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Sir Les Patterson

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Sir Les Patterson

Sir Leslie Colin Patterson
First appearance January 1974, leagues club, Sydney, Australia
Portrayed by Barry Humphries
Born (1942-04-01) 1 April 1942
Taren Point, Southern Sydney
Spouse(s) Gwenneth Lorraine Dolan
Children Craig and Karen
Religion Christian (Roman Catholic)

Sir Leslie Colin "Les" Patterson, KCB AO (born 1 April 1942) is a fictional character portrayed by the Australian comedian Barry Humphries. Obese, lecherous and offensive, this farting, belching, nose-picking figure of Rabelaisian excess is an antipodean Falstaff. He is Dame Edna Everage's exact opposite: she is female, refined, Protestant and from Melbourne; he is male, uncouth, Roman Catholic and from Sydney.

Patterson's humour abounds in such a wide range of racist and sexual stereotypes that it would offend almost anyone who takes it at face value.

  • He boasts of his prowess with his "Girl Friday" and his trips to Bangkok "rub and tug shops".
  • He jokes that "the best place to hide something from a Pom is under a bar of soap".
  • He also resents Australians having died "stopping a bullet for the Pommy Empire".


  • Character origins 1
  • Stage, film and TV appearances 2
    • On stage 2.1
    • Film and television 2.2
  • Other appearances in character 3
    • Personal appearances 3.1
    • Depictions in art 3.2
  • Fictional biography 4
    • Early life and education 4.1
    • Personal life 4.2
    • Professional life 4.3
  • Published works 5
    • Books 5.1
    • Recordings 5.2
    • Filmography 5.3
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Character origins

By Humphries' own account, the character of Patterson first appeared in a one-man show that he performed at the leagues club in Sydney in January 1974.[1] Appearing in the guise of the boorish, loud-mouthed and uncultured Patterson, Humphries claimed to be that club's own entertainments officer as he introduced the next act, Dame Edna Everage. As Humphries recalled, "I understood later that many members of the audience thought Les was genuinely a club official, which says a lot for his charm and sincerity".[1] Later that same year, the character (by now identified as Australia's cultural attaché to the Far East) was revived in a two-week cabaret appearance that Humphries performed at the Mandarin Hotel in Hong Kong. In Humphries' words, "The English merchant bankers and commodity brokers and Australian accountants there all recognised Les as someone they knew in the Australian diplomatic corps, and took him to their hearts."[1] Patterson went on to play an even larger role in Humphries' next one-man show in London, Housewife, Superstar! (1976), delivering a lengthy monologue that was included on the original cast album.

Stage, film and TV appearances

On stage

For more than 30 years, the character of Sir Les Patterson has been a regular feature in Barry Humphries' solo theatrical appearances in Australia and Great Britain, during which he performs a monologue and frequently bursts into song. Some of Patterson's specific monologues (as documented in the theatre programmes for Humphries' various shows) include the following:

  • "The Yartz", from Isn't it Pathetic at His Age? (Australian tour, 1978–79) and A Night with Dame Edna; (UK tour, 1978–79)
  • "Peter and the Shark", from The Last Night of the Poms (London, 1981) and Song of Australia (Melbourne and Sydney, 1983)
  • "Les looking good", from An Evening's Intercourse with Barry Humphries (Australian tour, 1981; UK tour, 1982)
  • "Les Patterson presents his broad-based package", from Tears Before Bedtime (Australian tour, 1985–86) and Back with a Vengeance (UK tour, 1987–88)
  • "Les Patterson gets an Audience", from Look at Me When I'm Talking to You (Australian and UK tours, 1994–95)
  • "Address to the nation", from Back to My Roots (and Other Suckers (Australian tour, 2003)
  • "My Sacred Trust", from Back with a Vengeance: A New Effort (Australian tour, 2006–07)

During the Australian tour of Remember You're Out! (1999), it was stated that Patterson would not appear for fear of offending Humphries' more genteel fans; the character nevertheless made an appearance (as a scripted but seemingly unexpected gate crashing) during the show's second act.

In an effort to specifically satisfy fans of Les Patterson's earthy humour, Humphries has also performed two one-man shows entirely in Patterson's guise: one in London, entitled Les Patterson Rampant in Whitehall (June/July 1996) and another in New York, entitled Les Patterson Unzipped (Zipper Theater, 2 May 2005). The London performance was recorded, and has since been released both as an audio tape and a video tape, under the title Live and Rampant: Les Patterson has a Stand-Up.

Film and television

On television, the character of Sir Les Patterson has hosted a documentary about the transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong, entitled Sir Les and the Great Chinese Takeaway (1997). He has also appeared as a special guest on the following:

  • Another Audience with Dame Edna Everage (1984)
  • Dame Edna's Christmas Experience (1987)
  • The Dame Edna Satellite Experience (1989)
  • Late Lunch with Les (1991)
  • Les Patterson and the Great Chinese Takeaway (1997)
  • Barry Humphries' Flashbacks (1999)
  • Aussies: Who Gives a XXXX (2001)
  • The Dame Edna Treatment (five episodes, 2007).

