Happy Birthday Stephen Fry

City Connect celebrates the birthday of actor and writer Stephen Fry. Fry is known for his erudite personality which is evident in his writing and TV appearances on such programmes as BBC’s QI.

He is notable as a person with Bipolar Disorder (sometimes called manic depression) and Fry presented a two-part BBC documentary on the condition. Other celebrities such as Frank Bruno and Catherine Zeta Jones have since talked about their experiences having been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. Click here to read our previous coverage of Catherine Zeta Jones’ announcement that she was a person with Bipolar Disorder.

Biography

Stephen Fry was born on 24 August 1957. He is an English actor, screenwriter, author, playwright, journalist, poet, comedian, television presenter and film director, and a director of Norwich City Football Club. He first came to attention in the 1981 Cambridge Footlights Revue presentation “The Cellar Tapes”, which also included Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson and Tony Slattery. With Hugh Laurie, as the comedy double act Fry and Laurie, he co-wrote and co-starred in A Bit of Fry & Laurie, and the duo also played the title roles in Jeeves and Wooster.

As a solo actor, Fry played the lead in the film Wilde, was Melchett in the BBC television series Blackadder, starred as the title character Peter Kingdom in the ITV series Kingdom, and is the host of the quiz show QI. He also presented a 2008 television series Stephen Fry in America, which saw him travelling across all 50 U.S. states in six episodes. Fry has a recurring guest role as Dr. Gordon Wyatt on the Fox crime series Bones.

Apart from his work in television, Fry has contributed columns and articles for newspapers and magazines, and has written four novels and two volumes of autobiography, Moab Is My Washpot and The Fry Chronicles. He also appears frequently on BBC Radio 4, starring in the comedy series Absolute Power, being a frequent guest on panel games such as Just a Minute, and acting as chairman for I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, where he was one of a trio of hosts who succeeded the late Humphrey Lyttelton. Fry is also known in the UK for his audiobook recordings, particularly as reader for all seven Harry Potter novels.

Fry’s career in television began with the 1982 broadcasting of The Cellar Tapes, the 1981 Cambridge Footlights Revue which was written by Fry, Hugh Laurie, Emma Thompson and Tony Slattery. The revue caught the attention of Granada Television, who, keen to replicate the success of the BBC’s Not the Nine O’Clock News, hired Fry, Laurie and Thompson to star alongside Ben Elton in There’s Nothing to Worry About!. A second series, re-titled Alfresco, was broadcast in 1983 and a third in 1984; it established Fry and Laurie’s reputation as a comedy double act. In 1983, the BBC offered them their own show, which became The Crystal Cube, a mixture of science fiction and mockumentary that was axed after the first episode. Undeterred, Fry and Laurie appeared in an episode of The Young Ones in 1984, and Fry in Ben Elton’s 1985 series, Happy Families. In 1986 and 1987 Fry and Laurie also performed sketches on the LWT/Channel 4 show Saturday Live.

Forgiving Fry and Laurie for The Crystal Cube, the BBC commissioned a sketch show in 1986 that was to become A Bit of Fry & Laurie. The programme ran for 26 episodes spanning four series between 1986 and 1995, and was very successful. During this time Fry starred in Blackadder II as Lord Melchett, made a guest appearance in Blackadder the Third as the Duke of Wellington, then returned to a starring role in Blackadder Goes Forth as General Melchett. In 1988, he became a regular contestant on the popular improvisational comedy radio show Whose Line Is It Anyway?. However, when it moved to television, he only appeared three times: twice in the first series and once in the ninth.

Between 1990 and 1993, Fry starred as Jeeves (alongside Hugh Laurie’s Bertie Wooster) in Jeeves and Wooster, 23 hour-long adaptations of P.G. Wodehouse’s novels and short stories.

