Wednesday, February 20, 2008

R.I.P. Emily Perry

This is a sad day, darlings. Dear, sweet, charming, talented, funny Emily Perry has passed away in England. She was 100 years old, a mere child, or at best, a teenager from my POV.

She found international fame and adoration playing Dame Edna's bridesmaid and constant travelling companion, Madge Allsop, making millions of people laugh the world over.

Little Douglas met her twice. Below is a souvenir of their first meeting, when she signed his copy of Dame Edna's autobiography at a taping of Dame Edna's Hollywood, in Burbank in 1992. She was a mere slip of a thing, barely 85, at the time.

I wrote about her last June as her 100th birthday approached, in a column titled Emily Perry. Click on the link to read it.

Her fame came courtesy of two things: her great talent, and the genius and generosity of Barry Humphries, so rather than me prattling on about her again, here is what Barry had to say about Emily in the press today.

I met Emily when she was aged 75 and I was auditioning people to play the part of Edna's rather brow-beaten bridesmaid, Madge Allsop. I had seen a lot of actresses. Some of them sang songs, some did "bits", but they were all being very camp and very arch and, well, wrong. Emily had been sent to me by mistake and she had never heard of Dame Edna. She hadn't the faintest idea who I was and she didn't really know what she was meant to do.

All I knew about her was that she had been in a lot of touring productions going back to when she entertained troops during the war. Subsequently she had been nursing her mother for about 25 years, and later started a small kids' ballet school in Crystal Palace, south London.

She came along completely unprepared but, as soon as I saw her, I knew she was exactly right. She became incredibly popular very quickly.

People who are fans of Edna always ask me: "How's Madge?" Within six months of working with me on television in England, she had met most members of the Royal family and done a fashion spread for a Sunday supplement.

Perry's character was often the butt of Dame Edna's jokes And, because the character was supposed to be from New Zealand, when she came to the country on tour she was treated like royalty. They even named a tank after her!

On quite a few occasions we were alone and touring, and she was the most amusing company - a very intelligent and very interesting woman.

She was also a confirmed spinster who loved men. Particularly young, tanned beach boys. Once, we were in Los Angeles to do some TV shows and we stayed in the same hotel. I was very concerned she would find herself in alien territory, but I looked out of my window down to the swimming pool, and there I saw a figure in a pink leisure suit, holding a drink with many umbrellas, reading an autobiography of Errol Flynn. Of course, it was Emily!

Although the character was mostly mute, she did get a word or two to say on occasion. But I remember one time when she came down the staircase in a dress designed by Vivienne Westwood. The audience loved it. She completely upstaged Edna.

In one of our last TV appearances, she was discovered by Edna in bed with Ozzy Osbourne. Later, she said to me: "Who was that funny man? He seemed very nervous." She didn't know who he was, she just knew that he trembled a bit!

Madge first appeared on ITV's Dame Edna Experience in 1987. She lived alone in the Crystal Palace area - she always had a poodle. The first was called Madame, and the last was called Star.
She was, at the end of her life, obliged to live in a retirement home in Croydon. I went to see her and she was with a lot of other old ladies, many in stages of dementia, being - I thought - carelessly looked after. She was lined up against the wall with these ladies, turned towards a TV screen with the sound off. I went up close to her and she said: "I'm in hell". We used all our powers to relocate her in a comfortable home for retired theatrical folk. It was a wonderful place and, thanks to her later agent, Phil Dale, we got her in there. She was in the Frankie Vaughan memorial suite in this lovely place and that was where she spent her last days.

I was unfortunately touring at the time of her 100th birthday. She received my greeting long distance, and she got her greeting from the Queen, too.

I'm very saddened to hear of her passing. She is absolutely irreplaceable. But it is wonderful to think that, in last 25 years of her life, she became a star.

I think if Dame Edna was to pay tribute, she'd say: "I wish I'd been nicer to her."

Rest in peace, dear Emily. Sharing the planet with you was a joy. Take your place with these other immortals. You will be missed. Emily was recently quoted as saying, "My memory's gone; I've been all around the world with Barry and I can't remember a thing." Well Emily my darling, we will NEVER forget you.

Cheers darlings.


Paul said...

I just stumbled on your comment after googling for Emily on reading of her death. My mother was taught as a child to dance by Emily some 55 years ago. She has fond memories of performing in shows all over London.

RIP Emily

Tallulah Morehead said...

Thanks for commenting Paul. We adored Emily, and are always delighted to hear from others whose lives she touched.


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