Under the Black Flag

American Ideas, Then and Now

Ten years or so ago Stephen Fry, English polymath, writer, TV personality, stage and screen actor, and many other things, gave a Spectator-sponsored lecture at the prestigious Royal Geographical Society. His theme was appreciation for America, where he said he would choose to live “in a heartbeat.” I know Stephen and paid extra attention to his speech because I’ve lived between his country and the U.S. for most of my adult life.

He said his love affair with Uncle Sam began by watching “Wagon Train, Rawhide, and The Lone Ranger, or with Bewitched, Dick Van Dyke and Lucille Ball.” It continued through the silver screen, through American actors such as Spencer Tracy, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, James Stewart, Cary Grant, Fred Astaire, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn and others like them. But what really turned him into an Americanophile was a Brit, P.G. Wodehouse, the creator of Jeeves, who spent the latter half of his life as an American citizen. Everything Wodehouse wrote about the energy, vivacity, warmth, welcome, and excitement of America thrilled Fry.

Fry compared his drab, middle-class British childhood of “grey weather, grey trousers, and grey attitudes” to the “dripping colorful slacks, pants, and jackets, sparkling jewels, thrilling cameras, perfumed furs and expensive tchotchkes” of his relatives living...

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