BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Arabic Spanish Russian Chinese Welsh

 You are in:  Entertainment: TV and Radio
Front Page 
UK Politics 
TV and Radio 
New Media 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Commonwealth Games 2002

BBC Sport

BBC Weather

Wednesday, 17 April, 2002, 15:42 GMT 16:42 UK
French and Saunders' best impressions
French and Saunders
Topical style: French and Saunders take off Titanic
Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders are to be given an honorary Golden Rose of Montreux award at the prestigious TV festival later this month. BBC News Online looks at the comedy duo's career.

Dawn French, born in north Wales in 1957, and Jennifer Saunders, born in Lincolnshire in 1958, met at the Central School of Speech and Drama in the late 1970s, while they were both training to be teachers.

The Golden Rose of Montreux
It is the world's leading annual competition for entertainment programmes
French and Saunders are the first women to win an honorary Rose
Other winners include the Monty Python team, Benny Hill and the BBC
88 programmes are in the final stage of this year's competition
The awards are presented in the Swiss resort on 27 April
The pair shared a flat, but while French went on to take a take a teaching job, Saunders opted not to do so.

She spotted an advertisement from the Comic Strip looking for a pair of female performers.

The Comic Strip team - which also included Young Ones stars Rik Mayall, Adrian Edmondson and Nigel Planer - were among the first "alternative" comedians, rejecting older comic styles which they saw as sexist and racist.

French and Saunders
French and Saunders trained as teachers in the late 1970s
It took the launch of Channel 4 to propel The Comic Strip to fame.

Their film Five Go Mad in Dorset - a send-up of 1970s adaptations of Enid Blyton's Famous Five stories - featured on the network's opening night in November 1982.

The Comic Strip Presents ... forged their career as a double act, and made them household names.

In 1984, French married fellow comic Lenny Henry while Saunders married Adrian Edmondson a year later.


Sitcoms for BBC (Happy Families) and ITV (Girls On Top) followed, and in 1987 they secured their own BBC sketch show, French and Saunders.

By now, both women were flexing their talents in other areas of television.

Dawn French fronted two Channel 4 documentaries, Swank and Scoff, and in 1993 starred in a straight BBC drama, Tender Loving care - which saw her play a murderous psychiatric nurse.

Adrian Edmonson and Jennifer Saunders
Saunders married fellow Comic Strip star Adrian Edmondson
French's size also got her noticed, and in the 1990s founded a fashion line for larger women, 1647, alongside designer Helen Teague.

But Jennifer Saunders was to rocket to international fame when she developed the duo's sitcom idea - Absolutely Fabulous.

It saw Saunders take the role of debauched PR executive Edina Monsoon, while Joanna Lumley played Edina's even more debauched friend, Patsy.

Its witty and crude style made it a huge hit in the UK, and a cult hit in the US.

AbFab revival

But since then, Saunders has had trouble following up her remarkable success. The show lasted for four years, but was revived by the BBC in 2001.

Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders
Absolutely Fabulous made Saunders an international star
The new run attracted poor reviews, and Saunders admitted the series had been a disappointment.

"I was sort of expecting it, because I'm probably my own worst critic," she said at the time.

"You have to resign yourself to it, say, could do better, must try harder."

While Saunders' private life was stable - she moved to Devon with Edmondson and their three children in 2001 - French, already wary of the press, found her marriage in the tabloid spotlight in the late 1990s.

Dawn French and Lenny Henry
Dawn French felt "bullied" by reports about Lenny Henry
The press seized on reports Henry had been unfaithful but their marriage, regarded as one of the strongest in showbusiness, survived. They have an adopted daughter, Billie.

French said she found the press attention was like she was being "bullied".

Despite all this, French was achieving renewed success with feelgood comedy Vicar of Dibley, in which she played an eccentric female minister in small English town.

But despite a difficult few years, both women returned with a new French and Saunders special at Easter 2002 - seeing them make fun of award-winning blockbuster Lord of the Rings.

Dawn French
French also starred in The Vicar of Dibley
And French is now on screen alongside Stephen Tompkinson in a new BBC comedy, Ted and Alice.

It is a love story, but typically for French, it is not a simple tale. She plays a woman who falls for a rare single sex alien exiled from a planet evolved into hermaphrodites.

See also:

17 Apr 02 | TV and Radio
Golden Rose for French and Saunders
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more TV and Radio stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more TV and Radio stories