Stephen Fry in America

I was so nearly an American. It was that close. In the mid-1950s my father was offered a job at Princeton University – something to do with the emerging science of semiconductors. One of the reasons he turned it down was that he didn’t think he liked the idea of his children growing up as Americans. I was born, therefore, not in NJ but in NW3.

An excerpt from my book Stephen Fry in America
Stephen Fry in America on BBC 1 from Sunday 12th October @ 9.00pm

I was ten when my mother made me a present of this momentous information. The very second she did so, Steve was born.

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Steve looked exactly like me, same height, weight and hair colour. In fact, until we opened our mouths, it was almost impossible to distinguish one from the other. Steve’s voice had the clear, penetrating, high-up-in-the-head twang of American. He called Mummy ‘Mom’, he used words like ‘swell’, ‘cute’ and ‘darn’. There were detectable differences in behaviour too. He spread jam (which he called jelly) on his (smooth, not crunchy) peanut butter sandwiches, he wore jeans, t-shirts and basketball sneakers rather than grey shorts, Airtex shirts and black plimsolls. He had far more money for sweets, which he called candy, than Stephen ever did. Steve was confident almost to the point of rudeness, unlike Stephen who veered unconvincingly between shyness and showing off. If I am honest I have to confess that Stephen was slightly afraid of Steve.

As they grew up, the pair continued to live their separate, unconnected lives. Stephen developed a mania for listening to records of old music hall and radio comedy stars, watching cricket, reading poetry and novels, becoming hooked on Keats and Dickens, Sherlock Holmes and P. G. Wodehouse and riding around the countryside on a moped. Steve listened to blues and rock and roll, had all of Bob Dylan’s albums, collected baseball cards, went to movie theatres three times a week and drove his own car.

Stephen still thinks about Steve and wonders how he is getting along these days. After all, the two of them are genetically identical. It is only natural to speculate on the fate of a long-lost identical twin. Has he grown even plumper than Stephen or does he work out in the gym? Is he in the TV and movie business too? Does he write? Is he ‘quintessentially American’ the way Stephen is often charged with being ‘quintessentially English’?

All these questions are intriguing but impossible to settle. If you are British, dear reader, then I dare say you too might have been born American had your ancestral circumstances veered a little in their course. What is your long-lost nonexistent identical twin up to?

Most people who are obsessed by America are fascinated by the physical – the cars, the music, the movies, the clothes, the gadgets, the sport, the cities, the landscape and the landmarks. I am interested in all of those, of course I am, but I (perhaps because of my father’s decision) am interested in something more. I have always wanted to get right under the skin of American life. To know what it really is to be American, to have grown up and been schooled as an American; to work and play as an American; to romance, labour, succeed, fail, feud, fight, vote, shop, drift, dream and drop out as an American; to grow ill and grow old as an American.

For years then, I have harboured deep within me the desire to make a series of documentary films about ‘the real’ America. Not the usual road movies in a Mustang and certainly not the kind of films where minority maniacs are trapped into making exhibitions of themselves. It is easy enough to find Americans to sneer at if you look hard enough, just as it is easy to find ludicrous and lunatic Britons to sneer at. Without the intention of fawning and flattering then, I did want to make an honest film about America, an unashamed love letter to its physical beauty and a film that allowed Americans to reveal themselves in all their variety.

I have often felt a hot flare of shame inside me when I listen to my fellow Britons casually jeering at the perceived depth of American ignorance, American crassness, American isolationism, American materialism, American lack of irony and American vulgarity. Aside from the sheer rudeness of such open and unapologetic mockery, it seems to me to reveal very little about America and a great deal about the rather feeble need of some Britons to feel superior. All right, they seem to be saying, we no longer have an Empire, power, prestige or respect in the world, but we do have ‘taste’ and ‘subtlety’ and ‘broad general knowledge’, unlike those poor Yanks.

What silly, self-deluding rubbish! What dreadfully small-minded stupidity! Such Britons hug themselves with the thought that they are more cosmopolitan and sophisticated than Americans because they think they know more about geography and world culture, as if firstly being cosmopolitan and sophisticated can be scored in a quiz and as if secondly (and much more importantly) being cosmopolitan and sophisticated is in any way desirable or admirable to begin with. Sophistication is not a moral quality, nor is it a criterion by which one would choose one’s friends. Why do we like people? Because they are knowledgeable, cosmopolitan and sophisticated? No, because they are charming, kind, considerate, exciting to be with, amusing … there is a long list, but knowing what the capital of Kazakhstan is will not be on it.

The truth is, we are offended by the clear fact that so many Americans know and care so very little about us. How dare they not know who our Prime Minister is, or be so indifferent as to believe that Wales is an island off the coast of Scotland? We are quite literally not on the map as far as they are concerned and that hurts. They can get along without us, it seems, a lot better than we can get along without them and how can that not be galling to our pride? Thus we (or some of us) react with the superiority and conceit characteristic of people who have been made to feel deeply inferior.

So I wanted to make an American series which was not about how amusingly unironic and ignorant Americans are, nor about religious nuts and gun-toting militiamen, but one which tried to penetrate everyday American life at many levels and across the whole United States. What sort of a design should such a series have? What sort of a structure and itinerary? It is a big country the United States…

The United States! America’s full name held the clue all along, for America, it has often been said, is not one country, but fifty. If I wanted to avoid all the clichés, all the cheap shots and stereotypes and really see what America was, then why not make a series about those fifty countries, the actual states themselves? It is all very well to talk about living and dying, hoping and dreaming, loving and loathing ‘as an American’, but what does that mean when America is divided into such distinct and diverse parcels? To live and die as a Floridian is surely very different from living and dying as a Minnesotan? The experience of hoping and dreaming as an Arizonan cannot have much in common with that of hoping and dreaming as a Rhode Islander, can it?

So, to film in every state. I had a structure and a purpose. But how would I get about? I often drive around in a London taxi. The traditional black cab is good and roomy for filming in and perhaps the sight of one braving the canyons, deserts and interstate highways of America could become a happy signature image for the whole journey. A black cab it would be.

There is no right tempo for a project like this. The whole thing could be achieved in two weeks by someone who just wanted to tick off the states like a train-spotter, or it could be done over the course of years, with great time and attention given to the almost infinite social, political, cultural and physical nuances of each state. The pace at which my taxi and I zipped along provided me not with definitive portraits but with multiple snapshots of experience, which I hope when taken together will cause a bigger picture of the country and its fifty constituent parts to emerge.

The overwhelming majority of Americans I met on my journey were kind, courteous, honourable and hospitable beyond expectation. Such striking levels of warmth, politeness and consideration were encountered not just in those I was meeting for on-camera interview, they were to be found in the ordinary Americans I met in the filling-stations, restaurants, hotels and shops too.

If I were to run out of petrol in the middle of the night I would feel more confident about knocking on the door of an American home than one in any other country I know – including my own. The friendly welcome, the generosity, the helpfulness of Americans – especially, I ought to say, in the South and Midwest – is as good a reason to visit as the scenery. Yes, Americans are terrible drivers (endlessly weaving between lanes while on the phone, bullying their way through if they drive a big vehicle, no waves of thanks or acknowledgement, no letting other cars into traffic), yes they have no idea what cheese or bread can be and yes, strip malls, TV commercials and talk radio are gratingly dreadful. But weighing the good, the kind, the original, the enchanting, the breathtaking, the hilarious and the lovable against the bad, the cruel, the banal, the ugly, the crass, the silly and the monstrous, I see the scales coming down towards the good every time .

There is one phrase I probably heard more than any other on my travels: Only in America!
If you were to hear a Briton say ‘Tch! only in Britain, eh?’ it would probably refer to something that was either predictable, miserable, oppressive, dull, bureaucratic, queuey, damp, spoil-sporty or incompetent – or a mixture of all of those. ‘Only in America!’ on the other hand, always refers to something shocking, amazing, eccentric, wild, weird or unpredictable. Americans are constantly being surprised by their own country. Britons are constantly having their worst fears confirmed about theirs. This seems to be one of the major differences between us.

