Privileged reporting

One of the most enjoyable aspects of writing about comedy is the opportunity it affords to phone people I'm itching to interview. Yesterday, while researching a feature of Dame Edna Everage for the Daily Mail, I rang the Oldie magazine office and asked to speak to Richard Ingrams.

Richard was one of the architects of the British satire revolution in the Sixties, and he's still at it now with the Oldie, subversive and funny as ever. When he used to write a column for the Observer, I had occasionally spoken to him about his copy, just to confirm the headlines or the cuts – and at an Oldie Luncheon last November at Simpson's In The Strand where I was speaking, we exchanged a few words (I said I was nervous, and he said everybody got nervous and I wasn't to be so damn silly).

Yesterday, though, I was able to question him properly and though he must have been busy he was kind enough to take the time to share his insights with care and thought. It was particularly interesting to learn that Dame Edna's creator, the Dadaist comedian Barry Humphries, had helped Private Eye (the satire magazine that Ingrams edited in the Sixties) to survive in its early days.

Humphries wrote a cartoon strip called Barry McKenzie, about an Australian ex-pat with a filthy sense of fun and filthier habits. It was like the X-rated out-takes from Carry On Oz. Nicholas Garland, later the Telegraph's political cartoonist, drew the pictures, but the dialogue was all Barry's. And that could be problematical, Richard said, because Barry Humphries was enjoying the Sixties so enthusiastically that he often failed to file his copy.

"It was the first feature of Private Eye that had a terrific following and made a huge difference to the circulation," Richard told me. That's something I didn't know. I'm grateful to Richard – and to all the interviewees who so generously donate their time and their fascinating memories.