In 2003, Fry began hosting the TV game show QI (Quite Interesting), a British comedy panel game television quiz show. QI was created and co-produced by John Lloyd, and features permanent panellist Alan Davies. QI has the highest viewing figures for any show on BBC Four. In 2006, Fry won the Rose d’Or award for “Best Game Show Host” for his work on the series.

A foray into documentary-making has seen Fry fronting the Emmy Award-winning The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive in 2006, and in 2007 a documentary on the subject of HIV and AIDS, HIV and Me. Also in 2006, he appeared in the genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are?, tracing his family tree to discover his Jewish ancestry. His six-part travel series Stephen Fry in America began on BBC One on 12 October 2008. In May 2008, it was announced that a five-part companion series, More Fry in America, had been commissioned for BBC Four; it was to feature in-depth essays excluded from the first series due to time constraints.[21] No further information about the project has since been released.

Fry has also been involved in nature documentaries, having narrated Spectacled Bears: Shadow of the Forest for the BBC Natural World series in 2008. In the television series Last Chance to See, Fry together with zoologist Mark Carwardine sought out endangered species, some of which were featured in Douglas Adams and Carwardine’s 1990 book/radio series of the of the same name. The resulting programmes were broadcast in 2009.

From 2007 to 2009, Fry appeared in and was executive producer for the legal drama Kingdom, which ran for three series on ITV. He has also taken up a recurring guest role as psychiatrist Dr. Gordon Wyatt in the popular American drama Bones.

Fry narrates the English language version of the Spanish children’s animated series Pocoyo. Fry has lent himself and his voice to many advertisements, starting with an appearance as “Count Ivan Skavinsky Skavar” in a 1982 advert for Whitbread Best Bitter. Fry has said in his memoirs that after receiving his payment for this work – £25,000 – he has never subsequently experienced “what one could call serious money troubles”. He has since appeared in adverts for products such as Marks and Spencer, Twinings, Kenco, Vauxhall, Direct Line, Calpol, Heineken, Alliance & Leicester, After Eights, Trebor, Panama cigars and Orange Mobile.

Since the publication of his first novel, The Liar (1991), Fry has written three additional novels, several non-fiction works and two volumes of autobiography. Making History (1997) is partly set in an alternative universe where Adolf Hitler’s father is made infertile and his replacement proves a rather more effective Führer. The book won the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. The Hippopotamus (1994) is about Edward (Ted/Tedward) Wallace and his stay at his old friend Lord Logan’s country manor in Norfolk. The Stars’ Tennis Balls (2000) is a modern retelling of The Count of Monte Cristo. Fry’s book, The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within, is a guide to writing poetry.

Once a columnist in The Listener and The Daily Telegraph, he now writes a weekly technology column in the Saturday edition of The Guardian. His blog attracted more than 300,000 visitors in its first two weeks of existence.

Fry wields a considerable amount of influence through his use of the social networking site Twitter. He is frequently asked to promote various charities and causes, often inadvertently causing their websites to crash because of the sheer volume of traffic generated by his large number of followers, as Fry notes on his website: “Four thousand hits a second all diving down the pipeline at the same time for minutes on end.” Fry uses his influence to recommend underexposed musicians and authors (which often see large increases in web hits and sales) and to spread contemporary issues in the world of media and politics, notably the dropping of an injunction against The Guardian and the lambasting of Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir over her article on deceased Boyzone member Stephen Gately.

In October 2009 Fry sparked debate amongst users again when he announced an intention to leave the social networking site after criticism from another user on Twitter. He retracted the intention the next day. In October 2010, Fry left Twitter for a few days following press criticism of a quote taken from an interview he had given, with a farewell message of “Bye bye”. After returning, Fry explained that he had left Twitter to “avoid being sympathised with or told about an article I would otherwise never have got wind of”.

In November 2009 Fry’s Twitter account reached 1,000,000 followers. He commemorated the million followers milestone with a humorous video blog in which a ‘Step Hen Fry’ clone speaks from the year 2034 where MySpace, Facebook and Twitter have combined to form ‘Twit on MyFace’.

