Charles Burgess Fry
(25 April 1872
– 7 September 1956
) was an English polymath
; an outstanding sportsman
. When he was only twenty-one, the magazine Vanity Fair
published a caricature of him and commented:
- He is sometimes known as "C.B."; but it has lately been suggested that he should be called "Charles III".
John Arlott summed him up thus:
- Charles Fry could be autocratic, angry and self-willed: he was also magnanimous, extravagant, generous, elegant, brilliant - and fun [...] he was probably the most variously gifted Englishman of any age.
He was born in Croydon and educated at Repton School and Wadham College, Oxford.
In sport, Fry was most noted for his cricketing
A highly effective right-handed batsman, Fry captained both Sussex and England, and scored over 30,000 first-class runs at an average of over 50 (a particularly high figure for an era when scores were generally lower than today). When he stopped playing, in 1921, he had the second highest average of any player who had retired with over 10,000 runs: only his Sussex and England colleague Ranjitsinhji had retired with a better career average. He headed the batting averages for five English seasons (in 1901, 1903, 1907, 1911 and 1912).
He scored 94 first-class centuries, including an unprecedented six consecutive centuries in 1901. No-one else has scored more consecutive hundreds. He captained England in six Test matches in 1912, of which England won four and drew two. In 1921 he was invited to captain England again at the age of 49, but declined. His career is counted one of the most notable in the history of cricket.
For both Sussex and England, he often batted with the outstanding cricketer Prince Ranjitsinhji, the future Jam Sahib of Nawanagar. Their friendship lasted well into the 1920s. When Ranjitsinhji became one of India's three representatives at the League of Nations, he took Fry with him as a speech writer (see Politics, below).
He played for Surrey in 1891 (but not in any first-class fixtures), Oxford University from 1892 to 1895, Sussex from 1894 to 1908 (captaining them from 1904 to 1908) and Hampshire from 1909 to 1921.
His son, Stephen Fry, his grandson, Charles Fry and his cousin, Kenneth Fry, all played first-class cricket.
Track and Field
In athletics, Fry equalled the then world long jump record of 23 feet 6 1/2 inches (7.17 m) in 1893 (tied with the American Charles Reber). This is often incorrectly claimed to have stood as a world record for 21 years, but this length of time actually only refers to how long he held the varsity record; his shared world record was broken in September 1894.
At the world's first international match, Oxford v Yale at the Queen's Club, West Kensington, in 1894, Fry came third in the long jump and won the 100 yards, though his sprint victory caused some controversy. While the American sprinters started in the crouch position on all fours, the British had not yet adopted this style and stood poised at the line. Fry insisted that he be allowed to suspend one foot in front of the starting line, hovering in mid-air, above the ground.
Fry's achievements also extended to association football.
He learned football at Repton School and was awarded his Oxford University Blue for soccer. In 1894 he joined the famous amateur club the Corinthians; although extremely proud of his amateur status, he decided that entering the professional game would enhance his chance of international honours. He chose Southampton as the leading lights in the Southern League and because The Dell was conveniently close to his home. He was registered as a Saints player in 1898, but his debut was delayed until 26 December 1900 (against Tottenham Hotspur).
Fry’s game was probably a little too refined for the hurly-burly of professional football and he never relished the physical excesses of some of the tackles. He achieved his aim of international honours when (along with Southampton’s goalkeeper, Jack Robinson) he was picked for England for the match against Ireland on 9 March 1901, played in Southampton.
The following season (1901-1902), The Saints reached the FA Cup Final, which they lost to Sheffield United in a replay. Although he had moments during the cup run in which he excelled, his tackling ability has been questioned. Fry played in all 8 of the FA Cup games for Southampton that season, but in only 9 League matches.
The following season he played twice at centre-forward, without success, but Southampton released him partly due to his lack of availability. He joined local rivals, Portsmouth, and made his debut for them on 21 January 1903. He became injured soon afterwards, and retired from the game.
Fry also played Rugby union
for the Oxford University RFC
and the Barbarians
According to a Manchester newspaper, Fry was able, from a stationary position on the floor, to leap backwards onto a mantelpiece.
Career outside sport
Fry graduated from Oxford
, having shown, according to Alan Gibson
, that he was a scholar comparable with John Simon
and F.E. Smith
, his contemporaries at Wadham
. He became a teacher at Charterhouse
, and later became Director of the Training Ship Mercury
, a nautical school primarily designed to prepare boys for service in the Royal Navy
(though initially this was primarily the interest of his wife Beatrice). He and his wife devoted almost forty years to this work. Though it was less lauded than most of his achievements, he was very proud of it. He was eventually given the rank of captain in the Royal Naval Reserve
(RNR). Alan Gibson wrote: He... would stride about in his uniform looking, as I think it was Robertson-Glasgow who said, every inch like six admirals.
