Soupy Twists!

By Jem Roberts

The full official story of the sophisticated silliness of Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie

Friday, 1 July 2016

Archives & Endives*

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 Hugh, and there are plans afoot which should make the 100% feel nearer, but it's too early to say anything else at this point, and we really do need to keep the total rising and rising...

Anyway, it's time for another update from the archives, after a fraught and painful week or two! So here's far too many pictures of me simpering in front of places important to this book.

My first visit to the unprepossessing little Reading bungalow known as the BBC Written Archives was almost ten years ago, and it would be unthinkable to miss out such a crucial stage of a book's composition now. I was forewarned that, as the available archives only reach up to the mid-80s, there wouldn't be a huge amount to find on Fry & Laurie, but I was sure it would be worth the pilgrimage, and I was proved right...

In truth, I've hardly ever gained much from sifting through the old contracts like this – the names of a few forgotten shows worth chasing up perhaps, the evidence that both S and H appeared in the first series of The Lenny Henry Show (though how I'd see their performances without paying lots of money to the BFI I do not know). But the real value in the ticket to Reading comes from threading their script microfilm reels into the machine, and trawling through the BBC's nightly output on paper, in the hope of turning up something exciting. This is more rewarding for older shows – my time researching Blackadder seemed to suggest that in the mid-80s some directive went out, telling producers to mainly save exact broadcast transcriptions of shows, rather than the cut-material-packed rehearsal or shooting scripts, which reveal staggeringly exciting scraps which were never meant to see the light of day.

Nonetheless, the early ABOF&L scripts did reveal a fair few extracts which never made it to the screen – or even to the ABOF&L scriptbooks, which often parted from the broadcast sketches as we knew them. 

Forgive the bad quality of these grabs – they are white-on-black files, appearing on a screen and then literally just snapped with an iPhone, and then inverted in Photoshop. Murky is not the word, but at least I can make out the words and salient details. The scripts for Saturday Night Fry were particularly pleasing, elegantly formatted by Fry on whatever early Mac he was using at the time – and, surprisingly, with many pages of cut material, as well as clear indicators as to what was written by Stephen (the vast majority) and which bits by Ian Brown and James Hendrie – generally the 'The Show That Shall Not Be Named' spoof sections, 'Stephen Will Do His Level Best To Comply With Your Wishes'.

Besides the scripts, the BBC's cuttings are also worth a look – although there were around 12 times' more for Stephen than Hugh, of course. The weight of copy written by and about Mr Fry over the last forty years would fill an entire library, to Mr Laurie's modest scrapbook.

And at the risk of overdoing the 'posthumously disgraced celebrity' motif, here's a just-about legible Fry article by Clement Freud which I have no use for:

To conclude this update – as I have been busy trying to earn a few pennies and otherwise live my life since returning from Reading – I was lucky enough to get a lift to the ridiculously idyllic Gloucestershire village of Uley a couple of days ago, to have a look around Stephen Fry's own personal Hogwarts – Stouts Hill, once a prep school, but now imposingly beautiful (and surprisingly reasonable) holiday accommodation.

I very much enjoy walking where my comedy heroes have walked if I'm writing about them, soaking up the atmosphere of their lives and so on. There was little practical reason for being in Uley except to marvel at a village in 2016 that boasts not only a shop (perhaps the very one wee Stephen truanted to when in need of better sweets than the tuck shop could provide, it's hard to say) but also a pub, brewery and even an arts centre! I'm very glad I visited, and it's only just up the road from Bath really...

Next stop – Cambridge! For which I must set my alarm for 4.30am next Wednesday... come on, I can do this...

* There are no endives in this post. It doesn't even rhyme.

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