Monday, 14 December 2009

338: Fairy Tales 3 - Barry Humphries

from “Dame Edna's Bedside Companion” by Barry Humphries, 1982
Illutrations by Daniel Rainey

This is rather an in-joke for fans who are familiar with the history Barry Humphries has spun over the decades for Dame Edna Everage and her fictional family. There is of course the monstrous Edna centre stage, and everything we know about her family is learnt from her monologues: the comatose condition of her husband Norm, her dominated spinster bridesmaid Madge Allsop, and then there’s her son Kenneth. A regular part of the Dame Edna Everage act is her clueless recounting of Kenneth’s life, which her more clued up audience realises is full of revelations about the gay lifestyle he tries to keep hidden from her.

So this fairy story is written in the persona of Kenny as a sublimated wish fantasy about his relationship to his mother, whose clothes he designs, and his taste for leather – crashing the fashion gay cliché against the sexual gay.
It’s written throughout in a campy style with the reader expected to be in on the joke, both about the story’s parallels with his life and also the gay allusions.
There are lots of camp diminutives, some gay slang and polari which are taken literally: fairies and nelly old queens and others besides. So credit to Humphries for not simply bashing out a cheap joke, since he does work out a style and content. All this is also padded out with the knowing stuff about assorted gay icons from cinema. Whether this whole piece all goes on too long, flogging this particular horse is another matter.
Particularly telling is the final full-page illustration of Kenneth’s fnatsies – which is a fairly good represenetaion of what contemporary gay bar might offer in terms of men and styles.

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