French and Saunders
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 13, 2009 9:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

French hearts Lilley
March 13, 2009

LOOK out, Chris Lilley, you are in Dawn French's crosshairs - and she has more than a polite handshake in mind. The British comedian recently spent a night watching Summer Heights High on DVD and was astounded by Lilley's skill.

"I know I'm a bit behind everyone else but it was one of the best nights of my life. I stayed up and watched all of it. Then I was weeping at the end - I didn't expect that," French says. "I have to meet that man when I'm in Australia. I don't know what his proclivity is but I'm definitely going to have to sort him out." Told that Lilley split with his girlfriend last year, French is jubilant. "OK! I can march in there and cause trouble. That's my intention: to leave Australia with Chris Lilley as my boyfriend. "Don't tell Len," she adds, referring to her husband, Lenny Henry.

Lilley has until June to prepare himself, when French and her comedy partner Jennifer Saunders bring their stage show, French And Saunders: Still Alive, to Australia. After the final series of French & Saunders went to air in Britain in 2007, the pair staged a farewell tour of Britain last year. Halfway through, they decided to add London shows - then the Australia question came up.

"Of course, when we were doing the tour we thought, we've been invited to Australia every year for the last 25 years and through raising kids and trying to fit in school holidays and so on, we've never managed to find the right time to come to Oz. We thought there isn't going to be another chance if we don't go now," French says. "So we got drunk one night and thought, that's that. And we were still up for it the morning after."

In a satisfying piece of synchronicity, Australia marks the beginning and end of their touring together. They appeared at the Adelaide Festival of the Arts in 1982 with the Comic Strip, the underground comedy group responsible for the cult hits The Comic Strip Presents ... and The Young Ones. The group was also where Saunders met her future husband, Adrian Edmondson. French and Saunders met at London's Central School of Speech and Drama in 1978 and, while they have a close relationship now, they didn't immediately take to each other.

"We didn't dislike each other; it was more that we'd come from separate groups. We didn't really come across each other for the first year, until we shared a place together. Then we kind of had to amuse each other," French says. "When I learned we were both going to share this flat I thought, 'Ugh, I'll have to put up with that girl.' But it was only two minutes of knowing her and we were off. I just didn't expect to like her as much as I do."

After graduating, they formed a double act called the Menopause Sisters, a dubious routine that involved them wearing tampons in their ears, before they came to public attention in the Comic Strip as French and Saunders. They collaborated on other projects before their series French & Saunders began on the BBC in 1987. After a slow start the ratings grew, along with the budget for their increasingly elaborate spoofs of films, pop stars and celebrities. Seven series and numerous awards on, French is acutely aware that they would not be given similar latitude in today's industry, with its need for immediate results.

"People will put together a series and by episode two, if it's not getting the ratings, it will be moved around in the schedule so nobody can find it, then it fails completely so it's off," she says. "When we started, honestly, they let us make two years of French & Saunders before we started getting decent ratings and before we really knew how we wanted to do it. If the modern-day rules were applied to us then, we just wouldn't be here."

One would think such a long and close relationship would have included the odd argument, but French says not. "We don't actually argue. I don't know why but we don't," she says. "We've had a couple of good sulks over the years. It's been 30 years - we're entitled to a couple of sulks. But a full-on falling out? Never. "We're looking for the best in each other, you know, and working together so you forgive an awful lot and just get on with the important stuff.

"We have a really, really close relationship. I don't think I've got any secrets from Jennifer and she's someone I know very well, whose counsel I would always seek. She knows the bad stuff and the good stuff; we've seen each other through births, deaths, marriages, everything. We've been through the big stuff of life together so it's pretty difficult to split something like that up."

Some of that big stuff includes stories about Henry's 1999 dalliance with an Australian hotel receptionist, Merri Cheyne, who was seen emerging from his hotel room in York. Cheyne, 26, said nothing happened but the fact that she was a slim blonde was a crushing blow for the famously voluptuous French. Two weeks later another scandal erupted when a Sunday newspaper published stories about Henry's allegedly lewd and drunken behaviour during an earlier trip to Spain. The revelations sent Henry into a private clinic suffering depression and left their marriage hanging by a thread.

The couple maintained a dignified silence before French issued an ultimatum. If they were going to overcome their difficulties, they had to abandon their busy schedules and take a break to concentrate on their marriage. With their daughter Billie, they headed to New Zealand and spent three months travelling around in a camper van. The couple adopted Billie in 1991, after struggling to conceive.

In her 2008 autobiography, Dear Fatty, French wrote to Henry: "Thank you for your patience and understanding and total commitment to the endless rounds of heartbreaking IVF failures we endured together, while quite often simultaneously celebrating yet more arrivals of new babies in the lives of our chums. The sneaking in and out of clinics, often at night, to avoid interest ... The isolation of not being able to speak about it to others, for fear of alerting the media. The endless samples and specimens. The jokes about it. The miscarriages and the grieving. Two of us quietly forging ahead in our great longing for a baby." That longed-for baby, now a teenager, is apparently for sale. "She's going to the lowest bidder," French jokes. "She refers to us as the enemy . . . But that's all completely normal."

Articles about the couple invariably refer to their "adopted" daughter. Asked if the distinction sometimes rankles, French says she wishes people just wouldn't bother pointing it out: "We have no shame about that and neither does she. There's no real reason to make the distinction. I'm not bothered either way. Sometimes for her sake I wish they'd give it a rest but I can't control that. Why don't you describe my daughter as just my daughter and say in your story that all Jennifer's were vaginally born? Jennifer has three vaginally born daughters. That would be hilarious."

