© Johnny Boylan

© David Crosswaite & TheatreShare plc

Mannerisms Maketh Man

From the earthy Christianity of GK Chesterton and CS Lewis to the crafty wit of Alistair Sim and PG Wodehouse, Stephen Fry has subsumed the defining characteristics of his ideological mentors. After all, where else will you find Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), GK Chesterton (1874-1936), Charles Dickens (1812-1870), C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), Alistair Sim (1900-1976) and PG Wodehouse (1881-1975) in the same list other than in the roll call of Stephen’s influences.

Religious overtones

From atheist beginnings, Stephen dropped the ‘a’ for a time in his teens, absorbed by the thoughts of Lewis’s “Screwtape Letters” and the colossal genius (according to George Bernard Shaw) of GK Chesterton.

Such theological leanings were not meant to be for young Master Fry and, while their shadow remains, his character was drawn to the less refined idols of popular literature.

Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse did, and still does resonate deeply with our man Fry. While he has played the inimitable Jeeves on television, the impact of Wodehouse’s gentle satire and larger-than-life characterisations have stretched far beyond this one series of performances. Providing an avenue of expression for the contemporary Stephen Fry to grow into his public persona.

Add to this a dash of the singular comic genius of Alistair Sim. The end result: an inquisitive, spiritual, humorous, eccentric character actor that is the incomparable Stephen Fry.

47 comments on “Influences”

  1. Aurora says:

    …there are only two things on witch Mr.Fry’s opinions and mine do diverge: Ballet and Religion …well …nobody is perfect … :)

  2. Ian the Duck says:

    Oh to see someone else who recognises the genius of Alistair Sim…

  3. sarbo1988 says:

    Amzing C.S Lewis Screwtape Letters influenced you x

  4. elky says:

    OH, if only you were P.M.

  5. lawyer says:

    Dear Mr Fry – I have great respect for you. I read that your are
    ‘inquisitive’. I trust, therefore, that you will red up your
    european history on the II world war. I am disappointed with your
    recently reported statements about Auschwitz. My Polish Uncle
    was murdered in a Concentration Camp at Buchenwald for calling
    the Germans ‘locusts’. His correspondence was censored in
    Angevillers (France) He left 6 children without any visible means
    of support. The eldest son 11 had to go down the mines to keep
    the family going. World Heritage Committee’s official Title is
    Auschwitz Birkenau” and has the subtitle of “German Nazi Concentration and Extermination Camp (1940-1945).” Your reported statements are
    an insult to millions of valiant Poles and Polish Jews.
    I am sure you do not like to be insulted and I, therefore, respectfully
    request you to consider carefully your own remarks before you make
    the same. If you are very inquisitive please read Norman Davies’ Books on the subjects. As an aside if it was not for the Poles stopping the
    Russians in Warsaw in 1920 all Europe would have been communist. The Poles had broken Enigma in 1932, when the encoding machine was undergoing trials with the German Army. They even managing to reconstruct a machine. At that time, the cypher altered only once every few months. With the advent of war, it changed at least once a day, effectively locking the Poles out. But in July 1939, they had passed on their knowledge to the British and the French. Three Polish
    mathematicians helped the Brits tobreak the code and thus precipitate the ending of WWII. Michael Myers

  6. karymaa says:

    the only name i recognised among the influences is E.M Foster, the other names i have to look for in wikepedia, i’m not ashamed to say i did not know them before i read Moab this year(have just finished reading it some weeks ago)as i have different influences.
    I learned a lot about myself as i get more intimate with Stephen from childhood to adulthood(the beginning of it) i have never been sportive,had the lowest marks in all games, i have never known if i could learn to play any musical instrument, as i have never had music classes and my family have never thought music is important to be learned.
    thus i will have to read these influences books or at least know something about their biographies to understand their influence on Stephen; all i can say is that all that Stephen has been living until now, has given us a special character and a writing talent that is, to me, another constituent of a genius.
    next time i’ll tell you when i get to know Alistair Sim and his friends who influenced Stephen.

  7. wafflefan says:

    Loved you as Jeeves, you have such presence

  8. johnbartram says:

    The literary influences of childhood as a ‘shadow’ – how thought-provoking, Stephen. Did you escape into the sunlight?

