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... in the presence of Buñuel, by André Breton in the presence of Eluard. But the words were said by Barry Humphries in the persona of the ruminating convalescent Sandy Stone, and in the Australian context they are not surreal. They are real. Every Australian, even if he lives in Sydney’s Point Piper or Melbourne’s Toorak, has at some time or other ...

Here to take Karl Stead to lunch

C.K. Stead, 30 January 1992

Dame Edna Everage and the Rise of Western Civilisation 
by John Lahr.
Bloomsbury, 242 pp., £14.99, October 1991, 0 7475 1021 0
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... I first saw Barry Humphries on stage in the Phillip Street Theatre in Sydney in 1956 or 57, and got to know him in Auckland in the early Sixties after we had both come back from our first visits to London. Barry’s second wife, Rosalind Tong, a dancer, was an Aucklander. Sometimes Barry would put on a lunch-hour show at the University, which was where I first encountered the then rather down-market but already very funny Edna Everage ...

Look, I’d love one!

John Bayley, 22 October 1992

Stephen Spender: A Portrait with Background 
by Hugh David.
Heinemann, 308 pp., £17.50, October 1992, 0 434 17506 4
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More Please: An Autobiography 
by Barry Humphries.
Viking, 331 pp., £16.99, September 1992, 0 670 84008 4
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... which reads as freshly today as when it was written, is also everywhere present in his son-in-law Barry Humphries’s autobiography. Both are interested in themselves (Anthony Powell remarks in his memoirs that to be interested in oneself, as opposed to being merely egocentric, is one of the rarest of gifts) but neither takes himself very seriously. So ...

Lucky Brrm

John Sutherland, 12 March 1992

Brrm! Brrm! 
by Clive James.
Cape, 160 pp., £12.99, November 1991, 0 224 03226 7
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Saint Maybe 
by Anne Tyler.
Chatto, 337 pp., £14.99, October 1991, 0 7011 3787 8
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Faustine 
by Emma Tennant.
Faber, 140 pp., £12.99, March 1992, 9780571142637
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... as culturally over-extended. Stead was writing in the LRB about his friend and fellow Antipodean, Barry Humphries. Humphries is nowadays primarily a West End and small screen entertainer with his largest viewing constituency in Britain. The same – but more – could be said of Clive James. James has earned himself ...

Theroux and Through

Julian Barnes, 21 June 1984

The Kingdom by the Sea: A Journey Around the Coast of Great Britain 
by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 303 pp., £9.95, October 1983, 0 241 11086 6
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Doctor Slaughter 
by Paul Theroux.
Hamish Hamilton, 137 pp., £6.95, June 1984, 0 241 11255 9
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... A couple of years ago there was one of those Barry Humphries TV specials in which the Australian entertainer teases an audience of notables to the edge of humiliation. The guests attend to the act warily, poised between the pleasure of being official celebrities and the fear of being publicly ridiculed. After tormenting various patsies in a way that must have made them wish there was an RSPCA for humans, Dame Edna (for it was she) suddenly spotted Melvyn Bragg ...

Diary

Francis Wyndham: At the Theatre, 10 November 1988

... inherent in the act of theatre-going – an ambiguity exploited to fullest effect by the art of Barry Humphries. Perhaps because I have spent so much time over so many years watching television at home, the act of theatregoing now strikes me as more than ever peculiar, almost a little crazy – an excitingly ancient anachronism and an undertaking ...

Diary

Karl Miller: London to Canberra, 25 June 1987

... with the song of beautiful and vehement birds with names like Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo. When Barry Humphries squawked the other day that he had been pleased to find that Canberra had become a little ‘sleazy’, he was joking. Out of this garden city of good government, on 22 June 1983, flew a telex which read: ‘There appears to be no action ...

Diary

Andrew O’Hagan: Orders of Service, 18 April 2019

... than 13 of Spender’s own poems, read by Harold Pinter, Ted Hughes, James Fenton, Jill Balcon and Barry Humphries. (At Larkin’s, there were three.) Spender’s order of service, despite his obvious absence, seems to acknowledge both his customary admiration for the truly great and his anxiety about not being great himself. And why not? Shouldn’t the ...

Australia strikes back

Les Murray, 13 October 1988

Snakecharmers in Texas 
by Clive James.
Cape, 373 pp., £11.95, July 1988, 0 224 02571 6
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... best essay ever done on Peter Porter; yet another examines and celebrates the Empire-bound art of Barry Humphries with sympathy and the right sort of disquiet about satire, that art form which prepares the way for Nazis. The two star turns of the section, though, are the sensuous ‘Dream of Zinc Cream’, on body-surfing, and Mr James’s tribute to ...

The Undesired Result

Gillian Darley: Betjeman’s bêtes noires, 31 March 2005

Betjeman: The Bonus of Laughter 
by Bevis Hillier.
Murray, 744 pp., £25, October 2004, 0 7195 6495 6
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... wartime offices and his poetry. But there are surprises too. Betjeman first encountered Barry Humphries in 1961, the year he fell in love with Australia, and witnessed Humphries’s act bomb on its first London outing, at the Establishment Club. Later, Betjeman had the satisfaction of seeing Dame Edna ...

Sinking Giggling into the Sea

Jonathan Coe: Giggling along with Boris, 18 July 2013

The Wit and Wisdom of Boris Johnson 
edited by Harry Mount.
Bloomsbury, 149 pp., £9.99, June 2013, 978 1 4081 8352 6
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... comedy now. Everybody is a comedian. Everything is subversive. And I find that very tiresome.’ Barry Humphries: ‘Everyone is being satirical, everything is a send-up. There’s an infuriating frivolity, cynicism and finally a vacuousness.’ Christopher Booker: ‘Peter Cook once said, back in the 1960s, “Britain is in danger of sinking giggling ...

Seventy Years in a Colourful Trade

Andrew O’Hagan: The Soho Alphabet, 16 July 2020

Tales from the Colony Room: Soho’s Lost Bohemia 
by Darren Coffield.
Unbound, 364 pp., £25, April, 978 1 78352 816 5
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... at the opening of Harold Pinter’s first play, The Room. ‘It was the alcoholics’ paradise,’ Barry Humphries writes in his introduction to Darren Coffield’s entertaining book.You merely ran up a slate. Later, much later, came the reckoning, but you never knew how they arrived at the astronomical total, and alkies like to pay more anyhow. It’s ...

Like a row of books by Faber

Peter Porter, 22 January 1987

Other Passports: Poems 1958-1985 
by Clive James.
Cape, 221 pp., £9.95, November 1986, 0 224 02422 1
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... for many years, his creed. Interestingly, this poem for Russell Davies, written while filming with Barry Humphries in Cardiff, is couched in rhyme royal, a stanza which is a Manx-cat version of ottava rima, though it may well predate it, having been used by Chaucer. Auden also decided on rhyme royal for ‘Letter to Lord Byron’, probably to avoid too ...

The Ground Hostess

Francis Wyndham, 1 April 1983

... but never mind, I was introduced to this young man who when he opened his mouth sounded like that Barry Humphries character, you know, the Cultural Attaché to the Court of St James’s, so I knew he was Australian for a start, and when I asked him what he did he said he was a Qantas airline steward, and when I asked his name he said it was Tony ...

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