VERMONT, Vermont, how beautiful you are.
Not the absolute last place in which you would imagine Rudyard Kipling writing ‘Gunga Din’ and The Jungle Book, but surely not the first, either. Yet he did. And ‘Mandalay’ too, ‘where the flyin’-fishes play’, in Battleboro, VT, the home of his American wife, Carrie.

I reckon that if you ask the average American what they know of Vermont, the first thing they will mention is maple syrup. The sugar maple is the ‘State Tree’ of Vermont – it is also more or less the state industry. The maple brings tourists who come to marvel at the blazing colours of the autumn leaves and it brings cash dollars in the form of the unctuous, faintly metallic syrup that Americans like to pour all over their breakfast, on waffles and pancakes, but on bacon too. Sounds alarming to English ears, but actually it is rather delicious. Like crack, crystal meth and Chocolate HobNobs, one nibble and you’re hooked for life.

I am a little late for catching the legendary beauty of Vermont’s fall. The best days for ‘leaf peeping’ have gone and the time of maple tapping is yet to come.

What else does Vermont have to offer? Not a thrusting metropolis, that is for sure. Montpelier is the smallest of all the state capitals, with a population of barely eight thousand. The nickname Green Mountain State suggests pastureland, and pasture suggests cows and sheep and goats, and cows and sheep and goats suggest dairy produce – milk, cream and cheese. There is a bastard concoction that dares to call itself ‘Vermont Cheddar’ but that we will ignore, presenting it with the coldest of British shoulders. No, I am in search of a product altogether more desirable, a world more indulgent and disgraceful, wholly addictive and dreadful and proudly American: it is the prospect of this which has me hurtling northwest with the intense concentration and merciless swiftness of a shark streaking towards blood in the water. Except that sharks don’t drool and shout ‘Come to mama!’

It was in 1978 that the two sainted hippies, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield opened their first ice-cream parlour in Burlington, Vermont’s largest town. After many adventures, tribulations and law-suits against Häagen-Dazs they established themselves as just about the best known brand in ice-cream.

The factory in Waterbury, VT, is about thirty miles southeast of Burlington and constitutes Vermont’s single biggest tourist attraction. The moment I arrive I feel like Veruca Salt standing at the gates of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. With golden ticket clutched in fist I want it and I want it now.
I am to be given the freedom of the ingredients cabinet, a chance to mix my own flavour. This is an honour rarely bestowed. It is as if Château Margaux asked me to blend their cabernet sauvignon and merlot for this year’s vintage. Well, all right, it’s nothing whatever like that, but it is a great honour nonetheless.

‘Welcome, Stephen, we’re very excited that you’re here!’ says Sean, the flavorologist. ‘But if you’re gonna mix like a pro, you’d better dress like a pro.’

He hands me a white lab coat while I ponder the task before me.

The base, I decide, should be of good vanilla-bean ice-cream, nothing more fancy than that. To hand are spatulas, spoons and little pots and bags of semi-frozen ingredients: cookie dough, biscuity substances, chocolate in the shape of a cow and so forth. I try to stay calm. I mustn’t be too childish about this, what little dignity I have left is at stake. The temptation to produce a pink confection filled with marshmallows, strawberries and cake mix is strong, but I feel the need to fly the flag for British style and discretion. I find an ingredient called English toffee and swirl it into the vanilla base. Good. Not the kind of hard black toffees Kensington nannies gave children in their prams to keep them quiet while they kissed the footman, but a good start. To this promising base I add chocolate fudge, a gloopy substance that freezes when added to the ice-cream, like a lava flow meeting water. A granulated texture is added with which I feel well pleased.

Very fine – strong, adult, not too sweet, but there’s something missing … I rootle and scrabble, searching for the magic extra ingredient that will transform my mixture into a true flavour, my rough prototype into a working masterpiece. The clock is ticking, for a tour party is about to come in at any moment and I am to feed them and then stand with bowed head to receive their judgement.

Just as I am about to give up and offer my acceptable but now to my mind rather lame decoction my fingers curl around a bag of knobbly somethings. I have found it! It adds crunch, a hint of sophisticated bitterness and a rich musty, nutty centre around which the other flavours can play their unctuous, toffee-like, chocolaty games. Walnuts! I stir them in with my spatula and Sean helps me transfer the giant mixture into small tourist-sized tubs. This is done by squeezing a kind of piping bag. Within seconds I have lost all feeling in my hands.

‘It’s very cold,’ I observe.

‘Many are cold,’ says Sean, ‘but few are frozen.’

Before I have time to throw something at him, the tour party enters.

‘Welcome everybody,’ beams Sean. ‘This is a special occasion. You will be trying a new flavour, mixed by our Guest Flavorist, here. His invention is called …?’

‘Er … I … that is … um …’

‘… is called “Even Stephens”!’ extemporises Sean happily.

I stand meekly, submissively, hopefully while the tourists surge forward to begin the tasting. Despite my humble demeanour, I know, I really know that I have struck gold. There have not been many moments in my life when I have been quite so sure of success. But here, I am convinced, is a perfect blend of flavours.

The tourists agree. Once the filming stops and the camera crew have dived in too there is nothing left of Even Stephens but my memory of a solid-gold vanilla-based triumph.

Stephen, you created an ice-cream flavour. And it was good. Now you may rest.

A TENNESSEE BOLTING HORSE
Georgia: Outside the Spanish moss profusely drips, as it should, from the live oaks and distant cypresses; all is as it ought to be at a plantation house in the Deep South. Except that I am expected to get on a horse.

Blackwater has a celebrated (apparently) stable of Tennessee Walking Horses, a breed of animal unfamiliar to me.

‘Oh they are so gentle and docile and sweet!’ My hosts, with whom I have come to spend Thanksgiving, tell me. ‘Docile’ rhymes with ‘fossil’ in American, which makes it sound even gentler. ‘You will adore them!’

Yes, but they won’t adore me,’ I whine.

‘Nonsense! They are the kindest, calmest horses in the whole wide world. You’ll see.’

We go round to the stables where a large horse called Shadow is being saddled for me.

‘Look,’ I try to explain, ‘for some reason horses really, really don’t like me. No matter how calm and friendly I am they…’

‘Nonsense!’ they all giggle.

I step up from a block and just manage to get my feet in the stirrups before the sweetest, gentlest, most docile horse in the whole wide world screams, bucks and bolts. The family are all so astonished it takes them some little while to realise what has happened. A ‘some little while’ that is filled by me shouting ‘Whoa!’ and pulling as hard on the reins as I dare as below me a ton of mad jumping flesh gathers its hindquarters and prepares to charge a wooden fence. A last desperate yank on the lines and the crazed beast slows down enough to give the others time to catch up and grab it.

Naturally everybody thinks this is hilarious.

‘Well he’s never done that before…’

‘I declare!’

‘Who’d a thunk it?’

‘I should have made it clearer,’ I say. ‘Every time I have ever got on a horse it has ended with the remark you have just made: “He’s never done that before!” “But Snowflake is usually so calm…” There’s something about me and horses. Well. Make the most of the comedy, because that is the last time I shall ever, ever be seen on the back of a horse for the rest of my natural life.’

THE BOARD OF PARDONS AND PAROLES
The judicial and penal systems of the South have always had a quality of their own. Cinema, literature, music and folklore have long revelled in the special cruelties and indignities of crime and punishment, Southern style.

Many years ago, Alabama’s state legislature brought into being in the capital, Montgomery, an institution called the Board of Pardons and Paroles whose job it is to hear both sides of an appeal for parole petitions. By both sides I mean that both the representatives of the convicts and the representatives of their victims get the chance to speak.

I am here to meet three members of the board, Robert Longshore, William Wynne and VeLinda Weatherley. They sit at their long bench, the seal of their office on the wall behind them, exuding Southern charm, courtesy and authority. I cannot believe that any equivalent British institution (were there such a thing) would ever allow a film crew to come poke around their proceedings with so little supervision or bureaucratic impediment. Mr Longshore explains to me in a drawl of stupendous charm that the pardons were the most enjoyable part of their work: as a rule these take the form of applications from criminals long since released who needs a pardon in order to be able to vote or own a gun. Paroles however are an entirely different matter. This is where the pain of crime comes home; this is where the wisdom of Solomon itself cannot guarantee to bring about a happy outcome.

