Emily Perry: Dame Edna's foil Madge Allsop

At the age of 80, Emily Perry found fame as Madge Allsop, the sour-faced, roundly abused companion and one-time bridesmaid of the "housewife superstar" Dame Edna Everage, Barry Humphries' gladioli-waving alter ego. For almost 20 years she took the role of the silent foil, sitting at the side of the stage and never saying a word while Humphries drew laughs with an act that had begun in Melbourne revues and was first performed in Britain at Peter Cook's satirical Establishment club.

Perry was, in fact, the third Madge Allsop, following in the footsteps of the Australian actresses Madeleine Orr, who died in 1979, and Connie Hobbs, who played her in the film Les Patterson Saves the World (1987). But, through many television series and stage shows around the world, Perry's was the glum face remembered by most fans.

She first joined Humphries for his LWT chat-show The Dame Edna Experience! (1987-89), beckoned on to the stage by Edna, who implored her to use the "staff stairs", not the stars' staircase, and described Madge as her "constant travelling companion", adding:

Madge has been with me for many, many years. She was my bridesmaid. She caught my bouquet – on the back of the neck, unfortunately. And she's been hanging around my neck like an albatross for many, many years. Makes me feel like the ancient mariner. Come on, Allsop – this way, darling.

Perry erected a fold-up seat in the wings, parked her large handbag on the floor next to her and sat down, unsmiling, for the rest of the show, simply having gifts from guests thrown into her lap and pinning name-badges on their lapels ("The badge, Madge, the badge," Dame Edna would yell).

At the end of the programme, as Humphries, Sean Connery, Cliff Richard and Mary Whitehouse took a bow at the front of the stage, Perry dropped the deadpan expression and broke into a smile as she danced with Connery – previously described by Dame Edna as "Madge's pin-up".

In his second volume of memoirs, My Life as Me (2002), Humphries contrasted Perry's "talkative, informed and amusing" real-life persona with her performance as Madge, writing: "Miss Perry had the rare gift of being able to do nothing in the face of overwhelming provocation." Perry herself described the problems of keeping a straight face. "It is very, very difficult, because nearly everything is ad lib and you have no idea what's coming next," she explained.

What I try to do is completely black everything out of what's going on around me. I start thinking of visiting my grandparents when I was a child. I think of walking through the woods to their place and all the scenery on the way. I just try to concentrate on something else.

Born Patricia Emily Perry in Torquay, Devon, in 1907, she began her stage career aged four, at the Theatre Royal, Birmingham. She went on to act, sing and dance in music hall and pantomime, as well as touring in The Student Prince, The Desert Song (as Susan) and The Belle of New York (as Sister Kitty) and, during the Second World War, with the forces entertainment organisation Ensa.

Giving up show business to look after her mother, she opened the Patricia Perry Academy of Dancing, in a south London church hall, which she ran for 25 years. In 1984, she decided to return to acting but, on approaching the union Equity, discovered there was another Patricia Perry, so switched to using her middle name, Emily.

After playing the New Zealander Madge in The Dame Edna Experience! – scraping back her blonde hair and spraying it grey for the frumpy role – Perry appeared alongside Barry Humphries in an American version of the chat-show, Dame Edna's Hollywood (1991-93), with guests such as Burt Reynolds, Cher and Mel Gibson, but a subsequent one-hour pilot supposedly based in the character's Malibu home, Edna Time (1993), failed to make a series.

In Britain, Perry joined Humphries for both series of Dame Edna's Neighbourhood Watch (1992-93), Night of a Thousand Faces (2001), a programme celebrating impressionists, and Dame Edna Live at the Palace (2003), while touring the world with him on stage.

She also had bit-parts in Dempsey and Makepeace, A Perfect Spy and The Bill, before appearing in a 1995 episode of the gentle sitcom Last of the Summer Wine, as Mrs Broadbent, one of the worldly possessions that her husband (played by Geoffrey Bayldon) tells the regular Summer Wine trio he wants to dispose of while searching for "the wilderness".

In 2004, Perry retired and moved to Brinsworth House, a home for actors and entertainers in Twickenham, Middlesex. When Humphries made a new ITV show, The Dame Edna Treatment, last year, Madge was gone, replaced by Edna's daughter Valmai (Imogen Bain).

Anthony Hayward

Patricia Emily Perry, actress, singer and dancer: born Torquay, Devon 28 June 1907; died Twickenham, Middlesex 19 February 2008.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Process Improvement Analyst (Testing)

£40000 - £45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Service Delivery Manager - Derivatives, Support,

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Delivery Manager - (Derivatives, Support...

Technical Account Manager - Java, FIX Protocol, FIX 5.0, C++

£30000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Technical Account Manager - Java,...

WPF .NET Developer

£300 - £350 per day: Harrington Starr: WPF Analyst Programmer NET, WPF, C#, M...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform