Stephen Fry interview
Stephen Fry returns to Norwich as he launches his new autobiography
A Norfolk boy forever
“Why would I ever leave?” With his eagerly-awaited autobiography about to be revealed, Stephen Fry tells Angi Kennedy that Norfolk will always be part of his life.Pictures: claire newman williams
He’s the “National Treasure” we are proud to call our own – and, if Stephen Fry has his way, it will be ever thus. An accomplished and award-winning actor and comedian as well as broadcaster, writer and director, Fry is undoubtedly one of the best-loved names on TV today. And the fact that he has called Norfolk home for almost all his life just makes him even dearer to our hearts here.Just last month Fry announced that he has become a director of Norwich City Football Club and will be ambassador for the football team that he has supported all his life. He has bought an undisclosed number of shares and joins Delia Smith, joint majority shareholder with her husband Michael Wynn Jones, on the board. In the past couple of years he has barely been off our TV screens – as the presenter of documentaries on America and his fascinating but poignant animal series Last Chance to See, as well as, of course, his Norfolk-based series Kingdom, and in his regular seat as the ever erudite host of the BBC TV quiz show QI.Much loved by his peers too, in January this year he received the Special Recognition Award at the National Television Awards for his diverse work, which has included his groundbreaking documentary on bipolar disorder, Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive in which he examined his own condition and spoke to others who live with the intense highs and lows of bipolar.But with many more plans afoot, including a new TV series on one of his pet subjects, the development of language, will the crazily busy Stephen be ditching his rural roots for good?No way, he is proud to tell EDP Norfolk readers; this is home forever.“I can’t ever imagine not returning to Norfolk,” he says. “There’s something about the place.”Born in Hampstead in 1957, Stephen moved to Norfolk at the age of six, when his family settled at an imposing Victorian mansion in Booton, near Reepham. The stable block there provided Stephen’s father, Alan, a scientist, with plenty of space to build his many diverse designs and inventions, and it was a fascinating home for young Stephen, his older brother Roger and their younger sister Jo.Still with a home in west Norfolk today that he returns to frequently, Stephen says he identifies closely with the county. “Of course I grew up there, so it has that special hold that home always will have,” he explains. “But the coastline, people, atmosphere and Norfolkness of Norfolk is something that gets into your blood.”A long-time champion of the county, in recent months he has been especially vocal in his support for Norwich as part of its sadly unsuccessful bid to become the City of Culture. He described it as “a contemporary place which has consistently moved ahead in its own distinctive, radical and independent way. It has a fantastic and historic urban fabric, a glorious rural hinterland and an unparalleled coastline of which I am proud to be able to tell people”.And he will be back in the city this month for two special events – as the entertaining subject of a celebrity Evening With... at Carrow Road on September 16 and to sign copies of his new autobiography, published on September 13, at the Jarrold store the following day.The first part of his autobiography, Moab is my Washpot (Hutchinson), which Stephen wrote in 1997, featured stories from his happy childhood days in Norfolk.With groceries delivered from Riches of Reepham, meat bought at Tuddenham’s of Cawston and milk from the nearby dairy, the Frys quickly settled into the rural life in the heart of Norfolk in the mid-1960s, and the little boy spent a term at Cawston Primary School before being sent to Stouts Hill prep school in Gloucestershire.But Moab... also revealed some dark and desperate times too. In covering his first two decades, Stephen wrote openly of his expulsion from private school at Uppingham for a string of exploits culminating in shoplifting, and his criminal conviction for stealing a friend’s credit card for which he spent three months in prison on remand.He also admitted to flunking his time at Paston School in North Walsham. “I did not take to the place one bit,” he wrote. “I can remember barely anything about it, except it was there that I started to smoke and there that I learned to play pinball: Not within the school grounds, but within the town of North Walsham for within a short space of time I started to cut school dead.”He wrote of attempting suicide at 17 when he was attending the Norfolk College of Art and Technology in King’s Lynn. But that first part of his life story in print ends after he had found happier times at Norwich City College where he studied hard and won a scholarship to Cambridge University.And it is here that The Fry Chronicles: An Autobiography picks up the tale of Stephen’s university days and his breakthrough into the world of entertainment. It was at Cambridge that he met Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, Tony Slattery and others with whom he performed in the famous Footlights revue.His TV career began in 1982 with a broadcast of The Cellar Tapes – the satirical show that Fry and Laurie had written, with others, for the 1981 Footlights, and that toured the country, winning the first ever Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.It led to writing and performing in TV series with Ben Elton, and by 1986 their own series, A Bit of Fry and Laurie, which established the pair as a new comedy force to be reckoned with and they appeared together, of course, in Jeeves and Wooster.Memories of these times – as well as Stephen’s memorable role as Melchett in the Blackadder series with Rowan Atkinson – will make the new autobiography a sure-fire hit with readers, but also posed a dilemma for Stephen in his writing.“It has been very good fun,” he says. “Harder than Moab in many ways as there was always the challenge of not wanting to write a conventional showbiz biography.“In this book I have reached the stage where I have to include names of people who are now well known. Somewhere between being sickly in one’s praise and over-revelatory in one’s disclosures there ought to be a happy balance...”Moab sold 300,000-plus copies and was met with rave reviews, so there are high expectations of The Fry Chronicles. Stephen’s writing has a huge following, both in print – his books have sold more than one million in the UK alone – and online. He has some 80,000 friends on the online social networking site Facebook and a world record 1.7m followers on Twitter – and he’s promised to attempt to convert as many as possible to the joys of Norwich City football team.And with a large turn out expected for his appearance at the Jarrold’s book-signing and at Carrow Road, home of his beloved Norwich City FC, he is bound to gain a few more fans here too.So will the county have to brace itself for any surprise revelations in The Fry Chronicles? It seems we’re safe this time, as Stephen says: “Unfortunately Norfolk doesn’t make much of an appearance until later on in the book.”
Stephen Fry's new autobiography, Fry: A Memoir (published by Penguin, priced �20).