Barry Humphries and his Dame

Flat White The Spectator Australia 23 April 2023

Several years ago, I found one of my parents doubled over in laughter – barely containing their brimming tears and gasping breaths as a book threatened to slip onto the floor. The perpetrator of this humour was a copy of More Please: An Autobiography by Barry Humphries. The man was somewhat of a mystery to me, overshadowed by his theatrical creations that had long since transcended from the stage into the fabric of Australian culture – never to be hushed.

It feels as though there has never been an Australia without Humphries.

Although the exaggerated cringe of the lecherous cultural attaché Sir Les Patterson lived to torment audiences, (who had all encountered a real-life ‘Les’ somewhere along the way), it was Dame Edna Everage that manifested an extraordinary affection within our hearts that are, this morning, breaking.

Dame Edna became a timeless vision of wisteria hair, rhinestone glasses (that paint Elton John as a fashion bore), sequined gowns with dangerously high slits, and an arm full of ‘gladdies’. She could get away with anything after the first, ‘Hello, Possums!’

Scrolling down Edna’s performances, it is astonishing to see Australia churn through the decades, each one marked by style trends ever more hideous than the last. And yet there is Edna, fabulous in every frame, somehow removed from the savage rigours of time.

Who else could upstage the Queen and overshadow Tom Jones? Which other performer could invade the royal box, clasp Camilla Parker Bowles’ wrist, and purr through the obvious faux pas, ‘I’m terribly sorry, but they’ve found me a better seat!’

Technically, Dame Edna was ‘breathing satire’, but somehow this stage character evolved into genuine person difficult to distinguish from Humphries. Those who interviewed both struggled with the enormity of these entities contained within one mind.

Even Humphries was quoted admitting:

‘Dame Edna has an ability, a psychic grasp, that I lack. And sometimes I can be on the stage like a ghost and there is Edna talking away to the audience, and suddenly she says something and brings the house down. And I think: “I wish I’d thought of that…!”’

Despite the persona of Mrs Norm Everage being originally derived from ‘normal’ and ‘average’, the fully-formed Dame was anything but… The United Kingdom and Australia were enraptured with the Melbourne suburban housewife, but that rascal colony, America, took a bit longer.

After a rather dismal New York Times review of his stage show, Humphries said, ‘Well, I’ll go back to Broadway, but I’ll wait till that critic’s dead – and I had to wait 25 years. I had to wait a quarter of a century for that critic to die.’ And so he did, in a triumph.

Today, the same publication has posted Dame Edna wearing the Opera House tamed into a fabulous hat, writing: ‘Dame Edna was considered a national treasure, a paragon of performance art long before the term was coined.’

In the end, Australia’s great love was undone in pursuit of a book, with Barry Humphries suffering a fall at the age of 89 which eventually resulted in his death at St Vincent’s hospital in Sydney. He was surrounded by his family, who had flown across the world to be there for him.

The last few months have been somewhat of a curtain call, only this time the gladioli have been thrown from the audience back onto the stage.

Humphries was able to hear the outpouring of affection that now swells in every publication, on every TV channel, and on every social media platform.

During his farewell days, Humphries remained in good spirits. According to the family: ‘Barry would like to thank everybody for the support and best wishes he has received but he would like more and more.’

Even on Friday, it was reported that he was still cracking jokes.

The official statement from his loved ones reads:

He was completely himself until the very end, never losing his brilliant mind, his unique wit and generosity of spirit.

With over 70 years on the stage, he was an entertainer to his core, touring up until the last year of his life and planning more shows that will sadly never be.

His audiences were precious to him, and he never took them for granted.

Although he may be best remembered for his work in theatre, he was a painter, author, poet, and a collector and lover of art in all its forms.

He was also a loving and devoted husband, father, grandfather, and a friend and confidant to many. His passing leaves a void in so many lives.

The characters he created, which brought laughter to millions, will live on.

Barry Humphries, the man, has left us – but his characters remain. He is an immense loss. Ordinarily one might say, ‘rest in peace’ but wherever Humphries is now, he has the audience in stitches.

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Comment by Nelle-another icon has left us and taken his unique sense of humour with him-but he will be remembered with affection as more and more, with the passing of time we need to have a good laugh

Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

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