Dear Fatty was a bestseller and French says she would like to write "a couple more books". "I've moved to Cornwall now so I'm a long way from London and I'd kind of like to find something I can do down there," she says. "It was a solitary exercise but that's partly because I have always worked in partnerships; either the marriage, I run a clothes business with a partner, I have a best friend I do stuff with, I've got Jennifer . . . this was the first job I did completely alone. I wasn't looking forward to that initially but I found it really great. When you're a bit of a control freak, which I think I am, writing is quite a good job because ultimately, it's just you. I'd like to do more of that."

She has devised a sit-com that a couple of writers are working on, is continuing with a drama project about a palliative care nurse and will film another series of Jam And Jerusalem with Saunders. But first is the Australian tour. The pair rarely perform live and while French admits to feeling slightly scared, she loves the unpredictability of being on stage. If one or the other gets the giggles, all the better.

"Jennifer and I only do this act because we want to make each other laugh. If it makes other people laugh at the same time, that's cool," she says. "But one of the great things about performing live is there's always the possibility that something is going to happen or we'll handle something in a certain way that makes the other one crack up. I would say that's the case virtually every night. Something is going on where one is challenging the other, one drops something in to see how the other will react. There would be no point in doing it if we don't make each other laugh a bit."

The show features mock rivalry about who is the bigger star and sketches with some of their best-loved characters, including the Jackie and Joan Collins duo, two clueless 15-year-olds talking about sex, Catherine Zeta-Spartacus-Douglas-Jones and the original Ab Fab routine. French says the Australian show will be tweaked to include more relevant cultural references. "We've done things where we take the piss out of people in this country, so now we have to take the piss out of people in your country."

French has become famous for kissing male celebrities on TV, including Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp and a lingering pash with George Clooney in an episode of Parkinson. "I had a system by which I was going to elicit the snog and I didn't even get to use it because he was already on me," she says. So should Chris Lilley be puckering up? "If he's up for it, I'll snog him. Maybe you could issue the challenge? . . . It might be a repulsive thought, me kissing people. But I can provide the alcohol that will enable it."

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PostPosted: Sun Apr 19, 2009 12:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders to be honoured by Bafta
Chris Hastings
18 Apr 2009

Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders are to be honoured by the Baftas. The comedy duo, who recently announced they were ending their double act, will receive the prestigious Fellowship award at next Sunday's Bafta ceremony. It is only the second time that a British comedy double act has been awarded the honour and the pair are among only nine women to receive the accolade.

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts' Fellowship was established in 1971 to recognise outstanding achievement in the 'art forms of the moving image' and is rarely awarded to individuals who made their names on the small screen. The pair will now appear on a roll call of stars, including Sir Anthony Hopkins, who was impersonated by French in a famous spoof of the Hollywood film Silence of the Lambs, and the director Ingmar Bergman, whose work has also been lampooned by the pair.

Other recipients of the award include Sir David Lean, Lord Olivier, Alfred Hitchcock, Sir Charles Chaplin, Dame Judi Dench, Elizabeth Taylor and Stephen Spielberg. The pair join a handful of small screen legends who have been similarly honoured, including the Andrew Davies, the screenwriter, Morecambe and Wise and Sir David Frost, the broadcaster.

French and Saunders met in 1978 while studying at the Central School of Speech and Drama, in London. They started their television career in the hit Channel 4 series the Comic Strip Presents before being signed by the BBC in 1987.

Their series, 'French and Saunders', was one of the most successful sketch shows in British television history and ran for six series before ending in 2005. On the show, the pair were famous for their spoofs of films such the Lord of the Rings, Titanic, Gone With The Wind and Star Wars, as well as impersonations of pop stars such as Madonna, Britney Spears, Björk and the band Bros.

The Fellowship is also being awarded in recognition of the television work they have done separately. Absolutely Fabulous, which starred Saunders – who is married to the comedian Adrian Edmondson – regularly attracted audiences of ten million and is now being remade for US television. French – who is married to the comedian Lenny Henry – has starred in the Vicar of Dibley, which has been named as Britain's third favourite ever comedy series.

Some of the biggest names in British showbusiness last night welcomed Bafta's decision to bestow the honour on the pair. Richard Curtis, who wrote the Vicar of Dibley and who founded Comic Relief, which has regularly featured the pair, said: "I think they are our best ever female double act. Of course we have (Victoria) Wood and (Julie) Walters but it is different because they work differently. The great thing about French and Saunders is that they have never lost that edginess and weirdness. You often watch them and think they are profoundly strange. They started under the banner of alternative comedy but when they moved to BBC One in the 1980s they saw no reason why they should tone down the act or constrain themselves."

Curtis, who is himself a Bafta fellow, added: "They are supposed to have retired as a double act but there seems to be no doubt that their Mama Mia sketch on this year's Comic Relief was the best thing on the night. My girlfriend (the broadcaster Emma Freud) texted Harry Enfield to say he was the best thing on the night and he actually texted back saying 'Don't be silly, French and Saunders were'."

Joanna Lumley, who starred opposite Saunders in Absolutely Fabulous, said: "It is brilliant news. I obviously know them and adore them and I can't think of anyone more worthy of the honour."

