A Bit of Fry & Laurie is a British sketch comedy television series written by and starring former Cambridge Footlights members Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, broadcast on both BBC1 and BBC2 between 1989 and 1995. It ran for four series and totalled 26 episodes, including a 36-minute pilot episode in 1987.
As in The Two Ronnies, elaborate wordplay and innuendo were staples of its material. It frequently broke the fourth wall; characters would revert into their real-life actors mid-sketch, or the camera would often pan off set into the studio. In addition, the show was punctuated with non-sequitur vox pops in a similar style to those of Monty Python's Flying Circus, often making irrelevant statements, heavily based on wordplay. Laurie was also seen playing piano and a wide variety of other instruments and singing comical numbers.
|A Bit of Fry & Laurie|
Title screen from the first series of A Bit of Fry & Laurie
|Created by||Stephen Fry
|Written by||Stephen Fry
Deborah Norton (Series 1)
Geoffrey McGivern (Series 2)
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||4|
|No. of episodes||26 (list of episodes)|
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Original network||BBC1, BBC2|
|Original release||13 January 1989 – 2 April 1995|
The 36-minute pilot was broadcast on BBC1 at 11.55pm on Boxing Day 1987, although it was later edited down to 29 minutes for repeat transmissions (including broadcasts on the Paramount Comedy Channel). The full version is intact on the Series 1 DVD. It was the first pilot Fry and Laurie had produced for the BBC since 1983; their previous attempt, The Crystal Cube, had not met with the BBC's approval.
The show began its full run at 9pm on Friday 13 January 1989. The first three series were screened on BBC2, the traditional home for the BBC's sketch shows, while the fourth series switched to the mainstream BBC1. The last series was the least well-received, for a number of reasons: BBC1 was not the best place to showcase Fry and Laurie's arch humour; it featured celebrity guests in all but one episode, an addition which neither Fry nor Laurie approved; and it was shown not long after Stephen Fry's nervous breakdown in 1995, which cast a shadow over the series. One reviewer said that, perhaps owing to this, Fry got more of the laughs, while Laurie was increasingly relegated to the "straight man" role.
From series 1–3 there were also several occasional guest artists, before they were made a permanent fixture during series 4, including Selina Cadell (Series 2, episode 4), Paul Eddington (Series 2, episode 5), Nigel Havers (Series 2, episode 6), Rowan Atkinson (Series 2, episode 6), Nicholas Parsons (Series 3, episode 1), Rebecca Saire (Series 3, episode 2 and 5), Gary Davies (Series 3, episode 6) and Colin Stinton (Series 3, episode 6).
The show did not shy away from commenting on issues of the day. A sketch in the second series, in which a Conservative government minister is strangled while Stephen Fry screams at him "What are you doing to the television system? What are you doing to the country?", is an attack on the Broadcasting Act of 1990 and the perceived motivations of those who supported it. The pair would later attack what they saw as the Act's malign aftereffects in the sketch "It's a Soaraway Life", a parody of It's a Wonderful Life evoking a world in which Rupert Murdoch had not existed.
The series made numerous jokes at the expense of the Tory prime ministers of the time, Margaret Thatcher and John Major, and one sketch depicted a televised "Young Tory of the Year" competition in which a young Conservative (Laurie) recites a deliberately incoherent speech consisting only of nonsense political buzzwords, such as "family values" and "individual enterprise".
Noel Edmonds was also a frequent target. During a sketch where Fry had supposedly removed Laurie's brain, Laurie came out and said that he had just finished watching Noel Edmonds and that he is fantastic.
Originating from the children's TV show Romper Room, each episode of Series 3 and 4 ends with Stephen Fry preparing a ridiculously named and even more ridiculously concocted cocktail. Fry entreats Laurie to play the closing theme by saying, "Please, Mr Music, will you play?" He then shakes the cocktail while dancing eccentrically and serves it to Laurie (in Series 3) or the guest performers (in Series 4), while Laurie plays the piano and imitates the sound of a muted trombone.
Both in Series 3 and 4, Fry precedes the question with increasingly silly introductions:
The catchphrase "soupy twist" is said by both Laurie and Fry at the end of each episode of series 3 and 4 (save the Series 3 closer), in a manner similar to 'cheers'.