  9. Anniko Shepelenko says:

    Dear Stephen, I very much enjoyed your purity of the English language) I wish I could speak the same, if I was born on British Isles)
    Recently I’ve been to London to learn the language better, and the hosting family I lived in, observed, that I speak as I’ve lived in London for at least 10 years. But it’s not enough, maybe You could recommend something “extra English”? some sort of book or something else to help me in deeping into real English, literary one? I’d be veru grateful.

  10. Bibble wankybucket says:

    Love your site and articles but i must ask that you don’t allow Empress of Blandings see you in your present state…it might be contageous!

  11. langdonhillsman says:

    Just read Moab is my Washpot while on holiday in Portugal and my oh my, what joy and whit abounds such a child as to see a ‘Fry’ in each of us, especially the love of double eggs on toast and baked beans… looking forward to the next once you reach 59…!

  12. Little1 says:

    Stephen,

    Just to say I have long been a fan of yours and have huge respect for you as a man and entertainer (maybe even genius). It is fair to say you have been an influence on my life for perhaps 2 decades. I thoroughly enjoyed your book Moab is my washpot and have since written one myself called: Reflections from the Scorched Earth. A story of me trying to reconcile faith with my 9 years in Burundi, Rwanda, Southern Sudan, Darfur, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Northern Kenya. I don’t think it is quite up there with Dickens, GK Chesterton or Lewis but, I read all three while lying awake in the my hut in some far away land and all three helped and influenced me! I would love your candid and open thoughts and comments on it if you had time?

    Regards,

    Ed

  13. anyamary says:

    I have Just Finished reading Moab is my Washpot I couldnt put the book down now iam reading The Stars Tennis Balls which is very good cant wait to get some more stephen’s books to read

  14. Alfredo says:

    Dear Mr Fry – I absolutely adored your Moab bio and have wondered ever since when, or indeed if, you are going to follow it up with a second half? It simply has to be written!

  15. eipi says:

    If i could be so bold i would suggest a wonderful book to you; one for anyone suffering from character dislocation in the modern age. It is ‘the Unconsoled’ by Kazuo Ishigoro. Hope you find this helpful.

  16. Romanovauk says:

    I do like your list of influences, they are very much like my own, particularly Wodehouse, Sim & Lewis however in my list I would have to add Evelyn Waugh and not to forget John Buchan as I have a fascination for the “Great Game” and his adventure stories:-) and especially his war propaganda writings during WWII.

  17. michael elmore-meegan says:

    I was touched also by Kahlil Gibrans the Prophet and by Something beautiful for God about Mother Teresa.

  18. Suheywood says:

    You are a wonderment in human form.

  19. leerank73 says:

    I find your work brilliant, Jeeves and wooster being my favourite but everythng else excellent. I am only just starting to enjoy literature (36 yrs old) but surely never too late a?.
    thank you for the laughs.
    Lee

  20. GirlGatsby says:

    Wodehouse is a wonder; as are you. Keep up the good – no, the downright genius – work.

  21. Ady Bamber says:

    Dear Mr Fry,

    I believe you are a huge darts fan and were watching the Grand Slam of darts last month.
    I have been a huge fan since the earlie 80′s, and was watching a programe about darts in America a couple of years ago, there was one guy who was being interview about the sport and was asked, how difficult is it to keep motivated to practise so many hours per day to stay at the top of your game. I was astonished at his reply he said, it’s not difficult at all and that anyone who wanted to become a dart player could achieve this with just a couple of hours practise a day.
    I thought to myself at the time, with his attitude and approach to the sport that is why i had never saw or hear tell of him before beause if it were as easy as he made out then he would have won the world championships a few times, but in reality he had never entered any major tournaments at all.
    I have never played competitive darts before and untill last month hadn’t even held a dart since i was a teenager, but have decided to give his theory a try, for the next 12 months i am going to practise 4 to 5 hours per day 7 days a week and see if it is possible to become a professional dart player after this time, i dont mean become world champion or anything like that as the top player in the world have been perfecting their art for years, but i would just like to see if it’s possible to make a living at this fantastic sport after 12 months practising. I know it will take lots of motivation,dedication and hard work not to mention skill, the motivation, dedication and hard work i know i have in abundence the skill however is another matter only time will tell this tale.
    The hardest part of my campaigne is to convince the wife that playing darts all day every day is work, and not just me having fun doing what i love doing, but for now at least, it seams to be working.