In November 2010 Fry achieved 2,000,000 followers on Twitter.

On 2 January 2010 it was announced that Fry was “switching off his connections with the outside world” in order to complete a second volume of his autobiography.

Fry’s use of the word “luvvie” in The Guardian on 2 April 1988 is given by the Oxford English Dictionary as the earliest recorded use of the word.

Fry has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, specifically stating he suffers from Cyclothymia, referring to it as “bipolar lite”.He suffered a nervous breakdown in 1995 while appearing in a West End play called Cell Mates and subsequently walked out of the production, prompting its early closure and incurring the displeasure of co-star Rik Mayall and playwright Simon Gray. Mayall’s comedy partner, Adrian Edmondson, made light of the subject in his and Mayall’s second Bottom live show. After walking out of the production, Fry went missing for several days while contemplating suicide. He abandoned the idea and left the United Kingdom by ferry, eventually resurfacing in Belgium.

Fry has spoken publicly about his experience with bipolar disorder, which was also depicted in the documentary Stephen Fry: The Secret Life of the Manic-Depressive. In the programme, he interviewed other sufferers of the illness including Carrie Fisher, Richard Dreyfuss and Tony Slattery. Also featured were chef Rick Stein, whose father committed suicide, Robbie Williams, who talks of his experience with major depression, and comedienne/former mental health nurse Jo Brand. He is also involved with the mental health charity Stand to Reason.

Fry is one of the tallest British celebrities in modern times. He is said to be between 6 feet 4 inches (1.93 m) to 6 feet 5 inches (1.96 m), in height.

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Happy Birthday Truman Capote

City Connect pays tribute to Truman Capote who was born this day in 1924. Capote was an acclaimed author of many classic works of American Literature including his famous crime novel “In Cold Blood” and the novella “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” which was turned into a hit film starring Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly and George Peppard.

Biography

Truman Streckfus Persons, known as Truman Capote, (born 30 September 1924 – died 25 August 1984) was an American author, many of whose short stories, novels, plays, and nonfiction are recognized literary classics, including the novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1958) and true crime novel In Cold Blood (1966), which he labeled a “nonfiction novel.” At least 20 films and television dramas have been produced from Capote novels, stories and screenplays.

Capote rose above a childhood troubled by divorce, a long absence from his mother and multiple migrations. He discovered his calling by the age of 11, and for the rest of his childhood he honed his writing ability. Capote began his professional career writing short stories. The critical success of one story, “Miriam” (1945), attracted the attention of Random House publisher Bennett Cerf, resulting in a contract to write Other Voices, Other Rooms (1948). Capote earned the most fame with In Cold Blood (1966), a journalistic work about the murder of a Kansas farm family in their home, a book Capote spent four years writing, with much help from Harper Lee, who wrote the famous To Kill a Mockingbird. A milestone in popular culture, it was the peak of his career, although it was not his final book. In the 1970s, he maintained his celebrity status by appearing on television talk shows.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s: A Short Novel and Three Stories (1958) brought together the title novella and three shorter tales: “House of Flowers,” “A Diamond Guitar” and “A Christmas Memory.” The heroine of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Holly Golightly, became one of Capote’s best known creations, and the book’s prose style prompted Norman Mailer to call Capote “the most perfect writer of my generation.”

For Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s was a turning point, as he explained to Roy Newquist (Counterpoint, 1964):
“I think I’ve had two careers. One was the career of precocity, the young person who published a series of books that were really quite remarkable. I can even read them now and evaluate them favorably, as though they were the work of a stranger… My second career began, I guess it really began with Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It involves a different point of view, a different prose style to some degree. Actually, the prose style is an evolvement from one to the other—a pruning and thinning-out to a more subdued, clearer prose. I don’t find it as evocative, in many respects, as the other, or even as original, but it is more difficult to do. But I’m nowhere near reaching what I want to do, where I want to go. Presumably this new book is as close as I’m going to get, at least strategically.”

