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Who was CB Fry and what did he do

01:00 Thu 03rd Oct 2002 |

It's easier to say what he didn't do: invent the Internet, split the atom, discover the source of the Nile, appear on Celebrity Big Brother, hitch-hike round South America, DJ at the Ministry of Sound, become King of Albania...

Hold on, what's that about Albania

CB Fry never became King of Albania - something that millions of people have similarly failed to do throughout history. Where Fry is different is that, unlike most mere mortals, he was offered the throne - and nearly said yes!

Now I'm really confused.

Best to start at the beginning. Charles Burgess Fry was born in West Croydon in 1872. He won a scholarship to Oxford University where his outstanding all-round abilities earned him the nicknames 'Charles III', 'Almighty' and 'Lord Oxford'. Fry did little to play down the adulation, which reflected academic brilliance (obtaining a first class degree with honours), intellectual prowess (a brilliant conversationalist, he was chums with Max Beerbohm and Hilaire Belloc as an undergraduate) and unprecedented sporting greatness.

He won 12 blues at Oxford, at one stage captaining the football, athletics and cricket teams. (He missed captaining the rugby team through injury.) Oh, and in 1896 he equalled the world long jump record of 23 feet, 5 inches despite never having been coached or even trained in the sport. His record would stand until 1917.


Blimey That's not the half of it. This was the same year that he missed competing in the first Olympics of the modern era only because he was returning with the England cricket side from a tour of South Africa. (Fry was named Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1895).

A sublime right-handed batsman, Fry went on to captain both Sussex and England (as captain he never lost a Test Match) and score over 30,000 first-class runs at an average of over 50. He came perilously close to scoring 100 100s (he managed 94) including an unprecedented six consecutive centuries in 1901. No-one has bettered that to this day. He was invited to captain England again at the age of 49. (He declined). All in all one of the greatest careers in the history of cricket.

So CB Fry was a famous cricketer...

Not just cricket. Fry played football for England, (or should that be 'association football' - he was a famous snob). He played in the 1902 FA Cup Final for Southampton and achieved a jolly decent standard of rugby to boot, with Oxford, Blackheath and the Barbarians.

I get the picture, so he was a cricketer and all-round sportsman...

And more besides. From 1904 onwards he was the founder and star journalist of Fry's Magazine - an enormously popular publication aimed at those impressionable young men for whom Fry was a complete hero. He wrote many cricket books, a bestselling novel and - eventually - an autobiography.

OK: cricketer, all-round sportsman and writer...

And teacher. Fry founded a training ship called the Mercury on the river Hamble in Hampshire with his wife Beatrice.This proved to be his life's work - 42 years spent turning boys into (naval) men.

Cricketer, all-round sportsman, writer and teacher...

... and diplomat. As an undergraduate, Fry had befriended the future Maharaja Jam Sahib of Nawanagar, better known as the outstanding cricketer Prince Ranjitsinjhi, with whom Fry opened the batting for Surrey. After the First World War Ranji invited his friend to be one of one of India's representatives at the League of Nations - the forerunner of the United Nations.

It was here in Geneva that the Albanian delegation, upon finding that their ruling family, the Wieds, had vanished back to their native Germany, tried to recruit Fry to be their new King. Sadly, for our tale, it never happened. The Albanians wanted a man of independent wealth, and Fry simply didn't have the readies. (A lesser known detail of this fascinating piece of Ruritanian diplomacy - Auberon Waugh's grandfather, the diplomat and Army officer Aubrey Herbert, was also sounded out at the same time). Amet Bej Zogu got the job instead, becoming King Zog I without ever so much as holding a cricket bat in his life.

Well then, cricketer, all-round sportsman, writer, teacher, diplomat and almost a King...

He was also a popular nude model. But have you noticed that after that breathtaking early career, Fry's life is becoming one of near misses and also-rans The teaching role was demanding but hardly earth--shattering. Journalism was the financial mainstay of his life but it didn't fulfil his early potential. He stood for Parliament three times for the Liberal Party, but lost on each occasion. It seems he toyed with the idea of an acting career, and went so far as to visit Hollywood in the 1930s, but nothing came of it; (he was handsome, as well as everything else).

So not everything went his way.

Far from it. In 1934 he met and was impressed by Hitler; he publicly praised Nazi Germany as late as 1938, though he lately recanted. On a personal level, his marriage was bizarre. His domineering wife, Beatrice, was ten years older than him and the lifelong mistress of a wealthy banker, Charles Hoare, father of her illegitimate children. Hoare bankrolled the Mercury - a constant reminder to Fry of the hidden realities behind his marriage.

Many people managed to contain their awe for the man, and he aroused envy, rumour and wrath, even amongst cricket fans. He was not the easiest man in the world to get along with. Then there were the episodes of mental instability (and electric shock therapy) which haunted his middle and later years. And the fact that, for all his early brilliance, he will remain not much more tha a footnote in history.

CB Fry died in 1956. We shall not see his like again.

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