Real life hyperlinks

On Saturday 30 July I was lucky enough to be in the audience at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne for one of Stephen Fry’s two talks. Someone on JJJ remarked that the event was like spending two hours in conversation with one’s favourite disreputable uncle, which I think sums it up nicely.

Fry, with nothing but a microphone and his native charm, strolled back and forth across a bare stage talking about his life. He did brilliant impersonations of people he has known, was charmingly impolite and disarmingly frank about some ugly episodes in his life, and generally held us captivated for the entire period.

I suspect the evening performance varied from the one we saw, since Fry is likely to go off at tangents at a moment’s notice before returning to his theme. He mentioned (and did a funny impersonation of) Australian theatre great Frank Thring at one point. Tim and I had already noticed, prior to the show, a marble plaque at the entrance to the Regent in honour of Thring, who had been instrumental in saving a number of old theatres in Melbourne. I promptly tweeted a terrible picture of it to him after the show, and was fangirlishly excited beyond all measure when he tweeted back!

During his talk, he mentioned the concept of ‘real life hyperlinks’, where you discover something new to you via a mention elsewhere. As it happens, Stephen Fry is my Real Life Hyperlink into the world and works of PG Wodehouse.

Tim and I lived in Egypt from 1993-94, teaching English as a Foreign Language. Egyptian TV often showed odd English language programs in the mornings, and through this we caught Australian kids’ show The Girl from Tomorrow, and an Australian mini series set in the Queensland cane fields. One of the last series we saw before leaving Egypt was Jeeves and Wooster, starring Stephen Fry as Jeeves and Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster.

We were charmed and delighted. The language was exquisite. We promptly went and found the books on which the series was based, and discovered even more literary treasure with seven decades worth of books and short stories. Now we always have a Wodehouse story on hand as a way to de-stress when the world’s going a little bit mad.

It’s not the first time I’ve discovered literature as the result of a superbly done TV series. The 1990s Jeremy Brett version of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes led me to the original Conan Doyle stories, after decades of an avuncular Holmes and dim, corpulent Watson had utterly failed to engage me.

I have gone to source material after reading comics with an intriguing premise. I have gone to history books after fictionalised films and series have sparked my curiosity. I have read fiction and non-fiction books mentioned in newspaper articles, and followed up recommendations made by friends.

More recently, in creating my Melbourne Literary iPhone app (coming soon!), I have discovered books and authors I knew little or nothing about. I’ve read books I wouldn’t normally have chosen, and have a long list of new and classic authors to try.

Discovering something new by following a lead from a book, film, tv show, conversation or newspaper article, is another chance to make our knowledge richer and deeper. It’s an opportunity to engage in fresh ideas, or older wisdoms, and to learn more about our literary heritage. I’m hoping that when the app is finally available that it will act as a psychological hyperlink and that its users will discover something wonderful as a result.