French and Saunders

French and Saunders

French and Saunders
Created by Dawn French
Jennifer Saunders
Starring French & Saunders
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of seasons 7
No. of episodes 46
Running time Various
Original network BBC Two
Original release 9 March 1987 – 24 December 2007

French and Saunders is a British sketch comedy television series written by and starring comic duo Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders. It is also the name by which the performers are known on the occasions when they appear elsewhere as a double act.

Widely popular in the late 1980s and the early 1990s, the show was given one of the highest budgets in BBC history to create detailed spoofs and satires of popular culture, movies, celebrities and art. The duo continue to film holiday specials for the BBC, and both have been successful starring in their own shows.

Saunders won a BAFTA, an Emmy Award and international acclaim for writing and playing the lead role of Edina Monsoon in Absolutely Fabulous, which also led to cameo roles in the American sitcoms Roseanne and Friends. She won an American People's Choice Award for voicing the wicked Fairy Godmother in the DreamWorks animated film Shrek 2, but more recently she has written and starred in another two BBC sitcoms, Jam and Jerusalem and The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle. Her other work includes being the face of Barclays Bank and BBC America.

Meanwhile, French starred in the highly successful sitcom The Vicar of Dibley which received great critical acclaim as well as numerous holiday specials and future airplay, achieving cult status. She also starred in three series of the comedy show Murder Most Horrid. She had a voice over role as Mrs. Beaver in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but more recently she has starred in Jam and Jerusalem, written by Saunders, and Lark Rise to Candleford, of which the fourth series has just been commissioned. For many years she became popular for her appearances in the Terry's Chocolate Orange adverts saying the famous line "It's not Terry's, it's mine!" and is currently the voice of W H Smith and Tesco adverts. She recently released her autobiography Dear Fatty, referring to Saunders, to whom she gave the nickname "Fatty".

In a 2005 poll to find The Comedian's Comedian, the duo were voted among the top 50 comedy acts ever by fellow comedians and comedy insiders. Their last special, 2005's French and Saunders Christmas Celebrity Special, aired on 27 December 2005 on BBC One. In 2006, both Saunders and French announced that their sketch show was now dead, and that they had moved on to more age appropriate material. Their last ever concert, and last ever performing as a duo act, Still Alive tour ran until the end of 2008, and then resumed in Australia in the summer of 2009.

In 2009, they were jointly awarded the BAFTA Fellowship.


Early years (1978–1987)

French and Saunders met with each other in 1978 while attending the Central School of Speech and Drama and began their career to collaborate on several comedy projects. They came to prominence in the early 1980s for performing at the London comedy club The Comic Strip, which also gave its name to its eponymous television series and the informal grouping of so-called alternative comedians. French and Saunders were featured on the live comedy album of The Comic Strip recorded by comedy entrepreneur Martin Lewis for his Springtime! label and was released in 1981. The duo made their first mainstream television appearance in the sketch comedy show The Comic Strip Presents..., where they appeared in approximately 30 episodes each as well as writing material for the show.

French and Saunders began to establish themselves in what was referred to as the "underground comedy" scene, along with many other prolific actors and comedians whom they would go on to work with for the next twenty-plus years. In 1983, they starred in an edition of Channel 4's series The Entertainers,[1] and went on to appear as comedy relief on the weekly music programme The Tube, on the same channel, for which French received her honour of being the first person to use the word "blowjob" on British television. In 1985, French and Saunders collaborated on their programme Girls on Top, which they once again wrote and starred in. Co-stars Tracey Ullman and Ruby Wax rounded out a set of four oddball roommates, and the show ran for two years. In 1986, French and Saunders made their first of many appearances on Comic Relief, and they signed a long-term contract with the BBC.

