Stephen Fry, from A to Z

As Stephen Fry bids farewell to QI, Mark Lawson uncovers 26 quite interesting facts about the beloved actor and presenter

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APPLE Fry was an early adopter and keen promoter of Apple products – “the iPad and I fell in love instantly”. He was so publicly effusive about the Apple boss, Steve Jobs, that it sometimes seemed that Stephen was looking for a job from Steve. One of Jobs’s last interviews, including first sight of the iPad, was granted to Fry, and, last year, Sir Jony Ive announced his appointment as Apple’s chief design officer in another Fry chat. It’s generally assumed that Fry doesn’t have to queue up at dawn outside an Apple Store when new products are released.

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BUCKINGHAM PALACE The Queen’s London residence was one of the locations (others included BBC Television Centre and the House of Lords) where Fry claimed, in his 2014 memoir More Fool Me, to have snorted cocaine during a “15-year habit” costing “tens if not hundreds of thousands of pounds”. It’s not clear if these revelations have harmed his chances of returning to the palace to become Sir Stephen, or to the upper house, where he would presumably become Lord Fry of somewhere in Norfolk, possibly Booton, near Reepham, where he grew up.

CELIBACY Between the years 1979 and 1995, Fry was one of the world’s three most famous celibate men, along with Pope John Paul II and Morrissey. However, unlike them, he then met Daniel Cohen and abandoned his pledge. After their ten-year relationship ended, he continued non-celibacy with Steven Webb and then Elliott Spencer (see H).

DOUBLE ACT Although in many ways a singular figure, Fry is also part of a comedy couple with Hugh Laurie, whom he met at Cambridge University in the Footlights comedy group – the sketch series A Little Bit of Fry & Laurie and the drama Jeeves and Wooster would follow. The pair are less starkly contrasted than is usually the case in double acts: both are tall and somewhat prone to gloom and introspection, although Laurie less clinically so (See Z). They are also rare among humorous duos in having had almost equal success as individuals, but they are due to reunite this year with voice roles in a new version of The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde.

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EXTRA After volunteering while filming was taking place in Cambridge during his college days, Fry appears as a singer in the 1981 production of Chariots of Fire. 

FOLLOWERS Over 12.1 million people followed Fry on Twitter before he announced that he was leaving the social media site following criticism of a joke he made during the Baftas. He had signed up in 2008, and had sent around 22,000 tweets – which averages out at around ten a day.

GOD Despite playing God in the short film Sylvia Hates Sam, Fry has a difficult relationship with God. In an interview with Irish television, Fry, asked what he would say if he came face to face with the Creator, replied: “Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?”

HUSBAND In a moment seemingly symbolising a new stability, at the age of 57 Fry married writer-comedian Elliott Spencer, 30 years his junior, in January 2015 at a register office in Dereham, Norfolk.

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INTERVIEWS Although a keen communicator through social media (see F) and frequent chat-show guest (see R), Fry has become reluctant to give print interviews, feeling that in the past his views have been misrepresented. His closest friends and collaborators are also increasingly wary of giving candid quotes for profiles, forcing journalists who wish to write about him to find alternative formats…

JK ROWLING The author of the Harry Potter franchise is closely associated with Fry, who recorded all of the audiobooks and provides the voiceover on several video games.

LITERARY ALLUSIONS His many books across several genres include two works notable for the obscure allusions in their titles. A novel, The Stars’ Tennis Balls (2000), is named from a line in a play by Jacobean dramatist John Webster: “We are merely the stars’ tennis balls, struck and bandied which way please them.” The first of his three memoirs to date, Moab is my Washpot (1997), uses a bizarre verse from the Psalms.

ME AND MY GIRL While not considered one of his major pieces of work, a 1984 adaptation of the script for a revival of the 1930s musical ran for eight years in London, giving Fry financial security at a young age, and complete creative freedom.

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NORWICH CITY FC A Norfolk resident as a child and then as an adult, Fry supports the county’s Premiership football team. Previously a director, he is now Norwich City Ambassador and honorary president of Proud Canaries, a group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender fans. He is also, along with Delia Smith, the public face of the club, and on 19 February her culinary credibility and his intellectual heft combine when, in the Norfolk Lounge of the team’s Carrow Road stadium, a “three-course dinner and Q&A with Stephen Fry” is on offer.

O is an exclamation that appears several times in TS Eliot’s Four Quartets, which Fry chose as his favourite book on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs. Lines introduced in this way include: “O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark.” (See P, Z and G.)

PUCKLECHURCH REMAND CENTRE in Gloucestershire is where, in 1974, Fry spent three months after being arrested for using a stolen credit card.

Q Having become as associated with obscure knowledge as Paul Hollywood is with dough, in QI Fry found a TV format that played to his strength. “Within five minutes of starting the show, you could see this was the job he was born to do,” says John Lloyd, the show’s producer. Fry was originally intended to be a team captain, with Michael Palin holding the question cards, but the ex-Python was exhausted from crossing the Sahara for a travel series and so took a raincheck.

ROSS In January 2009, Fry was one of the guests on Jonathan Ross’s first BBC1 chat show after the host’s suspension for taking part in sexually explicit prank phone calls on a Radio 2 show. Fry’s willingness to “help [Ross] off the naughty step” combined two elements of his personality: libertarianism and jaunty metaphor.

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STUTTHOF The Nazi concentration camp in occupied Poland, where several of his maternal ancestors were murdered. His mother Marianne’s aunt and cousin died at Auschwitz, while her grandparents – Stephen’s great-grandparents – were killed at a Latvian camp.

TIMES While her son was legally detained as a teenager (see P), Marianne Fry cut out each day’s copy of the crossword in The Times for him, an act of love that brought tears to his eyes when recounted in interviews.

UGANDA The report from a country seeking to introduce legislation to make homosexuality illegal was one of the standout sequences in Stephen Fry: Out There, an acclaimed two-part documentary about the experiences of gay people around the world.

VAGINAS Fry was aware of his sexuality from an early age. He once said: “I suppose it all began when I came out of the womb. I looked up at my mother and thought to myself, ‘That’s the last time I’m going up one of those.’”

WILDE As the writer Oscar Wilde was famously literary, argumentative, witty and gay, the casting of Fry in the role (above) was like Brian Blessed being asked to play a bearded town crier. Brian Gilbert’s 1997 film Wilde remains Fry’s finest achievement as an actor.

X Is one of the remaining letters of the alphabet that Sandi Toksvig, his successor on QI, can expect to fall to her, in what would be the 24th series, in around 2029, on whatever version of the BBC might exist by then.

YOU ME BUM BUM TRAIN Fry is a supporter of the theatrical experience created in 2004 by artists Kate Bond and Morgan Lloyd. Although, in contrast to his enthusiasm for computers (see A), he can’t tell us much about the product, as those who take part in YMBBT sign a non-disclosure agreement. All we know is that the show is a personalised, immersive experience in which each participant is led individually through a series of thought-provoking scenarios.

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Z This row of the Albery Theatre in London was empty in February 1995 – along with most of the others – for the remaining performances after Fry walked out of a production of Simon Gray’s play Cell Mates. The actor was accused of stage fright or embarrassment over bad reviews, but has subsequently attributed the crisis to a near-suicidal episode of the bipolar disorder that he explored recently on BBC1 in an updated version of his Emmy Award-winning documentary, Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive.