A Bit of Fry and Laurie

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?


Romancing the Crown: The Accidental Royalist


Growing up, I never paid much attention to the monarchy.  Naturally, I was more interested in fairytale kingdoms and mythical palaces than their real-life counterparts.  The Queen, nevertheless, has always been a reassuring figure, omnipresent on currency and correspondence; something of a kind and distant aunt, well-regarded, but rarely thought of.  It was a happy indifference that, I suspect, I shared with many other subjects of Her Majesty’s realm.  But it was not to last.

It all started with the Olympics.  I was watching a medal ceremony in which Britain had won gold.  The national anthem struck up, and the winner beamed deservedly from a podium.  Reader, I was affected beyond words; first welling up, and then breaking down entirely.  This unexpected show of feeling has arisen periodically ever since, whether it is upon seeing the Queen wave from the royal carriage at Ascot, or simply hearing ‘God Save…’ belted from the terraces at football matches.

From that moment on, I was inexplicably impregnated with a joyous affection for our royal figurehead.  I know I’m not alone.  The Americans love her, frequently crossing the ocean to crowd the palace gates (and crucially swelling the coffers of tourism as they do so).  Agyness Deyn is rumoured to be a fan.

Without an English passport, I’m technically a foreigner, and have no right to be such a romantic royalist.  But I can’t help myself, and what I lack in dry documentia I more than make up for in patriotism of spirit…

Consequentially, I have begun to quietly and obsessively amass royal memorabilia.  Her Majesty’s face peers from teapots, tea-towels and tobacco tins, to the consternation and despair of those forced to beat a path through the monarchist impedimenta littering my home.  I’m gripped by a compelling need to defend the ageing sovereign from slander, criticism and general treason.

I find her astonishing, iconic, inspiring.  Never expected to be Queen, she slipped seamlessly into a role she has performed with grace and guts, and not a single day off, since.  She knows when to be vocal (Diana, Iraq) and when to stay silent (wayward grandchildren). 

Her wardrobe is unfailingly, enduringly chic, whether she is resplendent in rainbow hues and gobstopper jewels, or sporting the well-loved, oft-imitated regalia of headscarf and Barbour.  In all her 83 years on earth – 58 as queen, 62 as wife and mother – she has devoted her life, in public and private, entirely to others.  To those who deem her anachronistic, an elitist and undemocratic relic: would you really advocate replacing her with some anonymous head of state?  Give up the fun and pomp and pageantry for a sterile and bloodless succession of dusty MPs?  Where’s our imagination, our romance?  Who doesn’t smile nostalgically at the changing of the guard, inwardly squeal at the prospect of a royal wedding, or thrill to the sight of those crown jewels?  The Queen has the unspeakably fabulous privilege of owning the largest pink diamond in world, whilst Parliament is in solemn possession of a rusty budget box and some musty wigs.

 Royalty, history, family, are worth preserving.  I’ve long since abandoned fairy princesses and towering turrets on the far-off shores of childhood.   But forsake the queen?  Never: Ma’am, it’s been a pleasure.