The Adventures of Barry McKenzie: 'The occasional, odd chilled glass of amber fluid' (1972)
Aunt Edna (Barry Humphries) takes Bazza (Barry Crocker) to meet distant upper class relatives, the penniless and pompous Gorts. Sarah Gort (Jenny Tomasin) takes Bazza to a country ball, where he is constantly insulted by an upper class twit. Barry’s mood improves when he discovers a back room full of Australians having a party.
Summary by Paul Byrnes.
The film’s origins in a comic strip are evident, with characters standing squarely mid-frame in the ball sequence, as they might be shown on paper. The humour is broad, verbal and aggressive, cleverly appealing to stereotypes in both Britain and Australia about each other. Aunt Edna’s put-downs of Mrs Gort’s cooking are more subtle, but still bruising. Note the gladioli in the vase, Edna’s trademark.
The Adventures of Barry McKenzie synopsis
After he comes into a small inheritance, Barry McKenzie (Barry Crocker) sets off for England with his aunt, Edna Everage (Barry Humphries), to advance his cultural education. Bazza is an innocent abroad, fond of beer, Bondi and beautiful 'sheilas’, but he soon settles into the Australian ghetto in Earl’s Court, where his old mate Curly (Paul Bertram) has a flat. He gets drunk (often), ripped off (more often), insulted by effete Englishmen (constantly) and exploited by record producers, religious charlatans and a pretentious BBC television producer (Peter Cook). He leaves England in disgust, after exposing himself on national television.
The Adventures of Barry McKenzie synopsis
The Adventures of Barry McKenzie was a hugely popular satire with both Australian and British audiences in the early 1970s, partly because it conformed so well with each country’s popular view of the other. To the British, Bazza was confirmation of the boorish colonial Australian who was increasingly frequenting their shores, thanks to the rise of cheap airfares. He was loud, aggressive, unsophisticated, often drunk and crude, barely educated and unintelligible.
These were the aspects that Australian audiences loved, because they proclaimed his independence. Bazza may have been all those things, but he was genuine, forthright, honest in his friendship and candid in response to English deviousness. Anyone who came 'the raw prawn’ got a swift poke in the eye with the blunt stick of his indignation.
The film was based on a comic strip written by Barry Humphries for the English satirical magazine Private Eye, from an original idea by comedian Peter Cook (who plays the BBC producer in the film).
Humphries had met the young Australian Bruce Beresford in London. Beresford had spent five years at the British Film Institute and was keen to make his feature debut. He co-wrote the script with Humphries, but it is very much a first film – full of energy, but ragged in construction and uneven in execution. Bazza’s stridently colloquial expressions are entertaining but self-conscious and occasionally close to offensive.
The film was largely derided by Australian and international critics, but loved by audiences, partly because of Barry Crocker’s winning performance. The $250,000 budget was recouped in the first few months of release.
Notes by Paul Byrnes.
This clip shows Barry McKenzie (Barry Crocker) and his Aunt Edna (Barry Humphries) in separate encounters with their upper-class English relatives, the Gorts. It cuts between Barry, who has accompanied Sarah Gort (Jenny Tomasin) to a country ball, and Aunt Edna at home with Mr and Mrs Gort (Dennis Price and Avice Landone). While Barry is repeatedly insulted about his Australianness by a boorish snob named Raymond (John D Collins), Edna’s gauche remarks about the Gorts’ hospitality are met with a stiff upper lip. The clip ends with Barry escaping the ball when he discovers a back room party of Australians drinking beer.
Educational value points
- The clip provides examples of the kind of humour found in The Adventures of Barry McKenzie. Much of the film’s humour derives from the cultural clash between the naïve Barry, his Aunt Edna and the English, particularly those of the upper class. The film appealed to Australians because of its cheeky larrikinism, and what was intended as a satirical treatment of cultural stereotypes also worked as a celebration of Australian brashness.
- The Adventures of Barry McKenzie parodies the Australian 'ocker’ stereotype. Barry is the laconic male who prefers to drink beer with his mates in a back room than spend time with women, with whom he is socially awkward. Anti-intellectual, xenophobic and vulgar, he is oblivious to anything beyond his narrow conception of the world, a perspective that is balanced by upper-class Raymond’s equally narrow view. Neither of them have any time for politeness, but Barry’s lack of pretension is evident in his forthright responses to Raymond’s thinly veiled insults. Actor Barry Crocker likened him to Dave from the Dad and Dave comedies of the 1930s, which were also box office hits.
- The film satirises the relationship between Australia and England and was the first in a spate of Australian films that defiantly rejected an entrenched desire to win the approval of the 'mother country’. In the film, England’s glory days have faded (the hall is decorated with dismal remnants, such as the 'Land of hope and glory’ banner), Barry’s relatives live in genteel poverty, Mr Gort is revealed as a dipsomaniac, and other Englishmen are depicted as corrupt. In the 1970s, Australians were attempting to shake off their 'cultural cringe’ and embrace Australian identity, and the film tapped into this mood.
