Simon Gray (who sadly died last year) never wrote a dull line in his life, and this book rivetingly tells his side of the notorious 'Cell Mates' saga of 1995. 'Cell Mates' was Gray's play, meditated for over five years, about the spy George Blake and his fellow convict Sean Bourke. After initial hesitations, Stephen Fry was cast as Blake, Rik Mayall as Bourke and rehearsals boded well. (Fry had appeared in other Gray projects, including the excellent 1990 BBC film 'Old Flames' opposite Simon Callow.) The play opened on February 17th 1995 but Fry abruptly quit the play a few days later following hostile reviews, (making national news at the time).
Initially, it was feared Fry might have committed suicide and 'Fat Chance' suggests Gray was genuinely anxious about Fry during this period. While Gray was seemingly generous and supportive immediately after Fry disappeared, his sympathies cooled markedly later. 'Fat Chance' displays this cooling-off in detail, and sometimes makes unedifying (if hypnotic) reading. The book was begun before the play closed in March 1995 and is sometimes a bit selective in its portrayal of Gray's behaviour, (e.g. not saying much about his explosive press-release of 2nd March 1995). Neither party came out unscathed: Fry publicly acknowledged a history of depression, while Gray's health collapsed as soon as 'Fat Chance' was finished.
Other Gray memoirs suggest he didn't readily (if ever) forgive disappointments, nor scruple about revisiting them in print. (See the well-nursed wrath of Gray's 'An Unnatural Pursuit' or 'How's That For Telling 'Em, Fat Lady?'.) Gray offers a convincing tribute to the resourcefulness of Fry's co-star, Rik Mayall, but can't resist insinuating things about Fry (and his fans) which are none too relevant or helpful. While it details a sad (in both senses) story, 'Fat Chance' is a compelling read, made up of generosity and spite, high ambition and low digs. I couldn't put it down.