John Barry Humphries, AO, CBE (born 17 February 1934) is an Australian
comedian, actor, satirist, artist, and author. He is best known for
writing and playing his on-stage and television alter egos Dame Edna
Everage and Sir Les Patterson. He is also a film producer and script
writer, a star of London's West End musical theatre, an award-winning
writer, and an accomplished landscape painter. For his delivery of
dadaist and absurdist humour to millions, biographer Anne Pender
described Humphries in 2010 as not only "the most significant
theatrical figure of our time … [but] the most significant comedian
to emerge since Charlie Chaplin".
Humphries' characters have brought him international renown, and he
has appeared in numerous films, stage productions, and television
shows. Originally conceived as a dowdy Moonee Ponds housewife who
caricatured Australian suburban complacency and insularity, Dame Edna
Everage has evolved over four decades to become a satire of stardom
– a gaudily dressed, acid-tongued, egomaniacal, internationally
fêted Housewife "Gigastar"; Humphries' other major satirical
character creation is the archetypal Australian bloke Barry McKenzie,
who originated as the hero of a comic strip about Australians in
London (with drawings by Nicholas Garland) which was first published
Private Eye magazine. The stories about "Bazza" (Humphries'
nickname, an Australian term of endearment for the name Barry) gave
wide circulation to Australian slang, particularly jokes about
drinking and its consequences (much of which was invented by
Humphries), and the character went on to feature in two Australian
films, in which he was portrayed by Barry Crocker.
Humphries' other satirical characters include the "priapic and
inebriated cultural attaché" Sir Les Patterson, who has "continued to
bring worldwide discredit upon Australian arts and culture, while
contributing as much to the Australian vernacular as he has borrowed
from it"; gentle, grandfatherly "returned gentleman" Sandy Stone;
iconoclastic 1960s underground film-maker Martin Agrippa, Paddington
socialist academic Neil Singleton; sleazy trade union official Lance
Boyle; high-pressure art salesman Morrie O'Connor; and failed tycoon
1 Early childhood
3 Early career in Australia
4 London and the 1960s
6 Film roles
7 One-man shows
7.1 Farewell tour
8 Dame Edna
9 Sir Les Patterson
10 Sandy Stone
11 Television roles
12 Success in the United States
13 Personal life
14 Other work
14.4 Biographical studies
14.5 Fictional characters
15 Awards received
16 Eponymous awards
18 External links
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Humphries was born in the suburb of Kew in Melbourne, Australia,
the son of Eric Humphries (John Albert Eric Humphries), a construction
manager, and his wife Louisa Agnes (Brown). His grandfather was an
emigrant to Australia from Manchester, England. His father was
well-to-do and Barry grew up in a "clean, tasteful, and modern home"
on Christowel Street, Camberwell, then one of Melbourne's new
"garden suburbs". His early home life set the pattern for his eventual
stage career; his parents bought him everything he wanted, but his
father in particular spent little time with him, and Humphries spent
hours playing at dressing-up in the back garden.
Disguising myself as different characters and I had a whole box of
dressing up clothes ... Red Indian, sailor suit, Chinese costume and I
was very spoiled in that way ... I also found that entertaining people
gave me a great feeling of release, making people laugh was a very
good way of befriending them. People couldn't hit you if they were
His parents nicknamed him "Sunny Sam", and his early childhood was
happy and uneventful. However, in his teens Humphries began to rebel
against the strictures of conventional suburban life by becoming
"artistic", much to the dismay of his parents who, despite their
affluence, distrusted "art". A key event took place when he was nine
– his mother gave all his books to The Salvation Army, cheerfully
explaining: "But you've read them, Barry".
Humphries responded by becoming a voracious reader, a collector of
rare books, a painter, a theatre fan and a surrealist. Dressing up in
a black cloak, black homburg and mascaraed eyes, he invented his first
sustained character, "Dr Aaron Azimuth", agent provocateur, dandy and
Educated at Camberwell Grammar School, Humphries has been awarded his
place in the Gallery of Achievement there. As his father's building
business prospered, Humphries was sent to
Melbourne Grammar School
where he spurned sport, detested mathematics, shirked cadets "on the
basis of conscientious objection" and matriculated with brilliant
results in English and Art. Humphries himself described this
schooling, in a
Who's Who entry, as "self-educated, attended Melbourne
Humphries spent two years studying at the University of Melbourne
(Queen's College), where he studied Law, Philosophy and Fine Arts.
During this time he became Australia's leading exponent of the
deconstructive and absurdist art movement, Dada. The Dadaist pranks
and performances he mounted in
Melbourne were experiments in anarchy
and visual satire which have become part of Australian folklore. An
exhibit entitled "Pus in Boots" consisted of a pair of Wellington
boots filled with custard; a mock pesticide product called "Platytox"
claimed on its box to be effective against the platypus, a beloved and
protected species in Australia. He was part of a group that made a
series of Dada-influenced recordings in
Melbourne from 1952–53.
"Wubbo Music" (Humphries has said that "wubbo" is a pseudo-Aboriginal
word meaning "nothing") is thought to be one of the earliest
recordings of experimental music in Australia. Other exhibits include
"Creche Bang", a pram covered in meat and "Eye and Spoon Race", a
spoon with a sheep's eye.
