Soupy Twists by Jem Roberts – Book Review


If you’ve more than a passing interest in British comedy, then the name of Jem Roberts should be a familiar one. His three previous books – The Clue Bible, The True History of the Black Adder and The Frood: The Authorised and Very Official History of Douglas Adams – are all proudly lined up on my shelves, and they’re now joined by his latest – Soupy Twists: The Full, Official Story of the Sophisticated Silliness of Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie.

As the lengthy title indicates, this is no hastily knocked together unauthorised history. Although it draws upon previously published interviews (selected quotes from Stephen Fry’s volumes of autobiography are also effectively dropped in) there’s plenty of fresh insights as well. Although if you’re looking for scandal then you’ve come to the wrong place – the partnership between F&L has always been a very harmonious one (although the handful of cross words they’ve shared are discussed along the way).

Beginning their comedy marriage, along with a group of significant others such as Emma Thompson, during their undergraduate days at Cambridge, F&L seemed to effortlessly move into television during the eighties via Alfresco, Black Adder, Saturday Live and A Bit of Fry & Laurie. It wasn’t quite as smooth as that of course, so the odd misstep (The Crystal Cube) is also touched upon.

Alfresco (and its predecessor There’s Nothing To Worry About!) might be largely unloved today (indeed, they were largely unloved back then as well) but I’ve always had something of a soft spot for them, so there were some nice new nuggets of information in this section for me. For example, I never knew that Rik Mayall was nearly part of the troupe.

It’s no surprise that A Bit of Fry & Laurie takes up a fair chunk of the book. And quite right too. There’s some fascinating material here – sketch extracts which never made it to screen as well as tantalising titbits about more cut sketches, such as further Tony and Control meetings ….

Another notable cut from S2 of ABOF&L featured Rowan Atkinson (this was deemed not to be worthy of transmission – which makes me even more intrigued to see it). Whilst Fist of Fun was the gold standard of DVD releases (virtually everything which still existed from the studio tapes – save a few moments snipped for legal reasons – made it onto the bumper releases) sadly A Bit of Fry & Laurie was a depressingly bare-bones DVD release (no extra footage at all). It would be nice to think that a deluxe ABOF&L DVD set might appear one day (well we all have to have dreams).

Apart from Fry and Laurie themselves, a host of friends and collaborators pop up to offer their own insights. Some of these are quite sharp – such as Deborah Norton, who found working with Stephen during the first series of ABOF&L to be rather difficult (although when they met years later everything was much more harmonious).

Their post-partnership careers (following the broadcast of the fourth series of ABOF&L in 1995) are neatly summed up in the final chapter before we reach the rather appetising dessert – nearly one hundred pages of unseen extracts from the Fry & Laurie archive. There’s plenty of good stuff here, most of which could easily have turned up on television.

Covering all the bases, this is a detailed and entertaining read which I devoured in several sittings. Highly recommended.

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