This month was the 30-year anniversary of A Bit of Fry and Laurie gracing our screens, launching the career of two comedy legends. I don’t remember it well, hampered by the fact that I was not alive at the time. However, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie have become household names since, for their numerous achievements in their long, varied and slightly bizarre careers stretching from audiobooks, to documentaries and albums. So, it’s a good excuse to do a bit of a career retrospective.
Fry and Laurie both got their start in the Footlights while they were studying at University of Cambridge, meeting through a mutual friend who just so happened to be Emma Thompson. Skip ahead a few years, and appearances on The Young Ones and Saturday Live, to 1989. A year made notable for the series of revolutions throughout the Eastern Bloc that culminated in the opening of the Berlin Wall, and the birth of Taylor Swift. As well as this came the first episode of the sketch show A Bit of Fry and Laurie, solidifying the two as a comedic duo. The core of A Bit of Fry and Laurie’s comedy is their intricate word play, utter absurdity and softly satirical edge. The fantastic script didn’t ignore the comedy gold of hitting someone with a baseball bat with sketches often leaned into Laurie’s slapstick talents. It’s a special and unique blend of sophisticated silliness.
Whilst A Bit of Fry and Laurie was on the duo were also pushed into popularity through the comedy classic Blackadder, with Fry appearing as Lord and General Melchett in Series Two and Four, a sycophantic personal advisor to Queen Elizabeth and a dangerously incompetent general in World War I. Laurie plays Prince George in Series Three and Lieutenant George in Series Four, an upper-class idiot whose childlike naiveite turns from comedy to tragedy in the finale of the series. They also both starred as the titular characters in an adaptation of P.G Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster with Laurie as the gormless English gentlemen Bertie Wooster and Fry as Jeeves, his overly competent valet.
After this their careers met a fork in the road which led to the pair turning from Fry and Laurie into Stephen ‘National Treasure’ Fry and Hugh ‘Can’t believe he’s not American’ Laurie. While Fry continued acting in a variety of roles, most notably playing Oscar Wilde, his career has taken him in a more literary direction as he became a hugely successful author. Fry’s openness about his sexuality and his bipolar disorder has also made him an activist for gay rights and mental health awareness. This included his Emmy award winning documentary Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive. He’s also demonstrated his omniscience, or at least a good research team, when he hosted BBC quiz show QI for thirteen years and became the master of pub quiz trivia. If this wasn’t enough, he also cemented his role as a British Icon by voicing the Harry Potter audiobooks that defined a generation.
While Fry moved further away from acting, Laurie continued to demonstrate his prowess as an actor holding, at one point, the world record for being the most watched leading man on television for his role as Gregory House. Managing to escape type-casting as the wealthy British fool by virtue of his impeccable American accent, Laurie proved his versatility as a dramatic actor by playing the opposite of what he was famous for on the other side of the Atlantic. He became the Sherlock Holmes-inspired misanthropic medical genius for eight years and won a number of accolades. Since then he has taken a villainous turn, starring in British drama The Night Manager opposite Tom Hiddleston where he plays an international arms dealer and general baddie, for which he took home another Golden Globe to join the collection. If that wasn’t enough, he’s also released two blues albums because, well, why not?
There have been rumours around for many years about a reunion and we can only hope, as no plans have been announced yet. It is quite a legacy to live up to, however, with their impressive CVs. I’m sure both have many great projects in the works, but I think I speak for all of us saying we’d all just like a bit more of Fry and Laurie.