Humphries was legendary for his provocative public pranks. One
infamous example involved Humphries dressing as a Frenchman, with an
accomplice dressed as a blind person; the accomplice would board a
tram, followed soon after by Humphries. At the appropriate juncture
Humphries would force his way past the "blind" man, yelling "Get out
of my way, you disgusting blind person", kicking him viciously in the
shins and then jumping off the tram and making his escape in a waiting
An even more extreme example was his notorious "sick bag" prank. This
involved carrying on to an aircraft a tin of
Heinz Russian Salad,
which he would then surreptitiously empty into an air-sickness bag. At
the appropriate point in the flight, he would pretend to vomit loudly
and violently into the bag. Then, to the horror of passengers and
crew, he would proceed to eat the contents. One April Fools' Day
Humphries placed a roast dinner and glass of champagne in an
inner-city rubbish bin. Later in the morning, when there were many
businesspeople queuing at a nearby building, Humphries approached the
group as a dirty, dishevelled man. He walked to the bin, opened the
lid and proceeded to lift the roast and glass of champagne and drink
from the glass. Much to the amazement of watchers-by, he found a
suitable seating area and began to eat the meal. Such stunts were the
early manifestations of a lifelong interest in the bizarre,
discomforting, and subversive.
Early career in Australia
Humphries had written and performed songs and sketches in university
revues, so after leaving university he joined the newly formed
Melbourne Theatre Company (MTC). It was at this point that he created
the first incarnation of what became his best-known character, Edna
Everage. The first stage sketch to feature Mrs Norm Everage, called
"Olympic Hostess", premiered at
Melbourne University's Union Theatre
on 12 December 1955. In his award-winning autobiography, More Please
(1992), Humphries relates that he had created a character similar to
Edna in the back of a bus while touring country Victoria in Twelfth
Night with the MTC at the age of 20. He credited his then mentor,
Peter O'Shaughnessy, that without his "nurturing and promotion, the
Edna Everage would have been nipped in the bud after 1956
and never come to flower, while the character of Sandy Stone would
never have taken shape as a presence on the stage".
In 1957 Humphries moved to Sydney and joined Sydney's Philip Street
Revue Theatre, which became Australia's leading venue for revue and
satirical comedy over the next decade. His first appearance at Phillip
St was in the satirical revue Two to One, starring veteran Australian
musical star Max Oldaker, with a cast including Humphries and future
Number 96 star Wendy Blacklock. Although he had originally assumed
Melbourne appearance would be a one-off, Humphries
decided to revive "Olympic Hostess" for Phillip Street and its success
helped to launch what became a fifty-year career for the
self-proclaimed "Housewife Superstar" (later Megastar, then
The next Phillip St revue was Around the Loop, which again teamed
Oldaker, Gordon Chater, Blacklock and Humphries, plus newcomer June
Salter. Humphries revived the Edna character (for what he said would
be the last time) and the revue proved to be a major hit, playing
eight shows a week for 14 months. During this period Humphries was
living near Bondi and while out walking one day he had a chance
meeting with an elderly man who had a high, scratchy voice and a
pedantic manner of speech; this encounter inspired the creation of
another of Humphries' most enduring characters, Sandy Stone.
In September 1957, Humphries appeared as
Estragon in Waiting for
Godot, in Australia's first production of the
Samuel Beckett play at
the Arrow Theatre in
Melbourne directed by
Peter O'Shaughnessy who
In 1958, Humphries and O'Shaughnessy collaborated on and appeared in
the Rock'n'Reel Revue at the New Theatre in
Melbourne where Humphries
brought the characters of Mrs Everage and Sandy Stone into the psyche
Melbourne audiences. In the same year, Humphries made his first
commercial recording, the EP Wild Life in Suburbia, which featured
liner notes by his friend, the Modernist architect and writer Robin
London and the 1960s
In 1959 Humphries moved to London, where he lived and worked
throughout the 1960s. He became a friend of leading members of the
British comedy scene including Dudley Moore, Peter Cook, Alan Bennett,
Jonathan Miller, Spike Milligan,
Willie Rushton and fellow Australian
John Bluthal and Dick Bentley. Humphries
performed at Cook's comedy venue The Establishment, where he became a
friend of and was photographed by leading photographer Lewis Morley,
whose studio was located above the club. He contributed to the
satirical magazine Private Eye, of which Cook was publisher, his
best-known work being the cartoon strip The Wonderful World of Barry
McKenzie. The bawdy cartoon satire of the worst aspects of Australians
abroad was written by Humphries and drawn by New Zealand born
cartoonist Nicholas Garland. The book version of the comic strip,
published in the late '60s, was for some time banned in Australia.
Humphries appeared in numerous West End stage productions including
Oliver! and Maggie May, by Lionel Bart, and in stage and
radio productions by his friend Spike Milligan. At one time he was
invited to play the leading role of Captain Martin Bules in The
Bed-Sitting Room, which had already opened successfully at The Mermaid
Theatre, and was transferring to the West End. Humphries performed
with Milligan in the 1968 production of Treasure Island, in the role
of Long John Silver. He described working with Milligan as "one of
the strangest and most exhilarating experiences of my career".
In 1961 when Humphries was in
Cornwall with his wife, he fell over a
Zennor and landed on a ledge 50 m (150 ft) below,
breaking bones. The rescue by helicopter was filmed by a news crew
from ITN. The footage of the rescue was shown to Humphries for the
first time on a 2006
BBC show, Turn Back Time.
