Fry, Plantagenet Somerset (writer)

Reference: MS 5121Date: c.1900s-1996Extent: c.80 files

Plantagenet Somerset Fry was born Peter Fry in January 1931, in his youth he added Somerset to his surname by deed poll, and Plantagenet was a nickname, relating to his advocacy of Richard III, which he adopted at university.

In 1954 Fry went up to Oxford to read history at St Catherine’s Society, later College, a modern foundation for less well-off, non-residential students. He and Audrey, his first wife, had only a small London County Council grant to live on and times were hard, but Plantagenet was in his element and found that the eccentricities which had set him apart elsewhere helped him to fit in to Oxford. In 1955, in search of extra income, he became a contestant on the TV show Double Your Money and won the jackpot of £512. The strangely dressed red-bearded young man with an unusual name and an encyclopaedic knowledge of historical facts became a celebrity, and he received several offers from publishers. His first book, ‘Mysteries of History’, was published before he went down and his second, a biography of Elizabeth I called ‘The Cankered Rose’ commissioned.  This began a successful career as a writer of popular histories for adults and children and guides to antiques and collecting. Until 1980 Plantagenet combined this with various editing and public relations jobs, culminating in five years as editor of books for HMSO. From 1980 until 1984 he was a Visiting Scholar at Wolfson College, Cambridge and from 1984 onwards a Senior Member of that institution, a privilege that he greatly enjoyed.

Plantagenet’s health was never robust and he also suffered injury in a succession of car crashes, after one of which he was confined to a wheelchair for some years. Although he did make a living from writing non-fiction, he was perpetually worried about money and, as he did not use an agent, had to do all his own negotiations with publishers.

His collection consists of manuscripts, typescripts and proofs of many of his poetry and other works including ‘Mysteries of History’, ‘The Cankered Rose’, ‘Great Commanders’, ‘The Wonderful History of the Jews’, ‘The Children’s History of the World’, ‘Antique Furniture and Collecting Junk’.  The collection also contains biographical material; business correspondence; newscuttings and photographs of Somerset Fry.


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