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Hear John Frame’s interview with Britain’s duly celebrated nicest clever person Stephen Fry for the Queer Radio program on community radio 4ZZZ fm102.1 in Brisbane, Australia. It was recorded by phone in the station’s newsbooth at 7am 7th February 2001. Stephen is safe at home in London, on a cold and rainy night, but warmed by the glow of his Apple Mac. 

 

I shouldn’t play favourites with interviews or interviewees, but I can’t help it. This is it. Everything went right. Stephen is completely friendly, charming and honest. Posted here for your convenience in four parts – with a list of the topics discussed in each -  I hope you will get to enjoy sharing the whole wonderful hour.  Big thanks to the Bonzo Dog Band for the music “Tubas In The Moonlight”. Love you Stephen.

 

1. Stephen Fry 7th February 2001 part I (11:39) (128kps stereo 11mb mp3)

“Word Power”; Wilde and the miners; altruistic morality; Professor Trefusis (from “Paperweight”)


2. Stephen Fry 7th February 2001 part 2 (16:41) (128kps stereo 16mb mp3)
“The Stars’ Tennis Balls”; Patrick White; the great Australian poetry hoax; the “gay novellist” ghetto; respect for beauty; “Moab Is My Washpot”; youthful sexuality; older gay activism

 
3. Stephen Fry 7th February 2001 part 3 (12:25) (128kps stereo 12mb mp3)
gay/straight alliances In schools; being Jewish and gay; The Bonzo Dog Band, Vivian Stanshall and British eccentricity; UK age of consent & their law reform process

4. Stephen Fry 7th February 2001 part 4 (15:07) (128kps stereo 15mb mp3)

National Coming Out Day in the UK (“Star Trek” Quote - “please help me”); hosting the BAFTA Awards & acknowledging partners publicly; the film “Billy Elliott” (which won best film In 2001); Wilde” on DVD; Vanessa Redgrave’s normal family life; Stephen’s family is proud of him; the value of being publicly accepted as openly gay; thanks & farewell.

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An abridged *transcript:

by John Frame jvframe@ozemail.com.au  

(Written 19th February 2001)

*This is a significantly abridged version of the complete interview which originally aired in 4 sessions on Queer Radio on 4ZZZ fm102.1 at 8:30pm on 28/2, 14/3, 28/3 and 11/4 in 2001.The March 2001 edition of Queensland Pride Magazine included this transcript (with a suitable header) as a cover story feature.

  • Altruistic morality:

JF: Many of the short pieces in your collection Paperweight are articles you've written for newspapers etc. A lot of them have to do with altruistic morality.

SF: I think that's right. I mean, that it always sounds rather heavy to call oneself a moralist, but I think most people are moralists in the sense that we celebrate when we hear something, or we read something, which seems to us to be on the side of the angels. It's as simple as that really. There's an extraordinary act of arrogance about being a writer of any kind - it's a kind of arrogance and it's a kind of modesty, paradoxically as well. It's the belief you have to have in order to be a writer of any kind, whether of good journalism or fiction, in that your experience is that of others too - it's not unique to you. And that however strange it might be - if you've felt it, then others must have felt it.

I think that's what I tried to do when I was a journalist - to assume that I wasn't a lone voice in just believing small things. What seem to be small things are actually the most important in people's lives. You can talk about left and right in politics. You can talk about justice and what the Victorians used to spell in great capital letters:- words like VIRTUE, MERCY and JUSTICE - but actually it's the apparently small things, like kindness, that really matter in the world.

There's a wonderful story that I always treasure of a young undergraduate who gets elected to a junior fellowship of an Oxbridge college at the turn of the last century: - As he arrives at the seniors' common room, there's an ancient old Don who says "Welcome, welcome young man" he says "A word of advice - Don't try to be clever, we're all clever here - only try to be kind, a little kind." I think that's a marvelous motto. It sounds like a still small voice next to all the great noisy words like justice and virtue and decency and morality and so on, but it's actually kindness, I think, that most moves us - and is most needed. I think that in Paperweight I get most enraged by unkindness and most in favour of things that were kind.