A running joke had one character adding "if you'll pardon the pun" mid-conversation, when there had, in fact, been no pun uttered. The second character, puzzled, would say, "What pun?" and the first character would say, "Oh, wasn't there one? I'm sorry", and resume the conversation.
"M'colleague" is a phrase that Fry and Laurie began using during the third series to refer to each other. Both have since used this phrase outside the series to refer to the other, for example on chat shows, the dedication in Fry's novel The Stars' Tennis Balls which reads "To m'colleague", as well as the one in his second autobiography, The Fry Chronicles, which reads "To m'coll".
A running gag in which either Fry or Laurie, after mentioning another character by name, follows with "no relation" as if implying that their names – which are invariably completely different from Fry and Laurie's names – would lead viewers into believing them to be a relative.
Though the programme mostly consisted of one-time situations and sketches, a few characters appeared over several episodes and series.
Alan (Laurie) is hired as a secret agent by a mysterious organisation known only as 'The Department', before which he was a gun-runner, supply teacher, and Home Secretary. The character is a parody of several television shows of the 1970s, most prominently The Professionals.
The Bishop (Fry) and the Warlord (Laurie) first appear in series 1, episode 4. They are portrayed as the world's leading "light metal" band (as opposed to heavy metal). The Warlord (guitarist) is dressed as a typical rocker, whereas the Bishop (vocalist) is dressed in his normal vestments, and one black fingerless glove. He sings (or rather speaks) his songs from a pulpit.
Control (Fry) and Tony Murchison (Laurie) are two excessively nice secret agents who first appear in series 1 of the show. Control is head of SIS, the British secret service. Tony Murchison is Subsection Chief of the East Germany and Related Satellites Desk, who brings Control his morning coffee. The characters discuss issues of national security with childish simplicity to parody the typically sparse details viewers were often afforded in British films of a similar genre. Much of the humour in these sketches arises from the stilted, amateurish, and inappropriate performance style. There were two written, but unaired, sketches featuring the pair, entitled "Spies Five" and "Spies/Twin" – the latter revealing that Control (whose real name was, in fact, Control) had a twin brother also named Control, who painted erotic murals in Earl's Court. The scripts for these sketches are available in the script-books.
Gelliant (Fry) is the host of short horror programme The Seventh Dimension, who presents bizarre and nonsensical stories such as "Flowers for Wendy" and "The Red Hat of Pat Ferrick". Seated in an improbably large gold-buttoned leather chair, he indulges in elaborate and often pointless wordplay: "It is called 'Flowers for Wendy', but might it not rather have been called 'You have been Warned'? [pause] No, it might not." The stories told were often in the style of The Twilight Zone.
Gordon (Fry) and Stuart (Laurie) are executives and old friends. Stuart is brash, arrogant and with a hugely inflated sense of his abilities in and out of the office. He often bullies and patronises the mild-mannered Gordon, who in fact displays far greater knowledge and better control of the situation. For instance, when the two lunch at a Greek restaurant, Gordon speaks fluent Greek to the waiter while Stuart, having boasted of his affinity with the Greek people and his appreciation for their cuisine, fails to recognise dolmades and retsina wine. Gordon does not seem to resent Stuart's obnoxious treatment of him or his behaviour in general, and continues to cheerfully and skilfully deal with the situation, inadvertently showing Stuart to be hopelessly outclassed. This causes Stuart great consternation as he attempts to conceal his own inabilities and maintain his reputation as an intelligent and competent businessman.
Freddy (Laurie; character later renamed 'Neddy') is a meek, quiet man with a noticeable overbite. Jack (Fry) is an eyepatch-wearing, imposing man who belongs to an unnamed organisation. He recruits Freddy to participate in several of the organisation's efforts for the "cause", which he states to be freedom, although this may be hyperbolic. The characters stopped appearing after Neddy became Prime Minister. Neddy was being force-fed information from Jack when it became clear that Jack's organisation was a group of Nazis who were bent on ruling England through Neddy. Jack then stabbed Neddy in the back with his own Stanley knife.
