This year marks three whole decades since Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone burst onto our screens in a Bolly-drenched, drug-fuelled blaze of ridiculousness in Absolutely Fabulous.
The BBC sitcom followed the antics of PR guru Eddy and fashion magazine editor Patsy, sending up the industry and the colourful characters that inhabited it.
Ab Fab originally spawned three series and a special between 1992 and 1996, before subsequent revivals in 2001 and 2012, with a big-screen outing seemingly serving as a swan song for the outrageous duo, played sublimely by creator Jennifer Saunders and co-star Joanna Lumley.
Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders as Patsy and Eddy in Absolutely Fabulous
There’s never any shortage of cries for Jennifer to resurrect Eddy and Patsy, and as we approach Ab Fab’s 30th anniversary later this year, speculation is bound to intensify as to whether the comedian has something up her Lacroix sleeve.
As we wait patiently to find out, we’re continuing our celebration of nostalgic TV in our Rewind To The 90s series with 18 surprising facts about Ab Fab you probably won’t have known…
1. Ab Fab started life as a French & Saunders sketch
Absolutely Fabulous was first conceived after Jennifer and Dawn devised a sketch for their show French & Saunders called Modern Mother and Daughter.
The skit aired in 1990, and featured the characters that would later become known as Eddy and Saffy – although Dawn played the original “Saffy”.
2. There was originally some concern that the show might be too London-centric for everyone to get it
Ab Fab producer Jon Plowman – who later became the BBC’s head of comedy – said that when they started work on the show, there was concern that “an audience outside the square mile of Soho would not know what this was about”, he told the LA Times in 1994.
3. It originally started out on BBC Two, before being promoted to the main channel Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley in the first episode of Ab Fab
According to the LA Times, the BBC originally hoped the show would find a modest cult following, but it proved such a hit with critics and viewers that it was promoted from BBC Two to BBC One for its second series.
“Maybe one of the things about comedy is that if you set out to make something of huge mass appeal, you’re less likely to make something that really catches fire,” Jon Plowman said.
4. The show proved to be a difficult sell in the US, however
A number of the big networks turned down the chance to show Ab Fab in the early 90s, with one TV boss telling Plowman that Eddy and Patsy were not very good “role models.”
Plowman said he was repeatedly told that execs thought the show was “wonderful, but we could never show it”.
The show was eventually picked up by Comedy Central in 1994.
“As soon as we saw it, we knew it was absolutely right for us,” Comedy Central’s senior vice president of programming at the time Mitch Semel said. “For us, it’s dead on target.”
5. Two attempts to make a local US version failed
In the 90s, Roseanne Barr put the wheels in motion to produce a US version of Ab Fab, which would have starred Carrie Fisher and Barbara Carrera as Eddy and Patsy, but it never came to fruition.
In 2008, another attempt was made with Kathryn Hahn and Kristen Johnston set to play the lead roles, with Zosia Mamet (aka Shoshanna from Girls) as Saffy, but Fox passed on commissioning a full series.
6. Eddy and Patsy did appear on an episode of Rosanne’s comedy, though
After Rosanne’s planned adaptation of Ab Fab did not work out, Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley appeared as their characters in an episode of the US star’s hit sitcom in 1996.
Fellow Ab Fab star Mo Gaffney also appeared in the episode, but did not play her character Bo.
The episode saw Roseanne, Jackie, and Nancy visit New York City’s Upper West Side, where they mingled with celebrities and were invited to Martha’s Vineyard.
7. Bananarama was a huge inspiration for Ab FabJennifer and comedy partner Dawn French with Bananarama in 2017
Jennifer spent a lot of time with the 80s pop group in their heyday, describing having “some of the best nights of my life” with them.
She told Caitlin Moran during a Radio 4 interview: “I got a lot of gags from Bananarama because they were big vodka drinkers… when I started doing Ab Fab, I remembered all of the falls that I saw Bananarama do.
“I once saw one of them coming out of a cab bottom first and hitting the road, and I thought ‘that’s class’.”
8. PR exec Lynne Franks was also a rumoured influence for Eddy’s characterLynne Franks pictured in 2004
Jennifer has long cited publicist Lynne Franks as someone she based the character of Eddy on.