Humphries' first major break on the British stage came when he was
cast in the role of the undertaker
Mr. Sowerberry for the original
1960 London stage production of
Oliver! He recorded Sowerberry's
feature number "That's Your Funeral" for the original London cast
album (released on Decca Records) and reprised the role when the
production moved to Broadway in 1963. However, the song "That's Your
Funeral" was omitted from the
RCA Victor original Broadway cast album
so Humphries is not heard at all on it. In 1967 he starred as
the Piccadilly Theatre's revival of
Oliver! which featured a young
Phil Collins as the Artful Dodger. In 1997 Humphries reprised the role
Fagin in Cameron Mackintosh's award-winning revival at the London
In 1967 his friendship with Cook and Moore led to his first film role,
a cameo as "Envy" in the hit film Bedazzled starring Cook and Moore
Eleanor Bron and directed by Stanley Donen. The following year he
The Bliss of Mrs. Blossom with Shirley MacLaine.
Humphries contributed to
BBC Television's The Late Show (1966–67),
but Humphries found his true calling with his one-man satirical stage
revues, in which he performed as
Edna Everage and other character
Les Patterson and Sandy Stone. A Nice Night's
Entertainment (1962) was the first such revue. It and Excuse I:
Another Nice Night's Entertainment (1965) were only performed in
Australia. In 1968 Humphries returned to Australia to tour his one-man
revue Just a Show; this production transferred to London's Fortune
Theatre in 1969. Humphries gained considerable notoriety with Just a
Show. It polarised British critics but was successful enough to lead
to a short-lived
BBC television series, The
Barry Humphries Scandals,
one of the precursors to the
Monty Python series.
In 1970 Humphries returned to Australia, where
Edna Everage made her
movie debut in John B. Murray's The Naked Bunyip. In 1971–72 he
teamed up with producer
Phillip Adams and writer-director Bruce
Beresford to create a film version of the
Barry McKenzie cartoons. The
Barry McKenzie starred singer
Barry Crocker in the title
role and featured Humphries—who co-wrote the script with
Beresford—playing three different parts. It was filmed in England
and Australia with an all-star cast including Spike Milligan, Peter
Cook, Dennis Price, Dick Bentley, Willie Rushton, Julie Covington,
Clive James and broadcaster Joan Bakewell. Like several other films of
the time which have since been categorised as belonging to the Ocker
genre of Australian film, it was almost unanimously panned by
Australian film critics, but became a huge hit with audiences. In
fact, the film became the most successful locally made feature ever
released in Australia up to that time, paving the way for the success
of subsequent locally made feature films such as
Alvin Purple and
Picnic at Hanging Rock.
Another artistic production undertaken at this time was a 1972
collaboration between Humphries and the Australian composer Nigel
Butterley. Together they produced First Day Covers, a collection of
poems about suburbia – read in performance by
Edna Everage – with
accompanying music by Butterley. It included poems with titles
such as "Histoire du Lamington" and "Morceau en forme de 'meat
Since the late 1960s Humphries has appeared in numerous films, mostly
in supporting or cameo roles. His credits include the UK sex comedy
Percy's Progress (1974), David Baker's
The Great Macarthy (1975) and
Barry McKenzie Holds His Own (1974) in which Edna
was made a Dame by then Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam.
Other film credits include Side by Side (1975) and The Getting of
Wisdom (1977). The same year, he had a cameo as Edna in the Robert
Stigwood musical film Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (which
became infamous as one of the biggest film flops of the decade),
followed in 1981 by his part as the fake-blind TV-show host Bert
Schnick in Shock Treatment, the sequel to The Rocky Horror Picture
He was more successful with his featured role as Richard Deane in Dr.
Fischer of Geneva (1985); this was followed by
Howling III (1987), a
Rupert Murdoch in the miniseries
Selling Hitler (1991) with
Alexei Sayle, a three-role cameo in Philippe Mora's horror satire
Pterodactyl Woman from Beverly Hills (1995), the role of Count
Metternich in Immortal Beloved (1994), as well as roles in The Leading
Man (1996), the Spice Girls' film Spice World, the Australian feature
Welcome to Woop Woop
Welcome to Woop Woop (1997), and Nicholas Nickleby (2002), in which he
donned female garb to play Nathan Lane's wife.
Humphries has featured in various roles in comedy performance films
The Secret Policeman's Other Ball (1982) and A Night of
Comic Relief 2 (1989). In 1987, he starred as
Les Patterson in one of
his own rare flops, the disastrous
Les Patterson Saves the World,
George T. Miller of Man From Snowy River fame and
co-written by Humphries with his third wife, Diane Millstead.
In 2003, Humphries voiced the shark Bruce in the animated film Finding
During 2011, Humphries travelled to New Zealand to perform the role of
the Goblin King in the first instalment of Peter Jackson's three-part
adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. The first film was
released in December 2012, with the other two parts due in December
2013 and December 2014. At the press conference in Wellington, NZ,
just before the film's world premiere, Humphries commented:
It was thrilling to work on this film and when you see my
extraordinary interpretation you realise why I immediately fell into
the arms of Jenny Craig, and minor cosmetic surgery. I always thought
motion capture was something you did when you were taking a specimen
at the doctor.
In 2015, Humphries voiced the role of Wombo the Wombat in Blinky Bill
In 2016, he appeared in a dual role in Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie
as Charlie, a rich former lover of
Patsy Stone and in a non-speaking
cameo as Dame Edna.
Humphries' forte has always been his one-man satirical stage revues,
in which he appears as
Edna Everage and other character creations,
Les Patterson and Sandy Stone. The remarkable longevity
he has enjoyed with Dame Edna has endured for more than sixty years,
but in 2012 he announced his retirement from live performance.
