This was just one of the Dadaist pranks and performances Humphries staged in Melbourne while a university student in the 1950s. The nonsensical and deconstructive art movement evolved in Zurich during World War One, and Humphries became an avid proponent of its anarchy and satire.

His exhibit "Pus in Boots" was a pair of Wellingtons filled with custard, and “Playtox” was a mock pesticide claimed to be effective against the platypus, a beloved and protected species in Australia.

Humphries is now an internationally known comedian, actor and writer, famous for his alter egos: the flamboyant Dame Edna Everage with her famous catchphrase “Hello, Possums!”, and the boorish and dribbling Sir Les Patterson, Australia’s “cultural ambassador”.

Born into comfortable suburban surroundings in Melbourne in 1934, his subsequent outrageousness, dandyism, Dadaism and stage personae were a rebellion against the “respectability” of middle-class Australia.

Humphries’ father was a construction manager and the family was affluent. Young Barry spent a happy childhood and his doting parents fondly called him “Sunny Sam”. He had all he wanted and spent hours in the garden with his box full of character dresses, such as a sailor or a Red Indian.

At Melbourne Grammar he disliked sports and maths, and avoided cadets but matriculated with flying colours in English and Art. After dropping out of uni he worked his way up through theatre in Melbourne and Sydney before arriving in London in 1959 and spending the 1960s in an alcoholic stupor, before his brilliance burst through.

Humphries’ autobiography was first published in 1992 and now reappears. At first, it is a rather staid but very fascinating recounting of the morally repressive Australia of the 1940s and 1950s. His tale bursts into life with those first Dada adventures and the plunge into an uncertain theatrical world, all to the dismay of his parents, of course.

Certain readers have accused him of name-dropping. What else to expect from such a colourful life among creative and influential people in elite artistic and social circles?


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