The modestly self-deprecating Hugh Laurie ("There are so many brilliant actors around that one more twit like me joining the back of the queue seems completely unnecessary") has developed from one half of the successful comedy partnership with Stephen Fry into a consummate film and television actor, respected on both sides of the Atlantic.
Born and raised in Oxford and educated at Eton, Laurie, the son of a rowing gold medallist, kept up the family tradition by representing Cambridge in the 1980 boat race. In his first year there he caught glandular fever and joined the Footlights, where fellow performer and girlfriend Emma Thompson introduced him to Stephen Fry. Still at Cambridge, he made his television debut providing the acid commentary on Friday Night, Saturday Morning (BBC, 1979-82). He became the Footlights president and their revue show The Cellar Tapes won the first Perrier Award at Edinburgh in 1981. From there, the gang were given their own sketch series, Alfresco (ITV, 1983-84).
He considered being a Hong Kong policeman, seeing himself as a laconic official with a pipe, but after the smoke cleared he developed his double act with Fry on the stand-up series Saturday Live (Channel 4, 1985-87). They graduated to writing and starring in their own sketch series A Bit of Fry and Laurie (BBC, 1986-95). With their sophisticated verbal gymnastics and sharp observations they mocked the middle classes, corporate England and espionage. Two of Laurie's successful recurring characters were Yuppie Peter and the bland MI5 agent Tony Mercheson.
Laurie scored three huge successes on television playing assorted gormless twits. In the Blackadder comedies, he was the gullible 'thickie' Prince Regent in Blackadder the Third (BBC, 1987) and the vacuous Lieutenant George in Blackadder Goes Forth (BBC, 1989). Teamed once again with Fry, Laurie starred in four popular series of P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster (ITV, 1990-93). Both huge fans of the books, they initially believed they couldn't do justice to Wodehouse's creations, but they relented and Laurie created the quintessential Bertie Wooster, the ultimate chinless wonder.
His film career has seen him take on a variety of roles. He survived the luvvie comedy Peter's Friends (d. Kenneth Branagh, 1992) virtually unscathed, and enlivened Sense and Sensibility (d. Ang Lee, 1995) and 101 Dalmatians (d. Stephen Herek, 1996). He played a TV commissioning editor trying to have a baby in Maybe Baby (d. Ben Elton, 2000) and he also starred in the successful mouse fantasy films Stuart Little and its sequel (US, d. Rob Minkoff, 1999/2002). He has lent his vocal talents to numerous animated programmes and films, including Preston Pig (ITV, 2000) and Valiant (d. Gary Chapman, 2005).
He has slowly erased the amiable fool image with a variety of challenging performances: the compulsive gambler in All or Nothing at All (ITV, 1993); as Vincente Minnelli in Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows (Canada/Germany/US, 2001) and the midlife crisis comedy drama Fortysomething (ITV, 2003), for which he directed three of the six episodes at short notice, having previously worked behind the camera shooting commercials in the early '90s. A perfectionist in all his endeavours, Laurie's career moved into a new phase with an Emmy nomination, for his misanthropic, patient-loathing Dr Gregory House in House (Channel 5, 2005), a role a million miles away from the bumbling characterisations on which he built the foundations of his career.