STEPHEN FRY ON HIS BOYHOOD
Stephen John Fry (born 24 August 1957) is one of the best-known English actors, as well as being a dramatist, novelist and writer of a series of memoirs. His very first public production was a play called Latin! or Tobacco and Boys about the love affair of a boy of thirteen and a schoolmaster at a prep school. Written in 1979 and first produced at Cambridge, where he was then an undergraduate of twenty-two, it went on to win first prize at the next Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
As a teenager, Fry attended the boys’ boarding school of Uppingham in Rutland. In his autobiography of his childhood, Moab is My Washpot (1997), he described both the lust for pretty junior boys commonly expressed by their seniors and his own seduction and defloration by a prefect during his first year there from September 1970 to July 1971. It is these descriptions that follow.
Moab is My Washpot
Discussing the erotic games played by some boys during his first year at Uppingham, Fry recounted a story from his last year at his prep school, Stouts Hill, when he was 12 which illustrated how he “had already learned the hard way just how complex the attitude of the healthy boy was towards queering,” then continued …
But does that, or does that not tell you something of the psychological minefield one trod through in those days, when it came to questions of sexual nature, of sexuality, as we would say now? The difference between sexual play and queering; the blind terror that physical affection inspired, but the easy acceptance of erotic games.
At Uppingham, much the same views obtained. Those whose morning prongers one brushed as Morning Fag did not think of themselves or of me as queer in any way at all. I am not sure anyone really knew what queer really, really meant. The very idea of it made everyone so afraid that each created their own meaning, according to their own dread of their own impulses.
You could openly admire a pretty boy, and all the middle and senior boys did. It was a sign of manliness indeed to do so.
‘Just ten minutes alone, me and that arse...‘ a sixth former might say as a cute junior walked past. ‘That’s all I ask,’ he would add looking skywards in prayer.
‘Oh no!’ One senior would clutch another as they caught sight of a comely new boy, ‘I’m in love. Save me from myself.’
I think that the logic of it was that new boys, pretty boys, were the closest approximation Uppingham offered to girls. They were hairless in the right places and sweet and cute and comely like girls, they had fluffy hair and kissable lips like girls, they had cute little bottoms like ... well, they had cute little bottoms like boys, but hell, any port in a storm, and there’s no storm like pubescence and no port like a pretty boy’s bum. All that public swooning however, was no more than macho posture. It proved their heterosexuality.
Some boys however had the most definite reputation for being queer, in the fully snarled out, spat out sense of the word as it was then used — before, that is to say, its triumphant reclamation by the proud homosexuals of today. I never quite understood how these reputations arose. Perhaps they came about because the accused had been caught looking furtively at someone of their own age in the showers — the furtiveness was more likely to earn you the label queer than open, frank inspection — perhaps they gave off some signal, nothing to do with campness or effeminacy, some signal that the healthy adolescent male responded to with hostility or guilt or desire.
We must, I fear, return briefly to sex (as I write this, National Sex Awareness Week is coming to a close and its thrust, I believe, is to get Britain to talk about sex in order to dispel the guilt, misery and taboo surrounding the subject: I feel I’m doing my bit).
It was towards the end of my first year [in the summer term of 1971, when Fry was thirteen and three quarters] that I was successfully seduced and deflowered. Now, I have never believed myself to be physically attractive. There are three reasons for this.
- I’m not my type
- I’m not physically attractive
- So there
None the less, in the eyes of some, I do know that I can give off a quality that comes close to sex appeal. I was never a prettyboy, or anything like (you have the pictures to hand that prove it) but being a late developer sexually I combined a mixture of knowingness, insolently suggestive sophistication and some kind of appetisingly unspoiled quality that could, on occasion, take the people’s fancy.
A red-haired sixth-former and House Polly [Uppingham slang for Prefect] called Oliver Derwent called me to his study one day when I was on general fagging duties.
‘Close the door,’ he said.
I obliged, wondering what I could possibly have done wrong this time.
‘Do you play cards?’ asked Derwent.
‘Er, yes. Yes. I suppose I do.’ The question took me completely by surprise. Maybe Derwent was starting up a House bridge club. Mine not to wonder why, however, mine but to stand patiently on the carpet and await instructions.
