In the sketch, performed on the British TV show Saturday Live, which ran from 1985 to 1987 and was heavily influenced by the U.S. show Saturday Night Live, Meat Loaf and Fry poke fun at the massive gap between the wild American lingo of the new generation and the proper diction of a Cambridge graduate of the Stephen Fry mold. Fry’s punctilious manner is as much a part of the joke as the manic style of Meat Loaf, but Fry was on “home turf” if you will, so he had something of an advantage.
What becomes evident mere seconds into the sketch is that Meat Loaf is reading from cue cards, and Meat Loaf’s obvious reliance on the cards becomes part of the fun—Fry even begins to prompt him after a while.
Savile’s attacks occurred in hospitals, clubs and the BBC. And it is the latter organization that is coming under considerable scrutiny by the police.
The question is how did the BBC employ such an individual, when there were known allegations against him? And what was the everyday culture at BBC that could allow Savile’s behavior to go unnoticed? Uncommented upon? Even tolerated?
A glimpse of how things were at the BBC can be found in Stephen Fry’s second volume of autobiography, The Fry Chronicles (pages 296-297 of the paperback edition), where he described a meeting with the BBC executive Jim Moir in 1983.
Hugh [Laurie] and I were shown into his office. He sat us down on the sofa opposite his desk and asked if we had comedy plans. Only he wouldn’t have put it as simply as that, he probably said something like: ‘Strip naked and show me your cocks,’ which would have been his way of saying: ‘What would you like to talk about?’ Jim routinely used colourful and perplexing metaphors of a quite staggering explicit nature. ‘Let’s jizz on the table, mix up our spunk and smear it all over us,’ might be his way of asking, ‘Shall we work together?’ I had always assumed that he only spoke like that to men, but not so long ago Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders confirmed that he had been quite as eye-watering in his choice of language with them. Ben Elton went on to create, and Mel Smith to play, a fictional head of Light Entertainment based on Jim Moir called Jumbo Whiffly in the sitcom Filthy Rich & Catflap. I hope you will not get the wrong impression of Moir from my description of his language. People of his kind are easy to underestimate, but I have never heard anyone who worked with him say a bad word about him. In the past forty years the BBC has had no more shrewd, capable, loyal, honourable and successful executive and certainly none with a more dazzling verbal imagination.
“There is so much talk about rumours, but I can tell you that neither from external sources or internally, neither by nods and winks or by innuendo, did I receive any scintilla of this story whatsoever, or discuss it or his behaviour with my superiors. There was not a scintilla of this either from Roger Ordish, his producer for 20 years.”
Should we be surprised? Not really. But it makes sense that Moir didn’t hear any allegations when it was seen as okay to use sexist, aggressive and offensive language such as ‘Strip naked and show me your cocks,’ or, ‘Let’s jizz on the table, mix up our spunk and smear it all over us,’ on a regular basis. This kind masturbatory boy’s club culture covers up for a lot of unacceptable behavior.
Sir Jimmy Savile’s Range Rover Carawagon is up for sale, with an estimated price of between £11,000-£16,000 ($17,000-$24,000). The vehicle is described as a:
‘...first-generation Range Rover was produced between 1970 and 1996. The original car was not designed as a luxury-type 4x4; whilst certainly up-market compared to preceding Land Rover models, the early Range Rovers had fairly basic, utilitarian interiors with vinyl seats and plastic dashboards that were designed to be washed down with a hose. Convenience features such as power assisted steering, carpeted floors, air conditioning, cloth/leather seats and wooden interior trim were fitted later. The Carawagon was a Land Rover approved special vehicle, built by Searle of Sunbury-on-Thames.’
Of interest to future biographers of the legendary DJ, TV host and marathon runner, is the conversions made to Sir Jimmy’s Carawagon:
‘Only very few Range Rovers were converted; probably due to the price of £3040 compared to £2450 for a 109 conversion with 4 beds, although they were still available in sales lists until 1980. Carawagon closed down in the mid-1980s.
This 1978 Range Rover Carawagon was ordered and supplied to Sir Jimmy Savile OBE, KCSG, disc jockey and television presenter, to aid him with his charity work, so when necessary he was able to remain on site and live at the location of the project. The vendor believes that this Range Rover spent much time parked at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, an institution that benefitted hugely from Jimmy’s patronage. Finished in white, this Carawagon is fitted with a double bed, and comes with a wash basin fitted between the front seats and curtains.’
For indeed this may have been one of Sir Jimmy’s infamous “passion wagons”, in which he would get friendly with his fans.
The story of his passion wagon was a bone of contention with Sir Jimmy, when he was confronted by a TV audience of pesky kids, desperate to find out if the stories of his having sex with young fans in the back of his “nookie mobile” were true?
This happened on the BBC youth series Open to Question in 1989, where celebrities, from the world’s of entertainment, politics or sport, were quizzed by an audience of primed pupils from schools across the U.K. It was their job to pose those difficult questions grown-ups never did. And it was my job, as the show’s researcher, to ensure they were asked. For this I had to write a mini-biography for each guest, highlighting areas of interest for these youngsters to probe.
Guests ranged from royalty, Princess Anne, to entertainers, Ben Elton, Stephen Fry, to politicians Neil Kinnock, and Senator Gary Hart (who was asked about fucking-up his Presidential ambitions through his association with Donna Rice).
So, the week Sir Jimmy (or plain Jimmy O.B.E., “old big ‘ead” as he joked back then) appeared on Open to Question, our band of keen interrogators asked the great man if the stories about his sex life and his means of seduction, the passion wagon (which had been described as a Bedford van with a mattress in the back) were true?
The great, shell-suited Mr Fixit didn’t like the tone of the questions and said he thought the youngsters had been put up to mischief by asking such. Well, in a way they had. But that was the program’s policy. The information the youngsters used had been taken from the great man’s autobiography and from published interviews. Thinking he was being set up, Sir Jimmy avoided the question. Yet, after the cameras were turned off, and the producer David Martin and myself made our way down from the gallery to the studio floor, Sir Jimmy started to answering impromptu questions from the audience. Whether he was telling the truth or, maintaining a myth, when asked again about his “passion wagon,” Jimmy Savile admitted he did have a passion wagon and that all the stories about his sexual shenanigans with young fans were true. This announcement seemed to endear Savile to the teenage inquisitors. Why, I don’t know. David Martin then turned to me and said, ‘I knew we should have kept the cameras rolling.’
The question now, is whether this particular Carawagon was one of Sir Jimmy’s vehicles of pleasure? If you’re interested in buying Sir Jimmy Savile’s Range Rover Carawagon, you check details here for further details.
As for Open to Question, Sir Jimmy went to the press (the Daily Express) and complained about the show being a fix, after he spoke to our born-again PA who ‘fessed up everything. Not that there was much for her to ‘fess up.
More pix of Sir Jim’s ‘Carawagon’, after the jump…
Writer Michael Bracewell examines the importance of being Oscar Wilde, through the events and works of the great poet’s life.
Here, Wilde is compared to an Existential hero, a man who was brave enough to set an example for all of us - to relish in the essence of who we are.
Wilde was rarely modest, and best explained himself in a letter to his lover Alfred Douglas, Jan-Mar. 1897:
‘I was a man who stood in symbolic relations to the art and culture of my age…The gods had given me almost everything. I had genius, a distinguished name, high social position, brilliancy, intellectual daring: I made art a philosophy, and philosophy an art: I altered the minds of men and the colors of things: there was nothing I said or did that did not make people wonder.
I treated Art as the supreme reality, and life as a mere mode of fiction: I awoke the imagination of my century so that it created myth and legend around me: I summed up all systems in a phrase, and all existence in an epigram.’
First aired in 1997, this is a fascinating documentary explaining why Oscar Wilde still really matters, with contributions from Tom Stoppard, Stephen Fry, Neil Tennant and Ulick O’Connor.
I wonder why it’s generally the rich and famous who like to tell the public, ‘Money does not bring happiness’? It’s so condescending. Do the poor wander around informing whoever will listen, ‘Poverty does not make you happy’? Hardly. I was thinking about this as I finished reading Stephen Fry’s latest volume of highly readable autobiography, where the great man informs us:
I know that money, power, prestige and fame do not bring happiness. If history teaches us anything it teaches us that. You know it. Everybody agrees this to be a manifest truth so self-evident as to need no repetition. What is strange to me is that, despite the fact that the world knows this, it does not want to know it and it chooses almost always to behave as of it were not true. It does not suit the world to hear that people who are leading a high life an enviable life, a privileged life are as miserable most days as anybody else, despite the fact that it must be obvious they would be - given that we are all agreed that money and fame do not bring happiness. Instead the world would prefer to enjoy the idea, against what it knows to be true, that wealth and fame do in fact insulate and protect against misery and it would rather we shut up if we are planning to indicate otherwise.