On either side of the back of the tribunal space, which is laid out not unlike a courtroom, there is a door. Each door leads to a waiting room, one for parole petitioners, the other for families and representatives of the victims.

After a few straightforward cases of pardoning, a parole case begins. A family shuffles through the victims’ door. A late-middle-aged woman is so tearful she has to be supported. With them is a pale young white girl who works for an organisation called Victims of Crime and Leniency (VOCAL) who automatically, whatever the circumstances, always support the victims and oppose parole, whatever the case. Their default position is never to favour early release. For any prisoner. Ever.

Through the other door shuffles another, equally distressed family. The young man whose case for parole they are making is not present. The prisoners themselves never are, only their families and occasionally (if they have money, which is rare) their lawyers.

A story emerges that is so sad, so squalid and so unfair that within minutes I (and many in the court, including some of the camera crew) are wiping away tears.

The prisoner is twenty-seven years old and has been in jail since he was seventeen on a charge of manslaughter. He was given a twenty-year sentence. He had been horsing around with a gun when he had shot his fifteen-year-old friend in the head. Apparently it was all part of some game that had got out of hand. No one in the original sentencing court and no one here at the Board believed that it was anything more than a terrible accident. The two boys, the two families, had been friends, but the mother of the dead boy will not hear of clemency for the imprisoned boy.

She stands up now, a central casting picture of tottering maternal woe. She wails, she screams, she cannot put into words her continuing upset and has to be led from the proceedings sobbing and keening. The woman from VOCAL speaks for her. The boy in prison is still alive. He has only served half his sentence. The court wanted him in prison for twenty years, the board should respect that. He should not be allowed even to apply again for another five years, the maximum length.

The family of the imprisoned boy make their case. Their son has served exemplary time: not one punishment for infractions of prison rules. He has learned new trades and has passed examinations. He was never a criminal. What good can be done by keeping him locked up? It was an accident after all, a terrible accident.

To me it is, as they say in America, a slam dunk. Surely the boy must get his parole?

He does not. It is not the Board’s duty to look into the rights or wrongs of sentencing, only to respond to the case as it is. This boy’s first appeal will not be accepted, says Mr Longshore, it is too early.
However his good behaviour is noted and he is therefore given the right to appeal in four years. Another four years of hard time ahead of him.

I am astonished. Astonished that the family of the slain boy should want such revenge against the friend who so tragically took a game too far. It could have been their son who shot the other boy, had fate dealt different cards. Surely they should embrace the boy who killed their son, wouldn’t that help them heal? I am astonished too by the callousness of the woman from VOCAL and her absolute lack of sympathy for the killer. I am no Christian, but I know that the founder of her religion would feel differently. Is it not possible to care for both victim and perpetrator?

I bid farewell to the Board and to Alabama, mixed feelings churning in my breast. Rarely have I met people more charming, more polite and more hospitable. The boy who pumps the gas in the forecourt really does call you ‘sir’, the receptionist at the hotel has a wide smile when she asks ‘how y’all doing?’ and the smile is warm and real. But this is not a place where I would ever want to be poor or independent-spirited, and certainly not a place where I would want to fall foul of the law.

SPY GAMES

Las Vegas, Nevada: I sit in my slate grey and chromium hotel suite fretting about the fact that I haven’t found a way to turn off its real-flame fireplace, but European eco-guilt has as much place in Las Vegas as a stripper at a synod. Less.

The doorbell rings and within seconds I am embroiled in a nightmare of identity, treachery and betrayal. She calls herself Trixie. She wears a raincoat and a fedora. She tells me that I have been selected to act as a double-agent, a mole: my mission is to infiltrate myself within … well, to be perfectly honest with you, quite what I have to infiltrate myself into is for the moment beyond me. Dark powers working against the common good have conspired, that much is clear. The forces of good must be marshalled and the marshalling place is somewhere, it seems, on Howard Hughes Parkway. I have five minutes to get there. Your country needs you.

‘Britain?’

‘America!’ whispers Trixie.

‘Ah.’

‘Remember. At each place you visit there will be a contact. You must give them each one of these tokens. The others cannot know. You must keep your double-agent status secret from them.’

‘The others?’

Trixie and I zip down to the rendezvous in the taxi. I have to let her out before I meet the others, for they must not know that I have been contacted by her. The others, it turns out, are the Chippendales. Yes, the bow-tied male stripping combo that has for years delighted hen nights and Christmas parties the world over.

I am soon plunged into the guts of this ‘Spy Game’. From first to last I have no idea what is going on, but some quality of American-ness seems to allow the Chippendales to be absolutely clear about the whole proceeding. They accept their spy packs and cell phones and cameras as if they do this every day.

Spy games have become all the rage in Las Vegas. They are a structured, if expensive, way of seeing the town, and companies also use them for team-building exercises and the like. One is sent from venue to venue, mostly via the city’s monorail. From Caesar’s Palace to the Mirage, from the MGM Grand to the Flamingo we flit, meeting ‘contacts’ – who turn out to be obvious rain-coated, sun-glassed spooks. I manage to offload two of my mole-tokens before the smartest and most mouthy Chippendale, the ‘team-leader’, stops me, bids me empty my pockets and exposes me to all as the mole. Naturally I change sides immediately and am now a triple-agent.

It is all most confusing, but by the end of the afternoon I at least know Las Vegas better than I ever could have done otherwise.

MORMON CALENDAR BOYS
The unique moral outlook of Las Vegas seem somehow to have penetrated even the fastnesses of the Church of Latter Day Saints. The morning after my adventures in espionage, I arrive at a photo studio somewhere off the Strip to find myself surrounded by semi-naked young men whose more than ordinarily sparkling eyes, unblemished skin, gleaming teeth and air of sexless perfection tell me that they are Mormons, members of a church that forswears sex before marriage and stimulants or narcotics of any kind, from caffeine to nicotine and cocaine. These are all good Mormon boys who have done their ‘missionary work’, in other words they have travelled within America, or beyond, wearing white shirts and dark suits and spreading the word of Mormon. This is the second year of their (strictly topless and genital-free) calendar. It raises money for charity and seems to have won the reluctant acceptance of the Church Elders back in Salt Lake City.

I chat to Cody, a personable nineteen-year-old who is happy to discuss any part of his religion to me. He is surprised and pleased, I think, to learn that I do not find his faith particularly absurd, in the way many mainstream Christians do. I forebear telling him that the reason I do not find Mormonism especially ridiculous is because I find all pretend invisible friends, Special Books and their rules equally ridiculous. Mormon ideas about realms of crystal rebirthing and special underpants are no weirder than the enforcing of wigs and woollen tights on orthodox Jewish women or laws and dogmas about burkhas and Virgin Births. The religion of the Latter Day Saints is not deserving of especial contempt simply because it is newer. It is as barmy as the rest and I cheerfully treat it as such. It has the same impertinent views concerning women and gays, of course, but Cody is clearly embarrassed about this and says with a touch of defensiveness, ‘We aren’t as bigoted as some fundamental Christians.’ Mm. Yes. Well. I bid my farewells and head for Reno and some good old-fashioned hookers.

© Stephen Fry 2008

Stephen Fry in America
Stephen Fry in America on BBC 1 from Sunday October 12th @ 9.00pm

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107 comments on “Stephen Fry in America”

  1. andrew_emrys says:

    I must admit as a human of some intelligence and goodness who has grown up living in a city that often seems devoid of such (Washington, D.C.) this program, which being an American I have had to scrounge from YouTube, has taught me much more about my own country’s charms than I was previously willing to admit.

    Being American in this city is odd, one of the Capital Steppes spoke at my high school graduation, for instance. I doubt many high schools allow speakers who make jokes about presidential fellatio, but mine did. As an aside, I was also granted the greatest fanfare when I received my diploma, though I maintain it was due to my undeniable charm and animal magnetism rather than the cosmic coincidence that my “Z” surname made me the last one up.

