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Seven Big Australians

Adventures with Comic Actors

By Anne Pender


Anne Pender explores the lives and creative work of seven extraordinary performers who have brought joy and hilarity to generations of Australians through their memorable characters on stage and television, and in their potent satire, musical comedy, revue, drama, stand-up acts and one-person shows.

Carol Raye, Barry Humphries, Noeline Brown, Max Gillies, John Clarke, Tony Sheldon and Denise Scott pioneered home-grown humour, transformed the image of Australia, intervened in political life, and brought Australian comedy to the world. They created iconic figures, including Mavis Bramston, Dame Edna Everage, Clarke and Dawe, Bernadette in Priscilla Queen of the Desert and mesmerising impersonations of prime ministers.

In Seven Big Australians, Pender interprets the lives of these significant comic actors, offering vivid biographical portraits of their childhood and family of origin, their struggles to enter the entertainment industry and the art they created over many decades. Drawing on extensive interviews conducted with each actor over many years, Pender documents their experiences of the hardships of breaking into the industry and the challenges of staying there, the gruelling nature of daily life as a performer, the demands of working in multiple forms, the realities of script writing under pressure and the exhilaration of performing. These actors are significant cultural figures whose lives are awe-inspiring, momentous and magical.

About the Author

Anne Pender is Professor of English and Theatre Studies at the University of New England, a recent Fulbright Senior Fellow at Harvard University, and Australian Research Council Research Fellow 2012-2016. A Menzies scholar to Harvard and graduate of the Australian National University and the University of New South Wales, Anne was Visiting Distinguished Professor in Australian Studies at the University of Copenhagen in 2011 and taught Australian Literature at King’s College London in 2002-03. Anne’s other books include From a Distant Shore: Australian Writers in Britain 1820-2012 (2013), One Man Show: The Stages of Barry Humphries (2010), Nick Enright: An Actor’s Playwright (2008)and Christina Stead: Satirist (2002).

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