  22. aspenmonkey says:

    God is real, religion is hidious, Fry is fantastic

  23. John Burns says:

    God is hideous, religion is real, Fry probably has better things to do with his time.

    http://standupcomedy.podomatic.com/

  24. pagan.hare says:

    I’ve just ordered ‘Moab is my Washpot.’ I cannot wait to read it and I hope it is as warm and funny as your good self.

    Good luck with your new book.

  25. TheAnimalDoctor says:

    It’s obviously pretty brown-nosey and sucky-uppy; but you, Mr. Fry are a great influence on me.

    I often feel quite sad that although I’m not a terrible person myself, I’ll never be as clever or talented as you. Just the way you express yourself is, almost beautiful.

  26. Horp says:

    1. When visiting a stately home or a posh hotel, the English feel compelled to order earl grey tea.

    2. When flying abroad on holiday, the English feel compelled to request a mid-flight tomato juice.

    3. When contributing to Stephen Fry’s blog, the English feel compelled to wield unfamiliar words dangerously about themselves like enormous swords.

  27. The Jedi Doctor says:

    I’m fully immersed in Moab right now, and what occurs to me is not what great similarities we have in upbringings or tastes in literature, but a very odd prickly pickle: I grew up in the 1980′s surrounded by Ninja Turtles and green and purple monster trucks on the West Coast in the U.S. I somehow found my way to who I am now, and, through careful examination, have come to one conclusion: Finding you was a beautiful dance, but it hasn’t turned me into any more of a fitter-inner. I remain a geeky girl who still climbs trees to read J.M. Barrie with absolutely no sign of sophistication. Moab may have been your Washpot, wrought with symbolism and promise, but Gumby is my Washpot, and shall remain so.

  28. Richo says:

    Dear Mr Fry
    just saw your input to the “Bible” programme (Sunday 7th Feb)with Anne Widdecombe.
    Everything you said about the bullying tactics of Moses’s 10 commandments you replicated in your torrent towards Ms W. Your premature interuptions showed a fanatical disdane for her beliefs.
    Why would that be from a supposedly intelligent man, which of gods laws are you so angry about?

  29. acdkad says:

    Greetings from a fan in NYC!

    You and Hugh Laurie are immortal as Jeeves & Bertie. Loved loved you both together. And, our Westie is named Pongo after Bertie’s equally imbecile friend, Pongo Twistleton. There are no purer souls than in PG Wodehouse. I want to live in the Wodehouse world being rescued in perpetuity by Jeeves!

    And CS Lewis & Chesterton, along with Saki, Trollope, Thackeray & Ford Madox Ford, are my favorite English writers. I must confess that I also read a lot of Angela Thirkell novels – while not the towering genius that PGW was, her stuff is awfully satisfying, especially when beset by obnoxious, pushy New Yorkers!

  30. Stephen Fry says:

    Not aware that “god” has any laws. I was just angry at her repeated “what’s wrong with that then? What’s wrong with that then?” every time she sited a “commandment”. The Mosaic commandments are so evidently the hysterical drivel of a mad desert people (my own people as it happens) that they don’t deserve the dignity of anything other than anthropological curiosity and amused contempt. They have no more moral authority than any other set of preposterous, ill-thought out and inconsequential assertions. Besides how dare a “loving” creator be so arrogant and egotistical as to create a race of beings and then boss them about with these ludicrous “commandments”. I mean, frankly.
    It’s not what’s wrong with the commandments —insistence on being worshipped, (you’re the supreme being for heaven’s sake, you need to be worshipped???) obsession with property, bracketing women with asses and oxen, and all the rest of the otherwise tediously obvious statements about the wrongness of theft and murder which ALL cultures have and will always have without the unnecessary invention of any “god”— no, those are bad enough, it’s the commandments that are MISSING. No mention of the wickedness of cruelty, exploitation, torture or abuse … all vices cheerfully condoned and practised by the old testament deity as capriciously and viciously as by any other tinpot tyrant. No mention of tolerance, decency, kindness, openness, freedom – all qualities actively disdained by that entity. Oh, it’s so self-evident that the decalogue is absolutely no basis for any kind of law, moral, theological, social, political or any other kind. Dozens of world religions have infinitely better, smarter, kinder precepts. And more importantly, all the laws we need for our world to work have developed out of humanism and the enlightenment, in reaction against precisely the kind of absurd nonsense that ecclesiasticism and the tyranny of revealed religion promulgated for centuries. The 10 Commandments have encouraged in their name torture and obscene cruelty, and they have endorsed and propped up censorship, opposition to freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, freedom of thought even. They are useless practically, morally, ethically, socially, politically and even theologically.

