Comedy History shows quite convincingly that it is our funniest double acts who receive and retain the most love from the public, from Eric & Ernie and Pete & Dud to The Two Ronnies and Vic & Bob. But although all of the aforementioned partnerships have been celebrated in print (many, many times in the case of the former acts), it’s a bizarre oversight that one of the most beloved, successful and silly duos of all time, widely adored both together and apart – Stephen Fry & Hugh Laurie – have not.
Of course, Fry’s autobiographies have been gratefully devoured by his admirers, but personal memoirs by their very nature seldom touch on the actual work, and the creative output of the individual. The criminality of there being no book to accompany Fry & Laurie’s oeuvre will be rectified with an all-new narrative guide to the partnership’s humour, timed to mark the 30th anniversary of the debut of their effortlessly superior sketch show, A Bit of Fry & Laurie.
With the full blessing, co-operation and active participation of the beloved colleagues Stephen and Hugh themselves, plus of course the troops of friends they have amassed over their four decades in show business, Blackadder chronicler and official biographer of Douglas Adams, Jem Roberts, will take a fresh look at the ampersand-defining colleagues’ entwining stories, from insecure Footlighters to international comedy heroes. Focusing on the humour they generated between them, exhaustive research will result in a fizzy comedy narrative taking in the excitement of being the first Perrier Award winners with The Cellar Tapes, the terrors of performing in Saturday Live, the collaborative warfare of Blackadder, the creation of four series of cult sketch comedy which have only grown in global acclaim year by year, the admirable promotion of Tidyman’s Carpets, and the ultimate depiction of Wodehouse’s most inimitable characters, Jeeves & Wooster. Beyond this, the trials and tribulations of their remarkable subsequent separate career paths, from QI to House, will be entertainingly explored for the very first time. The story will be authoritative, but never remotely dull.
Thanks to the generosity of both colleagues, the huge databanks of the A Bit of Fry & Laurie unseen material archive have been opened up, revealing a host of tantalising titbits for fans – including what happened next for Tony & Control, which other shops Mr Dalliard’s friend ran, and the lost Laurie number The Ballad of Neddy Muldoon – but above all, making Stephen & Hugh’s astonishing achievements all the more evident by instantly being freshly, gut-squeezingly funny.
Above all, this is the tale of a true friendship, a deep affection between two very funny men which has long been reflected back from an adoring public a thousandfold. Celebrating the 30th anniversary of their first TV pilot as a double act, Soupy Twists! will be an all-but overdue celebration of a unique comic chemistry, documenting the most outrageous, exciting and linguistically sublime comedy of a generation.
"You've been patient, you've been glossy, you've been surprisingly supple. I've enjoyed being fabulous with you."
"Bet you can't eat three!"
“TIME hath, my lord, a wallet at his back, Wherein he puts alms for oblivion, A great-sized monster of ingratitudes!”
Stephen Fry & Hugh Laurie collapsed in the rehearsal room for the 1981 Cambridge Footlights show, unfeasibly long legs asplayed, and groaned as one. The dark 24-year old English scholar and fair 22-year-old oarsman knew they were doomed, finished, fucked – the 1980s had arrived, kicking as well as screaming, and what kind of life form left standing on the face of the planet Earth gave the tiniest frig about the Cambridge Footlights' latest show? They were privileged throwbacks, suggested Hugh, lighting an outrageously high-tar cigarette. Outdated milksops, agreed Stephen, halfway through his twelfth of the afternoon. Pointless knobs, offered Hugh – which it was agreed seemed to be putting it a bit strong.
The pine-panelled dungeon which passed for a Footlights base under the Laurie regime was as far removed from the fishy opulence of the Petty Cury clubroom where Peter Cook, John Cleese, Graeme Garden et al played as this young bunch could fathom. “There were pictures of them on the wall in the clubroom,” Stephen recalls, “all in duffel coats, and that classic sort of sixties student look … It was very interesting, that whole sense of a connection, of the continuity of the Footlights all the way through. And of course, you believe when you’re there that it’s over.”
“Those were the glory days, and we’re just an embarrassment,” Fry & Laurie agreed, as fresh-faced Goodies and a sneering Wisty gazed down at them, obstinately monochromatic and unreachable. Of course, Emma was clearly destined for showbiz greatness from the second she was born, and young Tony Slattery might have a chance, but Britain did not need a couple of unnecessarily tall spindly public school boys to tickle its massed funny bones, no matter how base, how bizarre, how smart and how deliciously phrased their jokes may be. Nonetheless they would press on, and then flee to academia and the Hong Kong Police, as planned.