    It often feels as if politics is not only the company, but the society in this city. There is no such thing as local news, we’re at ground zero of all things political, and it honestly changes you. When I was a boy of eleven, my sixth grade class had to be physically divided as we watched on C-SPAN the final vote on President Clinton’s impeachment trial come down. Division is more visible here than anywhere else, I’m afraid.

    The program, however, has opened my eyes to much about my country that I had never thought to consider. From where I sit, things seem so ugly, even if as a young boy I frequently camped in the mountains of Virginia, and can see the hills of the Blue Ridge often when I go shopping in the suburbs.

    So I wanted, in my long-winded way, to thank Mr. Fry for opening my cynical eyes a bit to the fact that my country is not as hopeless as I often think it to be.

  2. ScarySteve says:

    Saw episode 1. Sadly, there are two errors. (Errata?)

    In crossing the mouth of Delaware Bay from Cape May, NJ to Lewes, Delaware, reference is made to Washington Crossing the Delware on Christmas Day to fight the Hessian mercenaries in the Battle of Trenton. Gen. Washington crossed from Pennsylvania to New Jersey, about 100 miles up river from the mouth of the Bay. (As an aside, since the opening mentions an offer to Mr. Fry’s father to work in Princeton, NJ, perhaps he should have stopped by to see what it looked like. It is a truly lovely town.

    Second, in Washington, DC, mention is made of the Fourth Amendment (to the US Constitution) protecting freedom of speech. It does not. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, the press, assembly, religion, and the right to petition the government concerning grievances. The Fourth Amendment protects persons from unlawful searches and seizures. It is similar to the ancient British saying that the wind may penetrate the cracks in a man’s home but the King may not enter by the front door.

    If one is going to go to Boston, one should also go to Philadelphia. Pennsylvania is known as the “Keystone State”. It held the others together in the 18th century. One could even look at the Liberty Bell, the original of which was cast at Whitechapel Foundries in London.

    All in all, a good show, though.

  3. I really enjoyed the program I caught the other day. Especially the boat on the Mississippi. I couldn’t believe how quiet it was!

    The scenes with Buddy Guy and Morgan Freeman gave the impression that they are like any other person in their communities which was great.

  4. kitbits says:

    I’m really enjoying this programme–most excellent! It’s making me a bit homesick, too. I was really intrigued by the visit to Clarksdale, MS, and was wondering if my sister, who lives in Jackson, has ever visited that blues club…she probably has, lucky duck. If ever I manage to drag my English spouse across the ocean to visit my Mississippian roots, we’ll have to pay it a visit.

    Looking forward to this week’s installment–judging by the photos, there’s a trip to Denver (my old hometown for most of my life) in there somewhere. I went to the Denver March Pow Wow once–a wonderful experience!

    To see the U.S. in a London taxi–fun stuff, Mr Fry!

  5. Andrea Tucker says:

    Dear Mr Stephen Fry,
    Yet another fantastic show (I wrote to you a few years ago, re. support, the stubbly Mr Hugh Laurie and preferable Hackney Carriages via your publishers and you kindly replied). What is beyond me is why in hell does my hubby want us to take our kids to Florida when there are so many other MUCH better places to visit out there!? This week’s trips through Montana and the mountains were a revelation! Can’t wait until next week!
    Stay well. Mrs Andrea Tucker.

  6. harpgal says:

    I look forward to seeing the program up here in Washington State. I have not been able to find it televised up here yet. At anyrate, thank you for your shared insight.

    You and I are about the same age Mr. Fry. I have an English mother and an American father. I might have been born and raised in London if my parents had not met in Singapore, married in London, and moved to NJ in 1954.

    On top of that my Irish grandmother had left the Irish countryside in the 1920′s and went straight to London to train as a nurse. That was not a good time to be Irish in the UK.

    Had your parents moved to NJ I might have been the little girl up the street terrorizing you.

    I have lived in London twice and roamed around Ireland alot, visiting relations there. I have lived on the West (Left) Coast of America for many years (Southern California, San Francisco area and further up north). I do hope you are able to spend some time in the Oregon/Washington “territory” which was once British territory. Mustn’t forget Alaska either.

    Oh and you must get to some of our micro-breweries!

    Growing up in the Anglo-American home was like growing up with two cultures. We listened to my dad’s Big Band and jazz records while my mother took us to numerous Gilbert & Sullivan productions, classical music concerts, and introduced us to the fine food of post-WWII cuisine. :)

    What I have learned is that just as America is full of complexities and should not be generalized, so too Britain is a melting pot of different nations, countries, and peoples. Most countries and their people are full of complexities and I try to bear that in mind when I am travelling.

    It is a bit hurtful when one hears others mocking and jeering my home country. I am very careful not to do the same but to ask questions instead so that I can understand the local perspective.

    I was recently travelling by bus in Ireland. I would chat with everyone I had the chance to. Travelling solo it was the best way I thought and I had lovely conversations with some of the kindest people, particularly the older people. I did find the same kind of jeering amongst the younger generation towards America. I don’t know if it is just the politics (probably) or if the ‘Celtic Tiger’ has given the young Irish a new sense of confidence and boldness that preceding generations didn’t have. I felt some sadness about that – they (the young) don’t see how far they’ve come in the last 50 years.

  7. lorinelyse says:

    Hello!
    …. I just wanted to correct a misconception ….. The term ‘Dixieland’ has nothing to do with the ‘Mason-Dixon’ Line …..

    Actually the term comes from the founding of the National Bank of New Orleans … at which time the $10 note was equivalent to the $100 today ….. because of its location, and for trading, etc … the Bank printed the $10 note in two languages – the front was in English, the back in French ….. and the locations which accepted this note became known as Dixieland …… (the French for 10 is Dix) …. Some states that claim to be part of Dixieland aren’t – for example, West Virginia, Virginia, and Kentucky (can’t remember all of the specific states) never accepted the $10 note from the National Bank of New Orleans – so even though they claim to be part of Dixieland, they really aren’t based on the fact that they refused to accept the $10 note ….

    It is a common misconception to assume that Dixieland is related to the Mason-Dixon Line, but this is false …. and as Mr. Fry seems to enjoy his facts so much (i.e. QI) … I thought this was one he’d enjoy …. as well as his fans ….. (this happens to be one of my favorite facts as well) …

    Have a great day!

  8. lorinelyse says:

    One additional side note ….. As a Texan living in the UK, I try to be very considerate and properly pronounciate UK place names …. and the British aren’t too shy about correcting me if I’m wrong …. which leads me to ask why the British aren’t so considerate to other locations? ….. For example, many British often pronouce Houston, Texas as ‘WHO-ston’ …. this is NOT how we pronouciate it …. we say it like ‘hugh’/’h – eww’ (like a child saying ewww, but with an h) ….. and as the saying goes – when in Rome ….. I think this should be universal – if we Americans are expected to say place names like Edinburgh correctly (rather than ‘Ed-in-ber-G’) …. then I don’t think it is too much to expect the same consideration ….

  9. somnambience says:

    Just a little bit annoying that for a programme about Stephen travelling through the 50 states the title sequence shows only 48!
    Or am i mistaken?

  10. Alan E says:

    Why is all TV not as interesting as this? Class entertainment and education. We have been glued to every minute of the series. It makes you realize this country is still the best when it comes to quality, when we put our minds to it. Well done Steven. The only problem I have with the series is, why does Big Brother last for months and quality like this are only allowed a few weeks?

