Barry Humphries entertains his UNE biographer in Dublin

Published 14 October 2009

humphBarry Humphries was presented with this year’s James Joyce Award at University College Dublin (UCD) on the very day that his biographer, Anne Pender, delivered a lecture at the College on his work.

Dr Pender, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Arts at the University of New England, visited UCD to give the annual Keith Cameron Lecture in the College’s School of History and Archives on the afternoon of the 29th of September. That morning, she sat in an enthusiastic audience of students as Humphries entertained them with an hour-long talk before receiving his award “for services to the arts and entertainment”.

Dr Pender was impressed by “the way he was able to charm and educate a whole new generation of listeners”. “The young people were very interested in Humphries and his world,” she said. “It’s a mark of his extraordinary talent that he can entertain anyone with his use of language.”

Over lunch, he entertained Dr Pender – among other invited guests – in a more informal way, providing her with a few new details for her biography, which is in the final stages of preparation.

Among those guests was Australia’s Ambassador to Ireland, Anne Plunkett – a graduate of UNE. Ms Plunkett, who is a dedicated supporter of Australian Studies at UCD, was guest-of-honour at both the award presentation and Dr Pender’s lecture.

The James Joyce Award is presented by the Literary and Historical Society of UCD. “The students filled the lecture theatre and cheered as Humphries entered,” Dr Pender said. “He spoke for about an hour, and read from his newly-published book Handling Edna, before being presented with the award. He spoke about – among other things – his own time as an undergraduate.

“He said he thought James Joyce would have appreciated Dame Edna as ‘a kind of respectable Molly Bloom’.”

The Keith Cameron Lecture at UCD is an annual event associated with the College’s Keith Cameron Chair of Australian Studies. Dr Pender said her lecture on Humphries, titled “The Last of the Queen’s Men: Barry Humphries’s Australian Theatre of Empire”, explored “his changing attitude towards Australia, and his changing approach to representing Australian culture and society, between the 1950s and the 1980s”.

“It was well received,” she said, “by a great audience of staff and students.”

THE  PHOTOGRAPH of Barry Humphries displayed here expands to include Dr Anne Pender and Professor Stuart Ward (current holder of the Keith Cameron Chair of Australian Studies at University College Dublin).