the early 1980s, Jennifer Saunders has been a popular and influential
figure in British television comedy. Her success stems from her
involvement as both a performer in, and writer of, several comedy
shows which have been heralded as innovative by critics and received
as hugely entertaining by audiences.
established her career as part of a double act with Dawn French
on the live comedy circuit in the late 1970s. She and French, who
have remained collaborators on many projects since, made their initial
impact whilst on tour in 1981 with The Comic Strip, a group consisting
of several young comedians performing an alternative, innovative
form of comedy. The group were rapidly transferred to television,
appropriately making their debut on Channel Four's opening night
in November 1982. Throughout the 1980s the original members appeared
in The Comic Strip Presents... in which they wrote, directed,
and performed a series of narratives satirising a variety of genre
themes. The programme set a precedent for the so-called alternative
comedy of the 1980s, won critical approval, and was awarded a Golden
Rose at the Montreux Festival.
and French's role within this group was particularly significant
in that the two succeeded in providing much more complex and interesting
female characters than had been hitherto been offered by television
comedy. They placed their characters in opposition to the traditional
representations of women in British television comedy--such as the
sexual accessories of The Benny Hill Show, the domesticated,
subservient wife of The Good Life and the nag of Fawlty Towers.
Saunders' and French's very presence in The Comic Strip Presents...
was a timely intrusion into a realm of comedy previously the
exclusive domain of male performers, from Monty Python to
the double acts of the 1970s: Morecombe and Wise and Little
autonomy women were gaining was confirmed in French and Saunders.
This show, the first series of which was screened on the BBC in
1987, presented the pair as partners combining stand-up and sketches.
French and Saunders offered a uniquely feminine version of
British comedy (unique, with the notable exception of Victoria
Wood As Seen On TV, first screened in 1985). Their writing and
acting focused directly, and with hilarious results, on a female
experience. Many of the scenes worked to reinforce the centrality
of women's talk and to parody the position and representations of
women in the media.
It was out of a French and Saunders sketch that Jennifer
Saunders conceived of and developed possibly her most prolific work,
Absolutely Fabulous. Saunders has written and starred in three
six-part series of Absolutely Fabulous (BBC, 1992, 1994 and
1995) which have achieved uniformly high viewing figures as well
as critical acclaim. In some respects a domestic sitcom, Absolutely
Fabulous satirises the matriarchal household of fashion P.R.
executive, Edina Monsoon (Saunders) and the women around her, including
her unruly best friend, Patsy (Joanna Lumley) and long-suffering
daughter Saffron (Julia Sawalha). Because Absolutely Fabulous
remains an unusual example of a peak-time situation comedy written
by women, with a predominantly female cast and a specific address
to a female audience, it provides rare viewing pleasures of self-recognition
and humour to women. In addition to having feminist concerns at
the core of its structure and themes, it stresses the artificiality
surrounding "womanliness," and celebrates gender as a complex social
and cultural construction.
In terms of her writing and performance, Jennifer Saunders may be
considered to have had some influence on raising the profile of
female comedians in television, leading the way for others such
as Jo Brand and Dawn French in her solo series, Murder Most Horrid.
Saunders took on her first non-comedy role for a BBC drama, Heroes
and Villains (1995), a period piece based on the true life of
Lady Hester Stanhope, an eccentric 19th century traveller. As well
as revealing a further talent for dramatic acting, the show crystallises
Saunders TV persona, and arguably her role in British television,
as an independent and powerful woman.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Saunders
SAUNDERS. Born in Sleaford, Lincolnshire, England, 12 July 1958.
Attended Central School of Speech and Drama. Married: Adrian Edmondson;
children: Ella, Beattie and Freya. Formed cabaret partnership with
comedian Dawn French, the Comedy Store, London; appeared in the
Comic Strip series, early 1980s, and subsequently in French and
Saunders sketch show and, without French, in Absolutely Fabulous.
Address: Peters Fraser and Dunlop, Fifth Floor, The Chambers, Chelsea
Harbour, Lots Road, London SW10 0XF, England.
The Comic Strip Presents (Five Go Mad in
Five Go Mad on Mescalin; Slags; Summer
School; Private Enterprise; Consuela;
Mr Jolly Lives Next Door; Bad News Tour; South
Atlantic Raiders; G.L.C., Oxford, Spaghetti
Hoops, Le Kiss, Wild Turkey, Demonella,
Jealousy; The Strike)
1985 Happy Families
1985-86 Girls on Top (also co-writer)
1987- French and Saunders
1992-96 Absolutely Fabulous
The Supergrass, 1985.
Absolutely Fabulous. New York: Pocket, 1995.