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Edna & Madge: The inside story of a TV friendship

In real life, Dame Edna's glum companion entertained the troops, brought the can-can to Crystal Palace and turned down all offers of marriage

Today, as the breathless school of showbusiness reporting would put it, the secret life of one of the theatre's most enigmatic legends can be revealed.

Patricia Perry, who played Madge Allsop, dead-pan stooge to superstar Dame Edna Everage, was, in real life, the life and soul of the south London shoe-shuffling set. In Crystal Palace, they still talk of her can-can.

Perry, who died at the age of 100 on Tuesday and who acted under her middle name of Emily, loved the stage from her earliest years, but had a performing career that was oddly intermittent until she found fame in her 80s. On the boards at four, dancing and singing in the West End in her youthful prime, and trouping for the entertainments organisation Ensa during the Second World War, Perry gave up her career to care for her mother. She then founded her own dancing school.

Wendy Bacon met Perry when she enrolled her young daughter at the Patricia Perry Academy of Dancing in Crystal Palace. They formed a friendship spanning nearly 40 years.

In 1970, Mrs Bacon said, Perry asked the mothers to attend a meeting ahead of the school's annual show: "She told us they were going to perform the can-can and she wanted us to sew different coloured dresses and put the children in black stockings, suspenders, hats and frills."

Perry's focus in life was acting and dancing, and she had little time for any other interests aside from her support for animal charities and her poodle, Star.

"She had several opportunities to marry, but she never wanted to because she hated housework and couldn't bear to run a house," Mrs Bacon said.

Then, in 1987, came fame. "She stopped to talk to me in the street one day and said, 'I was auditioning for a part with Barry Humphries today and I think I got it'," Mrs Bacon recalled.

Humphries paid Perry a warm tribute this week. "She was the most amusing company – a very intelligent and interesting woman. I'm saddened to hear of her passing. She is absolutely irreplaceable," he told the BBC.

Humphries and Perry toured America, New Zealand and Australia together. When they performed at the Haymarket Theatre in London, Mrs Bacon said: "Barry gave her the number one dressing room. She didn't realise how famous she was, but she would have been tickled pink by all the obituaries."