  11. tammybenton says:

    I was extremely disappointed with the portrayal Stephen Fry gave Missouri in his Stephen Fry in America series. The only thing he televised about Missouri was a group of homeless people and some old dilapidated buildings in downtown St. Louis.
    I am American and my fiance’ is English and even he (having been to Missouri where I am from) was shocked that Stephen Fry chose to only show homeless people and old beat up buildings while driving right past the Gateway Arch…the gateway to the west…with its impressive museum located underneath it and didn’t even introduce this monument to his viewers.
    Not to mention St. Louis has a great music scene in an area called Soulard where some brilliant blues bands originate from, a beautiful art gallery, history museum, one of the best rated free zoos…the St. Louis Zoo, Forest Park, and was the home of the 1904 Worlds Fair.
    Again, I was extremely disappointed that out of all of that and so much more that Missouri and St. Louis have to offer he chose to only show the homeless and a few dilapidated buildings.
    Shame really as I think many viewers in the UK would really like to get a true glimpse of what America has to offer.

  12. Stephen says:

    Dear Tammy,

    I completely understand and share your disappointment. This isn’t an attempt to get you to buy my book of the series, but if you were to peep inside you would see that we did indeed visit and film in more of Missouri, including one of the best and strangest museums I’ve ever visited.

    I hope you understand that the process of a documentary is a complex and difficult one. We were originally only given 5 programmes by the BBC and we managed to get them up to 6 while we were shooting. I’m sure you can believe too that it would have been strange to travel to all 50 states and not try and show as many sides of American life as we could. Not to show the homeless would be to present a very odd view of America indeed. And of course any state we chose in which I shared time with the homeless would have had a proud and loyal citizen like you who would probably have written to me expressing annoyance that iI had under-represented their great state. I admit that the pressures of editing the show down to 60 mins meant that all that viewers saw of Missouri happened to be the homeless we hung out with. But they were charming Americans and I was pleased to know them.

    The St Patrick’s project in central St Louis offered us great hospitality and we met a large number of the St Louis homeless, went to a poetry event they held, saw them running a restaurant and enjoyed three days there. While we had to to drop the poetry evening, the restaurant and the museum from the final cut of Episode 4 (which broke my heart – but editing is all about breaking hearts “slaughtering your darlings as Wallace Stevens put it) we felt it important to include the homeless in their ‘riverfront Hilton’ as it told another and important story about the extraordinary journey of the Mississippi and of America.

    “Shame really as I think many viewers in the UK would really like to get a true glimpse of what America has to offer” is how you put it. Well, exactly. A true glimpse. It really would have been a shame to make a programme that acted solely as a kind of tourist brochure. I’m pleased that the country I love so much has come across in much (but only a fraction) of its bewildering and dazzling variety, but this was after all TV for a Sunday evening, not a searing exposé of America’s underbelly. Some have criticised me for not showing enough of that underbelly and for being too full of wonder and praise.

    One can’t please anyone and I’m sorry if you felt that Missouri, which I loved, was undersold. It probably was, as were dozens of other states. Such is TV. I would love to have devoted years to a project in which every state got one full hour, but the BBC were wary enough, as I said, about cramming all the states into 6 hours…. heigh ho.

    Thanks for commenting and – to anyone else listening – take it from me, Tammy’s right., Missouri is well worth visiting!

    Love
    S

  13. tammybenton says:

    Dear Stephen,

    Thank you very much for your reply.

    I do understand that you can’t always be in control of what you are able to air in the time constraints placed upon you and thank you for pointing that out.

    I think it was very good of you to air the segment on homeless people as the number of homeless people in America, and all over the world, is absolutely shocking and an outrage in this day and time.

    I appreciate your decision to air it as well as the importance of it but I do think most people in the UK fully understand that homeless people are unfortunately everywhere, including the US.

    I suppose I was just hoping your show would bring to light the more positive side of Missouri (and many of the US states) as there truly is alot of history here and alot to see and do and yet when I spoke to many people in the UK they seem to have a negative view of St. Louis gained mostly from what they have seen televised about it and your show didn’t help…thanks alot! (Joking) lol

    Saying that, I truly appreciate your comment to my reply and I will be buying your book as I’ve always found your work such a pleasure.

    Thank you again and take care.

  14. MrsAndieT says:

    I could have watched it for another 6 weeks Stephen; you are always a delight to watch and I found the programme fascinating as there was so much about the States I was unaware of and I am quite sure I’m not alone. I shall definitely be adding the book to my Christmas/birthday list so I can learn more. I saw nothing negative in anything portrayed, but appreciate tammybenton’s comments. I would imagine it was incredibly difficult to cram so many States into so little time. I look forward with anticipation to your next venture. Happy Yuletide to you and yours. Mrs Andrea Tucker, once again.

  15. flowerx says:

    Hello There!
    What a fab series! It was an interesting incite into the other side of America other than Hollywood and celebrity.
    The thing I like about this type of show is the variety of personality.
    I work in retail- a job I used to despise- until I discovered the hobby of ‘people watching’.
    Your adventures in a way mirror my own experiences of the insanely wonderful differences of individuals!
    Most personalities bring a smile to my face for one reason or another and our American cousins were no different.
    Thank you for bringing the diversity of homosapiens to our television screens, for we are an entertaining and intriguing
    species!
    Kind Regards, Gemma

  16. chocolatelover says:

    I went to America last year for the first time to meet a longtime online friend who lives in a small town in Mississippi. And I love it there. The first night and following day were spent in New Orleans, in and around the French Quarter. Breakfast at the Cafe Du Monde was a highlight of that day for a sugar fan such as myself. Another treat was the praline shop near the Aquarium of the Americas. Yes, I ate my way round the French Quarter as much as I could in the time we had there and loved it all, including the people we met.
    While staying with my friend we went to a high school football match one hot Friday night and had a great time there yelling myself silly for “our” team. One Sunday a month her parents and friends get together to play Bluegrass together. Ma cooks all morning, the women bring more food. Have to say that day was one of the best I have ever experienced. Especially when one old lady told another “she doesn’t sound English does she”. Still makes me smile.
    This year I went again and took my 16 year old grandson. He spent a Saturday afternoon at Ma and Pa’s house shooting at tin cans and a block of wood in the back yard (small field) with some of Pa’s huge arsenal of guns and rifles. And for an English 16 year old boy that was a day he will never forget.
    All of the experiences myself and my grandson have had there are just every day living to the people I know, and our reaction to those things has delighted them on occasion.
    I have always believed that the best way to see a place is to see it with someone who knows it well, and I have been very fortunate to have done that.
    If I had the means to do it I would buy the house next door to my friend and spend 3 months a year there. I can dream and what a nice dream to have.
    So thankyou Stephen for giving me a glimpse of the Southern states I have grown to love and enjoy so much.

  17. mapleleiah says:

    Hi,

    I very much loved this “out of the box” way of looking at and visiting the USA. I have yet to put my first real steps in that vast country (let’s not count driving over the Niagara bridge from Canada into the USA to have “a look around” because that was more of a battle with customs than anything else) but I do really start feeling an urge now to finally go and visit some stuff there! Don’t really know where to start though …

    :-)

    Lenny

  18. FR says:

    Dear Mr. Stephen Fry,

    I enjoyed your wonderful series, travelling across USA very much indeed! I have travelled to the USA on about 5 occasions on business but always only to the cities and have not as yet had the good fortune to explore and identify with different states and would personally really relish an opportunity to see more of this vast and amazing country.

    My late grandfather was Italian and was particularly interested in the USA, though sadly never had the opportunity to visit, therefore, I feel that I must do the travel on his behalf too! I have inherited his incredibly curiosty about this country!

    Your series completely inspired, enthused and educated me and am now delighting in reading the vibrant detail in your book which is an utter pleasure to read and am thoroughly enjoying it. Your taxi was a great touch of individualism and made me smile so much. A genius form of transport! Well done!

    I particularly enjoyed the way you took part in lots of exhilirating outdoor activities: lobster/crab fishing; swimming with the sharks in the cage as well as visiting Alaska and following the whalers – this was one of my favourite episodes!

    In fact I was so inspired by your trip to Alaska that am going on a trip to the Arctic Circle before Xmas to enjoy some snow sports myself .(Although am not at all an enthusiast usually and prefer comfort over adventure!) I think you succeeded in awaking a sense of adventure in me!

    At the risk of sounding incredibly sycophantic and I do apologise if this is the case, I am a huge fan and enjoy your work tremendously.

