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Classic TV Revisited: French and Saunders



What was it all about?
A sketch show starring Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders. The title was a bit of a giveaway really.

When was it on?
It started in 1987 and has continued on and off since. There was also a 1995 special, French and Saunders Go To The Movies, featuring a send-up of, among others, The Silence of the Lambs. According to Dawn, the BBC kept the pair from the clutches of ITV by offering them car parking spaces.

How did it come about?
French and Saunders met as trainee teachers at the Central School of Speech and Drama. ‘For the first year of the course we hated each other,’ admitted Dawn. ‘I thought Jennifer was too Sloaney while I’d just come back from the States and was grotesquely Americanised. I used to wear baseball caps all day and use words like “gross” and “cookies”.’

Who were the star turns?
Well, French and Saunders obviously, plus (until 1993) Rowland Rivron and Simon Brint aka Raw Sex. They not only did the catchy little theme tune but also appeared in sketches, Rivron invariably with a fag in his mouth.

Any guest stars?
Everyone who was anyone and a few who weren’t. Jerry Hall, Stephanie Beacham, Kate Moss, Kirsty MacColl, Louise Lombard, Lulu, Dusty Springfield, Toyah Wilcox, to name but eight. Not too many men… As Jennifer herself remarked: ‘Normally you’d have to be paid enormous sums of money and be roaring drunk to do some of the sketches we do.’

What was a typical sketch?
A Hollywood/ breakfast TV/ glossy magazine spoof with lots of jokes about fat and chocolates. Or they’d pad up (a little) to become two fat huntin’ shootin’ and fishin’ women with a liking for gin. Better still were French and Saunders’ two gross (in every sense of the word) groin-rubbing men whose brains were in their underpants. Sun readers were probably offended.

Was anybody else offended?
When the two fat men made obscene gestures while watching the Queen’s Christmas speech in the 1988 festive show, outraged MPs called for the new series to be axed and for the stars to be thrown in the Tower.

Which was their cruellest send-up?
So many to choose from, but their slicked-back, leather-clad, chubby-faced Matt and Luke Goss, Dawn’s batty Bjork and her infuriatingly chirpy Scouse Sonia were hard to beat. Wickedly accurate. They also did a Baywatch spoof with a pneumatic Dawn as Pamela Anderson. It was filmed at Burnham-on-Sea in Somerset and everyone was so preocuupied with the shoot that they didn’t notice the tide coming in. By the time they did, it was too late and a Land Rover belonging to one of the crew had disappeared beneath the waves. If only Mitch had been around to save the day…

Who watched it?
Luvvies, wimmin and intellectuals who liked a little light relief from ‘Newsnight’. Sun readers stayed with Freddie Starr.

Any catchphrases?
Dawn and Jennifer aren’t catchphrase people.

Any distant cousins?
Absolutely Fabulous sprang from an early F&S sketch, ‘Modern Mother and Daughter’, in which French and Saunders played a role-reversed mother and teenage daughter.