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Dame Edna to pick a pocket or two

Dame Edna Everage's alter ego Barry Humphries yesterday returned to a role he last played 30 years ago - Fagin in the West End musical production of Oliver!

His arrival marks the fifth time in just three years that London Palladium bosses have been forced to repaint their billboards.

The man behind the outrageous antics of Dame Edna and the Australian cultural attache, Les Patterson, has taken over the starring role from Robert Lindsay.

Lindsay himself followed Russ Abbott, Jim Dale and Jonathan Price as the leader of the Victorian gang of young pickpockets.

In the original production of Oliver! in 1960 Humphries, now 64, played the part of Mr Sowerberry, the undertaker.

He played Fagin when the show transferred to Broadway and his last appearance was in 1967, playing Fagin in a production at London's Piccadilly Theatre. Standing on the steps of the London Palladium in Argyll Street, just off Oxford Circus, yesterday he said: "Look at me. I look like I should be selling a special edition of the Big Issue."

Gone was the familiar glitz of Dame Edna. Instead flowing locks of hair lay over his shoulders and he smiled a toothless grin as he posed with members of the child gang who also made their stage debut in Oliver! last night.