Monthly Archives: October 2009

What should Stephen Fry’s gravestone read?

Stephen Fry © chase-me via Flickr“ME AND MY BIG MOUTH”

These are his own words by the way. Of all people on this planet Stephen Fry would be the very last person in my opinion to express disparaging remarks about other nations. Yet, quite uncharacteristically for him, he did. Publicly.

How did that happen? Stephen revealed everything today on his blog, where he wrote:

I was asked to appear on Channel 4 news to comment on the Conservative Party and their decision to ally themselves in the European Parliament with the Polish Law and Justice Party, a nationalist grouping whose members have made statements of the most unpleasantly homophobic and antisemitic nature. I usually decline such invitations, and how I wish I had done so on this occasion.

As I always say, trust your gut instinct. But anyway:

Words tumbled from my lips during that interview that were as idiotic, ignorant and offensive as you could imagine. It all been proceeding along perfectly acceptable lines until I said something like “let’s not forget which side of the border Auschwitz was on.”

Ouch. This is quite a stupid thing to say, in the heat of the moment or otherwise, Stephen.

The Polish government has been trying for years to eradicate the tendency of the Western media to refer to Auschwitz as “Polish concentration camp”. Yes, geographically Auschwitz is in the city of Oswiecim, which is in Poland. But that’s it. Everyone knows – and the government in Warsaw has been trying to reinforce that message – that it was a Nazi camp, in which thousands of Poles were murdered.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that any suggestion – intentional or not – that it was a Polish camp will be met by anger. To say the least.

But Stephen Fry knows that and he did realise he’d done something really bad.

Once the interview had been transmitted I started to receive the odd invitation to talk on Polish radio, explain myself to Polish journalists and make apologies to the Polish people in general.

And this is where Fry’s genius lies. He admits the whole storm initially got him riled even more and that he refused to apologise. But he eventually admits it was a rather irresponsible thing to say, bearing in mind the (still) sensitive nature of the subject and the public outcry following his comment. So he apologised today on his blog:

I take this opportunity to apologise now. I said a stupid, thoughtless and fatuous thing. It detracted from and devalued my argument, such as it was, and it outraged and offended a large group of people for no very good reason. I am sorry in all directions, and all the more sorry because it is no one’s fault but my own, which always makes it so much worse. And sorry because I didn’t have the wit, style, grace or guts to apologise at the first opportunity.

I hope my fellow countrymen – used to seeing cynical politicians who get offended and offend on purpose and without any apology – will see Stephen Fry’s post for what I’m sure it is: a genuine apology for a genuine mistake.

After all, as Stephen Fry himself says:

My father and squadrons of school teachers correctly reminded me throughout my childhood and youth, “Stephen just doesn’t think.

If only all people who offend by mistake had Stephen Fry’s class and style.

Image © chase-me via Flickr, used under Creative Commons licence

Basia is back

Matt Bianco fans have a reason to be cheerful this autumn. Basia, whose voice is familiar to anyone who in the early 1980s danced to Whose Side Are You On?, is back with a new album. (Oh, ok, the album was released a few months ago, but I only just listened to it for the first time a couple of weeks ago).

Basia was born in the south of Poland and before leaving the country in the late 70s, she sang with a couple of Polish groups. But her career really took off when she joined Danny White in London to form the band which was to become Matt Bianco.

I have to confess, I used to be a huge fan, but I haven’t listened to her music for 15 years. I recently came across her greatest hits album (Spotify link) and was amazed by how many good songs she had both as a solo artist and, earlier, with Matt Bianco.

Her latest CD It’s That Girl Again (Spotify link) surprised me a bit though. I was expecting more of the same – some good, jazzy Latino pop, and yes – the onitial songs don’t disappoint at all. They’re quite catchy. But later on it all sounds a bit different. I think I’ll need time to get used to her slightly more ‘straight pop’ sound. Maybe I’ve moved on, maybe she has. But it doesn’t sound as exciting and fresh to me. Which doesn’t mean it’s a bad album, nor does it negate her earlier achievements.

Anyway, I hope it’ll grow on me. Meanwhile, here’s some good old Basia: