Talking bench explains Stephen Fry’s love of Felbrigg Hall
An ordinary-wooden bench nestling against the wisteria-draped wall of a Norfolk stately home is providing a hi-tech insight into why the place is loved by a local celebrity.
Plug a set of earphones into a hole in the arm and you will hear writer, wit and actor Stephen Fry spelling out why Felbrigg Hall is such a special place to him .
The talking bench is one of eight unveiled today by the National Trust as a cluster of stars share their personal odes and anecdotes about their favourite Trust properties.
Mr Fry's velvet tones wax lyrical about feeling 'at home' at the hall near Cromer where he has a long association, having first excitedly visited as a young boy, cycling there to buy books after the death of historian squire Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer in 1969.
His first sight of the house was 'one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen' he explains.
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Later working visits included filming the Cock and Bull Story costume drama movie, which also starred Steve Coogan, Rob Brydon and Keeley Hawes and Gillian Anderson, where he was encouraged to 'eat noisily' with gusto rather than 'any starchy sense of politeness' in a house 'made for enjoyment.'
He also did a scene from his Norfolk-based comedy series Kingdom there.
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During an effusive seven minute talk he says how 'very alive' the place is, unlike the grander but empty chateaux of France, because the house and grounds are much as they were when the aristocracy and servants were there.
'You can almost hear the rustles of the skirts of the maids as they hurry along with bowls of steaming water, the barks of the butlers, and cries of the chef because the ingredients are not fresh enough,' he says.
It was somewhere 'not to be bamboozled by history and big facts and figures' but 'somewhere to be in tune with people who came before us, and remember a different way of living.'
The key to enjoying Felbrigg was to 'just wander and let your mind take over.'
The Felbrigg bench is carved with three words he chose to sum up the place - serenity, because of the 'ease about the place', thrill due to new surprises lurking there, and detail, through tiny things from carvings, globes, or carpets, to be savoured.
Speaking about the bench project Mr Fry said he was 'very proud' to be associated with it and hoped the seat would 'provide comfort, balm and solace for many a weary bottom.'
He added: 'To quote, or nearly quote, W. H. Davies, 'What is this life, if full of care, we have no time to sit and stare?'
Felbrigg property manager Ray Sandham said they were delighted to be one of just eight properties around the UK with one of the 'Benchmate' seats, and flattered Stephen Fry chose the hall.
'East Anglia has so many wonderful country houses; I'm delighted that Stephen Fry feels at home when he visits Felbrigg.
'Everyone here at the property has always believed it to be a special place. What it may lack in grandeur it more than makes up for in warmth and friendliness.'
The bench overlooks 1,000 acres of parkland in front of the hall, where Mr Sandham felt people would enjoy sitting to drink in the view and atmosphere through all the seasons.
'You are surrounded by wisteria, can look over thousands of daffodils, lavenders buzzing with bees and see the autumn colours in the woods,' he added.
Mr Sandham said he was glad Mr Fry had also talked about the grounds and gardens including the 'romantic' orangery brimming with exotic fruit, as 'this is more than just a big house, it's a complete package.'
The othert talking benches are: ?Miranda Hart - writer, comedian and actress at Cragside, Northumberland
?Claudia Winkleman - television presenter at Quarry Mill Bank, Cheshire
?John Sergeant - former ITN political editor and Strictly Come Dancing star at Petworth House and Park, West Sussex
?David Gower - former England cricket captain and commentator at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire
?Alain de Botton - philosopher and author at Castle Ward, County Down
?Nick Baker - naturalist and broadcaster at Cotehele, Cornwall
?Iolo Williams - naturalist and broadcaster at Dinefwr Park & Castle, Carmarthenshire
The Trust said the bench idea sprung from research that suggested that just half of the country took the time to appreciate the great outdoors and Britain's natural beauty. The seats aimed to help visitors enjoy the scenery by giving a relaxing 'celebrity view of the sights and sounds around them.'