Tributes have been pouring in from around the world for the great Australian writer, comedian and satirist Barry HUMPHRIES who passed away this week. Based mainly in England, he wrote and acted as a variety of characters, including his famous Dame Edna Everidge. A long time fan was the King of England, who rang him in hospital days before Humphries died.

Back in the early 1970’s, I attended a Journalists (union – AJA) lunch in Hobart, TASMANIA where Barry Humphries was the special guest.

He arrived in a long flowing fur coat – real or not, I’m unsure. But it was very imposing and impressive. I had never seen a man in such a coat before. He definitely had star power!

The dining room was small and crowded with local Journalists. My table was next to the head table, so I was only a few metres away from Humphries throughout the lunch. It struck me that he seemed very morose, and the conversation at the head table was polite, sparse and quiet. I don’t think those at his table enjoyed any witty lunch talk. I tried to listen in, but if anyone was expecting a laugh a minute, it wasn’t happening.

Humphries did address the gathering as himself (not as one of his flamboyant characters), as our AJA guests always did. I confess I recall nothing of what he said. But I do remember wondering at the time if he even wanted to be there. Probably not, it seems in retrospect.

What I didn’t know, and I don’t think anyone in the room knew, was that Humphries at the time had hit rock bottom as an alcoholic. Dangerously so. His alcoholism was out of control, and friends and family were trying to save him. Humphries was mainly based in Britain, and on that visit to Australia, his parents apparently persuaded him to enter a treatment facility towards the end of 1971, and incredibly, he turned his dire situation around, and embraced being a tee totaller ever after.

I have read that Humphries later tried to help the wonderful British comedian Peter Cook to also give up alcohol, which Cook sadly failed to do, dying at the age of 57. I never met Cook, but my Journalist dad once had breakfast with him and his equally amazing comic partner Dudley Moore. It was just the three of them at their hotel breakfast in Launceston, Tasmania and my father interviewed them both. Apparently, breakfast was the only time they could do the interview, and they got on with my Dad, a fellow Englishman, like a house on fire. I still have a photo of the threesome (somewhere).

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