    The icing on the cake was meeting you at your book signing last week!

    Keep up your wonderful work Mr. Fry as you provide a lot of wonderful pleasure! Thank you!

    I look forward to your reading of Oscar Wilde’s short stories.

    Kindest regards,

    Febronia

  19. MrsPlumPudding says:

    Good Morning, Stephen! I am such a fan! I would love to just know you and say, please, Stephen, come for a good homecooked Yankee meal with us. One thing I must say to you, however, regarding your visit to Atlantic City NJ when you were in America. Why, oh, Stephen, please tell me WHY of all the wonderful places in NJ, you had to go choose the worst one of all??? Atlantic City IS disgusting and I can’t remember verbatim how you described your experience there, but I remember watching it whilst my husband and I were vacationing on a boat in the Norfolk Broads and laughed out loud because I so agreed with you and feel the same way about that wretched place. Stephen, please, consider going back to my hometown and visiting the beautiful areas of Haddonfield or Moorestown in South Jersey, where you would be welcomed by good old-fashioned, Colonial America….who would surely open up their homes and hearts to you. Those two villages feel like a step back in time and I feel I know you would just love it there. As I mentioned at the start of my comment above, if you are ever in the Newcastle area, please let us know. My husband and I would welcome you with open arms and treat you to a very kingly feast! Merry Christmas to you, Stephen. You are such an interesting man and we so enjoy watching your talent at work! x

  20. papagena says:

    Dear Stephen,
    I’ve really enjoyed watching the program about America and have been engrossed in the contents of The Ode Less Travelled, in an attempt at resolving my writer’s block, and in the pursuit of the pleasure in your writing. Some of my iambs turned into trochees, but useful and innovative guide nevertheless. I intend to continue with the three Golden rules until the end.
    Thanks very much, best wishes

  21. GrumpyOldGit says:

    Hi Stephen,

    Great series (even though I must admit I missed the first two episodes) and I share your deep, almost fundemental, interest in all things America. My first ever visit was to New York in 2005. I’ve never felt more at home, and can’t shake the feeling that The States is where I’m supposed to be. Maybe one day … ?

    Anyway, having missed the start I’ve bought the DVD so that I can catch-up, and have just started reading the book. But, shock horror, what’s this? You’ve suggested that we should actually write the quiz answers in! Shame on you – pencil or otherwise, writing in books is a hanging offense. :)

    Regards,
    GrumpyOldGit

  22. Cosmoline says:

    As always we hear about things after everyone else, but I wanted to say thanks for taking the time to come to Alaska and Hawaii. I understand the show even went up to Barrow and talked with a whaling captain. I’d venture a guess that not one in a thousand Americans even understands what that title actually means. You could do a whole show up here.

  23. nonoyesyes says:

    A deeply interesting insight with a wonderful dialogue…

    [I must see the dvd and/or read the book!]

    There are those who write with great cascading avalanches of words ~ whereat you are left standing slack-jawed, goggle-eyed, and very sure you had absolutely no idea what on earth it was all about…. [you replace the book on the shelf]

    Then you have writers …… who not only invite the reader in with a pleasing welcome, but then proceed to actually communicate in such terms so that the reader is able to experience the author’s experiences in easy strides!

    Thank you Stephen for a wonderful, colourful, witty read.
    No wonder your sketches are/were brilliant!
    Cheers ((^_^))

  24. SoutherngirlinUK says:

    Dear Stephen,

    I am an American studying for my postgraduate degree here in London for the year, and in an attempt to put off my studies for the night, went into BBC IPlayer and, rather hesitantly, clicked on you Deep South episode, knowing nothing, quite frankly, about you or your show.

    Having lived in Georgia my whole life, I have found that I am often ridiculed here in London for being from the ‘backwards’ part of America where we are all still racist, picking cotton, and talking with what some people think are ridiculous accents. I know this to be laughably untrue and very offensive, so I was worried about how the Deep South would be portrayed in your show.

    As I watched, I found myself able to forget about the miserably small dorm room I live in and actually feel like I was back at home. You captured the beauty of the land and the friendliness and uniqueness of the South wonderfully, and I had the biggest grin on my face when you chose to end your show with a look at SEC college football, quite possibly the best invention in sports ever made (although I would argue that you should have attended a game at the University of Georgia).

    The South is a rapidly growing and very forward looking area, and we have bustling cities and all the latest innovations. However, I would venture to say that what draws people to the South (besides the weather) is the pervasive charm and friendliness of the region. Thank you for displaying that to people who might be so ignorant of the region as to ask me whether I was part of the KKK. Hopefully these offensive views will become less prevalent thanks to your documentaries.

    Best wishes!

  25. TURTLEGIRL74 says:

    Thought the show was brilliant

  26. tmanninen says:

    Dear Mr. Fry,

    although a wonderful read otherwise, your book managed to have a little mistake slipped in: the architect of the St. Louis arch, Eero Saarinen, happened to be a Finn, not a Dane as you suggest.
    A small slip for a man, a giant renationed…

    Yours,

    T. Manninen
    Helsinki
    Finland

  27. lawgirl says:

    Thank you so much for this post, Stephen. Seriously, thanks.

    (from Wisconsin :) )

  28. ynotlleb says:

    A TV series about all 50 states of the USA, how did Mr Palin miss this one? Well done Stephen.

    As an Englishman with an American wife (living in England) I really enjoyed the TV series. I have seen 17 states myself. Stephen’s travels reflect my travels in the USA in that some of the 17 I have barely touched. I have travelled all over California (wife’s home state) and seen nothing of Illinois other than O’Hare airport.

    I enjoyed the TV series and have finally got around to reading the book. I have recently applied for a job in the USA, I shall have to remember to take some cheese with me :-)

    The American English quiz at the end of the book was interesting, my wife didn’t get them all either!

    PS Has the BBC4 series been shown yet?

  29. antony_ says:

    Ever since you revealed your homosexuality you’ve given the impression of somehow wanting to prove your left-wing credentials. I’ve avoided you for that reason actually – that and the embarrassingly unfunny stream of double-entrendres that now marks your every public appearance, and especially marked your embarrassing presentation of the British Academy Awards until recently.

    It was bad enough watching you slobber with relief at finding you weren’t quite as English as you thought on ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ (a programme devised as a deliberate psychological attack on the English). Yet in the first episode of a publicly funded sojourn in America you’re at it again – this time visiting New England only to suck up to the Scots and Irish. So the ‘work ethic’ is their property is it? Who’d a thunk it?

    Not even your brief turn as an apologist for the Bretton Woods ‘agreement’, the World Bank, the IMF and much else that constitutes the vast internationalist apparatus increasingly being imposed on us as we move to world government, and which strikes one as either naive or shameless, can surpass this latest exhibition of self-loathing.

    As an Englishman – one with a little more pride in his heritage than you perhaps – I find the temptation to despise you quite hard to resist at the moment.

  30. BritishAmericanPedant says:

    As a confused Brit/American with an Iowan father and a mother from Stanmore who has lived both in Blighty and across the pond, I was looking forward to this TV series.

    I was unable to figure out what makes Americans tick after spending most of the ’90s in Florida, then 2000-02 in California, with 12 awful months in South Carolina sandwiched in between. I thought maybe that a man as intelligent and inciteful as Stephen would succeed where I had failed.

    It is apparent from reading the introduction to the accompanying book that Stephen didn’t try to do that. Indeed how could he in such a short sojourn.

    Stephen says he found warmth and hospitality especially in the Mid West and South. Well let me tell you that although Mid-Westerners are warm, hospitable and friendly, Southerners are not! From what I saw in South Carolina, Southerners still wear their defeat in the civil war as a heavy mantel on their shoulders and it colours their attitude to everything. There is none of the confident optimism you find in the rest of the country. South Carolinians are nosey, suspicious, ruthless and inhospitable. South Carolinians hate Kentuckians and Tennesseans, white South Carolinians hate blacks and black South Carolinians hate whites. The women mostly look like they slept in a hedge and the men really do look like boss hog, this being a display of low self esteem you don’t see much of elsewhere (well I suppose Southern Barbecue has a lot to do with it as well). And don’t say anything controversial about the Bible and don’t even think about admitting that you are not a Christian or you will be persecuted.

