Letter from Stephen Fry

We are sure that readers will have come across humorist Stephen Fry. A few months ago, the star of Blackadder, Saturday Night Live, the Comic Strip and numerous radio programmes was interviewed on television. In the background on his bookshelves was a copy of Batsford Chess Openings; so Kingpin wrote to the great man to find out if he really does play chess. Here is his reply:

‘Thank you very much indeed for your letter. My, what sharp eyes you have. You did indeed spot a copy of Batsford Chess Openings behind me. And indeed I do play chess. It is solace for an idle hour. I have a wondrous board of Bird’s Eye Maple and Moluccan Ebony, edged in finest sycamore and made in 1985 to my demanding and exacting specifications by two of London’s finest designers and woodsmiths. Atop this confection stands a set of Staunton chessmen in Boxwood and Ebony, turned and carved and lathed and honed and buffed to perfection by the master craftsmen of Jaques of London in the year of Our Lord 1871. Add to which a chess-clock in burr-walnut with brass fittings and Dutch-enamel facings with a mechanism by Grant’s of Stamford and I think you will agree that I own an equipage with which to face the world. Perhaps the only fly in this lustrous amber is the painful circumstance that I have the playing talent of a dead rat. Never mind.

You probably know the story of Staunton playing an exhibition match in London, don’t you? At one of the boards sits a man with a glass of whisky, drinks it and moves on to the next board. The man asks him what he thinks he is doing. “I saw the whisky en prise, so I took it en passant” said Staunton. What I like about this story is that it is so completely unfunny.

[I think that the ‘comedian’ in this sketch was Blackburne and not Staunton, who probably had a more refined sense of humour. Ed]

Well, thank you very much indeed for sending me a copy of your excellent magazine. It seems to me that you haven’t quite managed the manic, off-the-wall style of humour that Informator manages so well, but you run them a pretty close second.

P.S. Have you read in this month’s New Scientist that advances in genetic engineering make it begin to look possible that they will soon be able to manufacture a human being that can beat a computer at chess? Personally I don’t believe that it will ever happen.’

First published in Kingpin 10 (1986)

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