    Incidentally, she interrupted me a great deal more than I did her. Hitchens and I were edited to look intolerant. I only agreed to do the interview because I felt guilty at what an unholy (in every sense) idiot she made of herself in the debate on catholicism that preceded that interview. Well, she got her revenge by making us look like the intolerant ones. But we don’t preach intolerance, she and her church most specifically do. I’m tired of being expected to show “respect” for these odious, creepy and preternaturally stupid people and their “beliefs”.

    Enough, already. Let’s just grow up, shall we?

  31. msmariegore says:

    Dear Mr Fry,
    I would like to thank you for your participation in Intelligence Squared debate, sir. It was a really good speech with lots of right arguments. For me it’s obvious that the origin of 10 commandments we must derive from humanism, open-mindedness and from a very strong need of respect for other people; for god’s sake we have all these things without plates with the commandments.
    Even the archibishop, who participated in the debate devaluated their meaning saying that his father new them before he bacame a christian!

    I live in a country where 90-95% of people are catholics (sic!), so you can only imagine how it is to live here being an atheist. It is like you were the only one thinking person among very offish, blind people, who treat you like you were a very funny monkey in a cage. They look at you being afraid to touch you or talk to you, because it may be contagious. I was even once told that the reason of my atheism is my depression (yeah, how stupid is that? beyond the scale, to my mind).
    I think every atheist or nescient is treated like this; it will take long years until we see that god does not have to be the one and only origin of goodness.

    To be a catholic (in any country) – it means not to use contraceptives AT ALL. It implies, that in my country women should have 15-18 children during their lives! In fact, they have 1-2, so I am asking is it a real faith? Can anyone show me any connection between sending Christ as a savior and prohibiting the use of contraceptives? Maybe I am too stupid.

    Being only 22, I am still looking for answers, still my respond to my friends’ questions ‘What do you believe in?’ -’In love, friendship, freedom, science, beauty, literature, smile’ seems to be not enough.
    How do you answer the quesion ‘What do you belive in?’, sir?

    Anyway I would like to thank you for ‘Moab is my washpot’, which allowed me to ‘grow up’. You must know that I admire and respect every single thing you do.
    Your faithful twitter follower- msmariegore
    PS Really sorry for my poor English.

  32. oseric says:

    God is a sky bully. ‘sall I’m sayin’.

  33. StirFry says:

    I have just read Moab, some ten years after it was written. This was good as it meant I read it in the light of Stephen’s recent years where I have seen more joy and smiles from him in the public eye and his success with QI, Kingdom, Last Chance and so on.

    Reading Moab was a sheer delight mixing humour, sadness, pathos and poignancy. It was all of that said in the comments and reviews printed on the book cover.

    (Warning spoiler)

    But the line that touched me the most was the description in the visiting room of the detention centre, when Stephen’s mother pushed beneath the seperation glass a wad of Times crosswords all neatly cut from every days paper. She had done this every day during Stephens absense. Even after the sadness of missing him on his eighteenth birthday there was no anger, she did not discard the collection, she kept it until they could meet. Stephen describes the impact that such love had upon him.

    There is a story which goes that C S Lewis entered a room in which a debate on religion was taking place. He was asked what he thought was different about Christianity then any other religion. His reply was “That is easy, God’s grace”. Whenever I have tried to explain the nature of God’s grace I have found it hard to convey any meaning other then love. Sometimes an event shows it better then words. And the story of Stephen’s mother, how she went about collecting the crosswords for her boy irrespective of what he had done (or not done) displays the nature of grace far better then any words can.