He stood (unsuccessfully) as a Liberal
candidate for parliament for a Sussex constituency. Gladstone sent him a goodwill message, although Fry insisted that he was an independent. He won 22,059 votes, 4,785 fewer than the Conservative victor. He later fought the seats of Banbury, losing by just 224 votes, and Oxford, where again he was narrowly defeated.
Through his friendship with Ranjitsinhji, Fry became an adviser to the Indian delegation at the League of Nations (which included Ranji) in Geneva. He claimed to have been offered the throne of Albania while at Geneva, in 1920. Whether this offer genuinely occurred has been questioned, as Fry was famous for telling improbable stories and there is a lack of any mention of this offer by Albanian sources.
Writing, editing, publishing and broadcasting
The books which Fry wrote include:
- The Book of Cricket: A New Gallery of Famous Players (editor, appeared in 14 weekly parts, 1899)
- Giants of the Game: Being Reminiscences of the Stars of Cricket from Daft Down to the Present Day (with RH Lyttleton, WJ Ford & G Giffen, c1900)
- Great Batsmen: Their Methods at a Glance (with George W Beldam, who provided the photographs, 1905)
- Great Bowlers and Fielders: Their Methods at a Glance (with George W Beldam, who again provided the photographs, 1907)
- A Mother's Son (a novel written in collaboration with his wife, 1907)
- Cricket: Batsmanship (1912)
- Key-Book of The League of Nations
- Life Worth Living: Some Phases Of An Englishman (1939, his autobiography)
- Cricket On The Green For Club And Village Cricketers And For Boys (with RS Young, 1947)
He is also believed to have written much of The Jubilee Book of Cricket (1897), of which the nominal author was Ranji. He wrote prefaces and introductions for a number of other cricket books. He wrote articles on cricket and football for Strand Magazine in the early years of the 20th century. In the 1930s he wrote a column for the London Evening Standard, which as well as cricket covered many other topics. The column was credited with a considerable increase in the paper's circulation.
He launched and edited two magazines for boys, C.B. Fry's Magazine and The Captain, but neither was very successful.
In 1946 he was one of the BBC radio commentary team for the Tests between England and India.
In the 1920s, Fry's mental health started to deteriorate severely. He had encountered mental health problems earlier in his life, experiencing a breakdown during his final year at Oxford which meant that although academically brilliant he took a very poor degree. In India in the late 1920s, he had a major breakdown and became thoroughly paranoid. For the rest of his life, he dressed in bizarrely unconventional clothes and had frighteningly eccentric interludes. He developed a horror of Indians, including his friend Ranjitsinhji. He did recover enough to become a popular writer on cricket (and other sports), and even in his sixties entertained hopes of becoming a Hollywood
star. According to noted cricket writer David Frith in his book 'Pageant of Cricket', C.B. Fry was occasionally seen running naked down Brighton Beach during his less stable interludes.
In 1934, he met Adolf Hitler and was mesmerised by him. He failed to persuade von Ribbentrop that Nazi Germany should take up cricket to Test level, but some Hitler Youth were welcomed at the Mercury training ship and Fry was still expressing enthusiasm for them in 1938. He retired from his position at T.S. Mercury in 1950. He died in 1956, in Hampstead, a "grand old man of sport".
- "Life Worth Living", Autobiography, 1939, Reprinted by Pavilion Books Ltd., in 1986
- "C.B. The Life of Charles Burgess Fry" by Clive Ellis, J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd., (1984). ISBN 0-460-04654-3
- "CB Fry: An English Hero" by Iain Wilton, Metro Books, 1999. ISBN 186066170X (download as an Ebook)
- "CB Fry: King of Sport" by Iain Wilton, Metro Books, 2002. ISBN 1843580306
- "The Captain's Lady" (a biography on his wife Beatrice [née Sumner]), by Ronald Morris (TS Mercury old-boy), Chatto & Windus, 1985. ISBN 0-7011-2946-8
- "Hamble, A Village History" (chapter on Beatrice Fry's Training Ship Mercury), by Nicolas Robinson, Kingfisher Railway Publications, 1987.
- "The Training Ship Mercury: A History" by A.L. White. Published by the T.S. Mercury Old Boys' Association, 2003 ISBN 0-9548009-0-7
- A "Pageant of Cricket" by David Frith. Published by MACMILLAN in 1987.
- "The Cricket Captains of England", by Alan Gibson, The Pavilion Library, 1989, ISBN 1-85145-390-3, pp102-108.