French and Saunders (1987–2007)

French and Saunders parodying James Cameron's blockbuster film Titanic

In 1987, French and Saunders created their eponymous sketch show, which has carried over six seasons up until 2007. Their show began humbly, but immediately established its own niche as a spoof on other types of shows. In the first season, it was intentionally set up to look like a low-budget variety show in which the duo were constantly attempting grandiose stunts and often failing miserably. Often a "famous" guest star would be brought on then treated badly. Also featured during this season was a set of geriatric dancers and a bongos/keyboard music duo called Raw Sex, actually long-time collaborators Simon Brint and Rowland Rivron and the vocal talents of Kirsty MacColl.

As their show progressed and ratings skyrocketed, French and Saunders received higher and higher budgets with which to create elaborate parodies of mainstream culture. These ranged anywhere from recreations of films (Thelma & Louise, Misery, Titanic, and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?) to spoofs on popular music artists (Madonna, Bananarama, ABBA and The Corrs being favourites). Certain spoken phrases and sight gags that referenced previously performed sketches (often from years before) were incorporated for loyal fans. In particular there is a running gag suggesting that French and Saunders are unable to accurately affect accents; this first appeared in their spoof of Gone with the Wind when they break their character in the middle of an elaborate and expensive parody to argue about the authenticity of their Southern accent. Saunders goads French to try the accent by saying: "How are you?", and French responds with an interpretation sounding more like a strong Northern Irish accent. Since then, the duo often break character in the middle of elaborate sketches to do an "accent check" and repeat these lines.

The show also contained numerous meta references: an awareness that the viewer was actually watching a parody. Unlike many parodies that are done in a straightforward manner for effect, French and Saunders uses the viewer's awareness of what is going on to further stretch out the joke. For example, in their parody of Peter Jackson's fantasy film epic The Lord of the Rings, an encounter between Frodo and Galadriel are thrown off when Saunders delivers her line: "I have passed the test, and now I will diminish, and go to the West and remain Galadriel", in which French responds: "You will what, sorry?", and Saunders replies: "I will diminish... I don't understand, it's in the book". Other characters that make a recurring appearance are the bald, fat, perverted old men ("Begging for it, she is!"); Star Test (most memorable character is Sonia, played by French: "What car do you drive?" "Brookside"); and Out and About ("I bet she dos [sic] tricks").

BBC Radio 2 (2010–present)

In Christmas 2010, French and Saunders are featured in three two-hours radio shows on BBC Radio 2. This was followed by further specials in 2011 for Easter and the Bank Holidays.

List of series and other appearances

Series 1 – 1987

# Airdate Cast & Sketches
1 9 March Alison Moyet
2 16 March Roy Castle
3 23 March Julie T. Wallace
4 30 March Michael Grade
5 6 April Jools Holland, Rik Mayall, Harry Enfield
6 13 April Joan Armatrading, Harriet Thorpe

Other appearances and work

Series 2 – 1988

# Airdate Cast & Sketches
1 4 March Joan Bakewell, Squeeze
2 11 March Toyah Willcox, Steve O'Donnell
3 18 March Helen Lederer, Kirsty MacColl
4 25 March Ben Elton
5 8 April Adrian Edmondson, Lenny Henry, The Proclaimers
6 15 April Robbie Coltrane, June Whitfield, Lulu

Other appearances and work

Series 3 – 1990

# Airdate Sketches & Cast
1 15 March The Sound of Music (Jerry Hall)
2 22 March Whatever Happened to Baby Dawn? (Mac McDonald)
3 29 March The Exorcist (Kathy Burke)
4 5 April Dangerous Liaisons (Nigel Planer, Eleanor Bron, Joan Bakewell)
5 12 April Gone with the Wind
6 19 April Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (Harriet Thorpe, Mac McDonald)
7 26 April Jane Asher, Carl Davis

Other appearances and work

Series 4 – 1993

# Airdate Sketches & Cast
1 18 February Misery
2 25 February The Silence of the Lambs
3 4 March The Seventh Seal
4 11 March In Bed With French And Saunders
5 18 March French And Saunders: The Special Edition
6 25 March Thelma & Louise
7 1 April The House of Idiot