  • Youthful sexuality and older activists:

JF: In your autobiography, Moab Is My Washpot, you openly and honestly talk about your experience as a quite sexually active young man. The reader is confident that you have lived these experiences and feelings, because you don't hold anything back.

SF: That's right - I try not to. One journalist, when it came out, talked about it being confessional - and I said "Yes it is in many ways" and he then talked about all the sexual parts and I said "No those are not confessional, to use the word "confessional" about those is to imply that there's something one wants to get off their chest because they feel guilty about it. It's confessional in other things that I felt guilty about - being a liar and a thief and a cheat - I'm confessing to those. As for my sexual growth and activity - they're things I felt guilty about at the time, but I now do not in the least feel guilty about."

The sexual nature of the autobiography is something in which I wanted to try to recreate the pain and unsureness and guilt and the overpowering nature of love that I felt at the time, and the whole adolescent "schmeer". On the other hand I also wanted to make it clear that the very act of being as candid about it as possible is a way of showing that one is absolutely at ease with who one is now - but that one recognises the fight one went through. In a sense I'm writing back to myself - when I was a fifteen year old - trying to look at that poor tortured individual and, indeed, for other fifteen year olds who happen to read it and still be feeling tortured.

I mean life is easier, in a sense, for people now. There's the internet; there are things like your radio station and television programs and magazines aplenty for young people growing up gay, which were just simply not available when I was fifteen. But there was a library, and if you were an intelligent reader you could find out all kinds of things through autobiographies: by connecting bibliographies - picking up sort of a hint of something and reading another - and getting a sense that you weren't alone. But almost everybody that you connected with was a dead English "nance" who'd gone off to live in Capri. Otherwise it was just a dirty world of perverts in raincoats who hung round in libraries or public lavatories. And that's a scary prospect, if you think that's going to be your future life: that either you escape into the sunshine of some forbidden Mediterranean or Eastern world, where these things are allowed, or you're just a dirty sad old thing, clustering together with no celebration. That was the youth that my generation faced.

But fortunately, some of those just a few years older than me were brave enough to be part of that generation of Stonewall in America and the Gay Pride movement as it then was in Europe and I'm sure in Oz too, and things opened up. A whole generation has them to thank. It is on their courage that people are now able to hold their heads up high and dance and sing along at the Mardi Gras in Sydney and all the other things that make being gay not just acceptable, but a great pleasure - something in which one can be so proud and think "Thank God I wasn't born straight!"

I often like to say "Well I remember being born and slipping out of my mother and looking back up and saying "Well that's the last time I'm ever going up one of those!""

The pleasure and pride that one can take in being gay I think comes out of that era of people who responded to the whole vibration of the age in the sixties and early seventies, when other barriers were being broken. I just hope that your younger listeners, if they see an older gay person in a bar, instead of thinking "Oh he's too old for me, I don't like him" - that they'll just pat him on the back and thank him for helping make the world a better place.

  • British Eccentricity:

Hear this section as a 1.4mb, 48kps mono mp3

JF: You have a broad appreciation of music from Elvis Costello to the classics, but the 60's group The Bonzo Dog Band particularly impressed you. Why?

SF: I think it's just that I wasn't a cool "rocker". I was around at the time when Pink Floyd and what was called "progressive rock" were the really big things at school, and they were just a bit heavy and overblown for my taste. I loved the Bonzos because of their wit. They were very, very funny but they were musically very good - incredibly eclectic in all kinds of styles from jazz to fantastic parodies of all sorts of music.

Vivian Stanshall had this surreal almost dada-ist sense of humour - quite extraordinary - which was a huge influence on me and a marvelous voice that was like rich gravy pouring out of a jug. If you could embody the sound of old wireless valves from the 1940's, glowing orange - with a dusty smell in a Bakelite wireless, with a sunburst on the front of the speaker and it takes three minutes to warm up - and you get a very clear "English" voice coming out of it - it was just marvelous to have such surreal and extraordinary humour coming out of that totally British sound.