Capote was 5 feet 3 inches tall and openly homosexual. One of his first serious lovers was Smith College literature professor Newton Arvin, who won the National Book Award for his Herman Melville biography in 1951. It was to Arvin that Capote dedicated Other Voices, Other Rooms.

Capote was well known for his distinctive, high-pitched voice and odd vocal mannerisms, his offbeat manner of dress and his fabrications. He often claimed to know intimately people whom he had in fact never met, such as Greta Garbo. He professed to have had numerous liaisons with men thought to be heterosexual, including, he claimed, Errol Flynn. He traveled in an eclectic array of social circles, hobnobbing with authors, critics, business tycoons, philanthropists, Hollywood and theatrical celebrities, royalty, and members of high society, both in the US and abroad. Part of his public persona was a longstanding rivalry with writer Gore Vidal. Their rivalry prompted Tennessee Williams to complain: “You would think they were running neck-and-neck for some fabulous gold prize.”

Capote died in Los Angeles on August 25, 1984, aged 59 from liver cancer leaving behind his longtime companion, author Jack Dunphy. After his death, his perpetual nemesis and fellow writer Gore Vidal described Capote’s demise as “a good career move”.

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Happy Birthday Stephen King

On 21 September City Connect celebrates the birthday of Stephen King, the bestselling horror and science fiction author. His books have sold more than 350 million copies worldwide, many of which have been adapted into feature films, television movies and comic books. Read his biography to find out more about his life and work.

Biography

Stephen King is an American author of contemporary horror, suspense, science fiction and fantasy fiction.  As of 2011, King has written and published 49 novels, including seven under the pen name Richard Bachman, five non-fiction books, and nine collections of short stories. Many of his stories are set in his home state of Maine.

Stephen King was born September 21, 1947, in Portland, Maine. When King was two years old, his father left the family under the pretense of “going to buy a pack of cigarettes,” leaving his mother to raise King and his adopted older brother, David, by herself, sometimes under great financial strain. As a child, King apparently witnessed one of his friends being struck and killed by a train, though he has no memory of the event. His family told him that after leaving home to play with the boy, King returned, speechless and seemingly in shock. Only later did the family learn of the friend’s death. Some commentators have suggested that this event may have psychologically inspired some of King’s darker works, but King himself has dismissed the idea.

King’s primary inspiration for writing horror fiction was related in detail in his 1981 non-fiction Danse Macabre, in a chapter titled “An Annoying Autobiographical Pause”. King makes a comparison of his uncle successfully dowsing for water using the bough of an apple branch with the sudden realization of what he wanted to do for a living. While browsing through an attic with his elder brother, King uncovered a paperback version of an H.P. Lovecraft collection of short stories that had belonged to his father. The cover art—an illustration of a yellow-green Demon hiding within the recesses of a Hellish cavern beneath a tombstone—was, he writes, the moment in his life which “that interior dowsing rod responded to.”

In 1973, King’s novel Carrie was accepted by publishing house Doubleday. King actually threw an early draft of the novel in the bin after becoming discouraged with his progress writing about a teenage girl with psychic powers. His wife retrieved the manuscript and encouraged him to finish it. His advance for Carrie was $2,500, with paperback rights earning $400,000 at a later date. This first novel by King revolves around the eponymous Carrie, a shy high-school girl, who uses her newly discovered telekinetic powers to exact revenge on those who tease her. Sissy Spacek starred in the title role of the 1976 film adaptation and was nominated for that year’s Academy Award for Best Actress.

Soon after the release of Carrie in 1974, his mother died of uterine cancer. After his mother’s death, King and his family moved to Boulder, Colorado, where King wrote The Shining (published 1977). The novel was adapted into the 1980 classic horror movie of the same name starring Jack Nicholson and was directed by Stanley Kubrick.

