National Treasure Stephen Fry has been gracing our screens, both big and small, for well over thirty years now. His first appearance, an uncredited role in Chariots Of Fire, was back in 1981 and it wasn’t long before he clocked up a veritable tasty feast of delicious performances.
Here, for your delectation, are just a dozen of Fry’s performances (I could easily have chosen another dozen to go with it) that have endured and endeared in a very fluffy and bottom-huggingly pleasing fashion.
12. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Though fans of the BBC series will know Mark Gatiss as Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, the Guy Ritchie film with Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law sees Stephen Fry bring a bit more humor to the role than his small screen counterpart. He doesn’t shake hands and he calls his detective brother Shirley, Fry’s Mycroft really should have been given more screen time. And you get to see him naked. Which can only be a bonus.
This 1994 oddity from Roxannedirector Fred Schepisi stars Stephen Fry alongside Meg Ryan, Tim Robbins, and Walter Matthau as Albert Einstein. Fry’s James Moreland, boyfriend and would-be future husband of Ryan’s character, is an upper class, cold and unfeeling and rather controlling piece of work.
Though most assuredly a bit of a wacky film, I.Q. will entertain for 90 minutes but it’s nice to see Stephen play a bit of a prick for a change. Regardless, Fry must be the only actor to feature in two different projects whose title is the same as each other backwards (see further down this list).
10. Gosford Park
Blundering in halfway through the Oscar-winning Robert Altman film, Fry’s Inspector Thompson manages to singularly change the whole tone of Gosford Park with his almost sketch show delivery. His pipe-smoking policeman, who never gets to finish his full title, is blind to clues and police procedures in the most hilarious of fashions.
9. The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy
It’s fair to say that this 2005 movie was not entirely well-received. But one thing we can all agree on was the casting of Stephen as the voice of The Guide. Matching the original Peter Jones for dryness and, dare I say, sarcastic Britishness, Fry was the highlight of this much-maligned and flawed film (have to admit, I do enjoy it).
8. Absolute Power
On to the small screen now with this satirical BBC Two sitcom from the Noughties. Fry played the rather unpleasant, manipulative and conniving Charles Prentiss. In charge of a public relations company, he dubiously went about his business in the most morally of challenging fashions. Stephen relied on the nastier and smarmier side of his character to draw on for Charles, a man as smart and as astute as Fry himself.
For a generation or so, Stephen Fry will simply be known as the man who knows everything. Or the man who puts down Alan Davies on a weekly basis. Fry’s writings, actings and comedy may well be completely unknown to the fact-loving audience. Stephen has steered the good ship QI for almost 12 years now, which in TV terms is an eternity. And quite right too. Fry’s hosting of the panel-based comedy quiz show gives his natural comedic skills the perfect outlet whilst his more academic and fact-filled side gets an equal lookout. Difficult to imagine anyone else presenting.
This little-seen gem aired over the festive period on Sky Arts in 2014 and saw Fry take on the role of (spoilers!) Father Christmas. Alongside him starred a put-down Kiefer Sutherland looking to exact revenge for his sorry life. The two had just come off the back of 24: Live Another Day and wanted another project to work on. To call it an updated It’s A Wonderful Life doesn’t do either a disservice and Fry is sublime as the big man, with his trademark touches of humor but also with a healthy dose of darkness.
5. This Is David Lander
Talk about ‘little seen’ television shows. This Channel 4 golden nugget from 1988 has only been shown once and, rather incredibly, never received a home video release. For the uninitiated, This Is David Lander was a mock investigative series in the style of Roger Cook (popular at the time) where Stephen played the title role. Unlike many other of his performances, this is a much more toned-down and deadpan portrayal and all the more fascinating for it.
Thankfully, the All 4website (for on demand content from Channel Four) has a landing page for This Is David Lander complete with episode guide, so hopefully it won’t be too long before it can be enjoyed all over again, and for a whole new audience.
4. Jeeves & Wooster
Disturbingly, at the time, certain fans of the PG Wodehouse books were outraged and appalled and outraged (again) that ‘young’ men such as Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie were stepping into the shoes of their literary heroes (both in their early 30s at the time). For audiences, however, it was an absolute hoot. Playing the mightily stiff-upper lipped gentleman’s gentleman Jeeves, this was a character that Fry couldn’t have been more astutely cast (similarly with his co-star Hugh Laurie). For many, the definitive Jeeves.
Touted as the part he was born to play, Fry succeeded gallantly in portraying his hero, playwright, author and poet, Oscar Wilde. Whilst not reaching the exquisite highs of Peter Finch in The Trials Of Oscar Wilde (1960), the 1997 film did earn him a Golden Globe nomination for the role; a role that succinctly demonstrated that the comedy actor could turn his hand to more dramatic roles. Wilde shows off Fry’s rambunctiousness and wit, for sure, but we also glimpse the sadness and frustration felt by Oscar in his relationship with Bosie (played by Jude Law) and in his desperate days in prison. A wonderful and touching performance from Mr. Fry.
2. Blackadder Goes Forth
One word: mehhhhhhh! Picking a standout performance from the wonderfulBlackadder Goes Forth is disingenuous to a flawless ensemble. Those General Melchett moments remains utterly priceless, however. And, in one case, utterly haunting. The moment where Melchett sends Captain Darling to the front line still sends shivers down the spine.
Here’s a YouTube compilation of Melchett gold, from across the assorted Blackadders…
1. A Bit Of Fry & Laurie
Without wanting to use the expression ‘tour-de-force’, the BBC 2 comedy sketch show A Bit Of Fry & Laurie was most definitely Stephen Fry’s tour de force. Damn.
From the working-class taxi driver yearning for the old-fashioned McDonalds meal to the ever-forgetful housewife to his Richard Whiteley impersonation on a Countdown parody, Fry was never anything less than effervescent throughout its four series (1989-1995) with his numerous and wonderful creations. Here’s the glorious take on Countdown…
A particulate favorite for fans was the recurring ‘Peter and John’ sketches. Playing the latter, Fry’s incoherent and whisky-guzzling straight-talking businessman liked nothing better than to reminisce about Marjorie (and pronounce her name like nobody else could) and proclaim “Damn!” at the end of every sketch.
Best of all, however, was watching Stephen being Stephen as he and Hugh would introduce an episode in their Tidyman Suits (nothing fits like a Tidyman), or sing Beatles hit Hey Jude together, give Imelda Stuanton the nickname ‘Snutty’, or even just the sight of Fry punching Laurie was enough for TV heaven.
(And if you’re wondering where Peter’s Friends is, incidentally, we’re coming to that in a separate article shortly….)