Barry Humphries has also been interviewed in Patterson's guise on numerous TV talk shows, including Parkinson (1982), Clive James, Clive Anderson's All Talk (1995), The Panel (2003) and Rove Live (2005).

In 1987, Sir Les Patterson was also the basis of an ambitious full-length feature film, Les Patterson Saves the World, which was a critical and commercial failure.

Other appearances in character

Personal appearances

In 1983, the Cambridge Union Society held a spoof ceremony in which Barry Humphries, in the guise of Les Patterson, was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters.[2] This caused great angst amongst Cambridge dons who were worried that the public might mistakenly believe that Cambridge University had awarded the gong to Sir Les. Of course the Cambridge Union is not entitled to award honorary degrees in any case.

In 1986, Humphries as Patterson was awarded the Douglas Wilkie Medal for doing the least for football in the best and fairest manner. His dislike for the game of Australian rules football was illustrated when he coated a leather football in cream cake, and fed it to a camel.

Depictions in art

In 1999, expatriate Australian photographer Polly Borland created a memorable image of Sir Les Patterson (seated on a toilet, waving an Australian flag) as part of a series entitled Australians, which was exhibited at the respective National Portrait Galleries in London (2000) and Canberra (2001).[3][4]

In 2000, a portrait of Humphries as Patterson by painter Bill Leak won the Packing Room Prize at the Archibald Prize.[5] In 2014, Tim Storrier's full-length painting, The Member, Dr Sir Leslie Colin Patterson KCB AO, also won the Packing Room Prize.[6]

Fictional biography

Early life and education

Sir Leslie Colin Patterson, AO, was born on 1 April 1942, in Taren Point, Southern Sydney.[7] In later life, he claimed descent from a certain Ebenezer Patterson, who had been sent to Australia as a convict in the nineteenth century.[8] Little is known of Patterson's present-day family beyond from the fact that he has a sister whose name is either Lois or Noreen (sources differ) and a brother named Gerard, who became a clergyman and later served as an Advisor on Religious Affairs to the Lord Howe Island Chamber of Commerce. In a brief memoir published in 2006, Father Gerard Patterson described his brother Les as "the archetypical Australian scallywag", who had been their mother's favourite.[9] Father Patterson further recalled that his brother had a "rough and ready education".[9] Through the influence of their uncle Leo, both brothers were sent to Melbourne to attend the prestigious Xavier College, although Les remained there for only 1½ terms. Returning to Sydney, he attended Our Lady of Dolours' Boys School and completed his Intermediate Certificate at Parramatta High School.[1]

Patterson commenced tertiary study at the Kogarah TAFE.[7] Prior to his appointment as Cultural Attaché, he completed what he described as a "five-day crash course in World Culture" at the University of Sydney.[8] Only a few years later, he would receive an honorary doctorate in Australian Studies.[10]

Personal life

Although Father Gerard Patterson noted that he and Les had "drifted apart" after he had entered the priesthood, he would later officiate at his brother's wedding to Gwenneth Lorraine Dolan, a former hand model.[9] She was a film buff who enjoyed Disney films and, by Sir Les' own account, they had met at a matinée screening of Fantasia.[11] They subsequently had two children, Karen and Craig. Members of the Patterson family have occasionally assisted Sir Les in his business ventures. When he founded the Thursday Island Film Commission in 1978, his wife Lady Gwenneth was appointed as director, his daughter Karen as secretary, and his sister Lois as creative liaison co-ordinator.[12] According to Father Gerard Patterson, Karen later took a position at Our Lady of Dolours School for Ridiculously Slow Learners, in South Sydney, while her brother Craig was employed for the Australian Wheat Board, where, in 2008, his work had "recently attracted unfair publicity".[9]

In 1976, Les Patterson received a knighthood "for services to Australian culture" as part of the New Year's Honours List. Sources differ, however, in regard to its precise designation. The sleeve notes to Patterson's 1985 LP, 12 Inches of Les, identify him a KBE (Knight Commander of the British Empire), while his own signature, as seen in the preface to his book The Traveller's Tool, identifies him as a KCB (Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath).

