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A Bit of Laurie (& Fry)

“At first I thought it was a mistake, but then I realised that L’Oreal wasn’t looking for models but for people with strong personalities, who are worth it… and who aren’t afraid to proclaim that using cosmetics can be a very masculine decision after all.”

– Hugh Laurie.

 L’Oreal’s new middle-aged poster boy Hugh Laurie — or Hugh L’Oreal as he shall henceforth be known — used to attend the same gym as me in the 1990s, in Tufnell Park, North London, before he moved to the bright lights of Hollywood. He was an incredibly determined gym-goer, working up a terrific sweat and going quite beetroot red in the face while those famously goggly eyes stared fixedly into the distance.

A distance that turned out to be transatlantic stardom and lucrative men’s anti-ageing cosmetics endorsement deals. That sweaty determination was a surprising contrast with the foppish, Woosterish, posh idiot characters this Cambridge-educated thesp was famous for playing on British TV up until then.

He seemed to be aiming for a very much more ‘toned’ appearance than the largely working-class, younger lads that used the gym, most of whom who wanted ‘vulgar’ big muscles. He would also work out alone, and rarely speak to anyone (noticeable because it was a very chatty, sociable gym – or at least, I was forever chatting to the cute, vulgar lads). There was almost a kind of religious, monkish quality to his workouts. But perhaps that was less a class issue than a celebrity one.

One day though he brought along his considerably less toned, but equally posh gay chum and comedy ‘other half’ (very much the top half) Stephen Fry. Who was very chatty and flirty. But entirely ‘in character’. After patiently waiting for the face-down leg-curl machine I was hogging, he clambered onto his stomach and hurriedly moved the pin up to a much lighter weight, saying: “Oh, I couldn’t possibly lift that kind of weight! I don’t have your thighs!

You won’t be too surprised to hear that was the only time I saw Mr Fry in the gym. Mr Laurie, on the other hand, was always there.

Because, I suppose, he was ‘worth it’.

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21 thoughts on “A Bit of Laurie (& Fry)”

  1. (I’m being very bitchy about Hugh, although in fact like most 20-ish-30ish North American women, I have a huge – or Hugh – crush on House. Although that couldn’t keep me watching after the show turned into a soap opera several seasons ago.)

    (Incidentally, the crush is based on his sarcasm and intelligence. His ‘manliness’ has never entered the equation.)

  2. That pic’s from the 80s, too, I imagine? If only L’Oreal had been more ahead of the times, Hugh could have been their slogan-slinger in his tender youth! Back then I don’t think he was able to grow a beard, right? Either that, or the ‘House’ beard was a bid to look American… i.e., macho. Which means it takes an Englishman in male drag nowadays to signify “America.”

  3. What they really needed to do was put a wig on Hugh and let him bounce his locks. Otherwise I’ll never believe he’s worth it!

  4. Elise: You mean that ‘strong personality’ Hugh L’Oreal might not have been speaking his own thoughts but instead those of his sponsor?

    Surely not!

    Actually, I didn’t realise that the ‘because I’m worth it’ slogan was so closely associated with L’Oreal. Thanks for giving me an excuse to look at clips of Sybil Shepherd. She is definitely worth it.

  5. To me the most shockingly metro, even beyond metro, news in this story is Laurie using the “I’m worth it” line, which I associate with Cybill Shepherd’s hair dye ads from the 80s. It seems obvious it was L’Oreal’s nod to feminism, and very much aligned with a “I’m everything to myself” feminist/metro attitude.

    What, you can’t link to Wikipedia now?! But check out their L’Oreal page, History section, for the slogan’s history.

    Although if Laurie wants to talk “strong personalities,” he could start with 80s Shepherd.

  6. I never watch Casualty as it’s far to loud with too much shouting, Imagine, Eastenders with an A&E department.
    House is very watchable as it’s about finding the cause of problem. The use of computer graphics when showing the inner workings is excellent.
    It show has gone to satellite tv now so only the elite can watch.
    Mark, It’s an excellent show, full of chemistry and sarcastic one liners.

