My comedy obsession and awareness of the Alternative Comedy movement, probably first started with my love for Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders. I had enjoyed and seen them in a few episodes of Girls on Top, I really loved watching Happy Families and was aware they had a few small cameo parts in The Young Ones. It was however when they first got their own TV series that I really started to fall in love with them and their sense of humour.
Watching their first series in 1987, I was 12 years old. I simply loved their presence on the TV, and how they weren’t frightened to dress up or be silly. They used a lot of BBC Television Centre in this series too – which I loved! I think it’s episode 5, that’s the one that sticks in my mind the most clearly. Their show is cancelled and they break into Television Centre, they decide to take over the Blue Peter studio and mount the show themselves. They also steal Victoria Woods BAFTA from an awards cabinet at the BBC reception. Rik Mayall makes a small cameo appearence in this episode too – he doesn’t say a word or is even on screen for long, but still makes a visual impact! Dawn and Jennifer were clearly inspired by the environment of Television Centre. Indeed, Jennifer Saunders makes reference to it in her book, Bonkers – My Life in Laughs. For a young girl growing up in the 1980’s, it was really exciting and inspiring for me, to see such an original female comedy double act on TV.
When their second series aired on TV in 1988, I now had a video recorder and managed to tape 5 out of the 6 episodes. Which I then got addicted to watching over and over again. I’ve never been very good at quoting lines, but I’d seen these episodes so much, I could quote great chunks of it. Some of my friends and I would often act out a few of our favourite sketches at school during our lunch breaks. They came up with such brilliant characters, and created such amazing spoofs, both of them acted with such great comic timing. It was quite common knowledge by now, who their famous husbands were too. So one of their stand out sketches for me was when Lenny Henry and Ade Edmondson actually make an appearance on their show, in that wonderful dinner party sketch. Lenny Henry was probably in the studio audience for most of the recordings too, as I feel sure you can hear him laughing – a lot!
Article from inside the Radio Times – 1988
In 1989 they were touring and come to my local theatre. I pleaded my parents if I could go, thankfully they agreed. I’d only just turned 14 and couldn’t wait to see my comedy heroines on stage. They were brilliant and performed many of their most famous sketches of the time. Like Dawn trying to eat a piece of Jennifer’s oversize wagon wheel, and the contraceptive talk at the bus stop. Roland Rivron and Simon Brint were performing with them too as Raw Sex, giving the show some hilarious musical elements. I left the theatre that night on a complete high, it had made me fall in love with them even more. Also that night I was able to buy a programme, this was quite large and glossy, and had lots of amazing photos of them both. Some photos going back to their childhood and others of their earlier work, plus their time with The Comic Strip. I remember staying awake for a long time that night, processing what I’d just seen and looking through the programme again and again, studying all the pictures. A few days later, in a crazy fangirl moment, I decided to pull all the pages apart, and I started pinning them up on my wall. This was probably the moment when I decided I had to start collecting more pictures and articles connected with them and the rest of The Comic Strip gang.
Here’s the programme, it’s all very tatty now with pin holes and blue tack marks in the corner, plus sticky tape along the edge where I tried to put it back together. You can see why I decided to pull it apart can’t you, each page is virtually a little poster!
A little while later, for one of my school English lessons, we each had to give a talk to the rest of the class. It could be on any subject that interested us. I chose to talk about French and Saunders. By this point, I had seen them live and had also read the brilliant book “Didn’t You Kill My Mother-In-Law?” So I was beginning to feel like quite the expert! I made the class visit the school library for my talk, as I wanted to use the school video player, to show a few clips. This number from the Royal Variety Performance was one I showed the class – I felt it went down quite well too!
Then in my phase of writing to my favourite comedians. I sent one particular letter to Dawn French, and included within it a chocolate bar as a token of my love for her. I was thrilled to receive a signed photo of her in the post, where she had also taken the time to say thank you for the chocolate!
At the top Dawn wrote: Thank you for the chocolate – yum yum
I’ve always tried to follow their carriers and have enjoyed a lot of their subsequent work. The Vicar of Dibley and Absolutely Fabulous, for example are indeed very enjoyable, they have some great moments…But for me, the many episodes they created with The Comic Strip Presents… and the first few series of their own show will alway be my favourite. When I watch those episodes now; the rhythm of the script, how they interact with each other and say things…it feels like I’m listening to some of my favourite songs – I know all the words in my head, and I happily sing-a-long!
Enjoy this clip from the Comic Relief Live Show in 1986, which was almost certainly one of the sketches they performed when I saw their tour in 1989.