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Barry Humphries was born in Melbourne and attended Melbourne Grammar with some distinction, attracting a scholarship to attend the University of Melbourne. His experience of growing up in suburban Melbourne significantly influenced the eclectic creativity he exhibited during his education. At university he studied law and arts, but discontinued his studies to tour with Ray Lawler's theatrical group. This experience consolidated his flamboyant theatrical and artistic nature and spawned 'Edna Everage', the character with whom he is most often identified. During the late 1950s he appeared in several Phillip Street (Sydney) productions, including the revues Mr and Mrs, with his wife Brenda Humphries (1956), Around the Loop (1957), and the children's musical Alice in Wonderland (1956). After developing a number of characters on stage and record in Australia, he left for England in 1959. One of his final collaborations before leaving was to provide lyrics to Val Fawcett's music in the children's musical Mumba Jumba and the Bunyip (1959, libretto by Peter Shaugnessy).
In his enduring one-man show, Humphries has created characters such as Sandy Stone and Sir Les Paterson in addition to a wide array of other characters through which the pretensions and prejudices of the Australian suburban middle class are satirised. The popularity of Humphries' stage show increased in the 1970s after Edna Everage's appearance alongside her nephew, Barry McKenzie, in several movies that trace the bawdy exploits of an 'ocker' in England. Edna Everage has appeared regularly on television in Australia and England, and in the late 1990s, she achieved great success in the United States, following a cool reception on earlier visits. Humphries' blend of satire, caricature and music hall performance sometimes attracts criticism for providing outdated and distorted pictures of Australian society. Nevertheless, his popularity endures in Australia and overseas. In 1982 Humphries was awarded an AO.
From the late 1970s Humphries has written a large number of books under his own name and the names of his characters with such titles as Dame Edna's Coffee Table Book (1976) and Barry Humphries' Treasury of Australian Kitsch (1980). In 1992 he published the critically acclaimed autobiography, More Please. His career has been examined in a number of book-length studies, and his frequent connection by critics with other famous expatriates such as Germaine Greer, Robert Hughes and Clive James ensures that his life and career remain an important element in the study of Australian culture.