Ode to The Speccie
Barry Humphries and Rowan Dean
Barry Humphries and friends in Bowral
Barry Humphries and Rowan Dean
29 April 2023
‘Is it alright if we pop in tomorrow morning?’ I asked Barry Humphries. It was Wednesday 5 April, and Andrew Neil was here for one of his regular visits to check up on his colonial outpost. Barry was scheduled to attend a Speccie lunch the following week, an invitation I had sent him several months before and which he was, apparently, very much looking forward to. News had reached us, however, that it was unlikely he would be in a fit state to attend.
I had originally met Barry Humphries at a book launch for Bill Leak in 2017, where he turned up as Sir Les Patterson, leaving the crowd (and Bill) in stitches. Tragically, Bill died two days later, and I met Barry again at the funeral, where, despite the solemnity of the occasion, Barry held court among the mourners, laughing and cracking jokes in his irrepressible style. Bill would have approved!
Over the following years I met Barry and Lizzie Spender on several unforgettable occasions put on by his dear friend the artist Tim Storrier and his wife Janet. At dinner one evening Barry agreed to appear in a documentary I was making for Sky called Death of the Larrikin about how Australian comedy was being destroyed by woke ‘cancel culture’, which proved uncannily accurate when he himself was subsequently cancelled by the Melbourne Comedy Festival. Proving just how spiteful and intolerant the so-called ‘tolerant’ left is, these cultural vandals (Barry called them PC jackals) even removed his name from the award, the Barry’s. The ‘cancelling’ of Barry Humphries was orchestrated by one Hannah Gadsby, a lesbian ‘comedian’ who went on the cultural warpath against Humphries because it appears she’d read an interview in which Barry had (accurately) pointed out that Cailtyn Jenner is a ‘mutilated man’ and transgenderism is a ‘fashion’.
Sitting up in his hospital bed, the event clearly still played on Barry’s mind. ‘Peter Cook and I established that festival,’ he said, shaking his head. Andrew Neil asked what sort of a comedian Gadsby herself might be. There was a pause, and then came the familiar twinkle in Barry’s eye. ‘She’s about as funny as a fire in an orphanage.’
For an hour Barry entertained us with what amounted to a private one-man show, regaling us with hilarious observations about the hospital staff, about politics, about ‘little Rupert’ (Murdoch), about a script he was planning for a new Adventures of Barry McKenzie and the state of politics in Australia. And he was most insistent that we tell the world that it was he, Barry Humphries, who had coined the international nickname for this magazine, The Speccie. As we got up to depart, wiping away the tears of laughter, Barry insisted we would be seeing him the following week. ‘Rowan, I’ve written a bit of doggerel,’ he said. ‘Can I send it to you?’
Unfortunately, Barry’s health took a turn for the worse over the weekend and when we spoke on Monday he said ‘the news was not good’, but as always, his mind was on his creative work. ‘That bit of doggerel,’ he insisted, ‘perhaps you could read it out? But don’t rush it,’ he insisted, ‘read it SLOWLY.’
Barry never made the event, but we spoke in the morning with final instructions about reading ‘the doggerel’ and again in the afternoon – he was keen to know how the doggerel had been received. ‘Well, we got lots of laughs,’ I replied, honestly.
A couple of days later we spoke again, about, of course, the doggerel. ‘But is it publishable, Rowan?’ he asked. ‘Of course it is,’ I replied. ‘It’ll be in next week’s issue’.
So here, dear readers, is the last piece of creative writing from Australia’s greatest ever comedic talent. Read it aloud, but remember, read it SLOWLY.
Back in the 1960’s
Recalled by some of you
I wrote for The Spectator
The occasional book review.
I wrote some of them in hospital
In remotest Hadley Wood
I didn’t want to be there
But my doctor thought I should
Dame Edna moved her bridesmaid
That garrulous, creepy Kiwi
Into a Catholic clinic
That reeked of fish and wee wee
Aloft on the heights of Hadley
St Paul’s prosaic steeple
Looked down upon a clinic
For slightly thirsty people.
I’d been too fond of 60’s parties
And all those tedious wine tastings
Instead I wished to be in print
With girls like Selina Hastings.
My book reviews would have made you cringe
Other journals would have spiked them
But Hilary my Speccie editor
Actually liked them
I felt that in the world of books
I had a special mission
To prove that amusing bullshit
Had the edge on erudition
I’ve known your colourful contributors
Throughout my adult life
And Jeff Bernard once punched my nose
For nearly sleeping with his wife
When the Spectator was going broke
Both Graham Greene and I
Decided the name Spectator
Was a little bit too dry
‘What would Dame Edna call us?’
Politely asked Gra Gra
So to Yuppies and fashionistas
Its called ‘The Speccie’ to this day
A friend who deals in used cars
Whom I always thought was kind
‘You’re not in showroom condition’
He once tactfully opined
Yes it’s true, but kindly note
That I haven’t got much choice
But to fill the Canberra void
I’M going to be THE VOICE!