Friday, August 24, 2007

The interesting thing is....

Over at Andrew Collins's blog he's been bemoaning the superficiality of the BBC "British Film Forever" series. I caught fifteen minutes of their Stephen Fry 50th birthday film last night and felt much the same. Apart from the fact that it was the most blatant example of what our American cousins elegantly refer to us as the "circle jerk", it had been edited more for weight than light. The objective was to get as many well known faces as possible saying nice things about Stephen, regardless of whether they said anything interesting. Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson, Ben Elton, Michael Sheen, Ronnie Corbett, Michael Parkinson, JK Rowling, the Prince Of Wales and numerous others each just about managed to get half a sentence out before the editor cut back to the clips. The heir to the throne percipiently pointed out that Stephen Fry did "lots of characters". Ronnie Corbett seemed on the point of saying something interesting about Fry's "way with hauteur" when he was cut off. I think this form of coitus interruptus is now endemic in clip show TV, exacerbated by the fact that they're using off-camera interviewers. Because we can never be allowed to hear their first question they never get to put the follow-up, which is always "in what way?"


  1. Anonymous12:37 pm

    Quite why they felt the need to do this programme is hard to understand. If you go the trouble of interviewing such a range of individuals why not let the viewers listen to what they've got to say, and if they have nothing interesting to say then feel free to edit those out. They should have just stuck with the perfectly adequate Mark Lawson interview.

    Simon James x

  2. I fear these clip shows soon will be edited like a "Brass eye " sketch ie with each celeb contributing 1 word or syllable to a sentence
    also does Prince charles really need introducing with a caption more than once he is quite well known. I did enjoy the evening of his comedy though.

  3. Anonymous1:34 pm

    'Stephen Fry is lovely'. There. I can't see anyone disagreeing and I've just saved an hour of your viewing life.
    They even found good things to say about his patronising novels, hideously self-indulgent autobiography and Key Stage 2 'how to read poetry book'. Now, Stephen Fry is a very engaging character. That's why I read his last couple of novels and the biography. (His first novel, The Liar, was actually pretty good). What I didn't need was 60 minutes of being rubbed down with a chamois leather dipped in golden syrup to tell me this. By the end I was confidently expecting a trailer for Part 2, in which Stephen Fry solves global warming, finds a solution to world hunger and eliminates gun crime with a pithy words.

  4. One thing that irked me in particular was that Fry's four excellent novels (Ken, I'll have to beg to differ with you on that one) were covered in about 30 seconds. There was a one-liner from Hugh Laurie about The Hippopotamus and then they moved on – presumably because none of them has been filmed and so there were no clips to show. Buffoons.

  5. Stephen Fry is great. But not that great. Let's not go mad. Kingdom was shocking.

  6. Anonymous9:48 pm

    I thought the autobiography was good too; aren't they, by their nature, self-indulgent?

  7. Anonymous3:42 pm

    I should probably explain why I find Stephen Fry’s books unsatisfying, and I think it relates to the reverence with which he was treated in the ‘Fry at 50’ festschrift. I get the idea that he is so used to be told how brilliant he is that he has come to underestimate the cognitive abilities of his audience, hence the patronising tone I find in the novels. In every one of them there is an older mentor figure, clearly meant to be Fry, and a younger man who comes to some sort of wisdom through a journey. No problem with that, of course; these are themes as old as story itself. My problem is that the ideas so painstakingly explained are, I would hope, already obvious to anyone who would pick up one of Stephen Fry’s books in the first place, rather than the revelation he seems to believe. Fry’s pedagogical bent is misdirected and, instead of turning his undoubted intelligence to better use, he is telling us what we already know. There is plenty to enjoy in the books but I tend to think his strengths are in set pieces and characterisation, in other words the very things that make his comedy sketch writing such a joy.
    Now, the autobiography: of course all such books are self regarding, but they should be written with sufficient distance that the reader has the subject portrayed to them, rather than being wrapped in the author’s solipsism. These sorts of memoirs can be hugely entertaining when done well but regard for the readers’ point of view matters. If I was to place books of the genre in a sliding scale of enjoyment value based on this criterion I would probably make Clive James’ Unreliable Memoirs at the ‘most fun’ end, Bill Bryson’s Thunderbolt Kid somewhere in the middle and Andrew Collins’ books at the bottom. (No problem with AC’s shorter articles and blog, which are well worth reading, but the books are awful.) I would have hoped that Moab is My Washpot would have been at the Clive James end of things, he is, after all, another hugely intelligent man who can use language brilliantly. But James never underestimates the intelligence of his readership in the way that Fry does.
    Look, I like Stephen Fry, really I do. I have great respect for his intelligence and ability and when, in an earlier post, I wrote ‘Stephen Fry is lovely’ I meant it. Everyone I know who has met him agrees on his politeness and great charm. (These are mainly people who worked in bookshops at met him at signings, and the personality celebrity authors show to the staff on these occasions isn’t always the one they show to their public.) So I have the greatest regard for the man, I just wish he would show more regard for the readers of his books rather than treating us like Alan Davies in a particularly hard-of-thinking moment on QI.

