Barry Humphries

Barry Humphries

Date of birth: 17-02-1934
Born in the Melbourne suburb of Kew, Humphries was educated at Melbourne Grammar School and Melbourne University, where he read law, philosophy and fine arts. There he staged anarchic Dadaist pranks and exhibitions, with exhibits such Pus In Boots – a pair of Wellingtons filled with custard.

He began his stage career in 1952, writing and performing songs and sketches in university revues. At the start, Humphries had ambitions for straight theatre and toured in Shakespeare plays and joined the newly formed Melbourne Theatre Company.

But the major turning point occurred in 1955, when he created Mrs Norm Everage, a suburban Melbourne housewife who has over the years evolved into the glamorous gladioli-wielding 'gigastar' Dame Edna that has made his fortune.

In Sydney, in the late Fifties, Humphries joined the Philip Street Revue Theatre, Australia's first home for intimate revue and satirical comedy which allowed him to develop a cast of character such as grandfatherly Sandy Stone, sleazy trade union official Lance Boyle and socialist academic Neil Singleton.

In 1959 he moved to London and became part of the so-called Satire Boom, working alongside the likes of Dudley Moore and Peter Cook – performing at Cook's club The Establishment and starring in their film Bedazzled as Envy. He also worked with Joan Littlewood's groundbreaking Stratford East theatre company, and played Long John Silver at the Mermaid Theatre.

While in the UK he developed the cartoon strip about rugged Outback adventurer Barry (Bazza) McKenzie, who predated Crocodile Dundee and real-life Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin. The character started life in Private Eye, but his exploits were also made into a film.

Humphries also appeared in numerous West End stage productions including the Lionel Bart musical Oliver! and Spike Milligan's The Bed Sitting Room.

Since this first foray into London, he has split his time between England, Australia and sometimes the USA – which he only really cracked with his 2000 Broadway show, one of innumerable solo shows he's performed around the world, usually as Dame Edna with other characters in a supporting role.

But his first London show, in 1962, was slated by the critics, and it took him seven years to return to the West End stage - eventually cracking it with his 1976 production Housewife, Superstar! The only other actor ever to appear on stage with Humphries in his stage shows has been Emily Perry, who played Edna's put-upon sidekick Madge.

Dame Edna has also made numerous TV appearance, including her own LWT chat show The Dame Edna Experience and a recurring guest role in Ally McBeal.

Humprhies' most famous creation after Dame Edna is slobbish Australian cultural attache Sir Les Paterson, who made his debut in 1974. The character was a hopeless drunk, and in reality Humphries too has battled a drink problem. In the early Seventies he was found unconscious in a gutter after a binge, and his parents checked him into a drying-out clinic. Since then, he has abstained.

He was awarded a CBE in the 2007 Birthday Honours, and among his other accolades are an Order of Australia in 1982, an honorary Doctorate of Law at Melbourne University in 2003, a Montreaux Golden Rose for his 1991 show A Night On Mount Edna, and a Tony award in 2000. His autobiography More Please won the J.R. Ackerley prize for biography in 1993

Humphries has been married four times; his fourth wife Lizzie Spender is the daughter of British poet Sir Stephen Spender. He has two daughters and two sons.

At the end of 2007, he underwent appendix surgery in Sydney, but developed complications that forced him to quit work for six months.

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Why Barry Humphries hates the Barry Award

'I’ve never liked my name'

Barry Humphries says he's embarrassed that Australia's most prestigious comedy award is named in his honour – because he hates the sound of his name.

The comic legend today unveiled the nominees for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival's Barry Award for the first time in the event's 30-year history.

However the 82-year-old joked: 'The fact there's an award named after me embarrasses me a bit because I've never liked my name. It's the male equivalent of Shirley. I don't think anybody gets called Barry any more.'

But he conceded of the award: 'We're stuck with it now, and people talk about it rather proudly.'

Humphries added he'd had a few things named after him, including an award he endowed at his old school, Melbourne Grammar, 'for masturbation, or delinquency'.

And in 2007, the city named a laneway Dame Edna Place, in honour of his most famous creation.

'It used to be called Brown Alley,' Humphries said to gales of laughter. 'I asked, "is it an underpass?"

'Even graffiti artists had passed it by. It's a horrible little street. One looked at it with disgust.'

But he conceded that he was actually 'glad' the Melbourne Comedy Festival Award was named after him. 'This is different,' he said. 'Worthy people get it.'

Humphries launched the very first Melbourne comedy festival in 1987 with Peter Cook. He hosted the press event in the guise of Sir Les Patterson, where he dropped his trousers and left an imprint of his penis in a bowl of wet cement.

Speaking today Humphries said: 'I'm reminded that it was I, with Peter Cook, a great comedian and friend of mine, who launched the festival. To me, it seems like it was only yesterday, but it was many, many years ago. I thought it would die out, this festival, but it didn't.'

2016 Barry nominees unveiled.

The Barry Award was set up in 1998, but initially called the Stella Award. It was renamed in Humphries' honour in 2000, when it was won The Boosh. The likes of Ross Noble, Daniel Kitson, Nina Conti, Russell Kane and Rich Hall have gone on to win it.

Last week it was revealed that Humphries is to make his Edinburgh International Festival debut next year.

He will be performing an evening of music from the time of the Weimar Republic, before Hitler rose to power in Germany, alongside cabaret star Meow Meow.

Here he is speaking about Barry Humphries' Weimar Cabaret, which will be performed at the Usher Hall on August 8 and 9:

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Published: 11 Apr 2016

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