His 1987 novel, Misery, was adapted into a highly successful film starring Kathy Bates and James Caan. Kathy Bates won the 1990 Best Actress Oscar for her performance.

In 2006, King published an apocalyptic novel, Cell. The story follows a New England artist struggling to reunite with his young son after a mysterious signal broadcast over the global cell phone network turns the majority of his fellow humans into mindless vicious animals. King noted in the book’s introduction that he does not use cell phones.

In 2008, King published both a novel, Duma Key, and a collection, Just After Sunset. The latter featured 13 short stories, including a novella, N., which was later released as a serialized animated series that could be seen for free, or, for a small fee, could be downloaded in a higher quality; it then was adopted into a limited comic book series.

In 2009, King published Ur, a novella written exclusively for the launch of the second-generation Amazon Kindle and available only on Amazon.com, and Throttle, a novella co-written with his son Joe Hill, and released later as an audiobook Road Rage, which included Richard Matheson’s short story “Duel”. On November 10 that year, King’s novel Under the Dome was published. It is a reworking of an unfinished novel he tried writing twice in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and at 1,074 pages, it is the largest novel he has written since 1986’s It. It debuted at No. 1 in The New York Times Bestseller List.

On February 16, 2010, King announced on his website that his next book would be a collection of four previously unpublished novellas called Full Dark, No Stars. In April of that year, King published Blockade Billy, an original novella issued first by independent small press Cemetery Dance Publications and later released in mass-market paperback by Simon & Schuster.

King’s next novel, 11/22/63, was published in 2011 and was nominated for the 2012 World Fantasy Award Best Novel. The eighth Dark Tower volume, The Wind Through the Keyhole, was published in 2012. King’s next book is Joyland, a novel about “an amusement-park serial killer”, published on April 8, 2012. It will be followed by the sequel to The Shining (1977), titled Doctor Sleep, scheduled to be published in late 2013.

King’s formula for learning to write well is: “Read and write four to six hours a day. If you cannot find the time for that, you can’t expect to become a good writer.” He sets out each day with a quota of 2000 words and will not stop writing until it is met. He also has a simple definition for talent in writing: “If you wrote something for which someone sent you a cheque, if you cashed the cheque and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the electricity bill with the money, I consider you talented.”

When asked why he writes, King responds: “The answer to that is fairly simple—there was nothing else I was made to do. I was made to write stories and I love to write stories. That’s why I do it. I really can’t imagine doing anything else and I can’t imagine not doing what I do.” He is also often asked why he writes such terrifying stories and he answers with another question “Why do you assume I have a choice?”

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Happy Birthday Agatha Christie

City Connect celebrates the anniversary of the birth of bestselling author and playwright Agatha Christie who was born on this day in 1890. Christie created two well-known characters in her detective novels: Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. Poirot is the only fictional character to have been given an obituary in The New York Times. Read her biography below for more information on her life and work.

Biography

Dame Agatha Christie, DBE, (15 September 1890 – 12 January 1976), was a British crime writer of novels, short stories, and plays. She also wrote romances under the name Mary Westmacott, but she is best remembered for her 80 detective novels – especially those featuring Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple – and her successful West End theatre plays.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Christie is the best-selling writer of books of all time and, with William Shakespeare, the best-selling author of any type. She has sold roughly four billion copies of her novels. According to Index Translationum, Christie is the most translated individual author, with only the collective corporate works of Walt Disney Productions surpassing her. Her books have been translated into at least 103 languages.

Christie’s stage play The Mousetrap holds the record for the longest initial run: it opened at the Ambassadors Theatre in London on 25 November 1952 and as of 2011 is still running after more than 24,000 performances. In 1955, Christie was the first recipient of the Mystery Writers of America’s highest honour, the Grand Master Award, and in the same year Witness for the Prosecution was given an Edgar Award by the MWA for Best Play. Most of her books and short stories have been filmed, some many times over (Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile and 4.50 From Paddington for instance), and many have been adapted for television, radio, video games and comics.

