On countless occasions and at various junctures; those pregnant pauses during polite life’s social interactions when people grasp for something to say, the question of the fantasy dinner party is often resurrected, like some old and dependable friend.
I vacillate shamelessly on the subject. My answers depend entirely on my mood, my outfit, number of alcoholic units imbibed, and my present audience and how I’d like them to appraise me. There are, indubitably, a few non-movers; certain characters I feel to be lurking most constantly in the shadows of my subconscious. Their exploits, secret selves and very essences have fascinated me so fully that their placemats at that fantasy dinner party are etched in inerasable ink. The Queen, Lewis Carroll, and Tintin fall into this category.
And then there are my obsessions du jour, the personalities and personas that have absorbed my attention most often that week. And so, if you asked me now, or perhaps tonight, at some dinner, I’d only need to swirl my drink twice, and barely look pensive, before answering with uncharacteristic expediency: ‘Fry and Laurie. No other guests allowed.’
Fry and Laurie: double act of dreams. Separately and together, they’ve long been the focus of a certain furtive idolatry. Stephen Fry came first. Simply, cannily, he was in right place at the right time.
At the height of my Oscar Wilde fixation, he nailed the aphorisms of the great man himself, and flirted onscreen rather impishly with Jude Law. Fry recorded bewitching podcasts of the most magical of Wilde’s children’s stories, lending his perfectly-pitched intonation, and just the right amount of grave poignancy, to The Selfish Giant.
When I was dead-eyed and sick-hearted with revision and the accompanying terrors and doubts of university finals, I could slink downstairs on Friday evenings, pale from lack of sunlight and speaking in Shakespearian tongues, and gain a half-hour’s happy respite, transported briefly by QI, and bolstered and refreshed anew by Stephen’s wit, wisdom, and the fact that an early failed education didn’t do him the least bit of harm.
An Alice in Wonderland fanatic, the only redeeming quality I could find in Tim Burton’s Hollywood hack-job was the cheering fact that Fry had played the Cheshire Cat (with creepy aplomb). Stephen has endeared himself in variegated and astonishing ways: by donning false breasts in Blackadder; embarking on a road trip of Odyssean valour and stamina through America in a British black cab; finding time even to narrate the audio version of Harry Potter…
Like many millions of the global populace, my affection for Fry has been crucially and dramatically accelerated through his prolific Twittering. His Tweets, revealing him to be exceptionally big-hearted, down-to-earth and hilariously fond of naughty words, have only strengthened my fast-glowing approbation.
And now to Laurie. Though magnificent in Blackadder, Sense and Sensibility, and, er, 101 Dalmatians (this the previous full sum of my familiarity), he wasn’t even on my radar – and I suspect those of thousands of others – until the multi-accoladed House. It is a gob-smackingly brilliant show, and Laurie as Dr Gregory House is its undoubted star and charismatic lodestone: part-aloof-masterminded Sherlock Holmes, part-brooding-Byronic-hero. House’s acerbic, ego-puncturing one-liners are comedy-manna, his eccentricities legitimate cause for frame-by-frame analysis, and the enduring bromance with fellow doctor James Wilson the stuff of pop-culture legend.
My sister and I follow it obsessively, to the point of buying each other ‘It’s not lupus’ bookmarks and gobbling up box sets in near-single sittings. We howl, we weep, we run the risk of bedsores, and most importantly, we engage in Laurie-mania, which mostly entails YouTubing his interviews, band performances, and fan collages, in the early hours of the morning. There have been fierce debates over the precise shade of blue of his eyes: cerulean or cornflower?
Together, the charisma and charm of Fry and Laurie is ineluctable. This iconic duo rivals the hallowed pairings of Holmes and Watson, Jules and Jim, Barney and Fred, Dee and Dum. Their placemats are carved in flowing script on the dining table of my dreams, and linger there, riding the cruel merry-go-round that is the hypothetical dinner-party. At the mercy of a tossing tempest, a war of whims, the ebb and flow of desire. So until next week, surely?