Andrew Davies, who adapted Pride and Prejudice and Bleak House for television, said: "The Bafta fellowship is an enormous honour but it is richly deserved in the case of French and Saunders. They have been making us laugh and delighting us for decades. Being awarded the Fellowship is much more than winning a Bafta and it is much more enjoyable because they tell you in advance and there is none of that awful suspense on the night. I remember when I got mine I was hugged and kissed by Lord Attenborough which was an enormous thrill."
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PostPosted: Sat May 09, 2009 9:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dawn French to appear in new BBC comedy show about married life
By Urmee Khan,
Digital and Media Correspondent
08 May 2009

The series, called Roger And Val Have Just Got In, will air on BBC Two later this year. Each episode will begin with the couple arriving home from work, and will follow the pair over the course of an evening as they discuss their respective days and get on with domestic life. Casting for the male lead to play her husband in the six-part series in currently in process.

The show is produced by Hugo Blick, who co-wrote the comedy Marion and Geoff. Mark Freeland, head of comedy at the BBC, said: "Roger And Val leapt off the page at me the very first time I saw it." He said it was a "microscopic behavioural comedy" in the footsteps of The Royle Family that would squarely target BBC Two's core audience. Mr Freeland said: "Not everyone will get it. It's got the comedy and pathos of Marion and Geoff but it is not as dark. It's lovable – full of people we recognise. People like us." He added that the couple's marriage is essentially a happy one but that there is some "underlying unhappiness".

"It's original, intriguing, sweet, funny and full of pathos. And it's only got two people in it," he said.
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 07, 2009 11:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders: interview
As Jam & Jerusalem returns, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders talk about sexism in comedy and the joys of turning 50.
By James Rampton
7 Aug 2009

Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders first came to mainstream attention 24 years ago in the ITV sitcom Girls on Top. Since then, on top is very much where these two girls have remained. But it’s lonely up there. French and Saunders are still the only truly successful female double act in British television. And that saddens them.

“It’s shameful,” says French, 51, who co-stars with her long-standing collaborator in the third starting on BBC One on Sunday. “I’m so disappointed. I can’t believe there aren’t at least eight other female double acts on TV by now. I know telly is a very boysy club, but the boys need girls in comedy – otherwise, it’s completely unbalanced.”

Her double-act partner agrees. The pair, best friends since meeting at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama 31 years ago, possess an almost telepathic understanding. Saunders, also 51, puts the relative paucity of high-profile female comedians down to “the level of confidence required when you’re starting out. Small gigs can be quite gladiatorial, and you need male bravado to get through them. It’s a tough atmosphere that not many girls relish. It’s easier to be a wacky rude boy than a wacky rude girl. It’s more of a fight for a girl in comedy.”

French and Saunders, though, have never been restricted by such barriers. Laughing off those constraints, this self-confident duo worked for 20 years on their BBC One sketch show before being rewarded with a Bafta fellowship earlier this year. The last double act to receive that honour was Morecambe and Wise. The pair have each also had big hits on their own with The Vicar of Dibley and Absolutely Fabulous.

Now French and Saunders are working together again on Jam & Jerusalem, the ensemble comedy about the Clatterford branch of the Women’s Guild, written by Saunders and Abigail Wilson and starring Sue Johnston as the reliable Sal, Saunders as the batty upper-crust Caroline and French as the daffy factory worker Rosie. Some critics have called it cosy – a sort of Lark Rise of the Summer Wine – but French says that’s why it works: “It’s about a community where people care about each other. That’s what we mostly do. We don’t mostly deal drugs and stab each other.”

Saunders thinks Jam & Jerusalem appeals because it plays to an often underserved older audience: “Commissioners are obsessed with young people, which is funny because they don’t watch telly – only old people do. People say, ‘Oh telly’s dead.’ But I think, ‘Hang on, I’m 51, and I still watch telly.’ Why should we be neglected just because we’ve reached a certain age?”

One cast member who doesn’t feature in the new run is Joanna Lumley. She’s been otherwise engaged with her successful campaign to persuade the Government to grant ex-Gurkhas the right to reside in Britain. “I’m immensely proud of what’s she’s done,” says Saunders, who worked alongside Lumley on Absolutely Fabulous. “She ran the perfect campaign. I’ve always known Jo is an incredibly strong and determined person. She feels so passionately about this issue, I thought, ‘She’ll never let this go.’ Some of her roles belie quite how bright she is – she can run rings round people with one gentle smile!”

Saunders adds that she would flee screaming if she herself were ever asked to front such a campaign. ”I’d be the worst person. The other day I had to give a speech to the Women’s Institute and it was a nightmare. I was so nervous, the sweat was pouring down my back. It made the Baftas seem like the simplest thing. After the event, I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, that was like childbirth. How on earth did I get through it?’ So no, I don’t think any campaigning is in the offing.”

While they say they will always work together on other projects, French and Saunders have now retired as sketch performers. “The only chance of seeing a French and Saunders sketch again will be on Comic Relief,” says Saunders. “We loved the Mamma Mia! spoof we did this year. All the time I was watching the film in the cinema, I was thinking, ‘If I’m not wearing Meryl Streep’s dungarees with a year, I’m going to have to kill myself!’”

French and Saunders – a rare double act who have never fallen out – appear happy with their lot. “Life just gets better as you get older,” says French. “We’ve both hit 50, and we celebrate it. There is no doomy side to it – we’re both very up about it. We’re nearly grown-up now, but not quite.”