  8. Anonymous3:50 pm

    I agree about Clive James, but what's your problem with Andrew Collins' books?

  9. Anonymous4:00 pm

    Not sure I agree about your contention over how autobiography should be written - Fry's approach gives a real insight into a unique and dazzling mind that justifies a method other than the "sufficient distance" one. We still get the subject potrayed to us.

  10. Anonymous4:06 pm

    It comes down the fact that, even though I'm reading a book by Andrew Collins and about Andrew Collins, I don't seem to have the endless fascination with Andrew Collins that Andrew Collins has. It's probably a personality failing on my part. I certainly get the idea that Andrew Collins would think so.
    I liked the inside view on Emap in his last book, but couldn't get more than 30 pages into his first. Just too smug to be bearable. They're clearly not for me. As I wrote earlier, I do think his blog and shorter articles are worth reading so it may be that I enjoy him more when he has a subject other than himself.

  11. Anonymous10:02 pm

    In fairness, I should say that I'm only reading his most recent memoir because, like you, I'm interested in the behind the scenes stuff. I enjoy his prose style and don't thing he's that smug. I came here via his blog!

  12. Anonymous1:52 am

    I have to agree with Ken regarding Andrew Collins. Having discovered his blog recently, he comes across as a bit of a pompous ass, with little humour or self awareness, and an endless fascination with himself. Also, if anyone disagrees with him, up he pops on his own comment box berating them.

    Why has he written his memoirs anyway? I wouldn't of thought there would of been a huge demand.

  13. Anonymous10:10 am

    Gotta agree with Ken and Sarah here. I used to think that AC was quite a sound bloke, but have been getting increasingly miffed at his blog. He doesn't half talk some balls some times, and as Sarah says, criticise him at your peril.

    Check out his posts on Gillian McKeith, Ben Goldacre, Dawkins and anything to do with homeopathy to see what I mean.

  14. Anonymous10:37 am

    Yes, it's ironic that someone who comes across as this free thinking liberal won't rest until he has "corrected" every naysayer who dares to contradict him. He reminds me of the prefects in 'If'.

    Isn't there something sad about leaving comments on your own blog as well?

  15. Anonymous11:59 am

    Ken: This is an irrelevent argument. In saying it, you are not making my book any less valid!

    Sarah: To discount my memoirs purely on the grounds of me being largely unknown, if nothing else, is a bit grumpy.

    Tristan: You say "I don't half talk some balls sometimes", balls in your terms, but those are not the only terms.

    And, Maggs, you say: "Isn't there something sad about leaving comments on your own blog as well?" Well, yes, you've got me there.

  16. Are the people who don't appear to understand the nature/purpose of the comments box the people who don't have blogs?

  17. Anonymous6:24 pm

    Sarah - Presumably you meant "I wouldn't have thought there would have been a huge demand."

    If you're going to take a pop at someone who writes for a living at least try to get your English right. Can't see the Hepcat taking you on as a sub anytime soon.

  18. Ha ha, someone posting as me. It wasn't me though.

    Maggs accuses me of "correcting" those who disagree with me on my blog. It's more a case of defending my own opinions. It was the science lobby who kept telling me I was "wrong" to believe in homeopathy. Also - important point - if you can't counter people's arguments on your own blog, where can you?