- The Adventures of Barry McKenzie was instrumental in the revival of the Australian film industry in the 1970s. While the film was panned by critics, it was a huge hit among Australian audiences, some of whom were hearing Australian accents and seeing Australian characters on screen for the first time. It recouped its budget within 3 months and broke box office records in London for any Australian film released there. While many rejected its depiction of a crude ocker antihero, its success paved the way for a new generation of Australian filmmakers.
- The character of Edna Everage, with her trademark gladioli, features in the clip. Edna, the suburban housewife from Moonee Ponds in Melbourne, is the enduring creation of satirist Barry Humphries, who also plays the character. Since Edna first appeared on the British stage in 1969, she and Humphries have become famous worldwide and she is now known as Dame Edna Everage, self-styled 'internationally celebrated megastar’. Humphries says that his aim in creating characters such as Edna is to 'encourage people to look at Australia critically and with affection and humour’ (www.cultureandrecreation.gov.au).
- Barry is staying in Earls Court, an inner-city suburb of London. From the 1940s, the area had a large population of transient Australian travellers. 'Kangaroo Court’, as it came to be known, was a haven for young Australians as it had inexpensive accommodation, was the only area in London that sold ice-cold beer (the British traditionally drink lukewarm beer), and was a place where Australians could socialise among compatriots.
- The Barry McKenzie character was originally suggested by comedian Peter Cook and first appeared in a comic strip written by Barry Humphries and drawn by Nicholas Garland in the British satirical magazine Private Eye. The film reflects these origins in its use of one-dimensional stereotypes in the film, which is a loosely connected series of comic situations, and in the way characters are often placed squarely in the centre of the frame, as they are in comic strips. The ball sequence provides a good example of this framing.
- The Adventures of Barry McKenzie was director Bruce Beresford’s first feature film. While Beresford is reputedly now a little embarrassed by this film (although he also directed the 1975 sequel, Barry McKenzie Holds His Own), it launched his career as a director. He went on to make critically acclaimed films both in Australia and Hollywood, including Don’s Party (1976), Tender Mercies (1983), Driving Miss Daisy (1989) and Evelyn(2002). Breaker Morant (1980), which many consider his best film, also took up the anti-British establishment theme.
Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia.
This clip starts approximately 45 minutes into the feature.
Sarah has taken Bazza to a party and is introducing him as being from Australia.
Sarah Gort Raymond. This is Barry McKenzie. He’s from Australia.
Raymond Australia! I say cobber, show us how you convicts toddle about on your heads down under.
Bazza Go and stick your head up a dead bear’s bum.
Aunt Edna is having tea with Mr and Mrs Gort in the lounge room.
Aunt Edna What a delightfully refreshing traditional old English meal that was, Mrs Gort.
Mrs Gort Thank you.
Aunt Edna And how unusual to serve spaghetti bolognaise without the taste.
Bazza and Sarah Gort are talking at the party.
Bazza Ah, Sarah, look, ah, I just got to go to the snake’s house, bustin’ to strain the potatoes.
The musicians playing at the party are all women. At the bar, Bazza has been served a cocktail.
Raymond Where’s your boomerang, eh cobber?
Bazza Go and dip your left eye in hot cocky cack.
We return to the lounge room with Aunt Edna and Mr and Mrs Gort.
Aunt Edna May I ask, do you cook your spaghetti in the saucepan or do you boil the tea in there?
Mrs Gort I’m afraid I shall have to ask cook.
Mr Gort Cook, we haven’t got a bloody cook.
Bazza is sitting near the band at the party.
Raymond Hey, you old convict bluey digger.
Bazza You know what I hope?
Raymond No, what do you hope, old chap?
Bazza I hope all your chooks turn to emus and kick your dunny down.
We return to Aunt Edna having tea with the Gorts.
Mrs Gort Oh, I wonder what Barry and Sarah are doing now? Probably waltzing around the dance floor, gazing into each other’s eyes, whispering sweet nothings to one another.
We see Sarah sitting at the party alone. We then see Bazza also at the party, leaning against a wall.
Raymond Why aren’t you with the other Aussies drinking all that Fosters stuff?
Bazza Listen, drongo, any more lip and I’ll floor ya.
Raymond No really, old chap. There’s a whole party of them in the backroom, from the local agricultural college.
Sarah sits alone, forlornly, as the band plays. Bazza enters the backroom and is happily greeted by the rest of the Aussies, who are busy opening cans of Fosters beer.
Bazza Ah, you little beauty. Human beings at last!
Person 1 How are ya, mate?
Bazza Oh, am I glad to be shot of those pommy drongos.
Person 1 Have a Fosters, ya old bastard.
We return to the quiet lounge room of Mr and Mrs Gort.
Mrs Gort I’ve heard such sad stories about these young Australians in London drinking and brawling in these vile Earl’s Court dives.
Aunt Edna Well, I can’t deny that my nephew does enjoy the occasional odd chilled glass of amber fluid, Mrs Gort. But he and his friends are real little gentlemen, and I don’t think they rely on alcoholic beverages to have a good time.
We return to a much happier Bazza at the party, drinking Fosters. Bazza and friends are singing.
I do, I do. I go down to…
Bazza Geez, I feel like all my birthdays have come at once. What a fantastic bunch of bastards.
As he speaks, three men singing are sprayed with Fosters.