Finally, the pair reflect on their status as national treasures. Saunders says that label “sounds far too sensible to me. I’d much rather be a national nuisance.” Quick as a flash, French chips in that “being called a national treasure always makes us feel we’re like the Mary Rose. We’re about to be raised up from the murky depths of the Solent, sprayed and put in a museum. I’m not looking forward to that part.”

Jam & Jerusalem is on BBC One on Sunday at 8.00pm
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 09, 2009 4:06 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dawn French under fire for encouraging obesity with 'big is beautiful' catchphrase
By David Wilkes
8th December 2009

Dawn French has never been afraid to throw her weight behind the argument that big is beautiful. In a typical pronouncement, she once said: 'As far as I'm concerned there are two types of women, the ones who like chocolate and complete bitches.' But while the comedy actress - who is 5ft and weighs an estimated 19 stone - has doubtless inspired many fatties to feel more jolly about their wobbly bits, her stance has incurred the wrath of a Harley Street diet expert.

Clinical nutritionist Mary Strugar yesterday criticised the Vicar of Dibley star for 'encouraging people to accept their obesity'. She said: 'Dawn French is one our most loved comediennes but she has also, perhaps unwittingly, become a role model for the obese. Her "big is beautiful" statements are sending the wrong signals and are perhaps encouraging people to ignore the health implications of being overweight.'

Miss Strugar spoke out after a survey of 400 doctors found that 45 per cent of GPs think statements such as 'big is beautiful' can give people an unhealthy attitude to weight problems. The survey, commissioned by the firm behind weight-loss supplement Appesat, also found that 74 per cent of GPs say overweight people are often in denial about their true size.

Miss Strugar said: 'Obesity is a growing epidemic with many choosing to ignore the potential long-term misery of ill health associated with it. Dawn may fall into this group. I wish she could use her profile to raise awareness of how to go about the process of change as well as giving information about the health risks associated with obesity.'

Last night Rachel Cooke, a senior dietician at University College London, said: 'All too often people get caught up in the 'we must be as thin as the celebrities to be happy' trap, which isn't necessarily the case. But we should also remember the health implications of being obese. These include increased risk of stroke, some cancers, hypertension, respiratory disorders and muscular disorders.'

French, 52 - who has made a career of self-deprecating gags about her size - raised eyebrows last week by calling for fat jokes to be banned, saying they were as offensive as gay jokes. Her spokesman declined to comment yesterday on the latest criticism.


She's got some nerve to complain about 'fat jokes'. I like her as a person, but she's clearly living in a dreamworld to think that her weight isn't damaging. And why compare an addiction with a natural part of your being? Being overweight is not the same as being gay or being black. It might feel that way to some, but it just isn't - food addiction is a psychological aspect of a person, not a genetic one.
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Joined: 29 Apr 2006
Location: FL USA

PostPosted: Wed Dec 09, 2009 11:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think that being fat can also be a genetic problem, not solely a psychological problem. Still, if a person knows that obesity is a problem in their family, they should at least make an effort to watch what goes in their gob.
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 08, 2010 2:07 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Jennifer Saunders: My battle to beat breast cancer
By Sara Nathan
8th July 2010

Jennifer Saunders has fought and won a battle with breast cancer. The 52-year-old comedienne had been fighting the disease since discovering a lump in her breast nine months ago. She was given the all-clear last month - and celebrated her birthday this week by showing off a new short hairstyle, having worn a wig because of the side-effects of chemotherapy.

The mother-of-three, best known for the hit sitcom Absolutely Fabulous and her comedy partnership with Dawn French, discovered the lump in October, according to friends. They said the lump was caught early and she had it removed, followed by gruelling chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment. A friend told the Daily Mail last night: 'Jennifer's treatment finished in June. She is very thankful that she has been given the all-clear and is feeling in very good spirits.'

Miss Saunders did not speak publicly about her illness and continued to appear at events such as last month's Great British Comedy Event. She had taken to wearing a blonde wig covered by a bandanna while her hair grew back and even sported it as she watched Roger Federer crash out of Wimbledon against Tomas Berdych last week. But she abandoned it as she attended artist Tracey Emin's 47th birthday in the south of France.

A friend at Miss Emin's party added: 'Jennifer looked beautiful at Tracey's birthday party in a white dress and long silver necklace. She was surrounded by her best friends, including designer Betty Jackson, whose clothes she has worn for years, so she felt confident that she was in much-loved company. It has been an ordeal, but Jennifer is getting better every day. She has great friends and family who have been by her side every step of the way.'

Miss Saunders has been married to fellow comedian Adrian Edmondson for 25 years and the couple have three daughters, Ella, 24, Beattie, 23, and Freya, 19. The family has a £1million property in Devon and a home in London. The star is best-known as one half of Britain's most famous double acts, French and Saunders, which she launched with her best friend Miss French. The pair went into comedy after meeting while on a drama teachers' course in 1977. However, they ended their long-time comedy partnership last year.

At the time, Miss French, 52 - who recently split from her husband of 25 years, comedian Lenny Henry - lamented: 'I often say that the only reason I come to work is to get some time with Jennifer. Left to our own devices, we'd never see each other because it gets so complicated to meet up. It is an odd job, though, isn't it? It's basically dressing up and hanging around with your mates. And we've got away with it for 30 years!' Miss Saunders is also famed for creating the successful BBC sitcom Absolutely Fabulous where she played monstrous fashion PR Edina Monsoon. The series has been sold around the world.

