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Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry

Areas of Interest

Arts, Campaigner, Literature, Media

Honorary Award

Honorary Doctor of the University, 2005


Stephen Fry was born in 1957 and educated at an unfeasibly large number of educational establishments, most of which rapidly tired of him. At Cambridge University however, he met and worked with, among others, Emma Thompson and Hugh Laurie, a life long friend and comedy partner. Fry's first play Latin! received a Scotsman fringe first award and has subsequently been performed around the country. The Footlights revue he wrote and performed with Thompson, Laurie and Tony Slattery won the first ever Perrier Award and was televised by the BBC. There followed Alfresco, a comedy series for Granada (along with Laurie, Thompson, Ben Elton and Robbie Coltrane) three series of Blackadder with Rowan Atkinson (and Hugh Laurie again), four series of A Bit of Fry and Laurie with Hugh Laurie (both for the BBC) and also with Hugh, four series of Jeeves and Wooster for Granada TV and WGBH Boston.

He hosts the BBC quiz show QI (5 series), has completed two series of Absolute Power with John Bird for the BBC and appeared in numerous single dramas for television, including Tom Brown's School Days and most recently the series Kingdom for ITV. He has also presented the documentaries The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, HIV and Me and The Machine That Made Us all for the BBC. Stephen's documentary series, Stephen Fry in America, a journey through all 50 America states, aired in the UK in 2008 and will be shown in the US on PBS stations in November 2009. The accompanying Harper Collins book, Stephen Fry in America, was released in the US on November 3rd. His latest documentary series, Last Chance to See, was filmed in remote parts of the world and revisits endangered species that Douglas Adams first reported on 15 years ago.

As a stage actor he performed in Alan Bennett's Forty Years On, Michael Frayn's Look, Look, Simon Gray's The Common Pursuit and Cell Mates (a run cut inexplicably short). He won a Drama Circle award and a Tony Nomination for his work on the revived musical Me and My Girl which ran for years and years on Broadway and in the West End.

His numerous film appearances have included award winning performances in Peter's Friends, Wilde, Gosford Park, V for Vendetta and most recently Eichmann. He wrote and directed Bright Young Things in 2003.

He has written four best-selling novels, an autobiography, Moab is My Washpot, and a book on poetry form, The Ode Less Travelled, and is well-known among a younger generation as the reader of the audiobook versions of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels.

He is also noted for his work with Fauna and Flora International, the Terrence Higgins Trust and the Prince's Trust.


"The Senate of Anglia Ruskin University has great pleasure in conferring the award of Honorary Doctorate of the University, honoris causa, to Stephen Fry, in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the domains of comedy, theatre, film, television and literature.

Stephen Fry's first public appearance was, of course, when he was born - early on a showery warm day in August 1957 in Hampstead. His father was a physicist and technical director of Hoover, and the family moved to Norwich in the early sixties when he set up his own electronics R and D centre. He was educated at a large number of educational establishments, some of which, as he says, "rapidly tired of him". This large number included Uppingham School and Norfolk College of Art and Technology and City College, Norwich, both of whom are members of the Anglia Ruskin regional partnership. He is, in that sense, a distant alumnus of Anglia. He confesses that his early education was great fun, partly because he enjoyed tilting at the establishment and had a penchant for creative disobedience and testing school rules to destruction. Indeed, he was once expelled from school for absconding for six days to attend a meeting of the Sherlock Holmes Society in London! Herein, one suspects, lie the fruits of his subsequent career successes in subversive comedy and theatre where the subtle yet loving mockery of the Establishment and archetypal establishment characters became a hallmark of his career. Given his quasi-revolutionary tendencies, it is ironic that several of his best loved characterisations are authority or authority connected figures like Lord Melchett, the Duke of Wellington, King Charles I and, of course, Jeeves.

However, back to 1978. The latent thespian was liberated on his arrival at Cambridge University in 1978 to read English at Queens College (after a brief spell as a prep-school master, a profession for which he was considerable sympathy and administration), where be obtained a 2:1 in 1981 and an MA. More significantly for the nation however, he performed in thirty plays in three years, and was invited in 1980 by a fellow student, Hugh Laurie, to join the Cambridge Footlights where he worked with other subsequent theatrical luminaries like Emma Thompson, Rowan Atkinson and Tony Slattery, culminating in the Perrier Pick of the Fringe award at the Edinburgh Festival in 1981. Through the Footlights, as he says, he escaped his "natural doom of becoming a schoolmaster or don". He developed an apprehension of "becoming... gnarled" as he put it. To this we return later.