Other appearances and work

Dawn, a parody of Oprah-style chat-shows featuring Dawn French and Victoria Wood/ F&S Sketch

Series 5 – 1996

# Airdate Sketches & Cast
1 4 January Baywatch (Julia Sawalha, Helen Mirren)
2 11 January Braveheart
3 18 January Franco e Sandro (Felicity Kendal, Sue Barker, Kate Moss)
4 25 January Batman (The Krankies, Patsy Kensit)
5 1 February Pulp Fiction (Lulu)
6 8 February The Quick and the Dead (Lenny Henry) and Behind the Scenes: A Classic in the Making filmed at Finchcocks in Kent[2]
7 29 February Dr. Quimn, Mad Woman (Michael Praed)

Other appearances and work

Series 6 – 2004

# Airdate Cast & Sketches Viewers
1 15 October Dawn and Jennifer meet their new producer and sign a contract, unknowingly locking themselves into a six-part series deal. 6.42
2 22 October Dawn attempts to find the chocolate lime to evoke childhood memories, Jennifer searches porn on the computer and a new director general of the BBC drops round. 5.54
3 29 October Jennifer has been selected for a royal award, while Dawn is aghast at not being selected, as well as Mark Lamarr's rudeness. Episode one of the series is, apparently, drafted by the pair – albeit hastily. Under 4.70
4 5 November Dawn and Jennifer attempt to get funding for a series via the internal BBC process of offers. Under 5.00
5 12 November With 5 of the 6 episodes for the new series' soon-approaching deadline; Dawn and Jennifer cut their ideas down to a manageable portion. The episode ends with a guest appearance from Anastacia. Under 4.83
6 26 November Episode one of the new series starts filming. Dawn and Jennifer delay production, through a combination of pedanticism and constantly getting lost. The episode ends with the party for the start of the new series. Under 4.40

Series 7 – A Bucket o' French and Saunders 2007

# Airdate Sketches & Cast Viewers
1 7 September 2007 Episode 1 sees the return of the hapless documentary presenter (Joanna Lumley), introducing the sketches.

Old Material: Who Is It?/Dawn's Entrances, The Two Fat Men, ABBA (C'est La Vie), 60s Dance, Marilyn and Jane, The Exorcist, The Extras, Britney & Madonna (Remixed), Titanic, Dawn at the Doctor, F&S Teenagers, Music montage of old clips to The Black Eyed Peas' "My Humps". New Material: The F-Word featuring Jemima, Humpty Dumpty and Little Ted.

2 14 September 2007 Old Material:French and Saunders "get" a BAFTA, The Menopatsy Sisters, F&S Dancing, Cassie's Dance Audition (featuring Harriet Thorpe), Jen's Reactions to Dawn, Generation Gap (featuring Julia Sawalha, Presenters Academy (featuring Davina McCall, Dana and Mary Hopkin, Dickens' Daughter, The Mamas & the Papas, George Michael and Boy George, Florida Retirees, The Sound of Music, Music montage of old clips to Arctic Monkeys' "I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor", Montage set to Dmitri in Paris' Une Very Stylish Fille

New Material: The French and Saunders Academy Awards featuring Dame Helen Mirren

3 21 September 2007 Old Material: Alien, Gone with the Wind, Cold Turkey, Loveheart, Look at my baby!, Poo Stripes, BoyZone, Aimless Morris-Minor, Chris Martin's Mother/"Apple", West Country Maids, Silence of the Lambs, Women's Programming, Lucky Bitches, 20's Dance, 90's Dance, Music montage of old clips to Gorillaz "Feel Good Inc.".

