Jennifer Jane Saunders (born 6 July 1958) is an English comedian, screenwritersinger and actress. She has won three BAFTAs (including the Bafta Fellowship), an International Emmy Award, a British Comedy Award, a Rose d'Or Light Entertainment Festival Award, two Writers' Guild of Great Britain Awards, and a People's Choice Award.

She first found widespread attention in the 1980s when she became a member of The Comic Strip after graduating from the Central School of Speech and Drama. With her comedy partnerDawn French, she wrote and starred in their eponymous sketch show, French & Saunders, for which she and French received a BAFTA fellowship in 2009. She received worldwide acclaim through the early to mid-1990s for writing and playing the lead role of Edina Monsoon in the sitcom Absolutely Fabulous.

She has guest-starred in the American sitcoms Roseanne and Friends, and won the American People's Choice Award for voicing the wicked Fairy Godmother in DreamWorks' animatedShrek 2.

Contents[edit | edit source]

 [hide*1 Background

Background[edit][edit | edit source]

Saunders was born in SleafordLincolnshire, on 6 July 1958.[1][2] Her mother was a biology teacher, and her father served as a pilot in the Royal Air Force (RAF), reached the rank of Air Marshal and later worked for British Aerospace.[3][4] Because her father was in the armed forces, Saunders moved to different schools many times.[4] She was educated from the age of five to 18 in boarding schools and then at St Paul's Girls' School, an independent school in west London. After school, she worked for a year in Italy as an au pair.[5]

She later received a place at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London on a drama teachers' course in 1977,[4] where she met her future comedy partner, Dawn French.[6] Both came from RAF backgrounds. They had grown up on the same base, even having had the same best friend, without ever meeting.[3] The comic duo originally did not get on well, and as far as Saunders was concerned, French was a "cocky little upstart". The distrust was mutual: French considered Saunders snooty and uptight.[3] French actually wanted to become a drama teacher,[1] whereas Saunders loathed the idea and had not fully understood what the course was about; thus, she disliked French for being enthusiastic and confident about the course.[4] Saunders was shocked to find that she was actually taking courses to become a teacher, as her mother had filled out the application form.[4] Her mother, however, was saddened when Saunders chose not to apply for an Oxbridge university education.[4]

After the initial friction, while at college Saunders and French shared a flat together. French has remarked on Saunders's messy habits when sharing the house, stating, "When we lived together in Chalk Farm she had a room at the top of the house. We got broken into and the police said, 'Well, it is quite bad, but the worst is that room at the top.' And, of course, nobody had been in there."[4] The two performed together after graduation, working the festival, cabaret[4]and stand-up circuits. They formed a double-act called The Menopause Sisters. Saunders described the act, which involved wearing tampons in their ears, as "cringeworthy."[3] The manager of the club where they performed recalled, "They didn't seem to give a damn. There was no star quality about them at all."[3]

Career[edit][edit | edit source]

Early career[edit][edit | edit source]

Saunders and French would eventually come to public attention as members of the informal comedy collective The Comic Strip, part of the alternative comedy scene in the early 1980s. They answered a 1980 advert in The Stagenewspaper looking for female comedians to perform at The Comic Strip, which until that point, only had male performers.[1][3] When they walked into the audition they were immediately told "You're booked. When can you start?".[4]

Both Saunders and French became continuing members of the Comic Strip, which included Peter RichardsonRik Mayall and Robbie Coltrane, as well as Saunders' future husband Adrian Edmondson.[1][3] The group performed at the Boulevard Theatre, above Soho's Raymond Revuebar, and gained a cult following, with visiting audience members including Dustin HoffmanJack Nicholson and Robin Williams, who once joined in the performance.[7] By the time French & Saunders became members of The Comic Strip, French was already working as a drama teacher, whilst Saunders was on the dole and spending a lot of her time sleeping in bed after the dole office closed for the day. [3]

Television[edit][edit | edit source]

1980s and 1990s[edit][edit | edit source]