When the show was originally on air, Lynne was rather displeased about her link to the show, but in 2018, she said that it no longer “upsets as much as it used to”.
Lynne, who appeared as a contestant on I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! in 2007, told the BBC: “It is a very funny programme and I love it but it can get a little bit tedious when it gets mentioned every time.
“If it creates an interest in me and I can then talk about things I really care about, then it is a really useful and helpful tool.”
9. Eddy Monsoon is named after Jennifer’s husband Adrian EdmondsonJennifer Saunders and Adrian Edmondson in 1989
It is a play on his name that he used in an episode of Channel 4 show Comic Strip Presents in 1984, in which Jennifer also starred.
10. Adrian can also be heard on the show’s theme tune
Wheels On Fire was originally recorded by Bob Dylan in 1967, before Julie Driscoll recorded a cover a year later.
Adrian’s vocal was added to a reworking of Julie’s version, appearing alongside her on the theme. It was remixed when the show returned for a fourth season in 2001, with Julie credited under the surname Tippetts.
Kylie Minogue also recorded a cover as the soundtrack to the 2015 film.
11. Jennifer was frightened by Julia Sawalha in her original auditionJune Whitfield, Jennifer Saunders and Julia Sawalha on set in 1992
In the 2001 series companion book Continuity, Jennifer said that they had already seen quite a few people for the role of Eddy’s daughter, but none were right – but then Julia auditioned.
“She didn’t try to make Saffy funny,” Jennifer explained. “I found her quite frightening to read with because she was so serious I couldn’t look her in the eye.”
12. There is only 10 years between Jennifer and on-screen daughter Julia Julia Sawalha (left) and Jennifer Saunders in a scene from episode Fat in 1992
When Ab Fab started, Eddy was just turning 40, while Saffy was 16, but in actuality, Jennifer was 34 and Julia was 24.
13. Joanna Lumley was cast after appearing on Ruby Wax’s sketch show
During the sketch on a 1991 episode of The Full Wax, Joanna – who was known for her roles in the likes of The Avengers – showed a different side when she sent herself up as a drunk, drug-taking has-been, which cast her in a new light.
14. Joanna used her own hair to create Pasty’s beehive hairstyleIn a promo photo for the show
Pasty’s barnet is nearly as iconic as the woman herself, and it was all Joanna’s own hair used to create it.
Jennifer compared it to “the Tardis” from Doctor Who, writing in Companion: “When it’s down and normal it looks perfectly safe, but once a hairdresser gets inside and whips it up, you realise the extraordinary volume.”
15. Jane Horrocks actually auditioned to play SaffyJane Horrocks pictured in 1992
Jane tried out for the part of Eddy’s daughter, but Jennifer instead cast her as the character’s assistant Bubble instead.
In the 2001 series companion book Continuity, Jennifer said: “She looked nothing like me and was frankly too old, even though she’s not as ancient as Dawn French… But Jane is so talented and funny and attractive that we immediately offered her Bubble.”
16. Bubble was originally conceived as a very different characterJane was cast as Eddy’s assistant Bubble after auditioning as Saffy
Jennifer wrote in Continuity: “When I first wrote Bubble, I had imagined a useless ‘Sloane Ranger’ secretary. A girl so posh but very stupid that she might either become a secretary or do a cordon bleu course or work for a high-profile charity.”
Of how the part changed after Jane’s casting, Jennifer added: “What was upper class eccentricity became bizarre and surreal.
“The costumes which always seemed rather childlike and extreme were always based on the very newest ideas in magazines like i-D. Fashion taken to its limits.”
17. Idris Elba appeared in the show before he was famous Idris Elba appeared in the third series of Absolutely Fabulous
The actor is now world famous, but prior to hitting the big time, Idris appeared in the 1995 episode Sex, where he played an escort.
18. Jennifer thought the original finale of the show was “disjointed”
When Jennifer decided to wrap up Ab Fab after three seasons in 1996, she responded to criticism from a newspaper critic who called the last episode “an idea flogged well past its sell-by date”.
In an interview with The Independent, Jennifer said that the episode was “disjointed”, but added: “I just had to get rid of all those jokes I’d always wanted to do. It would have been tragic to look back in 2000 and think, ‘I wish I’d done that’.”
As it turned out, Ab Fab ended up returning for two more series between 2001 and 2004.
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