So it was that through Footlights his career took off, fuelled, it must be said, by his long standing association with Hugh Laurie and the immensely productive chemistry between the two. As was observed at the time "They are a perfect complement. Fry is concentrate (he will think nothing of spending fourteen hours at his word-processor). Laurie is dilute, wandering around inside his own head. Fry works from intellect; Laurie is driven by instinct." Ben Elton once observed, a little unfairly, that "they have a comic understanding that is uniquely their own... and sometimes it is so unique that only they can understand it." However, the rest of the world soon caught on and this particular chemistry delivered to the nation such milestone television programmes as A Bit of Fry and Laurie, (1987-95) the Blackadder series from 1986, and of course, Jeeves and Wooster (which was a fitting outcome of his lifetime fascination with P.G. Woodhouse). Here he delivered the ultimate characterisation of the "gentleman's gentleman", and on the strength of it was offered the job of butler at a rich American wedding. As befits a butler, he graciously declined - though, as he says, the money was good. Other noteworthy television roles recently, of course, were in Tom Brown's Schooldays (where he played Dr. Thomas Arnold, a character assailed by Victorian tensions and doubts), and, with John Bird, Absolute Power and In the Red. Finally, in relation to television, we must not omit to cite his custodianship of QI, which is arguably the most loved quiz-show of all, with its complex yet wondrous balance of the cerebral, the interesting, the entertaining and the humorous, and a scoring system as opaque as "Mornington Crescent".

Films is another of his domains, with such contributions as A Handful of Dust (1988), A Fish Called Wanda (1988) Peter's Friends (1992),Cold Comfort Farm (1995), A Civil Action (1998), and Bright Young Things (2003), which he also directed. However, it is for his performance of Oscar Wilde in Wilde (1997) that he received the greatest accolade. Critics of the day were unanimous that his towering, definitive and sympathetic portrayal conveyed the complexity of Wilde's character, the combination of Wilde's strengths and weaknesses, and the perils of convention-breaking, in a manner unparalleled before or since.

He has been slightly less enthusiastic about the stage as a medium for his talents, given the week on week repetition of performance and the essentially highly programmed nature of the theatre which he feels can tend to boredom and a dampening of the soul. The vision of a wet November matinee in a gloomy semi-moribund half empty seaside theatre springs to mind as an ample justification for this sentiment! Nonetheless, though he prefers films and television, there are significant and exciting triumphs in the theatre, including Alan Bennett's Forty Years On; Michael Frayn's Look, Look; Simon Gray's The Common Pursuit and his revival of Me and My Girl which won a Drama Circle Award and Tony nomination, and ran for many years on Broadway and the West End.

Writing and literature is another facet of his rich and full life. He has written four novels, and an autobiography Moab Is my Washpot. He is working on a new translation/interpretation of Mozart's The Magic Flute. He has recently published (2005) The Ode Less Travelled, which is a celebration of poetry as a primal impulse and an advocacy for form in poetry, as an antidote to what he perceives to be intellectual and maybe moral laziness in some contemporary poetry. It was triggered by some anger generated by what he perceived to be unjustified criticism of one of his and my mutual literary heroes, Dylan Thomas. This very thorough, intensive work could be construed as a philosophical return to his roots as an English scholar at Cambridge. Indeed, a recent reviewer, Catherine Shoard refers to him as a "would be don", which is quite ironic given his earlier comments on the Footlights as "a form of escape" from "dondom" or "donnery". Nonetheless, the work is a stirling defence of poetry in its many guises - as diary, as speculation, as story telling, as therapy, as anger management, as songwriting, as problem-solving, and as spiritual adventure. I recommend the book heartily! He himself is a private poet not given to publication but one of his rare public performance in this role was at Sir John Mills' Memorial Service.

In Stephen Fry, we thus half four or five parallel distinguished courses rolled into one - an intriguing balance of the unplanned and the serendipitous. For Stephen Fry the distinction between professional work and pastimes is false, and his dedication to gastronomy, conviviality and causes such as Amnesty International and the Terrence Higgins Trust are essentially part of the same tapestry as his dramatic and literary endeavours. As was originally said of Falstaff, Stephen Fry is "the cause of wit in others" - one might add in any domain. As Public Orator, I sometimes feel that the distinction between a honorary degree citation and an obituary is a rather fine one. The difference is that an obituary is rather final whereas in a citation we can look forward to, and celebrate the achievements yet to be, which in Stephen Fry's case, we can be assured will be legion.

So... on behalf of Senate, I exercise the authority of Senate, and confer the award of Honorary Doctorate of the University, honoris causa on Stephen Fry, and request Kate Barker to perform the honours."