Ab Fab started life as a sketch on the French & Saunders show on the BBC back in 1990 and changed campy comedy forever. A year later the pilot aired and was a huge critical success. After ve series and several specials, Jennifer Saunders’ slams on to our screens with the legendary Joanna Lumley for the brand new Absolutely Fabulous film.
TGUK: Is it true that Dawn French made a bet with you that you wouldn’t finish the script for the movie on time?
JS: Oh, that was about the writing of it. We were live on radio and she said, ‘What are you doing next year?’ I said, ‘I’m going to write the Ab Fab film.’ She said, ‘Really?’ I said, ‘I’m going to write it.’ She said, ‘Alright, if you haven’t written it by the time we do the next New Year’s Day radio show, you have to pay me £10,000.’
TGUK: Did you do it?
JS: I did just about do it (laughs). I did hand her about 90 pages, though most of it just said, ‘Blah blah blah.’ But there was a sort of kernel of something.
TGUK: But did that help you finish it? Are you a deadline junkie when it comes to writing?
JS: Yeah, completely
TGUK: But you can’t improvise like that with a film. So did it feel different writing a plot for a movie version?
JS: I didn’t think I’d be able to write a 90-minute plot. A plot is the hardest thing, and a plot is the thing that makes it very different to a TV show, because a TV show is very much half and hour of pantomime, where you chuck in as many gags as you can. You don’t really need a beginning, you don’t really need an end; you just need the credits to roll at some point.
TGUK: Obvious question but in what way is it different?
JS: The thing that is totally different is the fact that you are required to make people care, because they’ve got to sit there for 90 minutes. That was the hardest thing – to make people care and give them something to look forward to all the time, looking forward to the next act or whatever happens, and some kind of story. It’s the thing that changes it from the TV show the most, too, because there’s a lot more downtime, and there’s a lot more exposition. It doesn’t feel the same as a TV show, and I think that’s the biggest difference people will notice about it, is the fact that you can’t keep that level of energy up for 90 minutes – it’s got to have moments where you discuss the plot. It’s a completely different thing, really, and also we’re at a completely different time of our lives, so it has to be about where they are now. And they’re not at the kind of height of their game; they’re actually on the decline, a little bit, but we hope it’s not going to be a sad one.
TGUK: But it’s still essentially Eddie that we know and love just that she has fallen on hard times?
JS: Yes. Edina is becoming more and more desperate and that’s sort of exhibited in the fact that the house is now enormous beyond belief. She’s drained every ex-husband of every penny they’ve ever earned and she’s still doing it, we don’t know how – some deal. But her PR business has really gone downhill – she’s got, as ever, Lulu, Emma Bunton and Queen Noor (laughs), and they’re not working that much. So this comes as a sort of massive blow to her that she needs money that she can’t take Patsy to The Wolseley. She doesn’t know what’s happening, she has to send all her Net-a-Porter back. And so she tries to get a book deal and she tries lots of different things, and obviously tries to get Kate Moss, because that would be her moneybag for the rest of her life, but it all ends sort of miserably. She thinks she’s become everything she’s tried her whole life not to become; now she’s fat and old. All she’s never wanted to do is to become fat and old and now she suddenly looks at herself and goes, ‘Here I am, fat and old.’ But it ends on a positive. It doesn’t end on a downer. It can’t ever, because they’ve always got to get away with it, and they’ve always got to have a new scheme.
TGUK: What sends them off to France?
JS: There’s an incident at a party where she pushed Kate Moss off a balcony, and she’s accused of killing Kate Moss – that little detail (laughs) – and so the paparazzi have appeared. That’s something she’s wanted all her life, to be famous. And now they’re here, all she wants is to be anonymous, and to not have them there, photographing her and hounding her like an animal. They’ve always had this dream, Patsy and Eddie; whenever they were in trouble, they’d go, ‘One day we’ll join the jet set. One day we’ll live the Martini advert. That’ll be us. We’ll have guys that drive planes and boats and wear pastel coloured cashmere jumpers around their shoulders and crocodile shoes.’ I think going to the south of France is really about retreating into that dream of luxury, which, unfortunately, sort of doesn’t exist. I mean, it does, but it’s all a bit tacky now. There isn’t a sort of beautiful lovely jet set, there isn’t a sort of Ava Gardner- esque thing about anything anymore. Everything is heavy disco euro-trash music and obscene money, and so everything they’re looking for doesn’t quite exist. They sort of retreat into the past a little bit.
TGUK: You first wrote Ab Fab back in the early 1990s but they’re very resilient characters. In your industry, you must meet them all time?
JS: All the time! They’re still going on. I keep thinking, ‘Surely there’s other ways of doing PR,’ but it’s still the same. Honestly, it’s quite extraordinary. The other day I got a really unusual massive invitation to some party and I thought, ‘I thought those days were gone.’ I thought everything was done by the Internet now. But still this ridiculous thing came, like a Rubik’s cube, an invite to some fashion show, and you just go, ‘I can’t believe it’s still happening.’ I suppose as long as there’s products, there’s going to be PR.
TGUK: Would you go on a night out with Edina and Patsy?
JS: I think they’d be horrible. They’re so into each other, in a way, and into their own little world. I don’t know how much actual fun they’d be. I’d be them going out for a night – that would be much more fun. To be Edina and Patsy going out for a night would just be fantastic.
TGUK: You’ve never done that?
JS: No, no, no, never. But I think to actually be with them on a night out would be ghastly! It would be ghastly, because someone at some point would have to go, ‘Now, stop, come on, that’s not a good idea.’ You’d be the person having to say, ‘Just get in a cab and go home.’ ‘No, we’re going to party on! We’re going somewhere else. We’re going to have a great time. She loves me.’ They think the world loves them when they’re drunk, and I think generally people see them coming and go, ‘Oh Christ.’ But that’s as it should be (laughs).
This interview was taken from Issue 21
Ab Fab the movie is available to buy on DVD now.
The editor and chief of THEGAYUK. All in a previous life wrote and produced songs on multi-platinum records.