“Let’s press on, and go back to ‘TIME!’” suggested Jan Ravens, the director of the show that had already been written off as The Cellar Tapes. And so they pressed on.
A decade and a half later, David Mitchell & Robert Webb collapsed in the rehearsal room of their own Cambridge Footlights show, and groaned as one. They were doomed, finished, fucked. Charlotte was clearly destined for showbiz greatness from the second she was born, and young John Oliver might have a chance, but was the 21st century really going to give a couple of Footlighters like them a chance in comedy?
In the 1990s, the club had even poorer resources than ever, but there was one speck of its intimidatingly glorious past still showing: a torn old poster for The Cellar Tapes, the first and last Footlights show to win the Edinburgh Fringe award, the highest accolade in comedy.
“Those were the glory days, and we’re just an embarrassment,” the pair agreed. But they pressed on.
UNSEEN ABOF&L MATERIAL
STEPHEN AND HUGH ARE PART OF A DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THEMSELVES.
STEPHEN: I remember when I met Hugh, I thought, "Wow! Like, this guy is seriously deranged. This is psychopathy taken to – what? – the nth like degree." He was really into this punting on the river and wearing blazers.
HUGH: See, like the thing about Stephen at Cambridge, was like, he was this animal, you know? I met him when he was writing an essay on George Eliot's Middlemarch and I thought, this is weird, like weird-weird, you see what I'm saying?
STEPHEN: I mean the way he like spread butter on crumpets and poured a glass of Pimms. It just said "freak". Who is this guy? I don't want him near me. This is like angst in your pangst. Like look out Brother Karamazov and look out Kafka, this guy – just in the way he pays for a May Ball ticket – it's dangerous. Too dangerous. Is he for real?
HUGH: There was this whole existential anti-karma about his anger, his like TOTAL rage when he was busted for stepping out of line. I remember the senior tutor fined him for leaving a champagne bottle on the steps outside his rooms and he like literally he turned, on a sixpence, into this screwed up ball of like street fury.
STEPHEN: So much frigging pain, you know?
VOICE: (OFF) Do you like him?
STEPHEN: Like him? He's an event. He's a system, a force, a pathological state. I hate the bastard.
HUGH: I love him. Love him like you love a pizza. Hate. I hate him.
STEPHEN: I was born in 1917 and my grandmother, whom I remember as clearly as if it were yesterday, was born in 1848. Wonderful lady she was. Her advice to me was, "Remember this Rose," she would say, "all men masturbate. All of them. Without exception." I've never forgotten that. And now when I look at the Cabinet or some of those weathermen, I don't feel so queasy.
HUGH: I was expelled from my school for bad behaviour. What kind of lesson is that for later life, eh? Then a couple of years ago, I was banged up in Parkhurst. They let me out of there for good behaviour. I mean, where's the consistency? Our schools are teaching kids that they can be let out of school for bad behaviour, our prisons are teaching something else. Crazy. Now, give us that camera or I'll slice your neck open.
I bring momentous news, which is very much of the moment.
Today, Friday 19th May, the full manuscript of Soupy Twists, the official Fry & Laurie story, has been digitally posted over to the good people of Unbound for editing, fixing, and making into one of those books which I hear are very much not all the rage. What a birthday present for company co-founder John Mitchinson! And yet, the pain…
YOUR FACE MY ARSE.
No, sorry, that's no way to impart information, is it? Let's begin again.
I'm very well aware that I promised the last update would be the penultimate before the handover of the Soupy Twists manuscript, but well, it's a dismal Friday, given the Local Election results, and any source of levity is welcome on a day like today. Despite the mammoth challenge I face preparing…
... Whereas, going at it full-cock is for me a lifetime's habit. Hello, a very warm Eostre to you, and welcome to what will almost certainly be the penultimate entry in our SOUPY TWISTS series of blogs, before the full draft manuscript is bicycled off to the Unbound experts in their Islington offices for editing, enjoying, and generally squeezing between chunks of paper.
Because, oh! but what a…
As a special treat for pledgers, I've uploaded the two occasions on which our colleagues Stephen & Hugh manned the Gunge Tank on the first and third nights of Red Nose Day fun at TV Centre in 1989 and 1991 (Little & Large took over for 1989, which with the very best will in the world, gold-embossed and leaving all your money to amazing ponies, is no replacement).
The clips feature two victims,…
Okay, wrong double act catchphrase, but I hope you'll forgive me for this mini-update: it's been a busy week of harvesting the memories and opinions of the two men who shepherded Stephen & Hugh through ABOF&L at the beginning and at the the end.
