Fry’s Planet Word, Another Nice Stephen Fry Project

by Mira

Fry’s Planet Word is a five-part series on language and storytelling written and presented by Stephen Fry.

I watched the 2 DVDs of Fry’s Planet Word before Christmas, and enjoyed every minute of it. I’m a fan of Stephen Fry, currently reading one of his autobiographies at the moment as well (the one called The Fry Chronicles).

In Fry’s Planet Word Stephen Fry takes us on a very personal journey into a world of words, spoken and written. I didn’t take notes as I was watching, so I will point out a few ministories which stayed with me after watching the five-part series (291 mins.). Stories such as the father teaching his son to use Klingon, how to sign Hitler in the American and the German Sign Language, stories about Homer’s and James Joyce’s Ulysses, and others.

Learning Klingon and Then Forgetting About It

One Star Wars fan figured he would try an experiment on his young son. He taught his toddler Klingon, making up names for various objects he didn’t have words for. When he used one such Klingon name for bottle, the kid knew what his father meant and went and picked up the bottle. For a while – don’t remember how long, anywhere from half a year to two years – both father and kid were happy using Klingon to communicate. And then as the kid learned more English elsewhere and communicated in English with his friends, he stopped being interested in Klingon. His father let it be, understanding that the fun was over.

Signing Hitler in the American and German Sign Languages

In his study of language and communication, Fry spent a while to learn a few things about sign language. He had a conversation with three people, one using ASL, another the German Sign Language, and the third translating all ways. The discussion was a lot of fun. Sign languages are concept-based, so a word like Obama is translating using a sign for a waving flag (if I remember correctly). You can guess what the sign for Hitler is: the mustache. Two fingers (the index and the middle finger) pointing to the mustache, or, in German, the thumb over the mustache and the hand reminding one of a Heil Hitler gesture.

Stephen Fry’s Episode on Literature

In his episode on literature, Stephen Fry highlights wonderful bits and pieces in the work of some of his favorite authors: Homer, Shakespeare, James Joyce, and others. It was one of my favorite episodes in the series, with comments on performing the most famous of Shakespeare’s monologues and questions, “To be or not to be,” fascinating insights on translating “to be or not to be” in languages where you can’t translate it as tersely as that, and so on. He sits down with actors and Chinese literates – it’s all very interesting. He also interviews an expert on James Joyce, which does the trick – I’ve developed an even greater appreciation for James Joyce.

There’s More

There’s an interview with the Chinese guy who created Pinyin (who is now a few years past 100), a visit to the MIT Media Lab where they envision new, tactile ways to tell stories (one of them involves a jacket), a trip to Jerusalem to see the Dead Sea Scrolls, and a stop at the British Museum to see cuneiform tablets and learn some rudiments of this ancient script, which may be the oldest writing system we humans have developed.

He also traveled through Africa and by car through London with the author of Belle du Jour, who wrote The Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl.

It all seems a typical Stephen Fry affair, very flamboyant and exciting.

There's A Tie-In Book Available

By J.P. Davidson

Unfortunately, the 2 DVDs of Fry's Planet World are not available as Region 1 DVDs, but the great news is that looking on Amazon for them I discovered there's a Planet Word tie-in book by J.P. Davidson, which should be interesting on its own terms, since it can expand the commentary on all the fascinating topics that the BBC series engages with.

The drawback to the book is the desultory nature of Stephen Fry's collage in the TV series, which doesn't fare too well in a book, all the more so as it's not written by Stephen Fry himself, who pulled off a great book commenting in an equally desultory fashion about what makes America America in Stephen Fry in America, the first half of which I discussed in another article.

If You Haven't Heard of Stephen Fry, Perhaps You've Heard of Hugh Laurie?

Yes, as in Dr. House. Earned a Guinness Record as the Best Paid TV Drama Actor in 2011.
A Bit of Fry and Laurie: The Complete...Jeeves & Wooster: The Complete Series

Stephen Fry met Hugh Laurie and Emma Thompson during his university years at Cambridge, where they were all part of the Footlights drama club. He talks about his early years in the theatre and about his university days (and much more) in his second autobiographical book, The Fry Chronicles. The first of his autobiographies was called Moab is My Washpot. I'm now reading The Fry Chronicles, and then I will move on to Moab.

Have you seen Stephen Fry play Oscar Wilde? He's truly remarkable.

The Fry Chronicles: An Autobiography

Stephen Fry arrived at Cambridge University as a convicted fraudster and thief, an addict, liar, fantasist, and failed suicide, convinced that any moment he would be sent away. ...

View on Amazon

Moab Is My Washpot

A number one bestseller in Britain, Stephen Fry's astonishingly frank, funny, wise memoir is the book that his fans everywhere have been waiting for. Since his PBS television de...

View on Amazon

Updated: 12/19/2015, Mira
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Mira on 01/10/2013

I'm reading The Fry Chronicles now. Since it's a detailed autobiography, not every bit will be as interesting as the other, but some passages are really great: witty, as you say (he has a way with language), and funny in a way that I now associate with him. I wish we saw more British comedy on TV. Some of it, like Only Fools and Horses, isn't even complete on DVD (they released one "complete" collection but apparently it has many scenes edited out).

Tolovaj on 01/10/2013

Stephen Fry is one of my favorite comedians. I enjoy his shows as much as Monty Pythons. He is witty and he has class which can't be find anywhere outside of Great Britain. I never heard about this project before. I suppose I spend too much time on Web 2.0... Thanks for heads up!

nicomp on 01/04/2013

As the great Oscar Wilde once said: "Hello, my name is Oscar Wilde."

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