School for Scandal; for His Latest Role as a Headmaster, STEPHEN FRY Was Able to Draw on His Own Misspent Schooldays of Truancy, Canings, and Theft. He Tells FRANCES HARDY How He Left His Life of Crime Behind Him

Daily Mail (London), December 18, 2004 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

School for Scandal; for His Latest Role as a Headmaster, STEPHEN FRY Was Able to Draw on His Own Misspent Schooldays of Truancy, Canings, and Theft. He Tells FRANCES HARDY How He Left His Life of Crime Behind Him


Byline: FRANCES HARDY

Stephen Fry has the genial condescension of an old-fashioned public school headmaster. His manner veers from didactic to twinklingly avuncular and his vocabulary is a lexical showcase of flamboyant and highly polished gems. Cast as Dr Thomas Arnold, the pioneering headmaster of Rugby School during Tom Brown's Schooldays, for an ITV remake of the classic 1857 Thomas Hughes novel, he is filming a scene set in the family dining room.

A posse of Arnold children - ranging in age from four to eight - is busily slurping soup.

Off camera, Fry addresses his onscreen brood with a polite but indecipherable request.

'Would it mortify you if I were to suggest a marginally less fortissimo ingestion of the pUtage?' he asks. When the children respond with blank stares he translates: 'That's very nice soup drinking. I've rarely heard better.

But would you mind awfully doing it a little more quietly?' What to make of the towering 47-year-old Fry? The famously capacious brain - a repository of abstruse literary allusions and very difficult words - tops an imposing 6ft 4in frame, today swathed in breeches, black stockings and Victorian frock coat. I expect to be floored by the sheer weight of his erudition. But Fry is in amiably discursive mode, chatting away about his own wayward schooldays and the numberless thrashings he endured for bad behaviour.

'I was beaten all the time,' he recalls. 'In my last year at prep school I was probably beaten every day because I was very bad. It's nothing.

It really isn't. It was being hit on the bottom with a stick. It's a big deal if you're being hit out of hatred, contempt or because a master takes a sadistic enjoyment from it. But that was never the case.

'If I had a choice of 300 lines of Virgil or three strokes, I'd say, "Strokes please". Three hundred lines were interminable as you had to copy out Roman poetry accurately and it takes forever. So I was quite happy to have the strokes. I'm not advocating flogging, but every generation has been beaten. Our age is the exception. For thousands of years all Western cultures have whipped children when they were bad. We now regard that as intolerable.

We might well be right...' he trails off, doubtfully.

Fry has drawn on his own memory of boarding school for the programme, basing his characterisation of Dr Arnold - the brilliant and innovative (if overbearingly authoritarian) teacher who reformed Rugby School in Warwickshire during his tenure as head between 1828 and 1842 - on Fry's own headmaster at Uppingham School, John Royds.

The real Arnold looms over Hughes' autobiographical novel about the fictional schoolboy Tom Brown; including his merciless torments at the hands of literature's most notorious bully, Flashman. When Arnold arrived at Rugby, the boys were left to their own devices out of school hours. The older pupils dressed as dandies in silk top hats, florid waistcoats and bow ties; smoked pipes, drank beer, distilled gin and kept beagle packs and guns. Whoring and gambling were popular extracurricular pastimes; fagging and bullying were rife. Fry's own schooldays were only marginally less colourful. An inveterate absentee, he was 'asked to leave' Uppingham, following a shoplifting spree and after absconding, aged 15, to London to watch X-rated films. His tenure at his next school - in Norfolk - was also abruptly curtailed. He spent more time truanting, playing pinball and smoking than he did in lessons. Then, during a deep depression, he stole two credit cards.

Three months on remand in Pucklechurch Remand Prison, Somerset, ensued.

'Prison is really just a working-class version of public school,' he says now.

'If you went to a public school or grew up on a council estate you thought nothing of being tortured. Life was like that for boys. It was only in the "nicer" bourgeois world of the middle class that people didn't do those things.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

School for Scandal; for His Latest Role as a Headmaster, STEPHEN FRY Was Able to Draw on His Own Misspent Schooldays of Truancy, Canings, and Theft. He Tells FRANCES HARDY How He Left His Life of Crime Behind Him
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?