The comedy group appeared on Channel 4's first night on air, in the first episode of The Comic Strip Presents: Five Go Mad In Dorset, broadcast on 2 November 1982.[1][8] In the episodes "Bad News" and "More Bad News", Saunders plays a trashy rock journalist touring with the fictional heavy metal band Bad News. In 1985, Saunders starred in and co-wrote Girls On Top with French, Tracey Ullman and Ruby Wax, which portrayed four eccentric women sharing a flat in London.[1] Saunders also appeared in Ben Elton's Happy Families (TV series) where she played various members of the same family, including all four Fuddle sisters in the six-episode BBC situation comedy.[1] Saunders starred in a Comic Strip film called The Supergrass, a little-known parody of slick 1980s police dramas directed by Peter Richardson. Saunders also played Meryl Streep playing Arthur Scargill's wife in Strike, a Comic Strip spoof on the 1984 Miners' strike. Saunders also appeared twice as guest on The Young Ones.[1]

In 1987, she and French created French & Saunders, a popular sketch comedy series for the BBC, which aired until 2007.[9] By the end of the 1980s, the show was an established comedy programme and became a staple in BBC viewing.[3] Saunders has appeared in Amnesty International's The Secret Policeman's Biggest Ball live benefit in 1989, along with Dawn French and others.

Saunders and French followed separate careers as well as maintaining their comedy sketch show. Saunders' biggest solo success to date is Absolutely Fabulous. The comedy was in fact based largely on a fourteen-minute French & Saunders sketch called "Modern Mother and Daughter".[4] Saunders and French were going to star in the comedy together, but just as the studio had been booked, French received a long-awaited phone call confirming that an adoption agency had a new baby for her to adopt.[4] Saunders proceeded to star in the comedy. The series, which she wrote and starred in as the irresponsible fashion PR agent Edina Monsoon alongside Joanna Lumley, who played Patsy Stone, brought her international acclaim and attention.[1] The show ran for five full series, a two-part film and three special episodes over the course of thirteen years from 1992 to 2005.[1] The series is also known as Ab Fab[3] and was broadcast in the United States on Comedy Central and BBC America, becoming cult viewing.[10] In 2011, gay-friendly network LOGO began airing the full run of the show, a nod to the large gay fan base the show was always known to have.[citation needed] Rumors emerged that new episodes would be produced later in the year.[11]

Saunders has appeared on the American sitcoms Roseanne, playing Edina Monsoon in the episode "Satan, Darling", and Friends as Andrea Waltham, the stepmother of EmilyRoss Geller's fiancée, in the episodes "The One After Ross Says Rachel" and "The One with Ross's Wedding". In 1999, she appeared alongside French in Let Them Eat Cake.[1]

2000s[edit][edit | edit source]

I wanted to write something about the sort of community I was living in, why it works and how different it was. How life in the country didn’t have to be sinister.

—Saunders on her motivations for creating Jam & Jerusalem[12]

Saunders wrote and starred in a comedy drama about a Women's Institute entitled Jam & Jerusalem, also known as Clatterford in America. The first series aired in 2006, the second in 2008 and the third in 2009 on BBC One.[13] The show starred David Mitchell, Sally Phillips and Sue Johnston as well as Dawn French and Joanna Lumley.

In 2007, Saunders and psychologist Tanya Byron[4] wrote BBC Two's The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle about a neurotic daytime talk show host. Saunders played the eponymous character whose programme features crude headlines such as "Wife a slapper? Lie detector reveals all"[14] and "I want a vagina".[15]

Also in 2007, the final series French & Saunders series aired. A Bucket o' French & Saunders featured a compilation of old and new sketches and aired on BBC One in September 2007. It was the third show she had written in a year.[4]In 2008 and 2009, French & Saunders completed their final live tour, French & Saunders: Still Alive.[16]

Saunders appeared on the "Star in a Reasonably Priced Car" segment of BBC 2's motoring show Top Gear, posting a lap time of 1:46.1s, making her the fifth-fastest guest ever in the car that was used at that time. A self-confessed petrolhead, she has a passion for Alfa Romeos, and has so far owned four.[17]

2010s[edit][edit | edit source]

In 2011, Saunders wrote and appeared in "Uptown Downstairs Abbey", the Comic Relief parody of the critically acclaimed historical television dramas Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs (1971 TV series). Playing the Dowager Countess, she starred alongside Kim Cattrall, Joanna Lumley, Victoria WoodHarry EnfieldPatrick BarlowDale WintonOlivia ColmanTim VineSimon CallowMichael Gambon, and Harry Hill.