According to the latest Cancer Research UK statistics, breast cancer is now the most common cancer in the UK. In 2007, almost 45,700 women were diagnosed with breast cancer - that is around 125 women a day. However, almost two out of three women with breast cancer now survive their disease beyond 20 years.
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 25, 2010 7:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dawn French interview
In the last year, Dawn French has separated from her husband, written her first novel and discovered that she’d much rather go for a walk than play the London Palladium
John Preston
25 Oct 2010

There is a scene in Dawn French’s new novel – her first – that is as chilling as anything I have read in years. A father goes fishing for dabs with his three-year-old son and is trapped when the tide comes in. He puts his son on his shoulders, sinks into the mud and is unable to extricate himself. By the time anyone reaches them, the father has drowned, while the son is alive, still perched on his father’s shoulders.

Somehow this is not the sort of thing one expects from Dawn French. It’s not, I’d better point out, a long scene, or even a particularly crucial one, and much of A Tiny Bit Marvellous is lighter, funnier and more Dawn French-ish in tone. None the less, there’s a broad streak of melancholy running below the surface, an awareness of how fleeting and illusory happiness can be. Given the circumstances the novel was written in, perhaps this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

‘I wasn’t going to talk about this,’ she says, ‘but I will because of the practicality of it. Len [her husband, Lenny Henry] and I decided we were going to split. We decided a year ago, but we wanted to remain in the same house and work things out. I wrote the book under the umbrella of what was going on in my home. But there was no tempest or anything like that. We just pulled away. Our daughter was away at school and we were together at home in Cornwall. Every day he would go to his office and I would write the book in my office. We’d walk the dog and stay up late and talk and drink a lot. You’d think it would be an impossible time to write, but actually it was extremely calming and fantastically anchoring.’

As French says of herself later: ‘What you see is what you get with me.’ In terms of accuracy, a statement like this is normally on a par with people who proclaim themselves to be as honest as the day is long. But in her case I suspect it really might be the case. In the flesh, she’s much smaller than expected – only just over five feet – and more delicate, with a helmet of rather austere-looking black hair and a face that bursts naturally and unrestrainedly into a grin. We’re meeting at a club in the West End that she uses when she is in London. It is, she says, a bit too ‘swagged-up and glitzy’ for her tastes, but it suits her.

French insists that I go on the banquette while she sits on a stool. She has a very straight back and she often clasps her hands together when she’s thinking. This, with a certain aptness, makes her look as if she is praying. She is also startlingly honest about herself. Within a few minutes, she’s talking about her weight. This is partly relevant to what we’re talking about – one of the main characters in the novel is a 50-year-old woman, a child psychologist, who feels that she has let herself go. Even so, I wasn’t planning on drawing any parallels. However, French, who’s just turned 53, has no such inhibitions.

‘I don’t think I’ve experienced that thing of women feeling sad about themselves when they become middle-aged. But then I seem to have thrown in the towel physically very early on – when I was about 20. As a result, I’ve never had to worry about things like, “Has my arse dropped?” and “How does my face look?” I always thought there wasn’t any point clinging on to things that were utterly unattainable to me, so I have tried to divert my focus elsewhere.’

Again it’s tempting to assume that French is using her honesty as a shield here, broaching the subject of her weight before anyone else can do so. There may be something in this of course. However, I suspect she’s someone who is just naturally frank about herself, whose instinct is to march straight up to the elephant in the room and grasp it warmly by the trunk.

It’s also tempting to examine the character of the husband in the book and wonder if this might be a veiled portrait. He’s a rather shadowy figure throughout, much talked about, but seldom seen. Indeed, it’s not until the very end – and this is not giving anything away – that we learn his name: Den.

Nothing too veiled about this then – or so it might appear. But when I ask French about it, she looks at me blankly. ‘Oh, I see,’ she says after a while, ‘are you thinking that Den is like Len.’ ‘It had occurred to me, yes.’ ‘No, no, it’s not that. Den was my father’s name.’

In her previous book, Dear Fatty – there she goes again, you might think, except that Fatty is her nickname for her comedy partner, Jennifer Saunders – French wrote about her father, a former RAF technician, who committed suicide when she was 19. Brought up in Plymouth – you can still hear faint notes of a Devon accent in her voice – she clearly adored her father and credits him with instilling a confidence in her that has stayed with her ever since.

‘I remember about 20 years ago I opened this business selling clothes for big women with this African friend of mine. And it was as if I’d come out as a big girl for the first time. Suddenly people started saying all these things that they’d been too polite to say before. It was a licence to… not insult me, but to be very frank.

‘One of the questions I was asked was how could I possibly be confident about myself when I lived in this – this cape. I’d never considered it before, but I did consider it then, and I started asking myself questions like: “Is this a front I put on? Have I turned myself into this jolly fat person?” But the truth was that I’d always been confident and a lot of that was down to my father. My weight was never an issue at home and he was incredibly supportive, always encouraging me and never letting me feel bad because of some perceived idea of what I should look like.’

The loss of a parent at a comparatively young age inevitably colours the rest of one’s life, and French is no exception. ‘I think there’s always a sense of absence. I also think that you tend to lionise the parent who isn’t there because they’re not around for you to see their frailties and shortcomings. You never go through that really critical part of your life which is noticing your parents faults and forgiving them. I didn’t get the chance to do that with my dad, so it does leave a big chasm. But it’s not something you can’t survive. It’s just like something you carry round in your knapsack – at least that’s how I look at it.’

