Sunday, August 30, 2009

Saturday Night Fry - Cutlery Exhibition

This is a transcript of a sketch from episode 3 of Stephen Fry's radio comedy series, "Saturday Night Fry", not his later programs of the same name.  Audio:

Stephen Fry: And as the prelude to act 3 of Wagner's Lohengrin fades away, it's time once more for our reports. Now then, young Hugh, you've been out and about, I understand?

Hugh Laurie: That's right, Stephen. As you probably know, the Skylight Gallery in South Molton Street has just reopened with a retrospective exhibition of modern cutlery by the group of new cutlers working in and around the Leighton Road area.

Stephen Fry: In London, is it?

Hugh Laurie: (Coldly, quietly) Yes. London, obviously. It's Kentish Town. Leighton Road, as I said. (Normal) I went to the gallery to talk to the exhibition's designer, Bothwell Crant.

Hugh Laurie: (on location) We're in front of some cutlery here entitled simply, "International Place Setting with Extra Butter Knife." Bothwell, take me through this work.

Bothwell Crant: Yes, certainly. This installation, as the artist prefers them to be called, was conceived in 1986 by the neo-classicist cutler Medusa Stoppit in response to an incident in her own personal life. She was entertaining to dinner a number of close personal friends when she discovered that she had no utensils with which the food could be eaten. So she hit upon the idea of creating out of simple everyday materials like drop-forged steel, electroplated nickel-silver and Britannia plate a number of what she calls oral ingestment instruments.

Waiter (Stephen Fry): (with Italian accent) Eh, ready to order, sir?

Bothwell Crant: Oh, yes. Minestrone, I think, and the lasagna al forno. Hugh?

Hugh Laurie: tonno e fagioli, please, followed by soliola al limone.

Waiter (Stephen Fry): Very good, sir. To drink?

Bothwell Crant: Acqua minerale, okay by you, Hugh?

Hugh Laurie: Yes, fine. You've arranged, Bothwell, this whole exhibition rather like -- rather like a restaurant.

Bothwell Crant: That's right! It was very much the idea to see the work in situ, as it were, rather than lifelessly hung on walls.

Hugh Laurie: Mmm. I'd like to bring Medusa Stoppit in, too, if I may. Medusa, this cutlery, we're about to use it. I have to say it certainly seems very functional. It all fits well to hand. I'm using a bread knife at the moment and I must say it appears to be working perfectly.

Medusa Stoppit: Thank you. You'll notice that one edge is sharper than the other.

Hugh Laurie: Yes! Yes, I have noticed that, yes.

Medusa Stoppit: This is quite deliberate. Although all knives are essentially double-edged, it seemed important to me to ensure that one edge was keener. This reflects a sense in which the choices in life, though endlessly varied, relentlessly ambiguous, must ultimately resolve. One view of the world is in the end truer, one action juster, one decision wiser, one edge must be sharper.

Hugh Laurie: Mmm. It also presumably reflects a sense in which bread is resistant to a blunt edge as far as slicing goes.

Medusa Stoppit: (Pause) (coldly) I think that's rather a shallow observation.

Hugh Laurie: Thank you. I also couldn't help noticing that each of the edges of the knives has printed on it "Firth and Sons, Sheffield, stainless steel, dishwasher-proof".

Medusa Stoppit: That's right. In a very real sense they were the makers of the instruments.

Hugh Laurie: I see. You commissioned the canteen of cutlery from them to your own design.

Medusa Stoppit: Well, I bought the set from Peter Jones, actually.

Hugh Laurie: Peter Jones the department store in Sloane Square?

Medusa Stoppit: No, Peter Jones the actor and "Just A Minute" star. Yes, of course, the department store.

Hugh Laurie: But I thought you were responsible for the actual manufacture and design.

Medusa Stoppit: I'm an ARTIST! It would take years to learn the skills involved in cutling. I haven't got the time between private viewings and press interviews to start acquiring vulgar skills. That's for ARTISANS. I BOUGHT the cutlery. Surely that's enough. If YOU had selected it it would've remained cutlery! As it is, I bought it and it's become, as you can see, something remorselessly OTHER!

Bothwell Crant: I think what Medusa is trying to say is that materials, design and function are subservient to MEANING. Meaning, of course, is connotational and independent of prescribed DENOTATION. It is her election of a meaning that is relevant, not the notionally determined and ultimately arbitrary dictates of manufacturers.

Hugh Laurie: Right. I see.

Waiter (Stephen Fry): Eh, who is having the minestrone?

Bothwell Crant: Thanks.

Hugh Laurie: What's happened here is you've got me to buy you all lunch in a restaurant in the middle of Kentish Town on the pretext of you inventing a new art form.

Bothwell Crant: Well, I think that's putting it a trifle accurately.

Hugh Laurie: I've been taken for a ride.

Medusa Stoppit: Nonsense! If we'd been genuine, you'd have had a few boring hours of art talk which would've meant nothing to no one instead of which you're having a charming Italian meal with two fascinating and engaging artists.

Bothwell Crant: Con artists, admittedly, but artists nonetheless.

Hugh Laurie: Well. With that, it's back to you in the studio, Stephen.

Stephen Fry: (chuckles) Well, lovely report, Hugh. I hope you're none the worse for your ordeal.

Hugh Laurie: Nothing that a hot bath and the skills of an exceptionally gifted orthopedic surgeon couldn't cure.

Stephen Fry: Excellent! Right.

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