Humphries' one-man shows, which are typically two and a half hours
long, alternate satirical monologues and musical numbers and consist
of entirely original material, laced with ad-libbing, improvisation
and audience participation segments. Humphries mostly performs solo,
but he is occasionally joined on stage by supporting dancers and an
accompanist during the musical numbers. Only one actor ever regularly
shared the stage with Humphries, and this was during the Edna
segments: English actress Emily Perry played Edna's long-suffering
bridesmaid from New Zealand, Madge Allsop, whose character never
Humphries has presented many successful shows in London, most of which
he subsequently toured internationally. Although he eventually gained
worldwide popularity, he encountered stiff resistance in the early
years of his career: his first London one-man show, A Nice Night's
Entertainment (1962), received scathing reviews, and it was several
years before he made a second attempt. He gained considerable
notoriety with his next one-man revue, Just a Show, staged at London's
Fortune Theatre in 1969. It polarised the critics but was a hit with
audiences and became the basis of a growing cult following in the UK.
He built on this with his early '70s shows, including A Load of Olde
Stuffe (1971) and At Least You Can Say You've Seen It (1974–75).
He finally broke through to widespread critical and audience acclaim
in Britain with his 1976 London production Housewife, Superstar! at
the Apollo Theatre. Its success in Britain and Australia led Humphries
to try his luck with the show in New York in 1977 at the off-Broadway
Theatre Four (now called the Julia Miles Theatre), but it proved to be
a disastrous repeat of his experience with Just a Show. Humphries
later summed up his negative reception by saying: "When The New York
Times tells you to close, you close."
His next show was Isn't It Pathetic at His Age (1978), and, like many
of his shows, the title derives from the sarcastic remarks his mother
often made when she took Humphries to the theatre to see superannuated
overseas actors touring in Australia during his youth.
His subsequent one-man shows include:
A Night with Dame Edna (1979), for which he won an
Olivier Award for
Best Comedy Performance
An Evening's Intercourse with Dame Edna (1982)
Three seasons of Back with a Vengeance (1987–1988, 2005–2007)
Look at Me When I'm Talking to You (1996)
Edna, The Spectacle (1998) at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, where he
held the record as the only solo act to fill the theatre (since it
opened in 1663).
Remember You're Out which toured Australia in 1999
Back with a Vengeance which toured Australia in 2007
Dame Edna Live: The First Last Tour toured the US in 2009
He has made numerous theatrical tours in Germany, Scandinavia, the
Netherlands, and in the Far and Middle East. In 2003 he toured
Australia with his show Getting Back to My Roots (and Other Suckers).
In March 2012, Humphries announced his retirement from live
entertainment, stating that he is "beginning to feel a bit senior"
and is looking to retire from show business. Humphries announced his
Australian "Farewell Tour", titled "Eat, Pray, Laugh!", to begin in
Canberra on 22 July 2012 and to conclude in Perth on 3 February 2013,
although it was extended until 10 February. The show includes
appearances by Dame Edna,
Sir Les Patterson and Sandy Stone, and
introduces a new character called Gerard Patterson, Les's brother and
paedophilic Catholic priest.
The tour has been widely praised.
Dan Ilic of Time Out Sydney stated
that Humphries delivers "a show that almost feels like a blue print
for the foundations for the last fifty years of Australian
comedy". Helen Musa of CityNews gave a similarly positive review,
referring to Humphries being "as virile, as vulgar and as magnificent
as ever" thanks to a "well researched" script. Arts blog Critter
Away referred to Humphries' characters as being "still fresh" and "a
testament to laugh-out-loud satire".
The same show opened in the United Kingdom at the Milton Keynes
Theatre in October 2013 prior to a season of shows at the London
Palladium and a national provincial tour.
Dame Edna Everage
Dame Edna Everage is one of the most enduring Australian comic
characters of all time, and one of the longest-lived comedic
characterisations. Originally conceived in 1956, Edna has long since
transcended her modest origins as a satire of Australian suburbia to
become one of the most successful, best-known and best-loved comedy
characters of all time. She has grown over the years to become, in the
words of journalist Caroline Overington:
... a perfect parody of a modern, vainglorious celebrity with a
rampant ego and a strong aversion to the audience (whom celebrities
pretend to love but actually, as Edna so boldly makes transparent,
they actually loathe for their cheap shoes and suburban values) –
The Sydney Morning Herald.[full citation needed]
Like her ever-present bunches of gladioli, one of the most popular and
distinctive features of Edna's stage and TV appearances has been her
extravagant wardrobe, with gaudy, custom-made gowns that satirically
outdo the most outrageous creations of Hollywood showbiz designers
such as Bob Mackie. Her costumes, most of which were created for her
by Australian designer Bill Goodwin, routinely incorporate Aussie
kitsch icons such as the flag, Australian native animals and flowers,
Sydney Opera House
Sydney Opera House and the boxing kangaroo.
As the character evolved, Edna's unseen family became an integral part
of the satire, particularly the travails of her invalid husband Norm,
who suffered from an almost lifelong onslaught of an unspecified
prostate ailment. Her daughter Valmai and her gay-hairdresser son
Kenny became intrinsic elements of the act, as did her long-suffering
best friend and New Zealand bridesmaid, Madge Allsop.
Throughout Edna's career, Madge Allsop was played by English actress
Emily Perry until her death in 2008. Perry has the distinction of
being the only other actor ever to appear on stage with Humphries in
his stage shows, as well as making regular appearances in Dame Edna's
Dame Edna is notable as one of the few satirical characters to make a
successful transition from stage to TV without losing popularity in
either genre. The talk show format provided a perfect outlet for
Humphries' rapier wit and his legendary ability to ad-lib, and it
enabled Edna to draw on a wide and appreciative pool of fans among
fellow actors and comedians, with scores of top-rank stars lining up
to be lampooned on her shows. As other Australian actors have begun to
make a wider impression in international film and television, Edna has
not hesitated to reveal that it was her mentorship which helped
"kiddies" like "little Nicole Kidman" to achieve their early success.
