“Jeez, sport, if that b*****d doesn’t stock Foster’s, I’ll drop him, so help me. I’m that dry, I could drink out of an Abo’s loincloth!” That was just one of the many colourful (blue?), and probably unprintable nowadays, phrases which I learned by heart from The Adventures of Barry McKenzie when I was at school and college in the 1960s. These were then repeated, complete with Aussie accent, for the benefit of my fellow-students, thus earning me the nickname ‘Bazza’. The comic strip, written by Barry Humphries, ran for many years in the satirical magazine Private Eye, and generated two movies, relating the picaresque misadventures of a young Australian ingenu who arrives in Swinging London and embarks on a quest, invariably disappointed, for a ‘Pommy sheila’ who will ‘bang like a s**t-house door’. Little did I suspect that, well over 50 years later, I would be entertained by the progenitor of this lovable character on his “UK Premiere Tour 2022”, a series of one-night stands ending on 1st June.
Barry Humphries later became familiar to millions more as the man behind Dame Edna Everage. I caught her one-woman show, one of many over the years, in 1982. This one was entitled An Evening’s Intercourse, something which I hoped might be predictive in the case of the young lady whom I invited to accompany me to a West End theatre. Rather prudishly, she recoiled from the ripe innuendos with which the ‘housewife superstar’ regaled her enthusiastic audience, although she gladly accepted one of the gladioli which the Dame liberally scattered among those in the front rows. Even riper was the humour expressed by Mr Humphries’ subsequent creation, Sir Les Patterson, the cultural attaché at the Australian High Commission. Slovenly in appearance and with disgusting personal habits, the diplomat had a wealth of stories about the exotic locations to which he had been posted, including Bangkok (“the bloke who named that city had his head screwed on”). A misunderstanding at a chiropodist’s clinic leads the female podiatrist to exclaim, “That no a foot!”, which earns the retort, “It was when I last measured it.” Sir Les even gets personal with the ladies in the front row, telling one that, although he doesn’t recognize her, “The top of your head looks familiar.” They loved it!
These reminiscences may give the impression of a somewhat one-sided talent, but that is far from being the case. As his one-man show reveals, ranging across his 60 years in the public (not just Private) eye, . Not least among those talents is raconteur extraodinaire. With piano accompaniment on hand from the brilliant Ben Dawson, Mr Humphries positively charms the possums in his audience. Sometimes relaxing in an easy chair – he can get away with that: he is 88 years old, after all – he tells the story of his life from his pre-War childhood in a Melbourne suburb, laying aside the mask of the many personae which he has adopted over the years. He establishes a great rapport with the audience, engaging in delightful repartee with individual members of it. This has always been a feature of his performances, and he is as sharp-witted as ever. Comfortable now in his own skin, Barry Humphries has attained the status of a national treasure. Come and see him in a performance which is surely to be treasured.