Barry Humphries: 'I think Les might have adapted to new conditions'

Barry Humphries talks to The Guardian about the music of the Weimar Republic, Dame Edna and Sir Les does get more than a passing mention.

On playing Sir Les:

Humphries says none of his characters give him quite as much pleasure as Australian ambassador Sir Les, best known for his puce cheeks, huge appendage and formidable frothing. “I enjoy playing Les more than any other character because it release my inner vulgarity. It liberates my repressed ribaldry.” In 1999, Sir Les appeared with Kylie Minogue at Nick Cave’s Meltdown, in a duet that concluded with him chasing her round the stage and whipping out his famous (and thankfully fake) “frightener”. Sir Les is an acquired taste.

On Patterson’s enlarged saliva duct:

Does he still have sufficient saliva to play the dissolute ambassador? “Well, look, the same question was asked by Prince Charles.” Like Edna, Humphries is an accomplished name-dropper. “He said: ‘Do you have some kind of tube running down your mouth?’ and I said: ‘No, I produce it myself.’ It really is organic. I can expectorate six rows into the stalls.” He looks at me with undisguised pride. “That is an accomplishment, isn’t it? I can almost hit a target half a block away!” Does the royal family like Sir Les? “Prince Charles likes Les a lot,” he whispers lubriciously.

On not wanting to be Sir Les:

Perhaps Sir Les is a warning to himself of what he could have become. Would any part of him want to be Les? “No, I don’t want to be Les Patterson. I do rather admire him, though. He’s very genial. It would be therapeutic if Les was on TV constantly, reminding people there is another attitude to the fairer sex which doesn’t entirely displease them. I’ve noticed that people who laugh at Les’s most offensive, controversial, sexual sallies are old ladies. I have the lights up, and can see the old ladies on the front row. And they love it, as they used to love Max Miller.”

On the possible return to Britain of the Australian elder statesman:

That is why, he says, he is determined to bring Sir Les back to Britain for one last hurrah. “I think Les might have adapted to new conditions.” Is he less offensive? He guffaws. “No, he’s more offensive. He’s had to ramp it up.”

On the right to offend:

As we enter the lift, he tells me how lucky he has been and how much he is looking forward to the future – particularly reviving Sir Les. “I defend to the ultimate my right to give deep and profound offence.” He pauses. “So long as people laugh while they’re being offended.” And do they laugh as much nowadays? “Oh yes, of course they do.”

Sir Les


The online archive of Dr. Sir Leslie Colin Patterson. Wit, sage, raconteur, late Cultural Attaché to the Court of St James and Chairperson of the Australian Chapter of the International Cheese Board.

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