The Adventures of Barry McKenzie is a 1972 Australian film starring Barry Crocker, telling the story of an Australian 'yobbo' on his travels to the United Kingdom. Barry McKenzie was originally a character created by Barry Humphries for a cartoon strip in Private Eye. It was the first Australian film to surpass one million dollars in Australian box office receipts. A sequel, Barry McKenzie Holds His Own, was produced in 1974.
Barry Humphries appears in several roles, including: a hippie, Barry McKenzie's psychiatrist Doctor de Lamphrey, and as Aunt Edna Everage (later Dame Edna Everage). Humphries would later achieve fame with the character of Dame Edna in the UK and USA.
The film was produced by Phillip Adams, who became a prominent op-ed journalist and broadcaster, and directed by Bruce Beresford.
Barry 'Bazza' McKenzie (Barry Crocker) travels to England with his aunt Edna Everage (Barry Humphries) to advance his cultural education. Bazza is a young Aussie fond of beer, Bondi and beautiful 'sheilas'. He settles in Earls Court, where his old friend Curly (Paul Bertram) has a flat. He gets drunk, is ripped off, insulted by pretentious Englishmen and exploited by record producers, religious charlatans and a BBC television producer (Peter Cook). He reluctantly leaves England under the orders of his aunt, after exposing himself on television. His final words on the plane home are, "I was just starting to like the Poms!"
Bruce Beresford was living in London and knew Barry Humphries socially when he heard about government funding being given to Australian films.
I said to Barry Humphries that we should do a script from the comic strip because they had money available to make films but it hadn't occurred to them that they had no one to make them. I said, "I don't think they've thought about that but if we whip back to Australia with a script, with you starring in it and we're all set to go, we have a good chance of getting the money. There wouldn't be all that many going for it." And that's more or less what happened.
The film was entirely funded by the Australian Film Development Corporation. Shooting started in London in January 1972, with the unit moving to Australia in February. Local unions complained about the presence of British technicians in the crew, but a compromise was reached where Australian technicians joined the crew. Filming ending in March.
Philip Adams wanted to cast Paul Hogan as Curly but he turned down the role. "I suspect he was concerned over his ability to work with professional actors," says Adams.
Philip Adams insisted on distributing the film himself initially. The film was very popular at the box office in Australia and London, and the production company repaid the government most of its money within three months of release. Bruce Beresford said in a 1999 interview:
Personally, it was a massive mistake for me to do it, a massive mistake, because the film was so badly received critically. Instead of getting me work, even though it was successful commercially, it put me out of work.
Beresford went on to direct "Barry McKenzie Holds His Own" – again to great commercial success – in 1974, and then "Breaker Morant" starring Edward Woodward in 1980. However, in the 1999 interview Beresford said that both Barry McKenzie films had been "mistakes":
That [Barry McKenzie Holds His Own] was an even bigger mistake. I couldn't find anything else to make because the films were so reviled critically that I thought that, with these two films, I'll never work again. Luckily Phillip Adams saved my life by offering me Don's Party. But that was a couple of years later. I thought the Barry McKenzie films were very funny but the reaction was so hostile that I realised very quickly that I had made a massive mistake.
This was the first Australian film to surpass $1 million at the national box office, and it led the Australian box office in 1972. The film recovered its $250,000 budget within a few months after release.
The film explores the cultural distance between Australian popular culture and the manners and mores of England. Barry is the extreme embodiment of "Ockerism" of the late fifties and mid-sixties Australia. Swearing, excessive drinking, vomiting, rowdiness and other crassness is glorified. The film also plays with the ideas of the era where the sixties cultural revolution had swept aside the "certainties" of classical education.