John (Fry) and Peter (Laurie) are hard-driving, hard-drinking executives who are always partners, no matter what business they happen to be running; in most of their sketches they run a health club. Their antagonist in every business operation is the diabolical Marjorie (John's ex-wife). Eventually, Marjorie defeated the pair in the health club business off-screen, leading the two to run a public toilet and later the Diocese of Uttoxeter (John as Bishop, Peter as Executive Vice-Bishop). The sketch is a parody of television drama of the period such as BBC TV's Howards' Way, which depicted relatively small-scale businessmen as larger-than-life, world-weary, passionate, and tormented. John and Peter are invariably exhorting one another to greater efforts on behalf of their relatively insignificant businesses, with their shouted catchphrases "Damn!" and "Dammit John!". They also drink very, very excessively. One written sketch entitled "Dammit 3" was unaired; those actually shown in the programme went straight from "Dammit 2" to "Dammit 4". The script for this sketch is available in the script books and online.
Mr Dalliard is a non-appearing character in various sketches, all taking place in a shop environment. Though Dalliard never appears, and is implied to be a creation of Fry's shopkeeper's imagination, he is referred and spoken to several times in every sketch: "He isn't my Mr Dalliard, he's everybody's Mr Dalliard".
Tony (Laurie) first appears in series 2. He is the host of several talk shows, each one devoted to an odd action performed by the host and the guest during the course of the interview. The different shows are: Trying to Borrow a Fiver Off..., Introducing My Grandfather To..., Photocopying My Genitals With..., Realising I've Given the Wrong Directions To..., and Flying a Light Aeroplane Without Having Had Any Formal Instruction With.... The character was originally modelled upon a similar figure named Peter Mostyn whom Laurie had earlier portrayed on Saturday Live. There was also a similar sketch called In the Bath With... on the radio series Saturday Night Fry.
Between sketches, both Laurie and Fry appear as people in the street, including a police officer; a drifting geek; a woman who suddenly remembers she has "left the iron on"; a pensioner who says that he "wouldn't suck it", without specifying what 'it' is and then walking off laughing; an old conservative; and others. Such insertions became less frequent in the last two series.
Two compilations were broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 11 August 1994.
After much fan-driven petition, the first series of A Bit of Fry and Laurie, plus the pilot, was released on DVD on 3 April 2006 in Region 2. Series two was released on 12 June, with a bonus feature, the 45-minute Cambridge Footlights Revue (1982) in which Fry and Laurie appear with Emma Thompson, Tony Slattery, Penny Dwyer, and Paul Shearer.
The third series followed in October 2006. Amazon UK released a complete box set (all 4 series) on 30 October 2006, along with series 4 itself.
There is a copyright-related music edit on the Series 1 DVD during the final sketch of episode 6 ("Tony of Plymouth (Sword Fight)"). In the broadcast version, the music was from the soundtrack of "The Sea Hawk" but instead a new piece of music has been used, drowning out most of the dialogue in the process. In Series 2, Saint-Saëns is not credited for the end music ("Finale" from The Carnival of the Animals) until the second half of the series. On the series 3 DVD for Region 1, the sketch which features Laurie and Fry singing The Beatles' "Hey Jude" has been omitted.
In Australia, A Little Bit of Fry & Laurie: Series One Episodes 1–3 (Comedy Bites) was released on 4 March 2010.
|Series DVD||No. of Episodes||Year||Release Date|
|Region 1||Region 2||Region 4|
|Complete Series 1||6||1987 & 1989||22 August 2006||3 April 2006||6 July 2006|
|Complete Series 2||6||1990||22 August 2006||12 June 2006||15 March 2007|
|Complete Series 3||6||1992||24 July 2007||4 September 2006||4 July 2007|
|Complete Series 4||7||1995||24 July 2007||30 October 2006||5 March 2008|
|Complete Series 1–4||25||1987–1995||24 July 2007||30 October 2006||17 August 2006|
Laurie's musical talents featured on the show in the form of plot points in a sketch and satirical songs. The first such song, "Mystery", parodies a mournful love song from a lounge singer (Laurie mimics the vocal mannerisims of Sammy Davis Jr.) and presents the obstacles to a relationship between the singer and the object of affection, which become more outlandish every verse: she lives in a different country, would probably have a problem with the singer's job ("with the Thames Water Authority"), has never actually met and may indeed "take a violent dislike" to the singer, and has been dead since 1973 ("fifteen years come next Jan-uary"). Laurie later played the song when appearing on an episode of Inside the Actor's Studio in 2006. His songs include:
Four collections of A Bit of Fry and Laurie scripts have been published.
The official authorised Fry & Laurie story, Soupy Twists by Jem Roberts, will be published by Unbound in 2018.