Sir Les Patterson
Sir Les Patterson is a boozy Australian cultural attaché:
dishevelled, uncouth, lecherous and coarse. He alternates with Edna
and Sandy Stone in Humphries' stage shows and typically features in
pre-recorded segments in Dame Edna's TV shows. He is the polar
opposite of Dame Edna, she a culturally aspirational Protestant from
Melbourne and he a culture-free Roman Catholic from Sydney.
Sandy Stone is an elderly Australian man, either single or married
with a daughter who died as a child. Humphries is still writing
monologues for him, and said in 2016 that slowly the character has
deepened, so I begin to understand and appreciate him, and finally
feel myself turning into him. He no longer requires makeup for the
part, and plays Sandy in his own dressing gown.
Humphries' numerous television appearances in Australia, the UK and
the US include The Bunyip, a children's comedy for the Seven Network
in Melbourne. In the UK he made two highly successful series of his
comedy talk show
The Dame Edna Experience
The Dame Edna Experience for London Weekend
Television. The series boasted a phalanx of superstar guests including
Liza Minnelli, Sean Connery, Roger Moore,
Charlton Heston and Jane
These enormously popular programs have since been repeated worldwide
and the special A Night on Mount Edna won Humphries the Golden Rose of
Montreux in 1991. He wrote and starred in ABC-TV's The Life and Death
of Sandy Stone (1991), and presented the ABC social history series
Barry Humphries' Flashbacks (1999).
His other television shows and one-off specials include Dame Edna's
Neighbourhood Watch (1992), Dame Edna's Work Experience (1996), Dame
Edna Kisses It Better (1997) and Dame Edna's Hollywood (1991–92), a
series of three chat-show specials filmed in the US for the NBC and
the Fox network. Like The Dame Edna Experience, these included an
array of top celebrity guests such as Burt Reynolds, Cher, Bea Arthur,
Kim Basinger and Barry Manilow. Edna's most recent television special
was Dame Edna Live at the Palace in 2003. He starred in the Kath &
Da Kath and Kim Code
Da Kath and Kim Code in late 2005.
In 1977 Dame Edna guest-starred on the U.S. sketch comedy and variety
show Saturday Night Live.
In 2007, Humphries returned to the UK's ITV to host another comedy
chat-show called The Dame Edna Treatment, a similar format to The Dame
Edna Experience from 20 years earlier. The series once again boasted a
collection of top celebrity guests such as Tim Allen, Mischa Barton,
Sigourney Weaver, Debbie Harry, and Shirley Bassey.
In March 2008, Humphries joined the judging panel on the
show I'd Do Anything to find an unknown lead to play the part of Nancy
in a West End revival of the musical Oliver!.
In May 2013, Australia's ABC Network announced that Humphries would be
joining the cast of Australian telemovie series, Jack Irish. He will
play a high-profile judge in the third movie in the series.
Success in the United States
Humphries in Toronto, Canada, during Dame Edna: The Royal Tour North
American tour, December 2000
In 2000 Humphries took his Dame Edna: The Royal Tour show to North
America winning the inaugural
Tony Award for a Live Theatrical
Event in 2000 and won two National Broadway Theatre Awards for "Best
Play" and for "Best Actor" in 2001. Asked by an Australian journalist
what it was like to win a Tony Award, he said "it was like winning a
thousand Gold Logies at the same time".
Dame Edna's new-found success in America led to many media
opportunities, including a semi-regular role in the hit TV series Ally
McBeal. Vanity Fair magazine invited Dame Edna to write a satirical
advice column in 2003 although after an outcry following a remark
about learning Spanish, the column was discontinued.
Humphries has been married four times. His first marriage, to Brenda
Wright, took place when he was 21 and lasted less than two years. He
has two daughters, Tessa and Emily, and two sons, Oscar and Rupert,
from his second and third marriages, to Rosalind Tong and Diane
Millstead respectively. His elder son Oscar is editor of the art
magazine Apollo and a contributing editor at The
Spectator. His fourth wife (from 1990), Lizzie Spender, is the
daughter of British poet Sir Stephen Spender. They live in a terraced
town house in West Hampstead, his home for forty years.
In the 1960s, throughout his sojourn in London, Humphries became
increasingly dependent on alcohol and by the last years of the decade
his friends and family began to fear that his addiction might cost him
his career or even his life. His status as 'a dissolute, guilt-ridden,
self-pitying boozer' was undoubtedly one of the main reasons for the
failure of his first marriage and was a contributing factor to the
collapse of the second.
Humphries' alcoholism reached a crisis point during a visit home to
Australia in the early 1970s. His parents finally had him admitted to
a private hospital to 'dry out' when, after a particularly heavy
binge, he was found bashed and unconscious in a gutter. Since then
he has abstained from alcohol completely and still regularly attends
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings. He was one of the many friends who
tried in vain to help Peter Cook, who himself eventually died from
Humphries was a good friend of the English poet
John Betjeman until
Betjeman's death in 1984. Their friendship began in 1960 after
Betjeman, while visiting Australia, heard some of Humphries' early
recordings and wrote very favourably of them in an Australian
newspaper. Their friendship was, in part, based around numerous shared
interests, including Victorian architecture,
Cornwall and the music
Humphries appears in the 2013 documentary Chalky about his longtime
friend and colleague Michael White, who produced many of Humphries'
first Dame Edna shows in the UK.