New Material: Jennifer's "Reality TV Tour" featuring Dawn as Andrew Lloyd Webber, Sir Alan Sugar, Tyra Banks and Simon Cowell

Under 3.87
4 28 September 2007 Old Material: Dawn's entrance, Bros Star Test, Insane Housewife "Nibbles" (featuring Lenny Henry and Adrian Edmondson), The Extra's at the Tate Modern, Witless Silence, Batman (featuring Patsy Kensit), Star Wars, The Two Fat Women, Jackie and Brigitte (featuring Tanya Byron), Elton John with Kiki Dee, Music montage of old clips to Basement Jaxx' "Where's Your Head At?", Montage to Just Jack's Stars in their Eyes.

New Material: Dawn the Meter Checker, Amy Winehouse and Britney Spears

Under 3.99
5 5 October 2007 Old Material: Lananeeneenoonoo, Catherine Zeta-Spartacus-Jones "President" and "Pregnant", Hurrah for Hollywood, Horse Riding, Kill Bill, Dot and May, Pulp Fiction, Thelma & Louise, Music montage of old clips to Lulu's "Shout", Montage on 20 years of "F&S" set to Dawn and Jennifer's rendition of Barbra Streisand's "The Way We Were".

New Material: Location, Relocation, Property Under the Sun featuring Kirstie Allsopp and Big Brother in the French and Saunders House

Under 3.91
6 12 October 2007 Due to low ratings, the run was shortened and episodes five and six were edited down together into one show, so this scheduled broadcast was cancelled. Surprisingly, none of the leftover new material (including a Doctor Who parody, their second spoof of the show and also their second never to air) made it into the following Christmas special. Under 3.91
7 24 December 2007 Episode 7, the final in the series, is an episode dedicated to Christmas (a possible homage to the once famous French and Saunders' Christmas Special).

Old Material: Dawn Modelling with Kate Moss, The Two Fat Men at Christmas, The Two Fat Women at Christmas, 'Don't Sit There!', La Belle Dame Sans Chapeau (with Darcey Bussell), Whatever Happened to Baby Dawn?, The Chamber Maids,, F&S at Richard and Judy's House, Ding Dong Merrily on High (with Alison Moyet), Prosthetics with F&S, Computer Troubles, Cher, Ride with F&S, Imagine: Parkour (with Alan Yentob), Catherine Zeta-Spartacus-Douglas-Jones' Christmas Message, 1920's Dance, F&S in Prison, Christmas in the White Room, The Opera Divas (featuring Sarah Walker), Montage of old clips to Shirley Bassey and The Propellerheads, "History Repeating". New Material: White Room: Still Can't Get In to the BBC

Under 5.40

Special episodes

Live shows

French and Saunders began what was announced as their final tour at Blackpool Opera House on 29 February 2008 in the UK. The first leg of the show concluded in May 2008, before moving to Australia. The tour ended 9 November, in London. Previously they have toured their comedy act / sketch show very rarely, with UK tours in 1990 & 2000. The tour contained a selection of their favourite sketches, as well as new material written specifically for the show. The tour was directed by Hamish McColl, set design by Lez Brotherstone, lighting, video and visual effects by Willie Williams.

Recurring characters

Side projects and spin-off series

Featuring French and Saunders

Featuring French

Featuring Saunders

Video and DVD releases

UK video


USA video


Australian video

Australian DVD

International broadcasters

Country TV Network(s)
Australia Australia ABC (first runs) UK.TV/The Comedy Channel (repeats)
Canada Canada BBCK on BBC Kids
France France Arte (first runs), Pink TV (France) (repeats)
Germany Germany EinsFestival, Arte
New Zealand New Zealand UK.TV
Portugal Portugal RTP2 (first runs), BBC Prime/BBC Entertainment (repeats)
Singapore Singapore BBC Entertainment
Thailand Thailand BBC Entertainment
United States United States BBC America


  1. The TV Museum Youtube channel: a trailer for the programme, transmitted 6 October 1983, appears on their YouTube website
  2. Kent Film Office. "Kent Film Office French and Saunders Article".
  3. Australian Board of Classification
  4. Australian Board of Classification
  5. Australian Board of Classification
  6. Australian Board of Classification
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