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C. B. Fry—Renaissance man

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]

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3 thoughts on “C. B. Fry—Renaissance man

  1. Anonymous

    I seem to remember the kinship question addressed when Stephen Fry was the subject of a "Who Do You Think You are?" episode. S.F. has some fascinating ancestors, C.B. by no means the most interesting. I was impressed that Q.I. host and "national treasure" was just as enthused when the family tree revealed bankrupts and lower class antecedents as when it did sportsmen and captains of industry. He handled it all, well, like a gentleman. I know that some find him a pompous bore, but I quite like him. He may not be able to leap backwards onto a mantle, but he seems to be able to marry a man half his age, which is much more interesting, isn't it? His own memoirs are jolly good reads, too.

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  2. Joel Robuchon

    Leaping backwards on to a mantlepiece trumps all! I love Stephen Fry, cleverest man in Norfolk, and think we should see more of him. Actually Moab was brillo – esp read by him on CD.

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  3. Roger Allen

    "a fourth class degree "
    An Oxford fourth was the equivalent of a third elsewhere and not a sign of particular incompetence or idleness. I remember reading of "a gentleman's fourth" – a sign that mere academic achievements were beneath consideration.
    C. B. Fry's marriage was very odd: to the domineering mistress of a rich man. She was ten years Fry's senior and terrified him.

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