I'm indebted to Louis Barfe for putting me on to Roger Ordish, this lovely chap...
... Who has of course had to field many far less pleasant questions…
Now then, then, now, now, now, then now. Now then.
It has been a considerable number of hours since last this Shed was updated, so although there is no cataclysmic event to be detailed here, I just thought I'd fill in the faithful on what's been happening with Soupy Twists!
Despite Stephen popping by North-West Europe to hand out a few BAFTAs earlier in the month, and Hugh being over here doing…
Well, fusk the Friday 13th naysayers, what a truly remarkable anniversary today is, and how eerily lucky I am that I only happened to notice this due to reaching the first ever broadcast of A Bit of Fry & Laurie series 1 episode 1 in my Soupy Twists narrative yesterday.
Because it was 28 years ago to the superstitiously dodgy day, Friday 13th January 1989, 9pm on BBC2, that ABOF&L debuted …
TALLY HO, PIP PIP, AND MAY THE YULETIDE LOG SLIP FROM YOUR FIRE AND BURN YOUR HOUSE DOWN!
Who's that at the door on a cold Christmas night? It could be a robin...?
I won't spoil the Xmas atmos by mentioning that cove who ended up a cropper on top of a hill in jolly arab land, but 2016 has been a remarkable year, so it would be remiss not to wish every last pledger to SOUPY TWISTS a very…
... Well, of course I wouldn't go that far, not by a long walk. My only previous experience of Oxford was a very brief stopover to watch Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graeme Garden remember The Goodies about a decade ago, so my recent pilgrimage to Hugh Laurie's hometown really constituted my first experience of that fine historic city and its infamously dreaming spire collection. And it is a handsome…
HAPPY HALLOWE'EN, SOUPY TWISTERS!
I am actually IN America (The States) as the holiday comes around (so don't throw me out of a window, Stephen and Hugh), and sadly, with that reference, I've already used up the best Fry & Laurie video for Hallowe'en in the text above, but to celebrate us hitting a wonderful 111%, here…
Well, I was always painfully aware of what a truly extraordinary story I was telling here... but never moreso than on this spectacular day, as I sit on the coast of the opposite shining sea of the United Stated of America and watch the great and the good of Hollywood prostrated at Hugh Laurie's Union Jack socks, as his well-deserved star on the Hollywood Boulevard (fittingly just outside the British…
Sirs and Madams, I am chastened and bowed – ever the men and women of affairs, you have reminded us all, ALL, of our duty.
A Fry & Laurie book for you.
This shed has become slightly derelict since the glorious surge over 100% that the dear colleagues Stephen & Hugh engineered for us all – this is largely due to the necessity of earning currency for living purposes, as this book is written entirely…
Ladies and gentlemen, bear with me, bear with me, don't stop bearing with me...
Soupy Twists, the official story of the sophisticated silliness of Stephen Fry & Hugh Laurie, is now... ONE HUNDRED PERCENT FUNDED!
I cannot thank any of the kind, discerning, clever pledgers enough – and nor can Stephen or Hugh, because they're both on TV sets over in the western half of the USA right…
Happy weekend eve, kind Stephen & Hugh-philes!
Biggest news first, the latter hero has admitted his participation in this project to the world:
... Five months after promising to do what he could to me in person – at the time, we didn't know this would be an Unbound book, so nobody thought so much early publicity would be necessary, so it is extraordinarily kind of him, and allowed…
SOUPY TWISTS is now 69% funded!
As that number obviously has no connotations of any kind, here's a Fry & Laurie sketch to celebrate: CONSENT https://new.vk.com/video7575647_163917896
I have mixed memories of performing this sketch for a Comic Relief show in 1999. With full approval from their agent Lorraine Hamilton, of course. I played the male silent client, and am no Robert Daws. Plus, it…
Dear "A Bit Offers", as literally nobody ever calls fans of Fry & Laurie,
Funding has slowed at 45% so everyone out there who wants this incredible laugh-packed celebration of Stephen & Hugh's careers in their stockings next year – please do keep spreading the word, tell anyone who loves quality British comedy, and any and all help is gratefully received! I've just been in touch with Stephen and…
It's coming up to nine or ten years – nigh very much on – since I first began writing books on comedy history, and yet, disgusting though the fact is, I've never been here before. It's taken the Fry & Laurie story to bring me to famed haunt of cultural historians the world over – the BFI. The BBC Written Archives have long been a second home, and I've seen many a mind-blowing rarity thanks to the…
These people are helping to fund Soupy Twists!.