    There is real blatent racism and total denial about the real reasons for the American Civil War. No, Southern Hospitality is a myth as much as anything else you demythologize in QI.

    As soon as my 12 months were up, I headed out of there as soon as my Ford Taurus SHO could carry my back down I95 to the ‘civilization’ of South Florida.

    Wow! South Florida… one hell of a mix of incompatible ethnic groups: Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Haitians, Jamaicans, Jewish and Italian New Yorkers, enhanced gold-diggers and Snowbirds from Quebec. A fascinating, but difficult place to live as a naive, culture shocked and finally disillusioned Brit.

    Living in America did show me how British I actually am and how very, very different Americans are, despite our common language.

    Any warmth and hospitality that Americans show is usually a front. They are very good at superficial shows of friendship, but that is where it usually ends. It is very hard to REALLY get to know Americans and I think that this may be because Americans are all frightened of each other. Why else would a pretty young lady that I knew keep a handgun hidden under her mattress, with a box of ammunition next to it. I found this abomination when I helped her and her husband move house.

    You move to a house in a new area, they all want to know who you are, then they ignore you for months until they discover that you are not the serial killers that they supected you might be, and they start to be friendly, well at least the guys do, the ladies.. well they act like they think they are royalty and you are beneath them because you are a foreigner or whatever else the hell it is they don’t like about you.

    It seems to me that America as a nation is an idea that is different to the British idea of nationhood. It seemed to me that America is a very divided society full of discreet tribes of people all warring against each other. There is full blown conflict constantly being waged between the sexes, the various races and religions that make up the country.

    America is a great experiment in ultimate capitalism. Capitalism values competition above cooperation and therefore so does America, so there is little community spirit, but a lot of ostentatious and often empty show of success, nosiness and keeping up with the Jones’s. Well at least that was my experience of my neighbours in most of the neighborhoods I lived. But would I go back there? Hell yes! Despite the bewildering contradictions, hypocrisy, crassness, rudeness, unreliability, ruthlessness, selfishness, callousness, complacency, shallowness and all the other infuriating quirks that I as a typical Brit found so hard to get used to, I would go back there today if my wife and kids (who were all born there) would let me, because I love America. I also hate America. That’s why I’m confused.

    Now for a bit of pedantry. Stephen, Mount Washington in New Hampshire is not the highest point East of the Mississippi. That honour goes to Mount Mitchell in North Carolina which is around 400 ft higher. So there!!! I want ten points please.

  31. denizb33 says:

    Dear Mr. Fry,
    My husband discovered your book while at a conference in Oxford – you’d think we’d have access to this sort of thing, living in a Commonwealth country (Canada) but we don’t!
    We were planning our second road trip down to the States this summer and, based on your recommendation, made a stop in Townsend last week (we’re in Nashville today, having come up from the South). The Rocky Branch Community Club is amazing! Thank you, thank you, for bringing it to our attention. If only we could attend every Friday! :-)
    Deniz Bevan

  32. jsentinella says:

    I’m half way through the book, great read! learning so much about America from Stephen’s pen.I felt that the TV series seemed like a whistle-stop tour.Shame it could not have gone on for a more in-depth programme. Stephen reminds me of Bill Bryson in the way he touches the heart of the people,and with Stephen’s own particular humour.
    John Sentinella

  33. ltalenti says:

    I’m an Anglophile and saw you on Jonathan Ross. Couldn’t wait to see this documentary. I loved this program! As a Michigan born, Maryland resident, it was very interesting to see America from another point of view, especially since you focused on so much I didn’t know. (The corpse thing was a little gross, but still quite interesting. You must have nightmares.) My only complaint was that it was too short. I wanted it to continue. I wish it was a regular series. Maybe you can do another one traveling Britain or Europe?!

  34. Tom Storm says:

    I am in thrall over ‘Fry in America’ – while the editing is a bit choppy the insights and revelations remain intact. I’m a US/British citizen and was both thrilled and appalled by what I saw. The Mustang Ranch’s businesslike approach to prostitution (The Government mandated DC – and the sex-worker’s statement that her mother was happy she’d found a job she liked) made me laugh so hard it was painful…I have a cracked rib. How honest. I do have a concern over the Fry diet tho’. The Bismarck Diner fare is the equivalent of a cholesterol grenade with the pin pulled. And Mr. Fry obviously enjoyed it. Tut Tut! And while the rear shots of wait staff butts were good editorial points I’d like Mr Fry to stick around for a while longer.

    It seems to me there are two ways to approach explaining The United States – de Tocqueville or personal impressions. I like both but Fry is more accessible and current. Stephen Fry is a smart, erudite and literate man – he effortlessly transverses the academic and translates the arcane into journeyman. I’d like to see the BBC give Fry another fly over this continent of conflicting diversity with a distinct intellectual flavor – but with the wry Fry observations. And instead of a London cab – do it on a London double decker bus…bigger camera,research and producer crews. The story options are myriad. Ingrained anti-semitic prejudice in Darien, Connecticut. Interracial prejudice (Hispanic v African American) Jewish philanthropic generosity paralleled with their fiscal and physical thuggery in New York. American academic and literary brilliance. Etc., Fry rolled over a boulder – I’d like to see this big brain work his trowel into the soil.

  35. manamedia says:

    After watching this commanding series on the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Channel) I went out and bought the DVD. In 2003 I did a similar trip through the USA, and what I captured in stills, your docu-commentary was like “radio with pictures” and bought back a lot of fond memories.

    As a New Zealander, who resides between Wisconsin and Australia, I am forever in awe of the US landscape and its people.

    Thank you Stephen for giving a commonwealth perspective on a country I have loved since childhood. Just for the record, LA is my favourite US city, followed closely by the polar opposite Portland, Oregon.

  36. MelanieinOregonUSA says:

    I am loving this show! We are watching it on HDNet Thank you for putting it together. You are lots of fun to watch and listen to. My daughter and I have been big fans for years. Many Blessings….Melanie

  37. marshb says:

    Yes, the wife and I are enjoying Stephen’s ventures in the USA. We are long time Fry and Laurie, Jeeves & Wooster, and anything Stephen Fry fans. The show reminds me of Charles Kurault’s On the Road series back in the day. Very gifted gentleman.

  38. winterblue says:

    Dear Stephen,

    I’m a German teacher of English. Based on your idea of a trip to America, I asked my A-level students to choose an American state and present it to the others in class. We then compared it to your presentation of the various states. The students and I enjoyed it a lot!
    For today’s lesson I asked them to write a comment on your film and maybe include questions as well.
    Here are some of the comments and also questions. We would be extremely pleased if you could answer them.

    Carolin, 18 years: “I liked your often ironical way of presentation, your honest curiosity and that you showed unique things in every state”
    She also had some questions: “How did you contact people you wanted to present?” and “Where did you get an original black cab with the steering wheel on the left?”

    Johannes, 18 years: “How did you decide who to choose for your interviews? What did you enjoy most, what did you not like during your trip? Which was your favourite state before the trip and is it still the same?”

    Mona, 18 years: “How long did it take you to visit all the 50 states?”

    Fabian, 18 years: “If you ever decide to do the same in Germany, we would like to invite you to our town!”

    Looking forward to hearing from you,

    students from Herxheim/Germany and their English teacher

  39. Stephen Fry says:

    Winterblue.

    What a wonderful message. Thank you so much. Pleased to think that the programme gave you some material for your English class.

    Ich werde Ihre Fragen jetzt antworten (forgive my worse than schoolboy German)

    Carolin: Thank you for your elegant and charming compliments. I purr with pleasure. The contacting is done by the assistant producer of the programme (AP). The producer/director and I talk about the kind of people we want to see, the AP then contacts some people who seem useful. Before filming begins the director and AP go and “recce” (short for reconnoitre, Americans in the film business tend to say “scout”) the location and people. The black cab with left hand steering wheel was found in Chicago where it was used as a kind of limo by an London-themed restaurant there.