    Incidentally, how is posting comments on your own blog "sad" when the whole point of it is to generate a dialogue. Believe it or not, some deluded fools enjoy engaging with me. Some have come to the website from my radio shows, others from my terrible books, but I really enjoy conversing with people, and this is the best method. Dave does the same thing here.

    I don't expect everyone to like my books. I've had enough terrible reviews, not least on Amazon, from paying customers, to know that they don't do it for the entire population, but for the record, since you brought it up:

    I wrote the first memoir as a kind of joke. It was supposed to be an antidote to all the miserable memoirs by ordinary people who'd suffered abuse, deprivation, disease etc. (a lucrative sub-genre of memoir that continues to sell); I had suffered none of these things but wrote about my childhood anyway. The publishers paid me an extrememly modest advance, and out the book came. It went into the Sunday Times bestseller lists, against all expectations. It was not the memoir of a famous person, it was supposed to be a book about anybody. It kept on selling. That's why they got me to write the sequel. I wasn't sitting around with it all pre-written, waiting for my chance to foist my teenage years on the Great British Public. We were attempting to meet an imagined demand. And for the record again, I actually didn't want to write the third part, but my publishers convinced me that some readers would wish me to finish the story. It has sold very badly indeed, so there you go. It turns out I have a very modestly sized fan base! That should make everybody who thinks I am smug or pompous feel much better, I hope.

    Oh, and I have enraged scientists on my blog twice now, once by defending Gillian McKeith and once by suggesting that there were holes in Richard Dawkins' worldview. Most of the time, I just write about what telly programmes I have seen. I hope there is no crime in that.

    By the way, the "Andrew Collins" in speech marks above is probably Tristan, who is alright, as long as you don't have a go at doctors or scientists. It is a good parody of me, though.

  19. Anonymous8:18 pm

    Er, what? What on earth makes you think I am the author of the "Andrew Collins" post above?

    For one thing, if it was me I'd probably have written something funnier than that, or at least given you something a little more controversial to say for me to then refute.

    Seriously, what would I have to gain from doing that? It's obvious that once this blog was mentioned on yours you'd be hear to check it so this would be pointed out. Happy for David to check IP addresses or whatever to confirm.

  20. It was a compliment, Tristan. Not an accusation. I took a wild guess as the parody, which is very funny, relates back to an ongoing thread on my blog (wow, is this neptotistic enough yet?), of which you are a highly vocal participant.

  21. Anonymous9:39 am

    Sarah said "I have to agree with Ken regarding Andrew Collins. Having discovered his blog recently, he comes across as a bit of a pompous ass, with little humour or self awareness, and an endless fascination with himself. Also, if anyone disagrees with him, up he pops on his own comment box berating them."

    Sarah, you just don't realise how wrong you have judged Andrew.

    I know there are a lot of people who comment on his blog who do not like him, but to call him humourless with no self awareness and pompous is ridiculous.

    I do not claim to know AC that well, but I have met him on a couple of occasions and have listened to his radio shows for a few years and your comments couldn't be further from the truth.

    He is one of the most generous, well-meaning, funny and pleasant people you could hope to meet.

  22. Anonymous10:31 am

    Blimey - blog politics.

    For what it's worth, I think the whole point of a blog is to say what you think, get into a verbal scrap or find people who feel the same way. These twp things cross-over. it's fun. It's conversation.

    If you think someone's being pompous on their own blog, leave!

    It's like going around someone's house and getting angry about their carpeting.

  23. Anonymous2:40 pm

    Is was me.

  24. Anonymous2:43 pm

    ...of course I meant 'It was me'. I had tears of guilt in my eyes as I was typing.

  25. I don't need to stand up for Andrew Collins because he's more than capable of doing that himself, and far more eloquently, but I must show my support.

    I am a fan of Andrew's work, whether it be radio shows, his books (yes, all of them) and writing. He ticks all the boxes for me. But I can say, hand on heart, that having met him he is one of the most genuine people I have ever met. He's generous with his time (I interviewed him a couple of times) and gives back a lot to the industries he works in.

    Maybe people need to get to know him better. Perhaps we could do one of those Stephen Fry celebration type programmes on him!