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Fry’s delight – and despair. Stephen Fry tells Louise Flind about his friendship with Hugh Laurie, the joy of Lord’s and the agony of Gaza

Blog | By Louise Flind | May 16, 2024

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Is there anything you can’t leave home without?

A charger for my Apple Watch, notebooks and pencils.

Is there something you really miss when you’re away?

Test Match Special and The Archers, but you can hear them now if you’re cunning with a VPN. And Radio 4 generally.

Do you travel light?

I throw everything in and get annoyed with myself that there are all these things I didn’t need…

What’s your favourite destination?

A place I’ve never been before. I’ve travelled a great deal for the BBC and ITV, because of documentaries I’ve done. Also, I do like to travel for holidays with my husband.

Earliest childhood holiday memories?

Cornwall – and one remembers playing Scrabble while the rain beat against the window, and the offer of a speedboat ride and hiding behind my mother, saying, ‘I don’t want to,’ dropping an ice cream and crying because it was lost. From Paddington to Cornwall, it was a steam train.

Did you always want to be on the stage? When I was at prep school, my first review was ‘Stephen Fry as Mrs Higgins would grace any drawing room.’ At the pantomime, when Buttons said, ‘Do any of you boys and girls want to join me on stage?’, I thrust my hand up so hard that it almost tore the membrane of my armpits.

What was Hugh Laurie like when you first met him?

Wonderful. It was Emma Thompson who took me round, and Hugh was sitting on the bed with a guitar writing a song and he was stuck on the lyric. He sang the verse and the chorus and I said, ‘You could always swap that around,’ and we finished the song and picked up another piece of paper and wrote a sketch… We’re still best friends.

Was there something unusual about your generation at Cambridge to produce such a crop of talent?

One didn’t think it at the time.

What was your first big break?

Going up to Edinburgh and, virtually three nights in a row, the most extraordinary things happened. First, an Australian promoter said he’d like to take us on tour to Australia. The next day, we were taking our bows and suddenly there was an extra roar – and behind us was Rowan Atkinson, who awarded us the Perrier Award, which involved a show for a week in a London theatre. The next day, the comedy legend Dennis Main Wilson said he wanted to put the show on the BBC. Then Sandy Ross, a producer at Granada, and his young assistant John Plowman said they wanted to put me, Hugh and Emma together with Robbie Coltrane and Ben Elton, and we did three series.

Where was Blackadder filmed?

In Wood Lane, the BBC Television Centre.

Did you write stories as a child?

At prep school, I wrote a pastiche of a Sherlock Holmes story and one of a P G Wodehouse story.

Do you prefer writing or performing?

Performing, but the satisfaction of having written is unbelievable.

When did you discover you were bipolar? My parents sent me to a psychiatrist when I was 15. I discovered later that he had written a letter to both my parents and my housemaster at school suggesting bipolar.

What’s your favourite piece of music and favourite book?

Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, Glenn Gould’s Bach Partitas, Handel and Mozart. Ulysses and The Great Gatsby.

Does success affect your depression?

My having disclosed I have a mood disorder means people readily understand.

Is it difficult being married to a much younger man?

If you love each other, I don’t think it matters. Wilde said, ‘I love the young – they’re so much more experienced.’ I look to Elliot for advice far more than he looks to me. So in that sense he’s older than I am.

What was best about being MCC President? Hosting the presidential box during the Ashes Test at Lord’s.

What is your favourite cricket ground?

In terms of beauty, Canterbury and Worcester. Abroad, South Africa and the Wankhede in India.

Does your Judaism have an effect on your approach to what’s going on in Israel?

Alarm and fear at the rise of antisemitism. The contempt, fear and horror I feel for Netanyahu and his government is matched only by the contempt, horror and fear I feel for Hamas.

How did you get on with Oldie favourites Barry Cryer and Barry Humphries?

I adored them both. The world is vastly the poorer for their absence. The wickedest wit with the least malice.

Stephen Fry’s The Odyssey is out in October