The Financial Times talked to her manager, 77 year-old Barry Humphries.
On Melbourne in the 50s
“Scorn and disgust were my favourite occupations. If you could have been in Melbourne in the 1950s, you would have understood. It was a very nice place. You see, ‘nice’ is the epithet. Everyone aspired to be nice.
“I’ve always felt that I was a bit central European. Lots of Jews in Melbourne. We had a very big quota in Australia, odious though the thought of ‘quotas’ is, of people fleeting Nazis. I knew a lot of those people. And I felt a bit like a refugee myself. A refugee from middle-class Melbourne. A priggish sort of figure, scared underneath of course. I retain most of the interests of my early youth.”
On his siblings
“They’re very nice people. They’re just not like me. And they were inconvenient in those days. Demanding my parents’ attention, which was generally given to me. My parents were quite unsuited to parenthood, as most parents are. You only learn to do what your parents did, which is usually wrong. I see myself making the same mistakes.”
On rehearsing Edna’s role in Dick Whittington
“She’s a little bit like FHC [a famous Hollywood comedian who the FT doesn’t name]. He doesn’t rehearse, I’m told. He just sends on his double who rehearses all his scenes and then FHC just steps in and does them. I don’t know how that works but I seem to be doing something similar. Since I’m not in costume I have to try to impersonate Edna’s voice, which, mysteriously, isn’t very easy to achieve when Edna isn’t there.”
On an interview held at the Savoy Hotel
“I could order whatever I wanted. So I ordered Oysters Tsarina. Oysters that you dip in sour cream, chopped onions and caviar. You slurp those down. And the chef came out, quite an elderly man, and he said, “I just wanted to say you’re the first person to have ordered Oysters Tsarina since von Ribbentrop.”
“It’s a depressing topic. An awareness that there’s still so much to do. I used to make lists, you see, of things I wanted to do, books I wanted to read, places I wanted to visit. Now I’m having to cross some of those places off. I know that I will never read the complete works of George Meredith. I know that I will never go on a walking tour of Patagonia. I’ll never picnic in Mongolia. There are even parts of England I won’t visit. Of course I’ve crossed China completely off my list.”
“I don’t actually think about Edna when I’m, as it were, ventriloquising her. She doesn’t come into my mind. She’s not a haunting presence. It’d be very scary if she did. If I’m preparing a show, I have to think, ‘What might Edna’s preoccupations be now?’”
Photo: By Aurelien Guichard from London, United Kingdom (Royal Wedding 2011 Uploaded by StAnselm) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.