A letter to @stephenfry


Dear Stephen

I am writing in some conciliatory manner, with my great regards, following the discontent I caused to you and many of your followers, by my tweets on Friday 17th September regarding your stance on the Pope’s visit.

I am fascinated by the serendipitous series of events of the past few days. I won two tickets to the Independent Woodstock Literary Festival on Sunday 19th September and chose to listen to Adam Sisden talk about his latest book, ‘Hugh Trevor-Roper: The Biography’, and the long-standing feud between Trevor-Roper and Evelyn Waugh.  I listened also to David Starkey in the afternoon, ‘Crown and Country: Our History Through the Monarchy’, and that, equally inspired me.

All roads lead to Rome they say, and on this occasion, this particular day, all roads led me firmly and resolutely back to my discontent and impatience with your good self and our less than agreeable Twitter exchange.

This is what has occurred to me, and what I have mulled greatly, in the course of my everyday lot.

Adam Sisden spoke of the great conflict between Waugh, who was of course, a celebrated convert to the Catholic Church, and Trevor-Roper, who had a great abhorrence of all things that smacked of a blind adherence to faith, without a rational, independence of thought. In that category, Catholics and Communists were pretty much to be despised equally, in Trevor-Roper’s books.

I am paraphrasing badly and may well be justifiably chided by Sisden for my poor attention to all his profound words.

Waugh commented on his conversion that it was “like stepping across the chimney piece out of a Looking Glass world, where everything is an absurd caricature, into the real world, God made…”

Back to my epiphany.

It occurred to me there is a similarity between Trevor-Roper’s views and anti-Catholic stance, and your own. Of course, what occurs to me may be far from the truth of the matter. It is this ‘independence of thought’ that lingers in my mind.

In this rivalry between the two men, there were frequent attempts to discredit each other, to be devious in their manner of communicating or relaying their animosity. It seems many were lured to the defence of either side, over many decades.

I am reading ‘Decline and Fall’ at the moment, in between dipping back and forth to T S Ellot’s ‘Murder in the Cathedral’, which is long-loved, and pleases equally with its sublimely poetic prose.

At Blenheim Palace, I listened in very agreeable surroundings, to David Starkey’s Crown and Country talk. I was disabused of much that I have revered about Thomas Becket.  Oh, it is some very complicated lot about who has divine right, and Thomas’s stance against his King, that led to lots of unpleasantness, not least for Becket, but for many, this thousand years since. Becket, it seems, it not quite the one we should revere, which seemed an extraordinary statement, to me.

There was an awful lot in Starkey’s talk about why this country, in its split with Rome, has very different views of the Papacy, to other European countries, who remained in greater allegiance with the Catholic Church.

Aside all that, I have been disconcerted, uneasy, by the antipathy to the Pope’s visit. It has almost become unfashionable to speak good of the visit, such is the mood of our time.

There has been much that has been significant about this event that marks a shift in the rifts that were driven through our two lands and through our shared religion by the wishes and desires of our most celebrated monarch, Henry VIII.

I have found all this history, trying to piece it together, without seeing Jonathan Rhys Myers prancing in his tight fitting clothes as Henry VIII, endlessly fascinating.

That part, I felt, should be celebrated. The knowledge, the knowing of all this, should be a cause, an opportunity, for all to dig out dusty history books, bring Wikipedia crashing to the ground, and discover something of this historical event, about what the Pope’s visit means to us, collectively, as a nation.

Instead, day after day, there seemed no end to the torrent of scorn and abuse that seemed to spill from every street corner, about the Papacy, the costs involved, the poor tax-payer, this affront, to think there could be a state visit by the Pope, who has the blood on his hands of those who have sinned in the name of the Catholic Church, and confined us all to hell and eternal damnation to boot.

All this. How different to my wishes, which I feel sure, have been also the wishes of many.

It has been a sad time for our nation.

Your support, along with other celebrities, for the letter expressing the view that the visit should not be funded by the tax payer, your comments, this steady drip feed of antipathy, has been something I have found hard to appreciate – notwithstanding the very obvious reasons you may have to dissent from some of the teachings of the Catholic Church.

There is an element of, what may lightly be phrased, ‘spoiling the fun’ at play, of a petulance, of a ‘I don’t want but you can’t have’ in all this, that echoes much deeper resentments and dissent.

Evelyn Waugh was most vociferous in his support of the Catholic Church, so much so that Trevor-Roper believed he would corrupt any student he encountered.  And forgive, my poor paraphrasing here of the author’s words.

In this also, there is an element of, almost a bullying tone from both parties, Waugh and Trevor-Roper, to assert the beliefs of one above another. I do not know that there was necessarily any winner, but instead, just a forlorn, dishing out over the years of yet more acrimony.

I had high hopes of you, that you may have inspired a thirst for knowledge, a fascination with this remarkable period in history, (seeing you, perhaps unkindly, in your benign QI role). I hoped you may have inspired a thirst for knowledge, a willingness on the part of many, to suspend, for a brief while, our usual British reticence to show any great emotion other than displeasure and cynicism. I hoped you may have led some charge, to engage with the public over our shared history and connections and severances, with the Church of Rome.

Of course, I hoped this not only of you, but of many celebrities, historians, politicians. But it is a small world, and in this Twitterverse, there are few as vocal as you, few as followed as you, few as revered as you.

I hoped for so much, and all was left wanting.

There has been a churlishness, about this clamouring for tax-payers not to foot the bill for the Pope’s visit, that I found disconcerting.  We have two routes open to us: the one, steps hand in hand with cynicism, with antipathy, with a world-weary curmudgeonly manner that sees the worst in all things; the other, celebrates what brings us together, what harnesses whole communities, young and old alike, to celebrate this once in a life-time event.  

There is much to lament about the teachings of the Church, about its dated views and resistance to change, but there is also much to celebrate, much that has caused many people to rejoice.

I commented that I felt you had assumed some higher authority than the Pope, more in touch with the populace and that the timing of all your intimate evenings were opportune, coinciding, as many have, with the Papal visit.

I do not know what enraged you more, but you were swift to defend the actions of your publicists and to clarify your actions, and to condemn my views as wickedly cynical or mad, or both (your later tweet, not directly in response to mine, but coming as it did, not hard to read the inference).

I would that you had chosen a different route, to exert your vast and inimitable presence and authority.

I would that I had not likened your followers to a pack of hounds, but there it is.

Finally, the vast following you have, that emerged ready for battle, as I made my comments, frightened me in its blind devotion to your good self. I ponder that idolatry stifles debate. I ponder also the irony, that, if my assumptions and musings are even part way correct, what you value is independence of thought, yet in this Twitterverse, there is a multitude, who dress like you, walk, talk and act like you…

I am sorry if I was callous in my comments, and expressed my concerns poorly, or spoke of you as if really, your feelings did not matter.  I am sorry that I called your followers a pack of hounds. My concerns remain the same. I just understand them differently now.   And that does not in any way, detract from the enormous admiration I have for your work, industry and your quite inimitable style and presence.

My regards to you

Heather M Stack


About HMStack

Independent Education Consultant (SEND) delivering local, regional and national services to providers within the public, private and third sector. Passionate about creating the context for positive change working with and on behalf of children, young people and their families, the conference and public policy sector and training organisations. An eclectic mix of clients includes schools and other educational settings, museums and heritage, service children and British Armed Forces support organisations and providers across the public, private and third sector. Educational writer, blogger and philosopher and aspiring screenwriter, inspired by drama and literary adaptations.

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  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention A letter to @stephenfry « Frontier news -- Topsy.com

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