Darling Buddies

With Emmys, Baftas, critical plaudits and terrific audience figures, Absolutely Fabulous was every sitcom writer’s dream. But how will Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley keep up the momentum with the second series. Stephanie Billen finds out . . .

ho is married to whom? Is it French and Saunders or is it Saunders and Lumley? Not so long ago. Jennifer Saunders and

a run of interviews prompted by their first stage play together. Me and Mamie ()' Rourke. Like so many other showbiz partnerships, theirs seemed to have become a kind of marriage.

Catch Saunders and Joanna Lumley together and you could be forgiven for thinking some sort of bigamy was going on. The Absolutely Fabulous pair, now gearing up for a second series of the hit comedy, are a double-act in real-life too, inclined to finish off each other’s sentences and feed off each other for jokes to fling back at any journalist who gets too serious or too stupid.

Of the two. Lumley, slighter than you would expect in her elegant pin-stripe suit, seems infinitely more friendly. but then the glacial Saunders, prone to stonewalling or dismissing questions as ‘not of any particular interest to anyone’. is clearly nervous. The first series of Absolutely Fabulous with its freaky, fashion victim heroines and digs against the media and fashion business. was a huge success scooping a host of awards including an Emmy and even one from the Institute of Public Relations. Following on from such a triumph is, admits Saunders, ‘terrifying’. ‘lt would be much easier if the first series wasn’t so successful. You’re open to much more criticism.’

As writer as well as star of the series, Saunders is under more pressure than Lumley, who won several comedy awards last year and still seems to be having a ball. A photographic model herself years ago, she jokes: ‘Patsy thinks she walks like a model. She doesn’t, but there you are. She knows you have to put your bottom in somehow . . . Being Patsy has taught her how to smoke more than one cigarette at a time ‘I smoke them in bundles now’ 7 and allowed her to flaunt a bee- hive. Having seen several other Patsies around, including one ‘seven- foot tall in its wig’ at a gay benefit, she observes: ‘A lot of people since

Dawn French were the subject of

‘Patsy thinks she walks like a model. She doesn’t, but there you are. She knows you have to put your bottom in somehow...’

me are playing Patsy and they love it too!’

Preening Patsy impersonators may wish to keep their distance during the second series which sees the fashion editor enduring hellish plastic surgery. rowing with her best friend Edina and being ‘re-birthed’. Public relations queen Edina, who also gets the born-again treatment. has to find a new best friend, cope with intimations of mortality and, worse still, endure a fall in her standard of living.

Despite real life PR Lynne Franks’s dismay when Edina was associated with her, Saunders is vehement that she has in no way toned down the role. ‘That doesn’t affect me at all. It’s pure creation and it’s more about me than any other

Edina poses wlth exclusive guest lady Penelope - or Is it the tint Patsy doll?

person.’ In fact, Edina and Patsy seem more badly behaved than ever. ‘People are fed up

with being good all the time.’ Lumley adds: ‘If

you look at Arthur Daley or Victor Meldrew, these are fairly grumpy old bastards or sinister old shits and everyone adores them. We really don’t want to have Robin Hood all the time.’

‘People should be allowed to be nasty,’ Saunders sums up. only to be interrupted by Lumley. ‘I actually don’t think they are nasty. I think they’re really nice.’ June Whitfield, Edina’s mother in the series, is sitting in between them looking like a referee. ‘They’re sad really, aren’t they‘.” she ventures serenely. Suddenly the marriage is intact again: ‘No they’re not!’ chorus the two Js.

In fact the second series includes guest stars who threaten to upstage them both. The first episode, an unintentionally topical affair in which Patsy is dubbed a ‘fash mag slag’ after having a fling with an MP. features Mandy Rice-Davies, Germaine Greer, Suzi Quatro, Helen Lederer. Richard Grant and Lady Penelope. Lumley recalls: ‘Of all the people we’ve have on the show, it was Lady Penelope that got everyone in the studio going “wow!” . . . The banter begins again. Saunders: ‘She’s pretty old —the wig. . . Lumley: ‘The wig was a bit tragic wasn’t it‘?’, and over to Saunders: ‘It started to ride up the strings.’ Suddenly there is a scream from Lumley: ‘Didn’t you think it was Patsy? I thought “My God, I’ve turned into a puppet!”

There are worse fates. Patsy should bear in mind that Saunders still needs to work out how to get rid of her characters. After announcing at 1993’s Edinburgh Television Festival that this second series would be the last, Saunders now says that there will be one more series before the axe falls. She likes the idea of a film: ‘l’ve considered all the options including the Barbie doll version . . . ’, and there have been approaches from American TV companies wanting to buy the format. Whatever happens, the Absolutely Fabulous creator is sure that neither Edina ()1 Patsy will be killed: ‘No, no. You have to imagine that they will live forever,’ says Saunders. horrified. CJ

Absoluter Fabulous beings on

Thursday, January 2 7, on BBC I .

The List 14—27 January 199415