Story transcripts

Great Dame

Sunday, September 3, 2006
Reporter: Ray Martin
Producer: Sandra Cleary

Jokes aside for a moment, here's a heart-felt salute to a unique Australian. A really great dame. These days, she's the housewife megastar. As famous in London and New York as she is back home in Moonee Ponds. And she's just returned in triumph to celebrate her golden jubilee — 50 fabulous years in the spotlight.

She is, of course, Dame Edna Everage. A character so real, you often forget she's a work of fiction. The creation of that comic genius Barry Humphries, now hailed as one of the greatest comedians of all time.

But try telling that to the diva and we can assure you, you're in for a world record dummy spit.


RAY MARTIN: It's an emotional moment. Dame Edna is coming home at last.

EDNA EVERAGE: I doubt if anyone in Moonee Ponds has had a facelift of any kind. This chin — that was added. This double chin was added. It belonged to Elizabeth Taylor. It was her left love handle.

EDNA EVERAGE: Here we are, Ray Martin, Moonee Ponds station.

RAY MARTIN: Brings a tear to your eye I guess.

EDNA EVERAGE: No it doesn't. I don't have sentimental feelings about a railway station. Thank you.

RAY MARTIN: On Puckle Street, the throbbing artery of Moonee Ponds, they proudly see Edna Everage as the local success story. She's a colourful character, a theatrical illusion that they're all happy to accept.

BARRY HUMPHRIES: It's hard to believe that it's 50 years since Edna first appeared on this very stage. It's been quite a journey since then.

RAY MARTIN: Edna Everage started out a shy, gawky Melbourne housewife. Barry Humphries is the Svengali who created the character that became Dame Edna. Fifty years ago when you started here, who were you poking fun at?

BARRY HUMPHRIES: Well, I was trying to really describe the Melbourne environment of the time. You know, it was a suffocating thing. You know, all that laminex.

EDNA EVERAGE: I was standing there one day at the kitchen sink in Moonee Ponds. I was wrist deep in grey water, peas and mutton fat floating in it, I was looking out the kitchen window through chipped aluminium venetian blinds at a yard full of broken toys. And I thought, is this the end? Is this it?

BARRY HUMPHRIES: It wasn't really a question even of ridicule.

RAY MARTIN: They saw themselves?

BARRY HUMPHRIES: They saw an aspect of their lives that had never been talked about.

RAY MARTIN: When does Dame Edna become Dame Edna? When she puts ...

BARRY HUMPHRIES: The glasses on.

RAY MARTIN: Not the stockings?

BARRY HUMPHRIES: Glasses. The glasses make the character.

RAY MARTIN: Now a flamboyant 72, Barry Humphries was a young law student when Edna first appeared on the university stage.

BARRY HUMPHRIES: I would be pretty boring, I think, as an old lawyer. I would be retired, I would have a wine collection, probably a collection of Georgian silver. You could say that Edna interrupted my academic career, thank goodness.

EDNA EVERAGE: I met Barry Humphries who was a spotty young, rather round-shouldered youth. He signed me up on a contract. I'm still bound by the contract. I've made him wealthy, he does nothing — he's not here. People say there's a rumour that he is me. Isn't that tragic?

RAY MARTIN: Dame Edna's life has become a society swirl. Today, it's an afternoon tea charity event with cup cakes, with savs and the iconic Gladys.

EDNA EVERAGE: There's something Australian, very Australian about a Gladys. It's thrusting and it's optimistic and it's magically bereft of any form of subtlety.

RAY MARTIN: Edna is back with a vengeance — that's the name of her new show, kicked off by a civic reception complete with fanfare, a kiss and a key to the city ... from Melbourne's bubbly lord mayor, John So. Dame Edna is happy to be a megastar role model and she accepts that the suburban epicentre of Melbourne has now moved from Moonee Ponds to Fountain Lakes.

KIM: She doesn't make us feel insuperior or anything ... and do you know what I like? She doesn't do lavatory humour, Ray.

KATH: No, she doesn't work blue, which some people do.

KIM: Like us.

RAY MARTIN: Kath and Kim are the new generation of desperate housewives.

KIM: She loves herself sick and I love that about her because I love myself sick and I think that's a Melbourne quality.

RAY MARTIN: Now, you both keep up with the latest goss — there is a rumour that Dame Edna is a bloke in a frock.

KATH: Oh, what?

KIM: That is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. You are scraping the barrel, muckraking, Ray.

KATH: Oh, yeah, and you don't go there, Ray. Don't do that — you don't need to.

RAY MARTIN: But did you share a dressing room today with Dame Edna?

KIM: Yes we did and everything's in place, alright.

KATH: She's stacked.

KIM: Everything's where it's meant to be.

KATH: She's built.

