Saturday 29 April 2023


Just one week now until the Coronation of His Majesty King Charles III, and – look! – he's already gone to pieces!

[This Royal Puzzle is available from Wentworth Wooden Puzzles and the title to today's blog quotes one of the lyrics in Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical The King and I.]

Friday 28 April 2023


As someone who is only a casual purchaser of comic books – new or vintage – but who, nevertheless, is a complete sucker for exceptional comic cover-art, I've decide to curate a personal collection of randomly stunning covers on this blog: beginning with Batman #135, cover 'H' by Jim Cheung (Special Foil Variant), May 2023.

Sunday 23 April 2023


 Brian Sibley speaks with Barry Humphries


‘Delusional, brutal, totally lacking in empathy and, above all, hideous; he is one of the most unpleasant characters to have ever inhabited the cinema screen.’


The celebrated Australian actor and comedian, Barry Humphries is discussing his portrayal of the Great Goblin, King of Goblin Town in the Misty Mountains where Thorin and the Dwarves are taken prisoner and held captive. ‘He is a gigantic and repulsive figure, and yet, one of great charm, dignity, and erudition. We realize that, underneath it all, he is probably a New Zealand intellectual, fallen upon hard times.’  


Recalling how he came to be involved in the project, Barry says: ‘I had a telephone call from someone called Peter Jackson. I was in London, where I sometimes live, and was busy, so I asked him to ring later. Then a penny dropped. I thought, “Could he be related to one of the most gifted people in the entire history of film?” He was and he asked me if I would like to be in his film of The Hobbit?’


It was an invitation not to be declined: ‘I immediately agreed,’ he says, ‘for a ridiculously small fee. But the money was not important, it was the opportunity to explore the thing that I like most in life and art: the grotesque. Normality has never interested me. I am drawn to the paranormal, the extraordinary, the bizarre and the outlandish.’

That is certainly borne out by his close association with Dame Edna Everage, housewife, investigative journalist, social anthropologist, talk-show host, swami, spin-doctor, Megastar, and Icon and Sir Les Patterson Australia's outspoken cultural attaché to the Court of St James’s. 


For Peter Jackson, having Barry Humphries in the cast was both thrilling and, in anticipation, a source of some apprehension: ‘I’ve been a fan of Barry’s for over thirty years,’ he says, ‘I’d seen Dame Edna’s shows in the West End and when she toured New Zealand, but it’s always a bit nerve-wracking when you meet people you admire for the first time because you don’t want your heroes to disappoint you. Of course, Barry turned out to be everything I’d dreamed he would be: the sweetest, kindest, good-natured, funny, man who does really great work.’


For Barry’s part, he was understandably keen to know what his character looked like: ‘Jackson showed me a little plastic figurine of such ugliness that I really thought it was a part they should get someone else to play: perhaps Dan Aykroyd or possibly Danny DeVito in a fat suit. But they explained that the new techniques would make it possible for me to be extremely large, to begin with, and to conform to the ugliness of the figurine. And I think we’ve achieved that. People will shrink in horror, but then – to use a modish expression – embrace the character.’  


Asked whether he had contributed to the screen realisation of the character, Barry says: ‘It is possible that I made a contribution. Lately, when I’ve looked in the mirror, I can see that they based it loosely on my own appearance. I’ve been a little worried, as the years go on – I’m now in the November of my life – by my double chins, which seem to be growing.’


The goblins’ brutally monstrous monarch is not only given voice by Barry Humphries, but was acted out by him in motion-capture, a process which he found both intriguing and baffling: ‘You get covered with dots – sort of white measles suddenly appear all over you – and these, apparently, attract little lasers or beams or something in the camera. If I were a twelve-year-old, I would understand all the technology of this movie, but as I’m not, I just go with the flow and enjoy myself.’


The actor was much impressed set built for the scenes featuring the Great Goblin: ‘The studio was filled with an amazing edifice. Because the Goblin King is a scavenger on a huge scale, his throne room is entirely constructed of rubbish: old timber, terrible skeletons and human remains. It’s a forensic paradise. Dwarves are his foe and he is a cannibal, so he’s very fond of having them in various culinary experiments. His horrible inner sanctum is filled with the skulls and bones and, sometimes, even the entrails of Dwarves to an extent previously unseen in movies. In fact, I know of no other film where the entrails of Dwarves are examined in such detail, so it’s an educational film.’


Of the throne itself, Barry notes: ‘There’s a hole in the seat, so it is both a throne and also a toilet. The Goblin King is, among other things, grossly incontinent so if he hears the call of nature it doesn’t need to interrupt his conversation and, from time to time, a beautifully crafted urn beneath the throne receives a compliment of matter from the Goblin King, generally speaking of ill-digested dwarf.’ 

Barry was particularly gratified to discover that the Great Goblin has a song to sing: ‘I’m convinced that it will be a huge hit,’ he says, ‘It will top the charts, as the young folk would express it. It could even go platinum. It is a song of extreme aggression: a hate-filled number, which children will enjoy and senior citizens will appreciate. It’s entirely about destruction, death, and torture. But I try to do it in a sympathetic way. I’ve tried, as a matter of fact, to bring out the loveable side of my character – although this attempt has been a total failure.’ 


Barry is no stranger to musical performance: he was Mr Sowerberry the undertaker in the original 1960 production of Oliver! and later played Fagin. However, singing for the Great Goblin proved challenging: ‘My character is tone deaf, and so I had to do what is an extremely difficult thing for a person like me, who sings beautifully – I had to sing it badly. Having to act and sing badly is difficult for someone who is in the November of his life.’  


Of the Great Goblin’s eventual demise, Barry says: ‘I’ve never been disemboweled before, but it’s a pretty nasty death, and I think one that will be greeted by audiences with joy, but also dismay to think that they won’t see the character again. But, you know, in works of imaginative fiction, people do die and are reborn. They’re not really dead. And to me, this is an indestructible character.’ 

The Hobbit began life as a children’s book, so an obvious question is whether or not it has been translated into a children’s film? Barry is adamant: ‘The Hobbit is a film for children in the sense that it’s scary moments are the scary moments kids enjoy. Some tests have been made on young children, and they have enjoyed it, though they have not slept a wink since and some of them have also developed nervous tics that, apparently, will never go away. Otherwise, yes, it’s a children’s film, and it is also, not – as is often cornily said – for “the young in heart”, but for those who appreciate extravagance and imagination: qualities lacking in almost every movie you ever see these days.’


As a final reflection on his foray into Middle-earth, Barry Humphries says, ‘There’s much in this film for audiences of all ages, but I think what people will enjoy the most is my appearance as the Great Goblin. Although, as the years pass, you’ll forget most of it, my performance will be evergreen in your memory.’