There’s a passage in A Tiny Bit Marvellous in which Mo, the 50-year-old child psychologist, looks at herself in the mirror and realises that she is turning into her mother. Had that happened to her? ‘Well, I certainly have the face of my mother, but I think that we’re very different people. She’s a very gentle person and I’ve got a much shorter temper, but I have tried to emulate her as a parent. How much I’ve succeeded, I can’t say.’

French and Henry’s daughter, Billie, is now 19 – roughly the same age as the inexhaustibly stroppy daughter, Dora, in her novel. However, French insists there’s no similarity between the two of them. ‘She’s really not like that and she never has been. My daughter isn’t at all extreme like the girl in the book.’

It turns out that Billie has yet to read A Tiny Bit Marvellous. French says she’s looking forward to her reactions, but admits that so far her daughter hasn’t exactly been bursting with curiosity. ‘She doesn’t show much interest in anything I do, actually. I think it’s rather healthy. She never really knows what I’m working on, but that’s fine because we don’t have a relationship that’s based on my work, or Lenny’s. I think she’s proud of us in a way, although we’ve never sought that. I think you’re going to have a really big problem if you go looking for approval from your children.

'Len and I have never really been the sort of people who brought our work home with us. I remember I took her to the set of Vicar of Dibley when she was very small because I wanted her to see what I did. But then I realised how bizarre it must be to a three year-old. Indeed, there was a point at school when Billie was asked about her parents and she said that her mum was a vicar and her dad was a chef [Lenny Henry was appearing in the comedy, Chef!, at the time]. But then what else was she to think when she saw me wearing a dog collar?’

We’re talking a few days after David Miliband has just been pipped to the leadership of the Labour Party by his brother Ed. Whenever David Miliband’s children are mentioned in the press, they are always referred to as his ‘adopted sons’, and for the past 19 years the same thing has been happening to French and Henry. I wondered if it annoyed her.

‘It does actually. Why do they have to say it? Apart from anything else, it seems to diminish the value of the relationship with the child, or to attempt to. It also serves to remind people that there must have been great stress and tragedy about at some point – almost as if there should be a sense of shame about it. I certainly have never felt that.’

When French and Henry got married in 1984, every racist in the country promptly flew into an apoplectic frenzy. A tirade of insults, threats and attacks followed. ‘It was pretty bad. We had shit on the door, swastikas, you name it. I woke up one night when we lived in Hammersmith and smelled burning. I woke Len up and we went downstairs. Our doormat was on fire – someone had put a rag soaked in petrol through the door. I’ve often thought that it was only because I smelled it that we’re still here now. We moved out to the countryside quite soon afterwards and it was better there. Our house had a drive, so anyone who came up to our front door would have needed more courage. But Len had death threats at gigs, although he made light of it. He was brilliant; he used to talk about it in his comedy. I remember one letter that was full of the N-word and at the end it said: “For this you will die, you cone!” Whoever had written it couldn’t even spell.’

Britain has become a much less racist country, she believes – although there are still splutters of it around. ‘Being married to a black person and having a black kid, you notice things that you wouldn’t otherwise. It’s much better over here now, but being in Europe with a black daughter can be very interesting. Billie has had various things said to her in the street. In Spain, in Italy – and in Australia. It’s bizarre and when your child is young, nothing angers you more.’

On a happier note – although still a shocking one to anyone who belongs to the same generation – this autumn marks the 30th anniversary of the Comic Strip, the group of comedians in which Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders cut their teeth as a double act. They had first met at the Central School of Drama where French was training to become a drama teacher and despite initial antipathy on both sides decided to work together.

‘It was a very strange time, for me especially because I never aimed to be a comedian. I just fell into it by accident. By luck or timing or whatever, Jennifer and I found ourselves on the cutting edge of this particular movement. Except we didn’t know we were a movement. I didn’t even know what “alternative” meant. But I’ve always thought that they would have given the job to the first two women who walked in because the rest of them were men and they couldn’t be seen to be sexist.’

But once they had been – warily – ushered in through the Comic Strip portals, French and Saunders soon found themselves thriving, socially as well as professionally. ‘It was pretty raggle-taggle to begin with, but we did all become very good friends. We looked out for each other and we were a gang. The one thing we weren’t, though, was hip. I mean, we were doing silly jokes about wet fish! What was hip about that?’

These days, French says she’s occasionally shocked by the cruelty of some of today’s comedians. ‘Sometimes they are extremely cruel – much crueller than I would have been, or I would be now. But on the other hand, I’m not entertaining people in their twenties like they are. I think your humour does change as you get older. I remember when we started out thinking it was incredibly shocking to talk about tampons.’

Anyone who saw her in the recent BBC series, Roger and Val Have Just Got In, will know just what a subtle, affecting actress French can be. To her delight, a second series is looking very likely. ‘Basically, we’ve stolen money from the comedy department to make what is really a drama. It was never going to be a big crowd-pleaser, but it’s been incredibly fulfilling to do and I’m very proud of it.’ She’s also just off to do another stint in Lark Rise to Candleford: ‘Whenever my character is out of prison she turns up in the village. The great mystery is how I’ve managed to come out of prison so fat.’

Back when she and Saunders started out, they called themselves the Menopause Sisters. Now, 30 years on, separated and inching towards her mid-fifties, I wondered how optimistic – or otherwise – French feels about herself. ‘I do feel optimistic actually,’ she says, ‘I think in the past I’ve led this quite frothy, busy life which I’ve absolutely loved, but I’m shedding that. All this time I’ve felt that in order to be happy you have to be constantly achieving this and moving onto some new project. But now I feel as if I’ve come to a phase where I’ve realised that what makes me happiest are the simpler things.’