RAY MARTIN: Dame Edna has become a show business phenomenon. Over five decades, she's conquered Australia and Britain and now even America — something that no comic has ever done. The New York Times rates Barry Humphries up there with the legendary Charlie Chaplain as one of the greatest comedians of all time. And he's certainly that.

BARRY HUMPHRIES: I think 50 years is a bit of a record for one theatrical invention and I'm rather proud of that. You know, it is sort of coming home to me right now.

EDNA EVERAGE: Broadway was the highlight. I never thought that it was possible to get the Tony Award, which is the highest accolade that Broadway can bestow. I was chatting away and I saw some little Japanese people in the front row having a lovely time. And I said to the sophisticated Broadway people, "Oh, we've got some lovely little Japs in the audience." And everyone went, "Oh."

RAY MARTIN: Is she funnier than Barry Humphries?

BARRY HUMPHRIES: I think much funnier and I think she's got really an abnormal amount of adrenaline. In fact, I find it quite exhausting just to be in her company.

EDNA EVERAGE: Oh, Ray, we're in the Town Hall. The Lord Mayor has always wanted to show me his enormous organ. Isn't it magnificent.

RAY MARTIN: Isn't it? And how old is the enormous organ?

EDNA EVERAGE: Well, it goes back to the 1890s. It stretches way back. Aren't we easily amused, Ray?

RAY MARTIN: Saturday morning and it's a regal moment at the Queen Victoria Markets. It's all courtesy and curtsies for the dame and her latest consort, the Lord Mayor, John So. Now Mr Mayor, there is a rumour that Dame Edna is really a man in a frock?

JOHN SO: No, no. Edna is a lady, a great dame.

RAY MARTIN: No doubt about it?

JOHN SO: I have no doubt whatsoever. She even gave me a kiss — I've got the lipstick to prove it!

RAY MARTIN: I think he's taken a shine to you, Edna.

EDNA EVERAGE: Ray, he could be a stalker. He is a potential stalker. So I try not to encourage people too much. I'm still a very attractive woman.

RAY MARTIN: Ladies and gentlemen, Dame Edna Everage. She's got the key to the city, she's graced our stamps and she's about to be on our coins, and now they've even named a street after her.

EDNA EVERAGE: And on the corner where there was once a dignified little sweet shop, look … the Moonee Ponds Kebab House. Hello, I lived here when I was a small girl. I used to live here. I'll see you at the show darlings. I enjoy being famous. I am the light at the end of every housewife's tunnel.

RAY MARTIN: Dame Edna, it seems, has become very much her own woman. Rumour keeps growing that he's really you … in fact, you're him in a dress.

EDNA EVERAGE: I heard the rumours a long time ago. It happens to a lot of female achievers. If you're successful as a woman, they assume there is a man involved. It's tragic.

RAY MARTIN: Has it happened to Kylie, Nicole? People have said that of Kylie, that she is in fact Jason Donavon.

If she decides to hang up the frocks, will you miss her?

BARRY HUMPHRIES: I don't think that's ever likely to happen.

RAY MARTIN: You need the money, do you? Barry needs the money from Edna.

BARRY HUMPHRIES: He's extravagant. Clap if you feel like it — Barry Humphries.

RAY MARTIN: After 50 years living with Barry Humphries, it's become a bizarre relationship, a strange kind of theatre.

EDNA EVERAGE: It's a little bit tense, Raymond. I've known Barry so long and as my mother used to say to me, I can read him like a book. And it's not always a book that I would let children peruse.

RAY MARTIN: If I could get Barry together with you?

EDNA EVERAGE: You never will. Well, I'm a little bit nervous about this.

RAY MARTIN: Well, we did. After a bit of flattery, bribery, arm twisting, they came together for the first time on camera … reluctantly and, I'm afraid, a little hostile.

EDNA EVERAGE: Oh, Ray. This is a historic moment! I never really thought I would be in a studio with someone as lovely as you and someone as, quite frankly, irritating as you, Barry.

RAY MARTIN: Edna, you've said to me, you said to me that he's dysfunctional, he's a sick man.

EDNA EVERAGE: I've never thought you were well. I thought you've lived your life through me. I've been the famous one and you've been, well, I'm going to use the "L" word now, you've been the loser. You are a loser.

RAY MARTIN: Barry, Edna is on the stamps, Edna is the one who gets the key to the city, she's the star.

BARRY HUMPHRIES: I'm glad, it gives me the greatest pleasure that I've played a very important role in creating, dare I say, a monster.

RAY MARTIN: Can we sort it out then after 50 years, can we sort it out?

EDNA EVERAGE: I've thought of litigation. But why bother, I'm going ahead without you, Barry. Thank you, thank you, Ray Martin and goodbye, Barry Humphries.
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