Thought for the Day - Canon Angela Tilby

Good morning. Three important public figures have announced that they’re stepping down. Rowan Williams, as Archbishop of Canterbury; Mark Thompson, as Director General of the BBC, and finally that megastar - no - gigastar of stage and screen, Dame Edna Everage. It is sixty years since she started out as a drag act touring the country towns of Southern Australia. Then she was Mrs Norm Everage, the plain speaking housewife. Now she is preparing for her final tour, before, as she puts it, starting a spiritual journey to find her true self.

I once went to see her on stage in London. Purple-haired and sequinned she filled the stage with her antics, calling on us to ‘wave our gladdies’ with pride. It was absolutely terrifying because if a flowering stem flung from the stage happened to hit you - and she had a great throw - you could find yourself up there in the spotlight, every detail of your appearance mercilessly scrutinised, your personal history trawled to destruction. She made every possible weakness visible, even those you didn’t know you had. Her secret was to play on what we conceal from ourselves while making us laugh at her lack of self-awareness. Everything about her was overdrawn, like some of the characters in the parables of the Gospels; the rich fool, the unjust judge, the desperate housewife who loses a coin and turns the house upside down until she finds it. Those stories are serious fun, they work by caricaturing attitudes we all have and rarely own up to because to do so would shame us. I know a senior English bishop who had recorded her entire oeuvre. She may have hailed from the Melbourne suburb of Moony Ponds, but she held up a mirror to the petty snobberies and itchy desire to stand out that is part and parcel of British social life and still persists in parish councils and parliament, villages and vestries, schools and colleges, golf clubs and guesthouses. Commenting on the flamboyant Dame Edna was her former bridesmaid, the ever silent Madge, vengeance incarnate waiting in the wings.

I was once at a gathering with her creator Barry Humphries. I had no idea who he was – he was such an ordinary person. Dame Edna was a complete, brilliant invention. But he is now 78 and is feeling, as he put it, or was it she, ‘a bit senior’. I shall miss her. She knew that the way to deal with the greedy and the bigoted was not to confront them but to tease them, mocking their little pretensions and peccadilloes, prodding away at their illusory selves.

And what of the rest of us? Is it pride or humility that made her say, ‘Never be afraid to laugh at yourself. After all you could be missing out on the joke of the century.’

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