Monday, January 11, 2010

Stephen Fry in America Makes Mistakes

Stephen Fry is an English actor, perhaps best known in the U.S. as Jeeves in the Jeeves and Wooster BBC/Masterpiece Theatre television adaptation of P.G. Wodehouse's series of comic novels. Mr. Fry, who claims to be a lifelong fan of the United States and of all of our quaint colonial ways, filmed a television series, Stephen Fry in America, which aired in the U.K. in 2008, but has not yet been broadcast in the U.S. The accompanying book, Stephen Fry in America, fifty states and the man who set out to see them all, was released in November 2009 in the U.S. In the book's Introduction, the author distances himself from Britons who sneer at
"American ignorance...crassness...isolationism...materialism...and vulgarity," (p.2).
Furthermore, Mr. Fry continues, the "broad general knowledge" which his countrymen feel they possess in spades, as Bertie Wooster would say, is no reason to be all snooty about us poor, pitiful colonials. Well, shucks, Steve, thanks and right back atchoo! Much of the book takes a simlar tone of being a back-handed compliment: Mr. Fry loves those salt-of-the-earth New York hunters, but please don't shoot any deer while he's filming you.
Ironically, "broad general knowledge" or even the ability to fact-check and proofread, seem to be qualities sorely missing in this travelogue, which is actually as much of an ego trip as a road trip for Mr. Fry. A casual reading revealed the following errors which an average American fourth grader would have noticed without straining a muscle. An Actual Editor might have found more mistakes, but you get the idea.

Grant's Tomb is in Washington, D.C. (p. 78) No, it's in NYC and three guesses who is buried there.

N.J. has a town called Brunswick (p. 61) Really, is that where New Rutgers is? Oh, I'm sorry, we colonials are incapable of irony (p. 2.)

George Washington crossed the Delaware from N.J. to PA to invade Trenton (p. 66, in the State of Delaware chapter, don't ask) OK, that would be a difficult military maneuver, even if it was just to defeat a bunch of drunken Brits carousing in the Trenton saloons on Christmas Day.

OTB refers to "on track betting" in New York and is the only legal kind of betting in America (p. 58) OTB refers to "off track betting."

Submarines are named after state capitals, (p. 46) Would that be like the (submarine) Nautilus, named after the capitol of ...? Oh, wait, there is no capitol city named Nautilus.

The Mississippi River flows from Chicago to New Orleans. Stephen, why do you find rivers so confusing?

Architect of the St. Louis arch, Eero Saarinen is referred to as Danish. He is Finnish, as any Finnish school child can tell you, and which I, barely literate Yankee that I am, know off the top of my head.

Excuse me for not having the page numbers for the last 2 errors. For a while I was writing mistakes on Post-it notes as I read, but my supply dwindled rapidly.

Fans of Stephen Fry will enjoy this book, but otherwise, give this book a fact-check-fail.


DJDeedle said...

I have another error to submit. Not actually something Stephen Fry said in the book, but a quote of Bari, his tour guide in DC - She says, "Washington is built on a drained swamp, after all." This is a myth.

Anne said...

thanks, DJDeedle. There are so many errors in the book, it could be the basis for some kind of catch the mistakes scavenger hunt, not that that sounds very fun, maybe for wannabe editors?
I like your music podcasting site and will tune in when not at work :-)