Other notable friends of Humphries include the Australian painter
Arthur Boyd, the author and former politician Jeffrey Archer, whom
Humphries visited during Archer's stay in prison, and the Irish
comedian Spike Milligan.
Humphries has spent much of his life immersed in music, literature and
the arts. A self-proclaimed 'bibliomaniac', his house in West
Hampstead, London supposedly contains some 25,000 books, many of them
first editions of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Some of
the more arcane and rare items in this collection include the
telephone book of Oscar Wilde, Memoirs of a Public Baby by Philip
O'Connor, an autographed copy of Humdrum by Harold Acton, the complete
works of Wilfred Childe and several volumes of the pre-war surrealist
poetry of Herbert Read.
He is a prominent art collector who has, as a result of his three
divorces, bought many of his favourite paintings four times. He at one
time had the largest private collection of the paintings of Charles
Conder in the world and he is a notorious fan of the Flemish
symbolist painter Jan Frans De Boever, relishing his role as
'President for Life' of the De Boever Society. He himself is a
landscape painter and his pictures are in private and public
collections both in his homeland and abroad. Humphries has also been
the subject of numerous portraits by artist friends, including Clifton
Pugh (1958, National Portrait Gallery) and
John Brack (in the
character of Edna Everage, 1969, Art Gallery of New South Wales).
He is a lover of avant-garde music and a patron of, among others, the
Jean-Michel Damase and the Melba Foundation in
Australia. Humphries is a patron and active supporter of the Tait
Memorial Trust in London, a charity to support young Australian
performing artists in the UK. When Humphries was on the BBC's
Desert Island Discs
Desert Island Discs radio programme in 2009, he made the following
choices: "Mir ist der Ehre widerfahren" from Strauss' Der
Rosenkavalier; Gershwin's "Things are Looking Up" sung by Fred
Astaire; "Love Song" composed by Josef Suk; "On Mother Kelly's
Doorstep" sung by Randolph Sutton; "Der Leiermann" from Schubert's
Winterreise song cycle; the 2nd movement of Poulenc's Flute Sonata;
Mischa Spoliansky's "Auf Wiedersehen"; and "They are not long the
weeping and the laughter" from Delius' Songs of Sunset.
Cultural historian Tony Moore, author of The
Barry McKenzie Movies,
writes of Humphries' personal politics thus: "A conservative
contrarian while many in his generation were moving left, Humphries
nevertheless retained a bohemian delight in transgression that makes
him a radical".
Humphries is the author of many books including two autobiographies,
two novels and a treatise on Chinese drama in the goldfields. He has
written several plays and has made dozens of recordings. His first
autobiography More Please won the J. R. Ackerley Prize for
Autobiography in 1993.
Bizarre. Compilation. London: Elek Books, 1965.
Barry Humphries Book of Innocent Austral Verse. Anthology.
Melbourne: Sun Books, 1968.
Bazza Pulls It Off!: More Adventures of Barry McKenzie. Melbourne: Sun
The Wonderful World of Barry MacKenzie. With Nicholas Garland; a comic
strip. London: Private Eye/Andre Deutsch, 1971.
Barry McKenzie Holds His Own. Photoplay, with Bruce Beresford.
Melbourne: Sun Books, 1974.
Dame Edna's Coffee Table Book: A guide to gracious living and the
finer things of life by one of the first ladies of world theatre.
Compendium. Sydney: Sphere Books, 1976.
Les Patterson's Australia. Melbourne: Sun Books, 1978.
Bazza Comes into His Own: The Final Fescennine Farago of Barry
McKenzie, Australia's first working-class hero—with learned and
scholarly appendices and a new enlarged glossary. With Nicholas
Garland. Melbourne, Sun Books, 1979.
The Sound of Edna: Dame Edna's Family Songbook. With Nick Rowley.
London: Chappell, 1979.
A Treasury of Australian Kitsch. Melbourne: Macmillan, 1980.
A Nice Night's Entertainment: Sketches and Monologues 1956–1981. A
Retrospective. Sydney: Currency Press, 1981.
Dame Edna's Bedside Companion. Compendium. London: Weidenfeld and
Punch Down Under. London: Robson Books, 1984.
The Complete Barry McKenzie. Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1988.
Shades of Sandy Stone. Edinburgh, Tragara Press, 1989. Limited
My Gorgeous Life. As Edna Everage. London: Macmillan, 1989.
More Please. Autobiography. London, New York, Ringwood, Toronto, and
Auckland: Viking, 1992.
The Life and Death of Sandy Stone. Sydney: Macmillan, 1990.
Neglected Poems and Other Creatures. Sydney: Angus & Robertson,
Women in the Background. Novel. Port Melbourne: William Heinemann
Barry Humphries' Flashbacks: The book of the acclaimed TV series.
Sydney and London: HarperCollins, 1999.
My Life As Me: A Memoir: Autobiography. London: Michael Joseph, 2002.