In 1968, Booker Books, a subsidiary of the agri-industrial conglomerate Booker-McConnell, bought a 51 percent stake in Agatha Christie Limited, the private company that Christie had set up for tax purposes. Booker later increased its stake to 64 percent. In 1998, Booker sold its shares to Chorion, a company whose portfolio also includes the literary estates of Enid Blyton and Dennis Wheatley.

Almost all of Agatha Christie’s books are whodunits, focusing on the British middle and upper classes. Usually, the detective either stumbles across the murder or is called upon by an old acquaintance, who is somehow involved. Gradually, the detective interrogates each suspect, examines the scene of the crime and makes a note of each clue, so readers can analyze it and be allowed a fair chance of solving the mystery themselves. Then, about halfway through, or sometimes even during the final act, one of the suspects usually dies, often because they have inadvertently deduced the killer’s identity and need silencing. In a few of her novels, including Death Comes as the End and And Then There Were None, there are multiple victims. Finally, the detective organises a meeting of all the suspects and slowly denounces the guilty party, exposing several unrelated secrets along the way, sometimes over the course of thirty or so pages. The murders are often extremely ingenious, involving some convoluted piece of deception. Christie’s stories are also known for their taut atmosphere and strong psychological suspense, developed from the deliberately slow pace of her prose.

In late 1926, Agatha’s husband, Archie, revealed that he was in love with another woman, Nancy Neele, and wanted a divorce. On 8 December 1926 the couple quarreled, and Archie Christie left their house Styles in Sunningdale, Berkshire, to spend the weekend with his mistress at Godalming, Surrey. That same evening Agatha disappeared from her home, leaving behind a letter for her secretary saying that she was going to Yorkshire. Her disappearance caused an outcry from the public, many of whom were admirers of her novels. Despite a massive manhunt, she was not found for 11 days.

On 19 December 1926 Agatha was identified as a guest at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel (now the Old Swan Hotel) in Harrogate, Yorkshire, where she was registered as ‘Mrs Teresa Neele’ from Cape Town. Agatha gave no account of her disappearance. Although two doctors had diagnosed her as suffering from psychogenic fugue, opinion remains divided as to the reasons for her disappearance. One suggestion is that she had suffered a nervous breakdown brought about by a natural propensity for depression, exacerbated by her mother’s death earlier that year and the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. Public reaction at the time was largely negative, with many believing it a publicity stunt while others speculated she was trying to make the police believe her husband had killed her.

Author Jared Cade interviewed numerous witnesses and relatives for his sympathetic biography, Agatha Christie and the Missing Eleven Days, and provided a substantial amount of evidence to suggest that Christie planned the entire disappearance to embarrass her husband, never thinking it would escalate into the melodrama it became.

The Christies divorced in 1928. In 1930, Christie married archaeologist Max Mallowan (Sir Max from 1968) after joining him in an archaeological dig. Their marriage was especially happy in the early years and remained so until Christie’s death in 1976.

To honour her many literary works, she was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1956 New Year Honours. The next year, she became the President of the Detection Club. In the 1971 New Year Honours she was promoted Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, three years after her husband had been knighted for his archeological work in 1968. They were one of the few married couples where both partners were honoured in their own right. From 1968, due to her husband’s knighthood, Christie could also be styled as Lady Mallowan.

From 1971 to 1974, Christie’s health began to fail, although she continued to write. In 1975, sensing her increasing weakness, Christie signed over the rights of her most successful play, The Mousetrap, to her grandson. Recently, using experimental textual tools of analysis, Canadian researchers have suggested that Christie may have begun to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia.

Agatha Christie died on 12 January 1976 at age 85 from natural causes at her Winterbrook House in the north of Cholsey parish, adjoining Wallingford in Oxfordshire (formerly part of Berkshire). She is buried in the nearby churchyard of St Mary’s, Cholsey.

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