In 2012, Saunders guest-starred in Dead Boss, a BBC Three comedy set in the fictional Broadmarsh prison where she plays the cruel and work-shy governor, Margaret.[18] The show's creator, Sharon Horgan, stated that she 'begged' Saunders to take the role, having been a fan of Saunders' previous comedy work.[19]

She wrote the script for the jukebox musical Viva Forever! which received some of the worst reviews of 2012 (and "arguably of all time"[20]). It closed after only seven months with a loss of "at least £5 million".[21]

Film[edit][edit | edit source]

Saunders has also appeared in several films, such as In the Bleak Midwinter (1995), Muppet Treasure Island (1996), Fanny & Elvis (1999) and also made cameo appearances in the Spice Girls' film Spice World (film) (1997) and Absolument fabuleux (2001), a French film based on Absolutely Fabulous.[1][22]

She most notably appeared in the internationally successful DreamWorks animated movie Shrek 2 in 2004, voicing Princess Fiona's evil Fairy Godmother and performing the songs "Holding Out for a Hero" and "Fairy Godmother Song". Her part took only four days to record.[3] The sequel broke the first Shrek's own box office record in the U.S in just a fortnight,[3] and it proceeded to make $353 million in just three weeks in the U.S.[23] Her role won the American People's Choice Award for the best movie villain in 2005.[24] She also voiced Miss Spink in the animated film Coraline, in which Dawn French also voiced a character called Miss Forcible.

Personal life[edit][edit | edit source]

Saunders married Adrian Edmondson on 11 May 1985 in Cheshire.[25] They have three daughters: Eleanor "Ella" Rose (born 22 January 1986, Hammersmith, London), Beatrice "Beattie" Louise (born 19 June 1987, Kensington and Chelsea, London),[26] and Freya Domenica (born 16 October 1990, Wandsworth, London).[25][27]

Saunders currently owns a £1 million property with 45 acres (180,000 m2) of land in ChagfordDevon, as well as a home in London.[28] Edmondson and Saunders were estimated to be worth £11 million in 2002.[28]

In July 2010, she revealed that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2009.[29] She is in remission following a lumpectomychemotherapy and radiotherapy.[30][31]

On 27 August 2012, Saunders and Edmondson became grandparents when their daughter Ella gave birth to a boy, Fred.[32]

Saunders published her autobiography, Bonkers: My Life in Laughs, in October 2013.[33]

Awards and recognition[edit][edit | edit source]

Along with Dawn French, Saunders declined an OBE in 2001.[34] In 2003, she was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy.[35] Saunders placed 93rd out of E!'s 100 Sexiest British Stars. She also came 18th for Best British Role Models for teenage girls in Britain according to Good Housekeeping magazine.[citation needed] Saunders was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Exeter in July 2007.[36] In July 2011 she was awarded an honorary doctorate by Edge Hill University.[37] According to Forbes magazine, Saunders is the 26th most influential female British export.[citation needed] In 2005, she was named the fourth funniest woman in Britain in a poll of 4,000 women.[38] To date, she has been nominated for and received many awards, including:

Won[edit][edit | edit source]

Nominated[edit][edit | edit source]

  • 1993: BAFTA Television Award for Best Light Entertainment Performance for - Absolutely Fabulous[39]
  • 1993: British Comedy Award for Best Comedy Actress - Absolutely Fabulous[citation needed]
  • 1994: British Comedy Award for Best TV Comedy Actress - Absolutely Fabulous[citation needed]
  • 1995: BAFTA Television Award for Best Comedy Series for - Absolutely Fabulous (shared with Jon Plowman and Bob Spiers)[43]
  • 1996: BAFTA Television Award for Best Comedy Series for - Absolutely Fabulous (shared with Jon Plowman and Bob Spiers)[44]
  • 1997: BAFTA Television Award for Best Comedy Series for - Absolutely Fabulous (shared with Jon Plowman, Bob Spiers and Janice Thomas)[45]

Actress[edit][edit | edit source]

Guest appearances[edit][edit | edit source]

Writer[edit][edit | edit source]

Bibliography[edit][edit | edit source]

  • Absolutely Fabulous: Continuity
  • Absolutely Fabulous (scripts from the show)
  • Absolutely Fabulous 2 (more scripts from the show)
  • A Feast of French and Saunders (with Dawn French)
  • Bonkers: My Life in Laughs (Viking, 2013)
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