There are many photos of C. B. Fry (1872 – 1956)---an athlete who also represented England at football and cricket, Classical scholar, teacher, politician., journalist and author --- on the Net, but you won’t find this one. It comes from a batch of press photographs dating from the forties and fifties. Fry is shown wearing his basic B.A.gown, gained many years earlier after a horrendous performance in his Finals at Oxford, where he was awarded a fourth class degree ( incidentally, I know of only one other famous man who gained such a terrible degree and that’s John Ruskin). The great man finished his teaching career way back in 1898, so perhaps he is revisiting Repton, where he was a pupil, or Charterhouse, where he once taught, in order to receive some sort of honour. I think the photo is rather good, conveying as it does that combination of fierce intelligence, physical toughness and commitment that made the man, in the words of John Arlott, 'the most variously gifted Englishman of any age'.
National Treasure Stephen Fry claims C.B. as a kinsman, but does he offer much or any evidence for this? Not having read any of his memoirs, I cannot judge, but there does seem to be something of the younger’s man’s nose in the great sportsman’s own, if this photo is any guide. Both C.B. and Stephen also have mental illness in common. The former’s disastrous showing in the examination room was put down to a derangement that followed his efforts to pay off huge debts--- and at various times during the rest of his life he became incapacitated by similar bouts of mental illness. Mental problems often run in families. Was this true in the case of Stephen’s own bipolar disorder?
Incidentally, C.B.’s party trick, which he claimed to perform up to his seventies, was to leap backwards from a standing start onto a mantle piece behind him. Now that’s something I’d like to see Stephen Fry perform. [RMH]