    Johannes: We tried to find some quality or characteristic of each state that was perhaps not entirely obvious (though we went for the obvious too, it must be admitted!) and chose people who might reflect that. The AP (see above) and director got a chance to talk to them on the recce, so if they were too shy or weird for interview we thanked them and moved to someone else. Too hard to say what I enjoyed most. I think the variety and the excitement of thinking ahead to the next state. Favourite state? If there were one called South Kentanifornia that might be it. A mixture of South Carolina’s lowlands, Kentucky, Montana and Northern California…

    Mona: I started in October 2007 and finished in May 2008

    Fabian: How very, very kind. Wie heißt ihre Stadt? Ihr oder dein – I’m never quite sure. Is it impertinent to call you du, or is it good manners? Do you find it strange that we don’t have a du and Sie in English. We used to, Thou, Thee and Thine was du, dich and dein. But that went out a long time ago (except in Yorkshire and a few other places)

    Oh! I’ve just seen the bottom of your note…. Herxheim (not Hexheim, home of witches!)
    *goes off to Wikipedia to look it up*

    Bei Landau. In the Südliche Weinstraße, which is a Kreis of the Rheinland Palatinate it seems. How grand! Pretty close to Mannheim and Karlsuhe and not far from the French border.

    it sounds wonderful.
    Good to hear from you.

    Bye!

  40. winterblue says:

    Dear Stephen,

    thank you so much for your prompt reply! The students and I were delighted! Sure, you can say “you” to us or – as our former chancellor once said to the American president: “You can say you to me” ;-)
    By the way, the Südliche Weinstraße is worth visiting – as you can guess from its name. We’d love to take you to one of our famous wine festival one day!

    All the best,

    Grundkurs English, Herxheim/Germany

  41. Becky says:

    I’ve been very pleased watching the Fry in America shows. They certainly present a much more balanced view of us and our foibles than many pieces I’ve seen over the years. It’s always interesting seeing yourself from the viewpoint of someone who doesn’t live here. That’s something many don’t get an opportunity to experience from either side as I have (I lived in England for 3 years during the 1970s & in Japan for 3 years during the 1980s.)

    One of the places I really wished you could have seen in your visit was an extremely large sanctuary in Utah called Best Friends. It is, I think, the largest animal sanctuary in the country. At any time they have between 1700 – 2000 animals living there. Dogs, cats, rabbits, pigs, horses, birds, sheep, goats, injured wildlife being rehabilitated before release. Currently over 700 animals are available for adoption and many others will be when they are ready. Many of the animals come to the sanctuary with horrible histories of mistreatment and the staff take as long as necessary to make each animal secure, happy and ready to trust people again. It’s a marvelous place and is set in a very beautiful part of the state. Those who are not adopted or are never ready for adoption have a secure place to live for the rest of their lives where they can be dogs, cats, etc. It’s now been in existence for 25 years and has grown substantially from its beginnings. The founders included both Americans and some who were originally from Britain. The vision is that of respect for both animals and humans as well as the idea that all animals deserve to be treated kindly in order to make the world better. The website explains it all much better than I ever could – http://www.bestfriends.org/

  42. TinaMcG says:

    I was enjoying watching Fry in America on HDnet until I saw the segment regarding the state of Ohio. For you to have selected a sad tragic segment of Ohio history as the only portion to include in the series is totally demeaning to the residents of the wonderful state of Ohio.

    Ohio has given much to this great nation including but not limited to multiple presidents, Neil Armstrong and John Glenn; several sports legends, many inventions (electric starter and the pull top for example) and many well educated people from some of the greatest colleges/universities in the world.

    While I am not an Ohio native, I was born in West Virginia, I lived there for many years and both my husband and daughter were born there. I will always think of Ohio as home.

    While I understand you could not spend much time in each state, it is outrageous for you to represent Ohio in such a manner to the great people of the United Kingdom and beyond.

  43. akenned says:

    Dear Mr. Fry,

    Believe I already posted a similar comment on the forum before I found this area of your website – sorry. I am much enjoying the series, especially as I have lived from San Diego, CA to Bath, ME, and from Hawaii to the Deep South. However, now I am pretty much permanently fixed in Nebraska. My question is, if you were supposedly visiting all fifty states, why did you leave out Nebraska? You went straight from the Pine Hill reservation in South Dakota, to Kansas, without even giving us a mention. We are supposed to be the happiest state financially (by a wide margin), and have the healthiest city (my home – Lincoln) in the US. Don’t we deserve even the comment that you passed through?

  44. Heather296 says:

    I adore Stephen Fry but was left disappointed with his depiction of America. I should not have been surprised – the English do tend to look down their noses at us. I could hear the “tsk tsk” in his voice when he mentioned slavery – as if England would never have participated in slavery. Take a look at English history – it’s not so rosy. I was particularly disappointed with his brief trip through St. Louis. St. Louis is a beautiful city, as anyone who has been there knows, yet all Stephen chose to show were some abandoned buildings, covered in graffiti and inhabited by homeless people. Stephen – I love your acting, I’ll watch anything even if the only thing I know about it is that you’re in it, but what I’ve seen of this series so far has left me sad and disappointed.

  45. Stephen Fry says:

    For akenned. We did indeed go to Nebraska. Loved the grasslands, loved the experience. It was in Grand Island that I spent a very happy time in a truck stop and going out on the road with a trucker. This appears in the programme and takes up quite a long time!

  46. akenned says:

    Thank you so much for your prompt reply. Just to clarify, was this in the section on the northern Plains? Because I just reviewed that episode, which I DVR’ed, and if it was originally in that segment, the broadcasters must have edited it out, because it wasn’t there. If you could confirm which episode it was supposed to be in, I would love to see if I can find it.

    By the way, we are a three-generation family who are great admirers of your work. The series in general has been a great treat for us, for so many of the places you have mentioned we have either lived in, visited, or have relatives living there. I was especially pleased at your mention of the “world-renowned university in Knoxville” – I am an alumna, and teased my California-educated husband about that one.

  47. Shasta says:

    I have obtained and read your book. Fascinating reading.
    As an Ohioan, I have to regret your small amount of time spent running parallel to our border. I hope that when you make another visit, you will spend more time actually in our state. You should at least see the giant picnic basket in Newark!
    As a matter of information, in regards to the Kent State photo that was so famous, the girl in the photo was a 14-year old runaway, visiting in the vicinity of Kent State at the time and heard something would be going on and went over to the college with her friends. Her story was updated several years ago and I recall reading it in the Columbus, Ohio newspaper. It is also on Wikipedia.

  48. itissunny says:

    I have watched the series and the book just came in from the library (it’s on my Christmas list). Both are just wonderful – the book is fascinating reading.

    When I lived in Germany and friends found out I was from Ohio, they knew of our state because of the world’s only burning river (1969), still celebrated on the banks of the Cuyahoga as the Riverfest. So to hear that we’re identified in England for Kent State is not a great surprise – it was a horrendous time. Ohio is a great state to be FROM (just look at our list of people who have achieved greatness). Raising children to leave is what we do best; my own sons are succeeding wonderfully in Boston. (I actually left, had a good career in New York City and came back to have & raise children with my NYC husband!).

    Your book’s jacket cover has a blatent error and needs to be replaced promptly by your publisher. Instead of your work in Bones, it lists House under your television credits. And it totally omits Last Chance to See. I do hope when my copy comes for Christmas, it has a new jacket!

    Thank you for your wonderful work and inspiring take on America.

  49. jenmass77 says:

    I really enjoyed the book, and of course being a Wisconsinite I turned to that section of your book first. I was amused by the description of the typical Wisconsin winter, as well as the description of our cheese.

    It was nice reading an outsider’s perspective on my state, and I hope you have plans to revisit America. Near where I grew up is a river where sturgeon spawn in the spring, and it is very facinating to watch. I also recommend going to one of our state parks.

  50. jonastreet says:

    Well , good question. Have I got an American twin ?
    I really don’t know .

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