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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Barry Humphries announces new UK tour

Dame Edna creator back on stage as himself... a decade after announcing his retirement

Barry Humphries is to return to the UK stage – mainly performing as himself.

However alter egos such as Dame Edna Everage and Sir Les Patterson will make an appearance in the Man Behind The Mask tour, via video.

But primarily the show will be focussed on the 87-year-old entertainer talking about his childhood, family relationships, attitudes and career.

Humphries said: ‘This is a show in which I am the principal character; it’s not Les, it’s not Edna, it’s not Sandy Stone. It is really about this character called "me". I’m not in disguise.

‘It is the story of my generation, it is a story of a life spent in the theatre and a life spent in comedy, and it will show what it is like to be a clown.

‘In a way, this is perhaps the bravest thing I’ve ever done, and I hope the most entertaining. I think people might be agreeably shocked and they certainly will learn much they didn’t know."

Of the video aspects, he added: ‘Audio-visual technology has made dramatic strides in my life and it’s now possible for me to be on stage with one of my own characters. They may intrude. I might be interrupted. I might even be upstaged.’

Humphries began performing in his native Melbourne, Australia, in the 1950s, but became a major star in the 1960s when he moved to London and became part of the new wave of satirical comedy spearheaded by Peter Cook,

In March 2012, Humphries announced his retirement from live entertainment, stating that he was ‘beginning to feel a bit senior’. But since the farewell tour that followed  he has hosted cabaret shows.

And in 2018, he provoked controversy over comments he made calling gender affirmation surgery as ‘self-mutilation’ and transgender identity as a ‘fashion’. In the wake of the backlash, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival dropped the name 'Barry' for its top award.

His Man Behind The Mask tour kicks off with three nights at the Nottingham Playhouse, starting on April 7, and culminates with two nights in London’s West End, at the Gielgud Theatre on Sunday May 29 and Sunday June 5.

» ​Barry Humphries tour dates.

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Published: 22 Nov 2021

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