Stephen Fry has become involved in an extraordinary tit-for-tat slanging match with the Daily Mail newspaper, accusing its editor Paul Dacre of being a "frothing autocrat" after the tabloid ran what the author and TV presenter described as a "hate-piece" lambasting Fry's call for the relocating of the Winter Olympics away from Sochi in Russia.
Fry had written an "Open Letter" to the Prime Minister, David Cameron, calling for the Games to be held elsewhere after Russia passed laws cracking down on "gay propaganda".
He accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of "making scapegoats of gay people, just as Hitler did Jews".
Cameron later rejected the call, saying he favoured British athletes attending the Games. "I believe we can better challenge prejudice as we attend, rather than boycotting the Winter Olympics," he said.
Britain's most popular tweeter, Fry locked horns with the country's most powerful newspaper editor after Dacre commissioned a column by the conservative academic and theologian Adrian Hilton, which took Fry to task for assuming the mantle of spokesman for gay rights.
Fry had likened Russian President Vladimir Putin to Hilter, and warned he would seek to use the Games for propaganda purposes, much as Hitler had done with the Munich 1936 Olympics.
Hilton wrote: "I don't want to dwell on Fry's association of the 2014 Sochi winter games with the 1936 Olympiad in Berlin: the systematic incineration of six million Jews in industrial ovens bears no comparison with the marginalisation and repression of minorities in Putin's Russia."
Hilton accused the comedian of "grandstanding", branding his call for a boycott "a haughty and detached gesture which harms the innocent and penalises Russia's outstanding sportsmen and women who will be deprived of their chance to inspire the very generation which might sweep Putin and his thugs from power".
He accused Fry of hypocrisy for making no effort to condemn British association with Russian artistic projects in the ballet and theatre.
Fry hits back
Fry rose to the bait, embarking on a demolition job of his own. He likened Dacre's politics to the pre-war appeasement of Hilter, comparing him to Mussolini.
Refering to Hilton, Fry wrote, with studied nonchalance: "Apparently the hate-piece was put together by a disc jockey called Colin something or other, whose great use for Lord Dacre, the Mail's autocratic führer, is that he is gay."
Fry then rounded on the paper's right-wing values, accusing the Mail of holding historically reactionary principles, or none at all.
"The Mail still can't quite live with the shame that it has always, always been historically wrong about everything - from Picasso to equal pay for women. It has always been against progress, the liberalising of attitudes, modern art and strangers (whether by race, gender or sexuality).
"Deep down they have always had the same instinct for the lowest, most mean-spirited, hypocritical, spiteful and philistine elements of our island nation."
Fry then reminded readers of the Daily Mail's infamous backing for Hilter in the 1930s.
Fry wrote: "In January 1934 Harold Harmsworth, 1st Viscount Rothermere, younger brother of the paper's founder Alfred Northcliffe (the 4th Viscount Rothermere is chairman of the company that still owns it) wrote an article called 'Hurrah for the Blackshirts'. He was sending congratulatory telegrams to 'My dear Führer' as he liked to call him, right up until a few months before the outbreak of war."
He said of Putin: "The fanatical junior KGB officer Vladimir Putin will become, if he is allowed to get away with it, as autocratic as any Tsar or any Soviet chairman. Vladimir the Terrible will have blood on his hands. He already does, but there will be so so much more. Little children will die in the streets."
But it was the Mail's editor that bore the brunt of Fry's ire.
"Dacre is ... an absolutely foul-mouthed boss, who constantly screams the c word at just about anyone. He would have read my Open Letter to David Cameron and yelled that 'that c**t Fry needs another f**king dressing f**king down' - just the kind of language that his paper would prissily decry of course, there's the glory in the vile bastard's hypocrisy."
Crying hypocrisy himself, Fry added: "He [Dacre] sends his son to Eton, but mocks me for being posh. He bullies, swears and shrieks, but presents his paper as having the values and standards of a misty Midsomer Britain.
"He decries indecency on one page and pushes his male readers into a semi over a semi-nude actress on another. His cancer scare, miracle cure stories are sickeningly anti-science and the only good thing to be said about his Mail is that no one decent or educated believes in it."
Saving his worst invective until last, Fry concluded: "Dacre is, all those who have had the misfortune to work for him assure me, just about as loathsome, self-regarding, morally putrid, vengeful and disgusting a man as it possible to be.
"His power is absolute. Cross him either in private or public and you will be assassinated by his sycophantic squad of columnist minions, all of them infected with his brand of repulsive hypocritical and gleeful spite, ready to vomit out a screed against the BBC or any other institution they hate.
"He absolutely despises me and thinks I stand for everything that is wrong about Britain and I think exactly the same of him."