‘I’m just so bored,’ he said, languidly. ‘I thought I might find someone prepared to have a game or two of cards with me.’
It transpired that the only game Derwent knew how to play was a game called Strip Poker, so strip poker was the game we played.
‘Better lock the door,’ said Derwent.
‘Right-o,’ I said.
Now, you might well be thinking: Hello! If this Derwent could play strip poker, then he could play ordinary poker. This never crossed my mind. One just didn’t question senior boys. They knew.
So the pair of us knelt on the carpet and Derwent dealt. Within a very short time I was completely naked and Derwent was in nothing but his underpants. My legs were drawn coyly up to conceal what little there was to conceal and I was starting to feel a touch embarrassed.
‘Fry,’ said Derwent, blushing with that ferocity peculiar to redheads, ‘may I feel your body?’
Those are the exact words he used. ‘May I feel your body?’ Rather sweet really.
‘Er... okay,’ I said.
So he felt my body. I became excited, in the way that I had been excited at Stouts Hill with Halford and the others. I could see from the prodding in his underpants that he, too, was excited.
He then began a long, complicated speech about the frustration he felt at the lack of girls at Uppingham and how, in my smoothness, I was actually rather like a girl. Perhaps I wouldn’t mind if he made love to me?
I had simply no idea what that phrase meant, but it sounded charming and I said that it sounded like a reasonable idea.
At this point there came a knock on the door.
‘Just a minute!’
I leapt to my feet and started to scrabble frantically with my clothes. The door handle rattled.
‘Ho! Wanking!’ said a voice.
Derwent leaned forward and cupped his hand around one of my ears. ‘Out the window!’ he breathed hotly. ‘I’ll see you in the House Rears in ten minutes.
I nodded, slightly frightened by this time, and not so sure that I wanted to go through with this making love business, but I climbed out of the window and dived into a nearby bush.
Dressed again, teeth chattering, I made my way to the House Rears, a set of disused Victorian lavatories round the back of the House.
When Derwent arrived eight minutes later I regret to say he had come prepared with a tub of Vaseline and a grim determination to see things through.
I remember very little about the experience. I remember being bent forward and I remember grasping my own ankles. I remember some pain, plenty of grunting from Derwent and a sliding, slippy wetness running down the inside of my thighs when I stood up. Derwent was gone by the time I had pulled up my trousers and turned round, and whenever we saw each other in the House it was as strangers, no mention made, no extra friendliness shown or expected. Just a blankness.
I would love to be able to tell you that this Oliver Derwent is now our Ambassador in Washington or the Chairman of ICI, but I have no idea what he’s up to or where he is. Last I heard he had children, and was working in one of the Gulf States. I bear him no grudge and cannot believe he did me any harm. He didn’t make me queer, he didn’t make me a bugger or a buggeree, so all’s jake as far as I’m concerned.
Besides, all that was BMO, Before Matthew Osborne [a new boy of thirteen with whom SF fell in love at the beginning of the next term, when he was fourteen], and events BMO were rendered meaningless by everything AMO.
It would be remiss not to draw attention to the extraordinary courage involved in publishing, at the end of the 20th century and in a country as harshly unsympathetic as England to any manifestation of pederasty, a non-condemnatory pubescent boy’s true account of being seduced by a much older boy. Simon Raven and Gavin Lambert published more positive experiences of this kind, but the former did so in the more liberal days of 1982, the latter near the end of a long life, and both relished shocking the narrow-minded. Fry, on the other hand, was in his prime in a much higher-profile career. A more telling comparison would be with Milo Yiannopoulos, whose downfall due to a similar admission is alluded to in greater detail in a description of the website Consenting Juveniles.
Predictably, and most notably in the British television show Shrink Rap (2007), Fry came under attack for being “in denial”, the 21st century’s only possible repartee to those who stand testimony against its dogma that all pederastic sex must be harmful, but he still refused to submit to the dominant narrative. It is surely hard to explain this willingness to court unpopularity on the part of one eminently adept at winning popular acclaim except as a passion for the cause of truth.
Comments of general interest will be collected at Letters To The Editor (some editing may be involved)
Tiago 05 December 2020
This is admirable. All my recognition to Stephen Fry. And thanks to you.