Do you mean that you find going for a walk, say, just as fulfilling as playing the London Palladium? ‘Oh more!’ she says with considerable feeling. ‘Much more! I live in Cornwall now. I’ve got family nearby and Jennifer doesn’t live far away. Just the delight of being there and pottering about. When I get invited to a party I do get a bit tempted. But I know that I’m really much happier being quieter.’

It’s raining outside. After shaking hands she walks off towards Marylebone, a small figure under a large umbrella. There could be something poignant about this sight – except there isn’t. From the back, she seems to be kicking up her heels.

‘A Tiny Bit Marvellous’, by Dawn French (Michael Joseph, £18.99) is available for £16.99 plus £1.25 p&p from Telegraph Books; please call 0844 871 1515 or visit
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 25, 2010 8:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

NNNOOOOO!!! My fav couple! I am sad that they are splitting up. I love both of them.
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PostPosted: Mon Dec 19, 2011 7:19 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Jennifer Saunders, actress and comedienne
Crack open the bolly darling, Eddie and Patsy are back with a Christmas catch-up special. Jennifer Saunders reflects on the sheer joy of reuniting the Ab Fab team after her recovery from cancer.
19 December 2011

"Olive, out of the way! No! Get down! There’s a good girl.” Jennifer Saunders is laying down the law to her pet whippet, who seems impish by nature and determined to jump up and snatch the chocolate digestive out of my hand. While an admonished Olive skulks, head lowered, back to her designated spot (on top of a fluffy sheepskin rug), on the sofa opposite, Saunders plumps up a Union Jack cushion behind her and reaches for her mug of tea.

We are above an inconspicuous bathroom shop just off the fashionable Portobello Road in her cosy London office-cum-flat – it’s all wooden floors, chunky cream sofas and generally shabby chic. Looking around you are left in no doubt as to whose property this is – propped up on top of the kitchen units are huge canvases of the owner in full on Ab Fab mode alongside Joanna Lumley, while down the corridor, the loo is dedicated to snaps with her comedy partner, Dawn French. Across the wall of the main room there’s a substantial collage of pictures cut from magazines, photographs of old friends (a young Stephen Fry and an almost unrecognisably baby-faced Ben Elton) combined with the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and Lotte Lenya (in a headscarf, looking a dead-ringer for Hilda Ogden). “A moment of madness,” says Saunders, grinning, when asked.

I’d guess there isn’t a whiff of this kind of memorabilia at her main residence – the 400-year-old Devon farmhouse where she lives with her husband of 26 years, comedian Adrian Edmondson. The couple have three daughters – singer-songwriter Ella, 25, Beattie, 24, and Freya, 21– several cows, horses and rare-breed sheep.

Our conversation is barely underway before Olive, clearly unhappy at being ignored, begins yapping. But Saunders is stern: “Oi! Shush please. You are not the point of attention here – I am!” On that note, I put it to her she’s someone who doesn’t seem to enjoy the glare of self-promotion, pointing out that she’s done relatively few interviews considering she’s had such a long and successful career. “Me just being myself in public or on TV is the biggest nightmare in the world,” she says. “If you are in the public eye you need to have a front, a person you are. There was a scene that we did in Vivienne Vyle [her 2007 BBC comedy about a celebrity talk-show host] where she has to open a supermarket and she really doesn’t want to do it and I can totally relate to that. I have sat in cars going, why am I doing this? Why have I got to meet these people I don’t know? If I could just pay someone to get out of it, then I would get out of it.”

She kept her breast cancer, which was diagnosed in October 2009, secret until she was spotted wearing a wig at a party – and even then she mentioned it only in passing on her (occasional) Radio 2 show alongside Dawn French. She recently stated: “People have much worse times, so it would feel ghastly to want to evoke any sort of sympathy or something.”

She completed her treatment last year but says the experience hasn’t particularly changed her outlook. “I think I’ve always been a chilled person actually, because the kids keep you pretty chilled. I’d do writing in the day and then you go home and family life would take over. I don’t really know if it has affected my outlook on work much actually. I think what I realised was that it took me a long time to get back to where I was before I was ill. I thought I was there but I really wasn’t, because you physically get tired very quickly and mentally it takes you longer to get up to speed. I think it was just that kind of getting back up to speed that took me by surprise.”

Today her hair is a tousled golden crop, she’s dressed in a rust-coloured wrap-around cardigan, with stylish denims and expensive-looking black boots. Her banter is self-deprecating, and as conversation flows easily she appears unperturbed to find herself in one of her supposedly dreaded interview situations.

We’re here to discuss the return of Absolutely Fabulous, which is making a festive comeback seven years after Edina and the gang last appeared on our screens in a sketch for Comic Relief. “I just missed everyone so much and I missed doing a sitcom.” This year also marks 20 years since the multi award-winning comedy’s pilot episode and she suggests the weight of anticipation surrounding the new episodes almost made her think twice about the anniversary comeback. “I was worried bringing the characters back would feel too ridiculous somehow, that was my worry, but I don’t think it did or at least I hope it didn’t. Luckily everyone was up for it and the next thing was to work out how the characters had moved on or not moved on and to make sure that everyone was happy with that.”