  7. PaulQ: Hand on heart, I’ve never watched an episode of ‘House’. I can’t watch medical/hospital dramas – I’m far too squeamish. Both about the human body and human sentimentality. The worst here is probably ‘Casualty’ which begins every week with a horrific massive accident that decimates and mutilates a coach party of children, nuns or fluffy bunnies.

    It’s probably my misogny at work here, but I suspect that the kindly sadism of hospital dramas is very popular with female viewers. Even in a medium that is catering mostly for women anyway. Which in turn makes me wonder whether L’Oreal aren’t actually targeting the female partners of over-the-hill middle-aged men who wish their man looked a bit more like Hugh.

    But of course decades in the gym, sweating ‘frightfully’, probably has more to do with Hugh’s youthful appearance than face creams. Not to mention the other ‘interventions’ common in Hollywood.

  8. I didn’t know Laurie’s father was an MD. If I see one more episode of “House” where sarcoid is on the differential I’ll scream. You would think tuleremia was common strep. Though I have to admit “bring me the thong of Lisa Cutty!” was one of the great moments of contemporary American television, though I suspect the “Wizard of Oz” reference was lost on at least half the audience.

    Fry’s at his best in supporting roles, like the anti-sleuth in “Gosford Park”, and the Freudian/Lawrencian in “Cold Comfort Farm.” Has he ever played Bunthorne?

  9. Paul: SF is an official National Treasure in the UK and so his fat face is spread everywhere, like cheap margarine. It’s funny how SF is much more famous in the UK than HL but much less well known than Hugh L’Oreal anywhere else. Perhaps they came to some arrangement about divvying up the world….

  10. I haven’t been up to date with SF since F&L. Unlike Hugh he isn’t well known out here–although I recently noticed the local video shop carrying a tour of America series. So my view of him almost entirely comes from F&L, which I kinda worship…

    Wilde the movie I had mixed feelings about and can see what you mean there. As for Jude Law–agreed, brilliant. But even better for me in The Talented Mr. Ripley.

  11. Paul: Glad you enjoyed my not terribly tasty bit of gossip. I have to confess however that although I was a fan of F&L I went off Fry later. Partly because I realised he was pretty much always ‘in character’ – and always everywhere. If not at my gym. And I’m afraid the film ‘Wilde’ was the final straw for me. After all, it wasn’t a film about Wilde at all, someone I’m rather interested in, but a film about Stephen Fry. The ultimate validation of his life-long light-entertainment impersonation of Wilde.

    Jude Law as Bosie, however, gave the performance of his life.

  12. What a great story Mark. F & L had so many brilliant moments and always cheers me up.

    I met Mr. Fry also, though in very different circumstances, ie at a talk and book signing in Bristol. He gave a superb and most entertaining appreciation of Oscar Wilde–I think this was just after the movie was released on DVD. But lovely to imagine him “in character” in a gym.

  13. The sense of failure has led him to suffer from critical depression. The irony is that he is the highest paid actor on television yet he know his dad was a greater man.
    An olympic hero and respected doctor and he must feel that he’s just an … ( he must meet quite a few needy shallow, pretentious people)
    I like Hugh, he’s charismatic and ruggedly handsome. I also believe the job does’t make the man, the man makes the man. We all need entertainment and he’s better than most at that.

  14. Hugh father was an Olympic rower (Gold) and a GP.
    I remember reading that he felt a failure in comparison especially in respect of the good work he did as a doctor.

  15. That’s the one. Twas called ‘Physique’ when I joined in the 80s. Changed its name to ‘Maximum Fitness’ in the 90s and tried to go a bit more ‘corporate’ and less bodybuilder, just as the area began to go ‘up-market’. And Hugh Laurie joined.

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