In various published sources, Les Patterson has listed his hobbies as "pocket billiards and sauna construction in Thailand" (according to a 1995 programme bio)[10] and "wine tasting and infidelity" (according to a 2005 CV).[7]

Professional life

Over a career of more than four decades, Sir Les Patterson has held numerous positions in the public and private sector, including the following:

  • Employee in the Office of Custom and Excise (Literature Division) (1960s)[13]
  • Minister for Shark Conservation (1960s)[8]
  • Minister for Drought under the Gough Whitlam administration (early 1970s)
  • Cultural Attaché to the Far East (1974)
  • Cultural Attaché to the Court of St James's (1975–76)
  • Minister for Inland Drainage and Rodent Control
  • Chairman and Treasurer of the Thursday Island Film Commission (by 1978)[12]
  • Member of the Government Select Committee into the High Incidence of Transvestism in the Yartz (arts) (by 1978)[12]
  • Chairman of the Australian Cheese Board (by 1978)
  • Chairman of the Australian Chapter of the International Cheese Board (by 1985)
  • Chairman of the Australian Fillum Facility (by 1985)
  • Emeritus Vice-Chancellor of the London School of Australian Studies (by 1985)[14]
  • Founder of the Sir Les Patterson School of Etiquette (by 1993)[15]
  • Food and Beverage consultant, Sydney Institute (by 2003)[7]
  • Etiquette and protocol advisor to the Australian Federal Government (by 2003)[7]
  • Member of Australian Peacekeeping Mission to Baghdad (by 2003)[7]
  • Cultural ambassador to the United States (by 2005)
  • Minister for Sport with special responsibility to keep sports rampantly heterosexual and "blokey"
  • Minister for the "Yartz"

Published works

Since the 1970s, Barry Humphries has released a number of books and recordings under the guise of Sir Les Patterson.


  • Les Patterson's Australia, Melbourne: Sun Books, 1978.
  • The Traveller's Tool, London: Michael O'Mara Books Ltd, 1985.
  • The Enlarged and Extended Tool, (reported to be 'in preparation', 2005)


Solo albums

  • Les is More: Diplomatic Ditties For The Dysfunctional Family, Tamarin Records TAM204 (2003)
  • Live and Rampant: Les Patterson has a Standup (original London cast), The Comedy Club GAGSDMCO53 (1996)
  • Twelve Inches of Les, Liberation Records LIB5064 (1985)

Solo singles

  • "G'Day" b/w "G'Day (Club Version)", Powderworks POW0387 (1987)
  • "Give her One for Christmas" b/w "My Old Lady", Towerbell Records TOW82 (1985)

Other appearances on recordings

  • Song of Australia: An Educational Sonorama (original 1983 Australian cast); Bilarm Music BAC26 (2006)
  • Barry Humphries: Dada Days (Moonee Ponds Muse Volume 2; Raven Records RVCD-34 (1993)
  • The Dame Edna Party Experience; Epic Records 463235 1 (1988)
  • World Expo 88: The Songs; EMI Records, EMP 8801 (1988)
  • LP: The Les Patterson Long Player (music and dialogue from Les Patterson Saves The World); WEA Records 254779.1 (1987)
  • Dame Edna Everage: The Last Night of the Poms; EMI Records EMC2742/3 (1981)
  • Barry Humphries presents Housewife Superstar! (original London cast); Charisma Records 9124 004 (1976)



  1. ^ a b c d Humphries, Barry. A Nice Night's Entertainment, pp. 178–83.
  2. ^ Lahr, John, Dame Edna and the Rise of Western Civilization (1992), p. 109
  3. ^ "Polly Borland". Sunday Arts. 27 July 2008. Retrieved 2010-01-02. 
  4. ^ Barry Humphries as Sir Les Patterson, National Portrait Gallery, London
  5. ^ Are You with Me, Winner: Packing Room Prize 2000, Art Gallery of New South Wales
  6. ^ The Member, Dr Sir Leslie Colin Patterson KCB AO by Tim Storrier, Art Gallery of New South Wales
  7. ^ a b c d e f Curriculum Vitae for Sir Les Patterson, presented during Humphries' Back to My Roots (and Other Suckers) (2005)
  8. ^ a b c Patterson, Les, The Travellers Tool (1985).
  9. ^ a b c d Patterson, Gerard. "My Brother... Les Patterson", in theatre programme for Barry Humphries: Back with a Vengeance (2006)
  10. ^ a b Bio for Les Patterson, in theatre programme for Barry Humphries' Look at Me When I'm Talking to You (1995)
  11. ^ Patterson, Les, "A Word in Terms of Dr Sir Leslie Colin Patterson", in theatre programme for Song of Australia (1983)
  12. ^ a b c Patterson, Les, Les Patterson's Australia (1978)
  13. ^ Patterson, Les. Preface to Barry Humphries and Nicholas Garland, The Complete Adventures of Barry McKenzie (1988)
  14. ^ Sleeve notes to LP Twelve inches of Less (1985)
  15. ^ Advert in theatre programme for Barry Humphries's Look at me when I'm Talking to you (1995)

External links

  • Sir Les Patterson: The Unofficial Webshite
  • Sir Les Patterson: Google Groups
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