It’s a clever piece of writing, and rather troubling. If money hasn’t made Mr Fry happy, perhaps that’s because he wasn’t happy before he had it? As someone who has spent a considerable part of his adult life in poverty, dirt and a miserable ease, I can assure the universally loved writer, actor, broadcaster and tweeter that money can and does bring happiness, for it allows independence. Moreover, if money’s not important, then why is so much of our politics based on the redistribution of wealth?
Of course, it’s not just money, Mr Fry is writing about, but fame, and his depression, and all that entails, which he recently discussed, along with his thoughts on suicide, in the talk-show In Confidence:
‘It is exhausting knowing that most of the time the phone rings, most of the time there’s an email, most of the time there’s a letter, someone wants something of you. They want to touch the hem of the fame, not the hem of the person.
‘You resort to not travelling on the Tube or walking round the street any more and going in a big car with a driver.
‘And people think, “Oh, he thinks he’s so grand, doesn’t he?” Well, no. I’d rather walk, but sometimes I just can’t.
‘I feel I would love to close down for a number of years in some way and just be in the country making pork pies and chutneys and never have to poke my head out of the parapet.’
In 1989, I had the pleasure of meeting Fry, when I was a researcher working on Open to Question, a “yoof” interview series where groups of inquizzitive teenagers grilled various invited guests: from politicians (Gary Hart, Tony Benn), through performers (Billy Connolly, Jim Kerr) to Royalty (Princess Anne). Fry’s show was recorded on the same day we filmed an episode with Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens), in which the seventies pop star discussed the fatwa on Salman Rushdie and his Islamic beliefs. In one corner of the green room was Fry with cigarettes and red wine, in the other Yusuf Islam with an entourage of veiled assistants.
Fry was affable, eminently likable, terribly polite and deflected the most intimate and probing questions. When asked if he had always wanted fame, Fry avoided a direct answer by explaining his definitions of fame. There was “real fame like Charlie Chaplin”; and another kind, like original James Bond (on radio) and British TV host, Bob Holness. Fry said when he was younger he wanted to be famous like Holness, and managed to slip this in without the interviewer, (future Channel 4 newsreader) Krishnan Guru-Murthy picking up on his youthful ambition.
In The Fry Chronicles, he explained this ambition more openly:
A part of me - I have to confess this, moronic, puerile and cheap as it may sound - really did ache to be a star. I wanted to be famous, admired, stared at, known, applauded and liked.
Now of course he’s bigger than Holness and as universally loved as Chaplin, which in light of his recent comments about hem-touching fans, does, sadly, seem to confirm what Saint Teresa of Avila once wrote:
“More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones”
It’s thirty years since the loveliness that is Stephen Fry first came to prominence alongside Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie, Tony Slattery, Paul Shearer and Penny Dwyer in the Cambridge Footlights’ comedy revue “The Cellar Tapes”. It’s the last really great Footlights show, as those following it may have highlighted some great individual talent (Sue Perkins, Robert Webb, David Mitchell, and Richard Ayoade) but never achieved the legendary status of “Beyond the Fringe”, “A Clump of Plinths” (aka “Cambridge Circus”) or “The Cellar Tapes”. Understandable, you may say, considering the unique and exquisite talents felicitously brought together for our entertainment.
The success of “The Cellar Tapes” led Fry and Laurie to be asked by the BBC to come up with a pilot for a possible series:
We conceived a series that was to be called The Crystal Cube, a mock serious magazine programme that for each edition would investigate some phenomenon or other: every week we would ‘go through the crystal cube’. Hugh, Emma, Paul Shearer and I were to be regulars and we would call upon a cast of semi-regular guests to play other parts.
This is that pilot, in all its VHS glory, and as someone comments on the youtube page was there a more brilliant threesome as Fry, Laurie and Thompson? Answers on a postcard, care of the usual address.
This new tune from singer-songwriter Molly Lewis is a delight:
On YouTube, one of the highest compliments you can pay someone is telling them that you want to have their babies. This song isn’t necessarily about that.
I adore Stephen Fry, and think that our gene pool would be better with his traits running around in it.