During a recent visit to see my sister in Australia, she announced that we were going to the Blue Mountains to stay in an old colonial hotel, the Carrington, in a time warp of Edwardian stained glass and heavy brown furniture. It was a delight. In the heat of February we had afternoon tea indoors rather than on the verandah, and were entertained whilst eating our sandwiches, scones and cakes, by a pianist who looked strangely familiar. At the grand piano sat a rather scruffy individual in a very stained suit, his tie covered with the remains of many meals. He smiled, to reveal buck teeth, and his shoulders were decorated with drifts of dandruff. The crowning touch, on closer inspection, was a distinct whiff of something unpleasant.
His repertoire was amazing. He knew songs from the great days of musicals, the classics from Mozart and Chopin to great opera arias, and would play requests of anything from any era.
The sniggering as we compared him with the great character created by Barry Humphries, Sir Les Patterson, ‘Australian Cultural Attaché’, gave way to admiration. He was a modest kindly man who had seen better times. Could Barry Humphries have been inspired by him to create his memorably odious character? We could hardly ask!