In the Christmas specials (a third Olympic-themed episode is also in the bag for next year), ham-fisted PR Edina (Saunders) is still a walking fashion disaster and pill-popping, ageing mag-slag Patsy (Joanna Lumley) remains as inebriated as ever, much to the despair of long-suffering Saffy (Julia Sawalha). There is a guest appearance from Sofie Grabol, the cult Danish star of The Killing, meanwhile loopy, technologically challenged PA, Bubble (Jane Horrocks), is struggling to come to terms with the fact she can’t write on her iPad with a felt-tip pen.

Saunders enjoyed the Ab Fab reunion so much there’s now a potential big screen version in the pipeline, however she claims to be mystified by the continuing appetite for the show. “I have no idea why, other than the characters aren’t trying to be anything they’re not and they aren’t politically correct. I think also it’s because the show is just panto. It’s gags, the characters are larger than life and it’s not pretending to be sophisticated in any way. I hope that everyone who is looking forward to it is pleased with it and isn’t disappointed. But ultimately you can’t be constantly worrying about people’s expectations, you’ve just got to do what you think is funny.”

The daughter of an RAF captain and a biology teacher, Saunders was born into a family of high-achieving Oxbridge types – her mother’s father was South African and her maternal grandmother a Scot. “When I was a child, a lot of my time was spent in Scotland because my mother’s Scottish and we used to go up to Ayrshire and visit relations in a place called Dalry. So there were a lot of Scottish holidays climbing mountains and fishing for trout in very small streams. I absolutely love Scotland. I’m always happy there. Dawn and I had a bloody brilliant audience in Aberdeen when we did our farewell tour a few years ago. We played in a place that was like a covered cattle market and people were leaning forward against the wind to get in and were sat in their coats with a thermos flask on their knee watching our show, which I thought was bloody fantastic.”

Saunders failed to live up to her parents’ achievements academically – her careers officer suggested she could end up as a dental assistant, meanwhile she wanted to work with horses. Having failed to get into university, “because I was slightly sullen and failed to engage back then”, she spent a year in Italy as an au pair. She was then persuaded by her mother to go to the Central School of Speech and Drama and train as a drama teacher. It was there that she met Dawn French, whom she hated on sight.

“She had gone to drama classes as a child. I thought she was cocky and she thought I was snotty.” By their final year, though, they were sharing a flat together and in 1980, the pair answered an ad in showbiz trade paper The Stage for female acts to join alternative comedy revue The Comic Strip. At the time, French was working as a drama teacher and Saunders was on the dole and spending much of her time in bed. They were paid £5 a night to perform their routine, but it was well worth it. It was there she met Rik Mayall, Alexei Sayle, Nigel Planer and, of course, Adrian Edmondson – they were both seeing other people and it took them six years to get it together. The Comic Strip was signed up by Channel 4, and soon French and Saunders were stars in their own right with their eponymous series.

It was French’s decision to adopt a baby that gave rise to Ab Fab. The pair were seven weeks from recording another French & Saunders series when French was told that a baby had become available. She had to pull out, so Saunders turned to another idea she’d had for a sitcom based on a sketch the pair had once done. And so, in 1991, a pilot was made and the Bolly-guzzling fashion faux-pas phenomenon was born. Saunders certainly didn’t expect to still be at it 20 years later. “I don’t think I ever had a concept of where it would go, I think it’s extraordinary that it’s still going on,” says the 53-year-old. “Because at that time there was a sort of Fawlty Towers theory which was, you do two series and get out. And that was it. And if you pushed for more you were really milking it. Whereas now, nobody thinks like that. Now you’re just grateful to get a programme made.”

These days, she’s focused on doing what she can to help give younger comedy stars a leg up – it was Saunders and French who spotted the true potential of the biggest female comedy talent in the country at the moment, Miranda Hart. “I just thought she was too funny to slip through the net. I could feel her slipping through the net because she wasn’t getting anywhere and she was getting frustrated. So I’d turn up to all her readings and meetings and clap loudly and say, this is a very funny woman. There are so many great people out there but companies only want to sign a name for their shows, so unless you are Caroline Quentin – nothing against Caroline Quentin – you won’t get the gig. Which is so dull on television. Not enough people get opportunities these days because the casting and the commissioning is so narrow.”

It turns out that there’s one subject guaranteed to make Saunders’ blood boil and that’s interfering TV executives. She doesn’t hold back: “I think some of them are idiots. I’ve been very lucky, actually, and have managed to sidestep most of them. I had a bit of interference on Jam & Jerusalem. Not script-wise but format-wise. Just idiots. Actual idiots. People who don’t understand the creative process, who have never been programme makers yet are suddenly sticking their oar in. Someone rang up and asked me if we could put the Ab Fabs on pre-watershed and I was like, have you ever seen the show? Could we put Ab Fab before the watershed? Are you an idiot? Yes you are, you’re an idiot!” She’s on a roll now and leans forward.

“Why are there so many idiots?” she asks, exasperated. “They don’t understand how television works, that’s what I can’t bear. It’s that kind of management theory that if you can manage a chain of shops then you can manage a television company and you want to go, no you can’t, actually. They are just IDIOTS,” she exclaims with such gusto it wakes the dog, who immediately starts whining. “Olive, you are going to have to shush,” she chides. “This isn’t about you Olive, it’s about me.”

Perhaps, despite herself, Jennifer Saunders is now mellowing to the idea of being the centre of attention after all.

• Absolutely Fabulous returns to BBC1 at 10pm on Christmas Day and 9:40pm on New Year’s Day
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PostPosted: Wed Dec 21, 2011 8:25 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Jennifer Saunders - Front Row - 2011-12-19
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