  34. mudguts says:

    I think you are being a bit harsh on the veracity of ten commandments. To me they appear to be a mish mash of any semitic folk and their chosen item of veneration.

    It is in fact galling when one crazy (eternal) moabite says one thing (hold to the Torah) yet the other who is the moabite’s promoter says quite the opposite.

    Stephen, from its inception, religion was never meant to be an ISO quality manual for being perfect unless some smiting or humiliation had to be done.

    If Moses hadn’t had a fair stouche with a cranky two fisted god, nobody wold have had their willy adjusted with a stone and… well no history is no history.

    For the less than casual reader, I would refer the reader to Ezra or stay safely sane reading page three. That’s the one with the naked lady facing a large snake.

  35. StirFry says:

    I have just been able to catch-up with the Channel 4 program ‘The History of the Bible’ with Anne Widdecombe, which included the excerts of the ‘interview’, following the debate that day, between Stephen Fry and Miss Widdecombe and Christopher Hitchins and Miss Widdecombe. Accepting Stephen’s comments above it is clear to see, from the continuity of the presentation, that both Stephen and Christopher were edited in a less then favourable light. The apparent ‘walk out’ of Christopher, and Stephen appearing dogmatic.

    Perhaps is was also a bad time for such and interview to gain material for a completely different event (the Channel 4 programme); Stephen and Christopher will have been on fire with their passion for the main lecture that day (the Catholic church). Stephen even commented on his nervousness on the subject because it was so deeply felt. So with this in mind to walk into a talk (presumably late in the evening) about the 10 commandments would mean that the wrong debate would take place (Stephen again commented that he was in ‘speaking’ mode not talking mode). Many things were inappropriate.

    Interestingly when I have been viewing this series of programmes via the Channel 4 on demand service all of the programmes showed without faulter except the one with Anne Widdecombe which would hang or crash my machine (I had to borrow another PC to view it). Maybe that is a physical form of ex-communication :-)

  36. Matt_Robare says:

    My friends and I have started a semi-organized Chesterton Society at my school’s Newman Center and we have regular discussions involving all of those authors. The only person I had never heard of was Alastair Sim–not surprising, considering he was an actor.

  37. mako1523 says:

    infuences….mmmmm..I confess I went to a normal school, with normal parents and a very normal up bringing. I am a member of the Armed forces and have served in both Iraq and Afghanistan for the last 6 years, and other war zones for much longer. I always have a toothbrush, a photo of a loved one and at least one home comfort. I do, however, always have at least one of your books which will continually make me smile no matter the situation and no matter how many times I have read them. For this, I will forever be in your debt.

  38. fryfannumber1 says:

    I feel slightly like i’m in the wrong crowd with all these very intelligent commenters, but nevertheless i must write to say that i am currently reading and enjoying greatly your book ‘The Liar’. I am not sure this is the right comment section for such praise but i need to tell you that i am only 14 and i have been greatly influenced by you and your personality Fry. My mum thinks it is strange but i worship you and i have not been a fan for very long in honesty.

    P.S You are my role model and i aim to be at least a slither like you, i can only hope. Thanks for being great ~Nathan :)

  39. Author61 says:

    Enormous “Kingdom” fan and am delighted to see such a well-defined cast of talented actors working with you. This show is a joy to watch and I eagerly anticipate the new season. It’s shown here in the States on PBS. What I want to know is if the constables take Simon’s duffel bag with them or is it left in the office? I know, I’ll have to wait for next season!! (And yes, I know, we are a bit behind on our seasons over here.)

    Thank you for giving us such wonderful entertainment in comedy, drama and documentary. Would like to hear more about conservancy directives for the Norfolk wetlands and your work in Britain. In short, Stephen – YOU ROCK!!!

  40. AnCBeck23 says:

    I know you’ll probably never see this, Mr. Fry, but I am going to write it anyway. I’ve become a big fan of yours over the last several months, and I just finished reading Moab is My Washpot. I say with no exaggeration that it is one of the best books I have ever read. I found it exceptionally clever and eloquent, but at the same time very accessible, something with which I could connect despite the fact that you grew up in a very different time and place from myself. I find your style of writing beautiful and fascinating, and it’s inspired me to continue improving my own writing–a work in progress if ever there was one! I’m really looking forward to reading more of your books and getting to see more of your TV and film work–doing so can be tricky here in the U.S. But from what I’ve seen already, thank you for making me laugh and making me think. I definitely see why so many of the British people consider you their “national treasure.” :) Much love to you!

