Put your talents in focus, Mr Fry

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The Independent Online
STEPHEN Fry has disappeared, and everyone assumes (despite his protests to the contrary) that this is because he's depressed by the bad press he's been getting recently from theatre and television critics, and other vermin like myself - I mocked him in this column last week for being a computer buff. My father says it shows what strong stuff the royals are made of, and indeed Fry is supposed to be a chum of the Prince of Wales. If he could nip out of hiding and go and see the Prince to compare press slaggings I'm sure Stephen would feel better.

It's difficult for me to empathise with Fry because when I get bad press, it's usually to do with the characters I do on telly rather than personal attacks and, if the attacks are personal, I can hardly complain because I spent five years on Spitting Image being beastly about people. But the attacks on Fry have been virulently nasty. Even the strongest person would be rather bewildered.

Stephen's friends, to a man, say that he is personally kind, utterly generous and totally loyal. But professionally he has spread himself too thin. He is cleverer than all his peers, but he has never found his niche, and so has compensated by trying to do more different things than the rest of us put together. He should be head boy, the one young person that the older generation really like, because he is charming and polite, and can be really witty in the true sense of the word, rather than stupid or cruel like most of his peers, i e me. Instead, he is the boy at the back of the class with his hand up all the time saying "Please Sir! I know the answer to that and that and that - in fact I know the answer to everything Sir!" when he could and should be the quiet boy down the front working away and getting an A for his essay.

You can see this in his new sketch show, A Bit Of Fry And Laurie. Hugh Laurie has matured tremendously in the past 15 years, and is a brilliant portrayer of character, but Stephen has had too much going on and hence is stuck in the world of early Eighties Footlights. When a young student is saying to his audience "Picture for me, if you will in your loveliness, and bless you for doing so, a dog" he is acting out a very funny portrait of an older patronising professor-type. But when, 15 years on, that student has become an older professor-type himself, the same phrase ceases to be funny and appears only patronising, and critics are never more savage than when they feel patronised.

He has so much ability. I hope he comes out of hiding having decided what to do with it. If he decides to be an actor, I hope he writes films for himself, the real him, not the exaggerated him he's slipped into for us on television. If he writes books, I hope he gets confidence in his own ability and becomes the modern Wilde he deserves to be. If he works in television comedy, I hope he spends time working on a new, more mature relationship with Laurie, so they complement rather than burden each other, and I hope he stays off the flatulent botty jokes. But whatever he decides to do, I hope he concentrates on that, and nothing else. He would do well to heed the advice given to the brilliant Jewish wit, Gerard Hoffnung, by his headmistress: "The diversity of your many gifts is a danger. You must decide on one route, otherwise you will fail."

MY girlfriend says we have to join the Labour Party otherwise we are simply not proper members of the chattering classes. But I am terrified. I've slipped them money occasionally but never actually joined because I fear my local branch may be full of furious ex-students who frown a lot. Also I don't want to have to go to meetings and totally and utterly condemn things. Perhaps Tony Blair can institute "gilt-edged" membership for a thousand quid a year, and members can meet at each other's houses for cheese and wine, so we won't have to mix with the plebs. We could have a "guest oik" from a union to come along each month and charm us with his or her Northern accent. Also I'd want a block vote at conference worth a thousand normal votes, in the form of a snazzy little gold card which I could hold up nonchalantly, and everyone would look at me. Also they'd have to stop having conferences in Blackpool - the North is simply too chilly. What do you think Mr Blair?