Handling Edna: the Unauthorised Biography. Sydney, Hachette Australia,
Bedazzled (1967) – Envy
The Adventures of
Barry McKenzie (1972) - Aunt
Edna Everage / Hoot /
Barry McKenzie Holds His Own (1974) - Aunt
Edna Everage / Dr
Percy's Progress (1974)
Side by Side (1975) - Rodney
The Great Macarthy (1975)
The Getting of Wisdom (1977)
Shock Treatment (1981)
Dr. Fischer of Geneva (1985)
Les Patterson Saves the World (1986) -
Sir Les Patterson / Dame Edna
Pterodactyl Woman from Beverly Hills (1995) - Bert / Lady shopper /
Spice World The Movie (1997) – Kevin McMaxford
Finding Nemo (2003) – Bruce (voice)
Da Kath and Kim Code
Da Kath and Kim Code (2005) telemovie
Mary and Max (2009) – narrator
The Kangaroo Gang (2011) TV documentary – narrator
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012) – Great Goblin
Kath & Kimderella (2012) – Dame Edna Everage
Chalky (2013) documentary
Justin and the Knights of Valour
Justin and the Knights of Valour (2013) Braulio – (voice)
Blinky Bill the Movie (2015) – Wombo (voice)
Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie (2016) – Charlie and Dame Edna
Everage (dual role)
Wild Life in Suburbia (1958)
Wild Life in Suburbia Volume Two (1959)
A Nice Night's Entertainment (1962)
Chunder Down Under (1965)
Barry Humphries at Carnegie Hall (1972)
Barry Humphries Record Of Innocent Austral Verse (1972)
Housewife Superstar! (1976)
The Sound of Edna (1978)
Humphries has been the subject of several critical and biographical
studies and a TV documentary:
Barry Humphries by Peter Coleman. London: Coronet Books,
Dame Edna Everage
Dame Edna Everage and the Rise of Western Civilization: Backstage with
Barry Humphries by John Lahr. London: Bloomsbury, 1991; and New York:
Farrar Straus Giroux, 1992.
St. Pierre, Paul Matthew (September 25, 2004). A Portrait of the
Artist As Australian: L'Oeuvre bizarre de Barry Humphries.
McGill-Queen's University Press. ISBN 978-0773526440.
The Man Inside Dame Edna (2008), TV documentary
One Man Show: The Stages of
Barry Humphries by Anne Pender.
HarperCollins, 2010: ISBN 978-0-7333-2591-5;
Dame Edna Everage
Dame Edna Everage (
Sir Les Patterson (Australian cultural attache)
Sandy Stone (elderly Australian)
Barry McKenzie (Australian visitor to England)
1975: Douglas Wilkie Medal
1979: Comedy Performance of the Year, Society of West End Management,
London (now known as the Laurence Olivier awards) for A Night with
1990: TV Personality of the Year
J. R. Ackerley Prize for Autobiography for More, Please
1994: Honorary Doctorate at Griffith University
Peter Ustinov Award for Comedy presented at the Banff World
1997: Honoured Artists Award,
Melbourne City Council
British Comedy Awards
British Comedy Awards – Lifetime Achievement Award
Tony Award for a live theatrical event at the 55th
Annual Tony Awards for Dame Edna: The Royal Tour
Special Achievement Award by the Outer Critics Circle for The
2000: Best Play from the National Broadway Theatre Awards for The
2003: Honorary Doctorate of Law at his alma mater, University of
JC Williamson Award
JC Williamson Award for his life's work in the Australian live
2011: Oldie of the Year for "his wonderful split personality which has
entertained us for so many years"
2013: Britain-Australia Society Award for contribution to the
relationship between Britain and Australia
2014: Aardman Slapstick Comedy Legend Award - lifetime achievement
2016: Honorary Doctorate at the University of South Australia.
2017: Honorary Fellow of King's College London.
Humphries has been nominated four times for a British Academy
Television Award (BAFTA TV), all in the Best Light Entertainment
1981: An Audience with Dame Edna Everage
1987: The Dame Edna Experience
1988: One More Audience with Dame Edna
1990: The Dame Edna Experience
He has received national honours in Australia and the United Kingdom:
1982: Officer of the
Order of Australia
Order of Australia (AO) for "services to the
theatre" (Queen's Birthday Honours, Australian List)
Centenary Medal for service to Australian society through acting
2007: Commander of the
Order of the British Empire
Order of the British Empire (CBE) for "services
to entertainment" (Queen's Birthday Honours, UK List)
Barry Award (1998)
^ "Absurd moments: in the frocks of the dame" by Steve Meacham,
Brisbane Times (15 September 2010)
Barry Humphries Biography (1934–)", filmreference.com
^ a b "Return of a passionate pilgrim" by Barry Humphries,
The Age (7
^ Coleman, Peter (1990). The Real Barry Humphries?. Robson.
ISBN 0-86051-678-4. Retrieved 26 February 2009.
^ Brown, Craig: One on One, p. 292, 2011 ISBN 978-0-00-736062-8
^ Humphries, Barry (1992). More Please. Viking.
^ Johnson & Smiedt, 1999, p.142
^ Johnson & Smiedt, 1999, p. 143
^ "Samuel Beckett's Reception in Australia and New Zealand", by
Russell Smith and Chris Ackerley, in The International Reception of
Samuel Beckett, Matthew Feldman and Mark Dixon eds. London, Continuum
2009 pp. 108–128.
^ peteroshaughnessy.info Archived 2 January 2014 at the Wayback
^ Ventham, Maxine (2002). "Barry Humphries". Spike Milligan: His Part
in Our Lives. London: Robson. pp. 92–97.
^ Ventham (2002) p. 693
^ O'Sullivan, Mark: The Biggest Mind Bending Event So Far, Music
Performance in Sydney 1932–1994, Sydney University Honours Thesis,
1994. p. 44
^ St. Pierre, Paul Matthew: A Portrait of the Artist as an Australian,
MQUP, Brisbane, 2004. p. 79
Barry Humphries joins cast of The Hobbit",
The Age (20 June 2011)
^ MSN NZ, 28 November 2012. Accessed 10 March 2013
Barry Humphries retires as Dame Edna and Sir Les". The Daily
Telegraph. 18 March 2012. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
Barry Humphries "Eat, Pray, Laugh!" Farewell Tour Dates Released".