  41. faith says:

    I am in the process of reading ‘Moab is my washpot’. It love it. Because of this book I joined this site. Cannot wait to finish the book. I better get my next book on order quick!

  42. jimthevic says:

    “…and Philistia is my footstool”, was always one of my favourite quotes from the Bible, and I loved that you used it for a title. It’s so resonant and yet bizarre!

    I recently saw you giving the Widdecombe what for – great telly, and couldn’t think of someone I’ld like to give ‘what for’ to more than her, but couldn’t help thinking that there’s something more to the 10 Commandements than the rantings of a bronze age desert tribe.

    I’ld love to see you do a programme where you tour Philistia (or Israel as it’s called these days by some), probably in the black cab, reflecting on just how many people have put their mucky feet up on it and your take on the whole sorry yet vibrant mess it is today.

    Carry on, darling!

  43. Selous says:

    Missed the series, but currently reading Last Chance To See; very inspiring. What a wonderful experience it must have been. Having just returned from honeymooon in Kenya, I found the references to the nightmare of travelling to some countries particularly hilarious. Although, to be fair, waiting to clear immigration, in the hell-like furnace of Mombassa airport paled into insignificance compared to waiting for the lone, asthmatic, Chelsea Pensioner to load our luggage onto the carousel at Gatwick, which resulted in us missing our connection to Manchester.

  44. MaxMeldau says:

    It’s quite astonishing to find that I have so many influences in common with Mr Fry (must aquaint myself with C. K. Chesterton). I’m also delighted that someone else is as tickled by Alastair Sim as I am. I suppose it’s something to do with age and cultural background. I’m doing quite well regarding age and the gaping holes in my cultural background are gradually being filled in, though I’m afraid that I will never reach the stratospheric hieghts of Stephen’s erudition.
    I wonder if I might suggest Henry Mayhews London Labour and the London Poor Vol. IV Those Who Will Not Work. This is a work that has profoundly influenced me and provides many happy hours of useful and instructive reading.

  45. owenmeany says:

    Thank you for being an inspiration. The humour, humanity, and humility temper your awe-inspiring talent and intellect, allow us mere mortals to feel connected to your ideas and relate them to our own experience. You make answering the question ‘who would you invite to your dream dinner party?’ easy. Not that anyone’s ever asked me…
    Thank you for sharing your light with the world. Your honesty, bravery, resiliance, and curiosity set a fine example.

  46. Darwin Prophet says:

    I have long stated that Xmas is incomplete without the viewing of the only proper rendition of “A Christmas Carol” with Alistair Sims at the center. It is a relief to know that my eternal love for Fry, Lewis,
    Doyle,Wodehouse,Dickens and Wilde have connected on another level. Now to see the Fry rendition of “A Canterville Ghost” should render the wholeness of my yuletide experience to the fullest. Even a reading would suffice, maestro. Or am I negligent in my research into your Wildean forays and hath such a rendering already emerged? I am all for the library of aural catalogs of every writer mentioned being recorded by Master Fry.

  47. Anthonyfromderry says:

    Hello dear sir,
    Well im confused, to see my own voice on a plateform in which a person a such gravity may read envokes embarrassment. This stage forces minds to expand to such a way which inflicts the most intellegent of us to blanknesss, anyway.
    Finally I feel have found a spherical ball of mysticism, intrigue, intellect and seamless confusion. You, you seem to be a man were in many can follow, not in a Jesus is here way but rather a man who can influence the people.
    Its a well known fact that your intellegent but i saw that “doc” on you and your bi-polar, the name escapes me but i undersatand aspects of it. Rather one the self-hatred, the wishing of expulsion of whos own exsistance. Well im randomly rambling, quess what i want to say is thanks and pose a question.
    Are tou sure you would push the button?

    Thank you,for if you have read this you will quash self-anilation for only a milisecond.
    Bashfully awaiting

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