This is to introduce, in a needlessly twee way, the officially authorised book SOUPY TWISTS – the fourth work of comedy history by Jem Roberts, and the first ever print celebration of the tickling, maddening, frothing and frankly filthy comedy of STEPHEN FRY & HUGH LAURIE, to officially mark the forthcoming (not ‘upcoming’, never ‘upcoming’) 30th anniversary of the pilot of their terribly hilarious BBC sketch show, A BIT OF FRY & LAURIE.
For a full and shameless explanation, please do click through to the UNBOUND website above – support the book, and please, if you love the sophisticated comedy stylings of these two beloved colleagues, SPREAD THE WORD. On the other hand, stay tuned for a little more information on the long and bendy road which has brought us here.
SOUPY TWISTS is not my first pitch since I handed The Frood over in the spring of 2014 – but be in zero doubt that the comedy of Fry & Laurie, and indeed their careers in general, has had an unparalleled influence on the person that I am, since staying up to watch them both on Saturday Live – or further, watching Lord Snot and Lord Monty get blown up on The Young Ones when I was six years old. If you want to know, in particular, the effect that Stephen Fry has had on me throughout my life, simply seek out what Fry has written about the influence of PG Wodehouse and Vivian Stanshall on himself, his own verbiage, and love of language. Via direct influence and by urging me towards Plum and Viv, I would estimate that a huge chunk of my vocabulary – all the prettiest parts – are indebted to Fry.
But this is not to devalue the influence of Hugh Laurie, and one crucial part of what I hope to achieve with SOUPY TWISTS is to remind people of Laurie’s own brilliance as a comedy writer and performer, which tends to get forgotten amid the avalanche of awards and record-breaking American-housewife-dampening achievements he has accrued in the last decade or so. Particularly, Hugh’s place as one of our finest funny songwriters has been villainously overlooked, and as I believe comedy music to be perhaps the greatest artistic medium of any kind (well, perhaps equal with comedy sketches) I will be striving to give Hugh his due, whether he likes it or not.
If a Mr Cuminmyear could get in touch, I’d be very interested in pumping him thoroughly.
However, Hugh is the reason that it took me so long to dare to dream of pitching this book idea to anyone. His infamous unease with talking about himself and his now near-alien comedy career has always been obvious, and I never thought he would agree to some below-stairs homunculus like me writing about it. I’ve yet to write a single unofficial book, and so approval was key, and that seemed like an impossible task, to tempt Hugh to a blessing. But with the bravery and imagination of book publishers at an all-time low (or, let’s be fair here, the blame lies mainly with the mindless philistinism of their corporate superiors) several mooted, worthy and exciting fourth books fell by the wayside, and so I thought, why not take the risk? Fry & Laurie have been an abiding passion of mine for most of my life, why not for goodness’ sake take the plunge and see what Hugh says? We’ve suffered such horrible comedy losses in recent years, why not stand up and cheer for the vertical men, one of our greatest ever double acts, while both colleagues are here to be delightfully embarrassed by the acclaim? This is my job, to capture the thoughts of our greatest comedians, and preserve their memories and philosophies for all time.
And so, somewhere in the region of a year and a half ago, I suggested ‘Soupy Twists’ to Stephen, and was pleasingly staggered at the rapidity of the tentatively positive reply. However, never ones to be anything but challenging, Stephen explained that somehow he and his best friend had gone 35 years without actually having a business discussion, and so my quest was to gain Hugh’s blessing, and his promise to take part in the creation of the book, entirely independently. This took a little bit (a year) longer, which is to be expected when the man in question was joshing around fighting George Clooney and trying to destroy the world for most of that time.
Since gaining the hero’s express permission to proceed, however, it has been a cautious shuffle towards today’s announcement. The choice of Unbound to publish the book has so many binds of synergy to it, SOUPY TWISTS could clearly have no better home – Stephen had just left QI, of course, and Unbound was co-founded by the QI co-founder John Mitchinson, and this gives them a reason to extend their professional connection, keeping everything neatly friendly across the board. Fry & Laurie both know and delight in Unbound’s mission statement, to give the people what they really want, despite the degeneration of most publishing houses.
But of course, the Unbound mode of publishing only works if you do your bit – and pledge to support the book, pledge to give Fry & Laurie the celebration that they deserve, and of course, pledge to mess yourself laughing at more completely undreamt of Fry & Laurie sketches than even their most optimistic fans could have thought possible. These chaps wrote four series, 26 half hours on their own, and yet Stephen Fry kindly sent me a zipfile of untouched writings which could easily comprise an entire 5th series of ABOF&L. And yes, I know I’m somewhat biased, but I have had the honour of being the first to sift through these knackered old defunct Word files, and… I promise you, from one Fry & Laurie fan to another, although some sketches may be, erm, sketchy, this NEW Fry & Laurie material is almost all entirely up to the best standard – which is one way of saying I have been doing an obscene amount of helpless laughing in recent weeks. No other sketch show of the last 20 years comes close; Fry & Laurie’s unseen off-cuts blast the broadcast sketches of any subsequent act out of the water.
I’ll be trying to squeeze as much of this rare comedy into the book as I can, as the joyous pudding to a main course of exploring the comedic voyages and lasting friendship of Stephen John Fry & James Hugh Calum Laurie, and if you support us with this project right now, the book (with your name in the back) can be nestled on your lap, or preferred book station, in just over a year.
I’ll be shifting most coverage of SOUPY TWISTS composition over to the Unbound site during that time, but for now, please do pledge, and help spread the word. You’ve been patient, you’ve been glossy, you’ve been surprisingly supple. I’ve enjoyed being fabulous with you.