The AU Review. 20 March 2012. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
^ "Dame Edna insists she's out of here, and that's final". The
Australian. 6 July 2012. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
^ "Humphries announces farewell tour". The Age. 19 March 2012.
Retrieved 11 July 2012.
^ "Eat, Pray, Laugh! Barry Humphries' Farewell Tour". Timeout Sydney.
6 July 2012. Archived from the original on 11 July 2012. Retrieved 11
^ "Review: Dame Edna takes a bow, for now". CityNews. 25 June 2012.
Retrieved 11 July 2012.
^ "Barry Humphries' Farewell Tour – Review". Critter Away. 6 July
2012. Retrieved 11 July 2012.
^ "The consummate amateur" by William Cook,
The Oldie [London],
September 2016 pager 18.
Barry Humphries joins third
Jack Irish telemovie. TV tonight 20 May
2013 Retrieved 20 May 2013
^ See More Please by Barry Humphries, Penguin 1992
^ "The feral beast: Changing faces of Apollo". Independent. London. 14
February 2010. Retrieved 28 February 2011.
^ Gleadell, Colin (26 April 2010). "Market News: the controversial new
editor of distinguished art magazine Apollo". Daily Telegraph.
^ Brook, Stephen (17 September 2007). "James rocks up at Spectator".
^ a b Barrow, Andrew (15 August 2004). "Barry Humphries: Dame for a
laugh". The Independent. London. Retrieved 26 March 2010.
^ Humphries, Barry (25 June 2006). "Roast beef and bubbly with
Betjeman". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 26 April 2010.
^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 22 March 2013.
^ "In praise of ... Barry Humphries". The Guardian. London. 8 August
2008. Retrieved 26 April 2010.
^ "How We Met: Barry Humprhies & Jeffrey Archer". The Independent.
London. 6 April 2008. Retrieved 26 April 2010.
^ Hind, John (26 April 1997). "Barry Humphries: With friends like
these". The Independent. London. Retrieved 26 April 2010.
^ Maxwell, Dominic (27 July 2009). "
Dame Edna Everage
Dame Edna Everage returns to
Britain". The Times. London. Retrieved 26 April 2010.
^ "Approximately in the Vicinity of Barry Humphries" by Clive James,
in London Review of Books, 6–9 October 1983
^ The Spectator, 30 September 2000, Diary by Barry Humphries
Clifton Pugh – Barry Humphries, 1958, portrait.gov.au. Retrieved
on 22 October 2011.
Barry Humphries in the character of Mrs Everage (1969) by John
Brack, artgallery.nsw.gov.au. Retrieved on 22 October 2011.
^ Melba Foundation UK Launch with
Barry Humphries on YouTube
Tait Memorial Trust Archived 24 July 2016 at the Wayback Machine.
^ Programme: Desert Island Discs,
BBC Radio 4, 29 May 2009
^ Blundell, Graeme (7 February 2009). "Barry Humphries, the clown
prince of suburbia". The Australian. News. Retrieved 16 December
^ The Man Inside Dame Edna (2008) (TV) on IMDb
^ Eliezer, Christie (30 June 2008). "Australia's Helpmann Nominations
Unveiled". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media (Nielsen Business
Media). Retrieved 30 April 2012.
Barry Humphries named Oldie of the Year".
BBC News. BBC. 10
February 2011. Retrieved 10 February 2011.
^ It's an Honour: AO
^ It's an Honour: Centenary Medal
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Barry Humphries.
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Barry Humphries at the National Library of Australia
Barry Humphries Collection at the Performing Arts Collection, Arts
Barry Humphries at the National Film and Sound Archive[permanent dead
Barry Humphries on Picture Australia
Andres Mario Zervigon: Essay on Humphries from a GLBTQ perspective at
Barry Humphries & his favorite paintings
Olivier Award for Best Comedy Performance
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Denis Quilley (1977)
Ian McKellen (1978)
Barry Humphries (1979)
Beryl Reid (1980)
Rowan Atkinson (1981)
Geoffrey Hutchings (1982)
Griff Rhys Jones
Griff Rhys Jones (1983)
Maureen Lipman (1984)
Michael Gambon (1985)
Bill Fraser (1986)
John Woodvine (1987)
Alex Jennings (1988)
Michael Gambon (1989/1990)
Alan Cumming (1991)
Desmond Barrit (1992)
Simon Cadell (1993)
Griff Rhys Jones
Griff Rhys Jones (1994)
Niall Buggy (1995)
JC Williamson Award
Edna Edgley (1998)
Kenn Brodziak (1998)
Googie Withers (1999)
John McCallum (1999)
Ruth Cracknell (2001)
Clifford Hocking (2001)
Kevin Jacobsen (2002)
Graeme Murphy (2002)
Wendy Blacklock (2003)
John Robertson (2003)
John Farnham (2004)
John Sumner (2004)
Joan Sutherland (2005)
David Williamson (2005)
John Clark (2006)
Graeme Bell (2006)
Margaret Scott (2007)
Barry Tuckwell (2007)
Sue Nattrass (2008)
Barry Humphries (2008)
John Bell (2009)
Michael Gudinski (2009)
Tony Gould (2010)
Brian Nebenzahl (2010)
Nancye Hayes (2011)
Toni Lamond (2011)
Jill Perryman (2011)
Jimmy Little (2012)
Katharine Brisbane (2012)
Kylie Minogue (2013)
David Blenkinsop (2013)
John Frost (2014)
Paul Kelly (2015)
Stephen Page (2016)
Richard Tognetti (2017)
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