03 April 2012

Stephen Fry & The Failiure Press

THE FAILIURE PRESS. Privately Printed, King's Lynn 1973 +

We have, for mostly commercial purposes, recently gone on Twitter as AnyAmountBooks and I find myself occasionally reading tweets from the man with 4 million disciples (we have 80.) What is noticeable is how early the tweeting starts...perhaps like Baroness T he only sleeps 4 hours a night. This reacquaintance with his work has prompted me to revisit a posting from June 2008.

I remember reading about the Failiure Press in Moab is my Washpot and making a note to look out for these elusive ephemeroids. The misspelling btw is deliberate. Recently I found 4 issues, 2 of which had crosswords by the 16 year old Fry, who by the evidence of his clues was already a prodigy and a polymath. Unless he contributed to some school mag at Uppingham this represents his first work in print--what the bibliographers call B1. The second issue has his first crossword and the third issue has the solutions and the second crossword. I have the first issue, fascinating but Fry free, the above two and an odd issue from April 1975. Stephen Fry writes that the magazine went on well after his brief involvement and '...plunged into a weird libertarian frenzy of polemical anti-Semitism, gall and bitterness: the title had ever been a hostage to fortune or self-fulfilling prophecy. In its early days it was light-hearted, occasionally amusing, and always self-consciously intellectual.'

It is certainly a very odd mag full of jokes, parodies, reviews of King's Lynn pubs, fake letters from Evelyn Waugh, Brian Aldiss etc. Baron Corvo is at the heart of it and there are genuine letters from intellectual priests like Brocard Sewell (taking issue with Donald Weeks) and the concrete poet Dom Sylvester Houdedard. There are poems and limericks in the New Model Alphabet, a crazed system reducing the alphabet to 13 letters to represent the 13 persons at the Last Supper - A B G H J K O P R S T and numbers 1 AND 5. Its problem seems to be that unless you are reading something you have just written you are unlikely to be able to decipher it. It is attributed to Viscount Luthor and in the issues I have New Model Alphabet writings probably represents less than 10% of the content. Corvo is 20% +--these were the times when Corvomania swept the cities and the fens. There is much whimsy and esoterica. The editorial in the first issue laments the lack of experimental or adventurous writing in current magazines like OZ and I.T. ('stylistic bankruptcy and bop mediocrity') and declares--
"...We will be as idiosyncratic, as paraliterary, as corvological, as quite other than uniform, and as quintessentially informed as we can and please. As usual, we are quite serious. Schopenhauer said: He who writes for fools will find a large audience; we will not underestimate ours!"
There follows a spoof message from Pope Paul VI at Castelgandolfo granting the readers of the magazine a plenary indulgence at the hour of death. Fry's crosswords were damnably difficult and dadaistic. Try this (7 letters) 'the way someone uneducated smokes a cigar nonchalantly.'

The solution is, of course, ABANDON. It was once considered vulgar or common to smoke a cigar with the band on, as it demonstrated how much you had paid for the cigar, an ungentlemanly thing. Hardened gamers might get to that eventually but how about this? 'The Monroe Doctrine has bonus queen involved.' Solution = SARKI (H.H. Munro was Saki, add an R for Queen, duhhh.) Somewhat easier and with the Fry touch is 'Prep-schoolboys' bedroom has insects at one end - and yet they sleep! (7 letters.) Answer below.

Also elementary is 19 across 'Dial for Art' (DALI). He was very fond of anagrams and especially hard hidden ones-- try this - 'A short established rape: he likes a malenky malchick.' The answer, which doesn't exactly come like clockwork, is PEDERAST. The great Baron Corvo is honoured in this clue- 'the great man himself - with a bar on' (5 letters). An early love of wordplay is demonstrated in this marvellous clue - 'Take a sou from something wonderful and you get something metaphysical (7 letters). Answer below. A great writer that Fry was to play in a major motion picture is evoked in this clue ''The lady of the lake made hers famous, anyone keen on the popular Aestheticist' (2,5,5,3) Answer below.

I noted that this magazine 'The Failiure Press' has at its mast on the first issues 'incorporating Rat's Alley' and also freakishly 'incorporating Rat His Alley.' Presumably these were earlier emanations from the King's Lynn Corvines and echo the lines in The Waste Land -'I think we are in rat's alley, / Where the dead men lost their bones'. Eliot, in his turn, seems to have got this from the name of a particular trench in WW1.
I cannot find my old Failiures anymore, the warehouse has subsumed or buried them and I would love to find Rat's Alley but suspect it might be as elusive as Corvo's The attack on St Winefride's well : or Holywell gone mad [1898] but less valuable.

Answers-- Dormant / Marvell /An Oscar Wilde Fan.


Chotapeg said...

Good indeed. You might find that SF sleeps no less than average it is just that he is in NZ filming LOTR.

bakelite medinah said...

Ubiquitous = Stephen Fry, has this man cloned himself?????

As A Kings Lynn-er this is actually intriguing.

Gail-Nina said...

Coming to this post just a tad late, I for once find myself richer in the material (goods) discussed than is the poster. I was part of the "gang" of Wildean/Corvine/Pataphysical younf pretenders to be found lurking in the ale-houses of King's Lynn, and probably do still have a complete collection of The Failiure Press productions. Alas, of its originators three are now untimely dead and Mr Fry, with whom I failed to keep up contact, has been apotheosised to unapproachable heights of glory, so I doubt there will ever be a reunion or revival of this lost moment of fine East Anglian literary pretension.