I am a fan of Stephen Fry. By which I mean that I regard A Bit of Fry & Laurie as one of the high watermarks of television comedy, have read and enjoyed most of his books and find myself relistening to my recordings of his 1980s Radio 4 series Saturday Night Fry on an alarmingly regular basis. I do not, however, follow him on Twitter. A similarly-minded friend put it perfectly the other night. "I don't follow Fry because I am a fan of his and I want to remain one," said my chum. Too right. It's not just Fry. I tend not to follow celebrities of any description. There are a couple of exceptions. Peter Serafinowicz (@serafinowicz) is one. He doesn't babble on about the minutiae of his doubtless very exciting life. He just tries one-liners out, and some of them are fantastic, so I find him very worth following.
However, if you are on Twitter, it's almost impossible to avoid Fry. Even if he weren't all over social networking like shit in a field, people tend to re-tweet his bon mots in lieu of their own insight and wit. So, when he flounces, as he did last week, following volleys of criticism about some ill-advised remarks he made in an interview with the magazine Attitude, the ripples reach even those who shelter from his sprawling online presence.
I'm not remotely impressed by the way he's handled the affair. Flounces are twatty, whether you're famous or a whohe like me. The difference is in the response. When a whohe flounces, the usual reply is "Don't let the door hit you on the arse as you leave". This, generally, is the correct reaction. When a celebrity flounces, though, hundreds, even thousands of people beseech said personality not to go. "We love you, we need you." Really? You need some bloke/woman off the telly posting inconsequential messages about what they're having for dinner and who they're having dinner with? Why? Also, you can only flounce convincingly once. Fry's flounced from Twitter now twice, oddly enough, both times on 31 October. Do trick or treaters annoy him that much?
When Fry typed "Bye bye" last Saturday, the floodgates opened. "Come back, fluffy clever man. We wuv oo". I knew he'd be back. So it has proved. Instead of pretending nothing had happened and carrying on as heretofore, or even (and I appreciate that this is radical) admitting that he said what he was quoted as saying, Fry has returned with a long, blustering, self-justifying blog post, seeming to deny responsibility for any aspect of the whole sorry affair.
"Was it naïve in me that it never for a second crossed my mind that this conversation would be sold on to other papers? That it would be “picked up” and make a disastrous move from being a conversation to some kind of public “declaration”?" Yes, Stephen, it was. Don't come the innocent. You know how it works. By saying that it was "sold on" makes Attitude look grubby and venal, but do we know that money changed hands? Isn't it far more likely that Attitude sends complimentary copies to the mainstream press month-in, month-out, and occasionally the mainstreamers pick up on something within it?
For me, the worst aspect of Fry's bluster is his attempt to besmirch the author of the piece, Paul Flynn. "Maybe I should have guessed that the interviewer wanted not an interview but a story," Fry informs his blog readers. If this stuff was such dynamite, and Flynn wanted to capitalise on it, why did he put it in the sixth page of an eight-page feature? However, the public perception of journalists is so low that this sort of horseshit obfuscation actually works. Fry hammers his disdain home with "You will perhaps say that after nearly 30 years in the public realm I should have known better than to allow myself to have a free-wheeling happy, explorative and silly conversation with any journalist." Countless fans have replied dutifully along the lines of "What do you expect from a journalist?"
Ah, but what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. When the Daily Mail laid into Fry recently and dismissed him as a 'quizmaster', he responded by saying that, with his many contributions to esteemed publications over the years, he was more a journalist than a quizmaster, but that a journalist would never use the word 'journalist' as an insult. At the time, I thought "Good on you, Stephen", but now, I fear that this claim might come back to bite him on the arse. He claims that journalists can't be trusted. OK, but he also described himself recently as a journalist. Why then should anyone trust Fry? You'd think he'd have been too clever to set a trap for himself like this, wouldn't you?