It was that mixture that led to Monty Python - a huge influence on them. In fact Neil Innes, the other main member of the Bonzos, wrote most of their music (what Eric Idle didn’t write).

It was a very formative thing, the fact that you could be quirky and surreal and eccentric and bizarre within the cloak of being incredibly English. It's part of the English thing, and Australians share it too, that if you're wearing punk clothes and you fart, it isn't funny or interesting - but if you're wearing a tweed suit and you fart, it's somehow funny.

That's a very typical thing about Britain, if you really imitate the manners of the establishment but are then strangely eccentric or satirical, you can get away with it. I remember Ben Elton, who's a kind of honorary Australian, saying to me that he thought it was completely unfair that he was always getting letters and complaints about his language on television, when in fact he goes out of his way not to swear. He says "flippin' heck" and things like that. But somehow I think I still hold the record for saying the word "fuck" the most times in the shortest number of seconds on British television - about 70 times in a minute and a half. But there was a point to it - I was being interviewed about censorship, about the use of the word, where it came from and so on. It didn't get a single complaint, I think, because of my voice and manner.

  • BAFTA & partner:

JF: Over the last couple of years it's been refreshing to see recipients at Award ceremonies acknowledge their same sex partners. You're hosting the British Academy of Film and Television Artists Awards on 25th February. Will your partner be there as your guest?

SF: He certainly will, yes, absolutely. He comes with me just about everywhere and the press are actually great about it. They know he's a shy chap and doesn't want to be plastered all over the newspapers, but on the other hand it's not as if we're hiding or ashamed of anything. It's a difficult balance to walk in terms of the public perception of these things. It's the same for a husband or wife of a famous person. On the one hand, you don't want to look like you're camera greedy yourself, and you might be a shy person and you prefer not to be photographed - but that's not saying you're ashamed of the person you're with or that they're ashamed of you.

You just have to hope that the Paparazzi are aware of that, and fortunately I'm on really reasonable terms with the actual photographers. You get to know the major ones and so my partner tends to hang back when we arrive at a premiere or something, and the photographers leap forward. There are plenty of photographs of us together as well - but they respect the fact that he doesn't want to be like, say David Furnish, who is much more professionally connected with Elton John. My partner is not in show business and is rather shy of all that sort of stuff.

  • Family proud?:

JF: Your sister is your agent, but your family - your parents especially - have stood by you. They must be really proud of how you've turned out.

SF: Of course they say that they're proud of some things I do, but I think what's nice is that they're most proud of the fact that I'm happy, that I'm content and that they can think of me as a good person. It's not just simply because I'm "famous" or have "succeeded". That, in itself, is not enough to make someone genuinely proud of someone else. I could have written books, or come out with opinions, or lived in a way that they thought was not worthy of me.

I think what they're proud of is much more the "who" I am, than what I am, and I think that would be true of any parent actually. But that's a testament to them - they are extraordinary people themselves.

  • Value of acceptance as openly gay:

JF: You're one of several publicly cherished, proudly gay British celebrities, such as Sir Ian McKellen. Do you in turn cherish that public acceptance?

SF: Yes, there's no doubt. As I wrote in my autobiography, it's a strange thing, adolescence and I think it's a thing that lingers through our whole lives. Most of us have a part that yearns to belong to the tribe, and another part that yearns to be separate and distinct and individual. I think that's a thing that's particularly true of gay people, that on the one hand we want to be accepted and on the other we relish and celebrate our difference - and they can often tug us in two different directions.

But I think that to deny one's need to feel accepted would be absurd, just as to deny one's need to feel different and part of a special group would be absurd.

Yes, it gives me enormous pleasure to know that everyone who says hello to me in the street in England also knows that I'm gay and that I have a gay lover - and that that doesn't affect their view of me. It makes me very proud of myself, but also of my country and how it's changed, and of how people can accept things that they used not to be able to - and that's a genuine pleasure, no question.

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