the period where he finished working on A Bit of Fry & Laurie, Blackadder, and Jeeves & Wooster with Hugh Laurie, Fry went to dinner with his sister Jo. It was there that he, noting Jo’s education and her talents for organization, hired Jo to be his personal assistant.
It is a job which she still holds to this day, with Fry crediting her for saving his life and sanity as a result.
Stephen Fry was also good enough to describe a hilarious incident involving himself, his sister Jo, and the celebrated actor/comedian John Cleese. On one occasion, Fry and Cleese were working together when Cleese noticed just how good of a PA Jo was being to Fry. When Fry was out of earshot, he approached Jo and said (in his own words) “Whatever he’s paying you, I’ll double it.”
Jo gently turned Cleese down, explaining her being Fry’s sister as the reason for her loyalty, much to Cleese’s embarrassment as he later admitted the whole thing to Fry that same day.
In V for Vendetta, Fry plays a character named Gordon Dietrich. Screenwriters changed him significantly during the transition from graphic novel to film. As originally written, Dietrich is very unlikeable, and is certainly not a victim of the cruel system. However, at Fry’s suggestion, he was able to portray Dietrich as a critic of the system who must also hide his being gay from the authorities.
As a person of the LGBTQ community, this topic was especially important to Fry.
There was a rather bizarre reason for why Fry chose to play the character of Gordon Dietrich in V for Vendetta. He was deeply excited at the idea of playing a character who is clubbed to death. He’d never experienced that in a film before and wanted to see how such an action scene is choreographed.
In the late 1980s, Stephen Fry was involved in a new game show idea for BBC Radio. He was one of the regulars alongside John Sessions, with Clive Anderson as the host. This show was known as Whose Line is it Anyway and was focused around people working with prompts to provide improvisational comedy. The show eventually went from radio to television, later inspiring an American version of the show with the same title.
For some reason, Fry declined to be a regular on the television version of the show, appearing in only a handful of episodes.
In an episode of Qi, Fry opened up on some of the tasks that he was required to carry out while serving his time in Pucklechurch Prison. According to him, his favorite occupation was painting toy soldiers, which he admitted was a very tranquil task. By contrast, he was later assigned to polishing the corridors, which he considered to be a major step down.
Of course, given that he was in prison, one can imagine that there was little use in objecting to this reassignment.
One of the British panel shows on which Fry was a regular contributor was the satirical look at news which is fittingly called Have I Got News for You. For over a decade, the show was hosted by British celebrity Angus Deayton. However, he resigned following a media storm around allegations that he’d solicited sex workers and had used illicit substances.
In an act of solidarity, Fry refused to appear on Have I Got News for You ever again following Deayton’s departure.
Stephen Fry holds a rather interesting silver medal in terms of accomplishments. Ever the tech geek, Fry was only the second person in the UK to buy a Mac desktop computer. The late Douglas Adams, whom most of you know as the writer of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, beat him to the punch as the first.
Speaking of Douglas Adams, he and Stephen Fry met each other at Cambridge, and remained friends thereafter. Adams also selected Fry to narrate the audiobook of Hitchhiker's Guide. In an act which no doubt frustrates fans of the book, Fry has also claimed that due to his affiliation with Adams, he actually knows why Adams chose the number “42” as the answer to the “Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything.” However, he has consistently refused to give up the secret.
At one point in his life, Stephen Fry was in the same room as Alistair Cooke, the famous television personality and radio broadcaster who spent 42 years of his life working on television. On that occasion, Fry later stated, Cooke invited Fry to shake his hand, which Fry happily did. Cooke then told Fry that he was shaking the hand of a man who shook the hand of the famous philosopher Bertrand Russell.
And on top of that, Cooke revealed that one of Russell’s female relations had danced with none other than Napoleon Bonaparte!
One of Fry’s ancestors was none other than the MP called John Fry. He happened to be the one who signed the warrant for King Charles I during the English Civil War. Given Fry’s relationship with the Royal Family, it’s nice to know that nobody has any hard feelings over what happened so long ago.
During an appearance on Qi, Emma Thompson reflected on a moment where Fry saved her from a crisis with his computer skills. During the 1990s, Thompson was working on a screenplay. Sadly, a computer error changed her writing format into something she couldn’t understand. After several tech experts couldn’t help her, Thompson turned in desperation to Fry for his help. Amazingly, Fry was able to recover her screenplay, but only after seven hours!
In case you’re wondering, it was the screenplay for Thompson’s film adaptation of the classic novel Sense & Sensibility. The screenplay Thompson had written garnered her an Academy Award for screenwriting!
As Stephen Fry recorded in his book More Fool Me, he was a member of the Groucho Club in London. He spent his time with many eccentrics in the club. On one occasion, Fry was at the billiards table with Keith Allen (father of Game of Thrones’ Alfie Allen). Alex James from the popular British band Blur was with them as well. Then, all of a sudden, Liam Gallagher of the band Oasis interrupted their session unexpectedly.
In true Liam Gallagher fashion, he allegedly subjected Fry and the others to verbal insults. He then made a hole in the ceiling with Fry’s cue before exiting.
In 1995, Fry suffered a near-complete mental breakdown. It led him to abruptly quit the play Cell Mates in the West End. Much to the frustration of his fellow cast and crew, producers had to halt the production early due to Fry’s departure.
Sadly for Fry, things did not get easier for him as he dealt with his nervous breakdown. Fry caused a stir when he vanished from the public eye, appearing in Belgium several days later. However, this excursion apparently saved his life; Fry later reflected that he was dealing with suicidal thoughts. Making a disappearance from public scrutiny helped him overcome this bad spell of depression.
This was far from the last time that Fry has dealt with depression and suicidal tendencies. However, he has endured and become a spokesman in the cause to aid those with bipolar disorder.
In 2006, Fry put his clout behind a documentary titled Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive. Although Fry was the main subject of the documentary, several other celebrities came forward with their own mental health struggles. Fry interviewed them himself. These other celebrities included Carrie Fisher, Griff Rhys Jones, and others.
In the early months of 2018, Fry revealed that he was undergoing treatment for aggressive cancer found in his prostate. The prostatectomy was successful. Fry later credited the operation with saving his life. Here’s hoping that he has many more years to keep making this world a better place!
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