Though I’ve never subscribed to the opinion myself, there have long been some for whom Stephen Fry is viewed as a slightly smug PC luvvie and leading light in the so-called ‘gay mafia’ media establishment, beloved by certain sections of the left for his anti-Tory sentiments and endorsement of atheism, beloved by certain sections of the right for his embrace of old-school aristocratic tweeds, gentleman’s clubs and Shakespeare. For me, what Stephen Fry has always represented is a continuation of the subversive posh bloke within comedy, something that was pioneered by the likes of Peter Cook and Graham Chapman.
‘A Bit of Fry and Laurie’ was far more radical than ‘The Young Ones’ because it could sneak anything under the light entertainment radar on account of the surface safeness of two Oxbridge boys with the diction of cricket commentators. Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie weren’t middle-class drop-outs slumming it with the common people by being overtly crude and self-consciously plebeian; it would have been far easier to have taken the Ben Elton route, but they instinctively tapped into what had made the Ministry of Silly Walks so funny – taking the most humourless, strait-laced elements of quintessentially English upper-class respectability and turning them on their heads.
Fry won further points with me for his TV series of a decade ago, ‘The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive’, especially when this seemingly confident household name allowed himself to be captured on camera languishing in a depressive episode of wretched self-loathing. For anyone without Fry’s celebrity status who had been there, it was curiously encouraging to witness it happening to someone who had achieved so much within his chosen field, highlighting the fact that depression doesn’t recognise wealth and success any more than it recognises penury and failure. After a groundbreaking series addressing a major taboo and the ongoing marathon of ‘QI’, Fry’s position as that most overused of labels, a National Treasure, seemed secure. And then he had the temerity to say what so few beyond the blog and the twittersphere dare.
During the period when Paul Gambaccini was on permanent police bail while the Met desperately dug up every little bit of dirt they could to justify their persecution of a prominent media voice, Stephen Fry criticised the police tactics on TV. A cynic might say what happened to Gambo had been happening to both the once-famous and the un-famous for a long time without anyone speaking out against it, and alternative opinions were only being belatedly aired due to a respected broadcaster being the latest target of a witch-hunt that was already two or three years into its reign of terror. But that the likes of Stephen Fry should question the wisdom of the inquisition was a sign that it had reached such ludicrous proportions that it now warranted an overdue critique from a personality with considerable clout. Broadsheet columnists quickly followed suit and finally enabled the subject to be debated in a wider public arena without those asking salient points being branded witches as they did so.
Stephen Fry has now voiced the concerns many have been discussing online for months regarding regressive left censorship, particularly on British campuses. The generation of narcissistic little Hitler’s who are currently reversing the time-honoured traditions of universities as cradles of free speech and debate as they seek to impose their increasingly illogical and obsessive declarations of offence upon any perceived symbol of repression need to be stood up to. As their bullying, fascistic tactics are causing spineless university governors to crumble in the face of relentless intimidation that is labelling anything that veers from their cotton wool-wrapped infantile vision as ‘offensive’, more respected voices that carry some weight in media circles have to speak out against this insane tide of fanatical secular Puritanism. Germaine Greer and Peter Tatchell have already fallen foul of an Orwellian army who recently proclaimed white gay men as another social demographic to be branded an enemy, and as one of the country’s most notable white gay men, Stephen Fry was probably in their no-platform sights even before he had the nerve to condemn their Stasi-like policing of what can and can’t be said.
Fry has rightly honed in on the immature spoilt-brat nature of this wave of censorious foot-stamping and its social media Rottweilers haven’t wasted any time in attacking his (add the appropriate prefix to ‘phobic’) assault on their totalitarian plans for a new world order. As with the Paedogeddon witch-hunt before it, this latest curb on the freedom to express a personal opinion contrary to the consensus has now got seriously out of control and requires people to stand up and be counted without fear of online reprisals. That Stephen Fry has done so is to his credit and gives hope to those of us who are observing events from the outside without his platform…or no.
© The Editor