Stephen Fry is set to deliver a deeply person Alternative Christmas Message for U.K. broadcaster Channel 4, in which he will address the rising tide of antisemitism across the world.
Calling for solidarity, Fry, who is an atheist and a humanist, urges the audience to call out antisemitism as they would any other form of racism: “Standing upright means speaking up and calling out venomous slurs and hateful abuse wherever you encounter them.”
“There is real fear stalking the Jewish neighbourhoods of Britain,” he continues. “Jewish people here are becoming fearful of showing themselves. In Britain, in 2023. Can you imagine, Jews afraid to be themselves in the open for fear of reprisal?”
Fry opens the message, which will air shortly after King Charles III’s annual Christmas speech on the BBC, by publicly proclaiming his own Jewishness, a fact he says many people don’t realize. “Indeed sometimes people rather embarrassingly refer to me as ‘quintessentially English’ whatever that means,” he explains. “I suppose it’s because I love cricket and Shakespeare and the Archers on radio 4 and my vocal chords appear to be made of tweed.”
But in fact, he says his Jewish mother came from Central Europe in the 1930s while his father was also “a fraction Jewish.”
He says that, growing up, be believed it was being gay that would be the most challenging aspect of his identity as an adult: “One truth about myself however, that I never thought for one single second would ever be an issue about which I had any cause to worry in this country, was that I’m a Jew.”
The actor, who has appeared in “The Morning Show” and “The Dropout” as well as hosting quiz shows in the U.K., cites Metropolitan Police statistics of an 1350% increase in reported incidents of antisemitism in London since Oct. 7, the date that Hamas terrorists murdered over 1,400 people of all faiths in Israel and kidnapped 240 more (100 of those have been released but the youngest hostage, an 11-month old baby, is still being held captive).
In the U.K., meanwhile, Oct. 7 acted as a catalyst for a wave of antisemitism. “Shop windows smashed, Stars of David and swastikas daubed on walls of Jewish properties, synagogues and cemeteries. Jewish schools have been forced to close,” Fry notes.
This year’s message was produced by Ben Turner and Leo Pearlman for Fulwell 73 and commissioned by Cimran Shah and Timothy Hancock for Channel 4.
For the past 30 years, U.K. public service broadcaster Channel 4 has broadcast an “alternative” Christmas message on the same afternoon the British monarch broadcasts their traditional Christmas speech to the nation.
Previous guests to make the alternative speech have included Sacha Baron Cohen as his alter-ego Ali G, Marge Simpson (performed by Julie Kavner), Sharon Osbourne and controversially, in 2020, a deepfake of Queen Elizabeth II.
The Alternative Christmas Message has also been used as an opportunity to address serious topics: last year’s speech was delivered by an AI robot while other topics have included homophobia, which Olympic diver Tom Daley discussed in his 2021 speech, and racism, which Doreen and Neville Lawence – whose son Stephen was brutally murdered – addressed in theirs.
Channel 4’s chief content officer, Ian Katz, comments: “It’s inevitable that the horrific events in Israel and Gaza have caused strong feelings across the world but the sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents in this country has been profoundly shocking and left many British Jews feeling fearful and isolated. I hope Stephen’s brave and personal intervention will draw attention to a form of racism that does not always attract the same concern and condemnation as other forms of hate and remind us that we all have a role to play in defending British values of respect and tolerance.”
Read Fry’s full message, which will be broadcast on Dec. 25 on Channel 4 at 5:10 p.m. local time, below:
Merry Christmas! As a child I was almost unbearably excited by stockings, games, chocolates and presents. To this day the aroma of mince pies triggers me into gulping fits of sentimental ecstasy.
But as I grew out of childhood, realising I was gay, I saw a long, lonely line of Christmases ahead of me. Exclusion, exile, and disgrace had been and surely always would be the fate of the homosexual. But look! In my short lifetime (well I think of it as short) Britain has moved towards an understanding and acceptance of gay love.
Alright, it’s not perfect of course, but what an improvement over the grim culture in which I grew up.
One truth about myself however, that I never thought for one single second would ever be an issue about which I had any cause to worry in this country, was that I’m a Jew. Yes, you heard me correctly, I am a Jew. That may surprise some people. It surprises me really. I don’t think of myself as especially Jewish. Indeed sometimes people rather embarrassingly refer to me as ‘quintessentially English’ whatever that means. I suppose it’s because I love cricket and Shakespeare and the Archers on radio 4 and my vocal chords appear to be made of tweed. But if you take a swab of my spittle – as I did with one of those genetic services – up comes 52% Ashkenazy Jew. More than half, which was a bit of a surprise. My mother’s Jewish family came over from Central Europe in the 1930s, but my father died without knowing that he was a fraction Jewish. Maybe you are a fraction Jewish too without knowing it. Does it matter? I mean, I don’t really “identify as Jewish” any more than I “identify as English” or British.
Then again, I know, because I’ve been warned, that I’ve been on lists of British Jews that some ultra-right wing newspapers and sites have published over the years. And I’m frankly damned if I’ll let antisemites be the ones who define me, and take ownership of the word Jew, injecting it with their own spiteful venom.
So I accept and claim the identity with pride, I am Stephen Fry, and I am a Jew. The great Irish thinker and writer Conor Cruise O’Brien once said that “antisemitism is a light sleeper”. Well, it seems to have woken up of late. The horrendous events of October the 7th and the Israeli response, seem to have stirred up this ancient hatred. It’s agonising to see all the violence and destruction that’s unfolding, and the terrible loss of life on both sides brings me an overwhelming sadness and heartache. But whatever our opinions on what is happening, there can be no excuse for the behaviour of some of our citizens.
Since October the 7th there have been 50 separate reported incidents of antisemitism every single day in London alone, an increase of 1350% according to the Metropolitan Police. Shop windows smashed, Stars of David and swastikas daubed on walls of Jewish properties, synagogues, and cemeteries. Jewish schools have been forced to close. There is real fear stalking the Jewish neighbourhoods of Britain. Jewish people here are becoming fearful of showing themselves. In Britain, in 2023.
My Jewish grandparents loved Britain, believing that Jews were more welcome here than in most countries. I am glad they aren’t alive now to read newspaper stories that would have reminded them of the 1930s Europe that they left. They believed Britishness meant being fair and decent, but what can be more unfair or indecent than race hatred, whether antisemitism, Islamophobia, or any kind?
So what is my message this Christmas: the simple truth that we are all brothers and sisters? It’s naive, but it’s as good a message as any other. At this time in the face of the greatest rise in anti-Jewish racism since records began, Jews should stand upright and proud in who they are. And so should you, whatever your genetic makeup.
Standing upright means speaking up and calling out venomous slurs and hateful abuse wherever you encounter them. Knowing and loving this country as I do, I don’t believe that most Britons are ok living in a society that judges hatreds of Jews to be the one acceptable form of racism. So speak up, stand with us, be proud to be Jewish or Jew-ish – or, if not Jewish at all, proud to have us as much a part of this great nation as any other minority, as any of you.
And so this mad quintessential queer English Jew wishes you – whatever your race or creed, however you identify yourself – all peace, joy, and a very merry Xmas, formerly known as Twittermas. And now let’s all exhale that great sigh that Jews have sighed for thousands of years. Oy.