Bonkers: My Life in Laughs by Jennifer Saunders. A review by John Cook.


My experience has been that the comedy most closely associated with Jennifer Saunders ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ tends to divide the world into two camps, so I proceed for the benefit of fans and those interested. First, news sources early this year have claimed that JS has finished an initial draft of ‘the movie’. Given her notorious capacity for delay, many will only believe it when shooting begins. As she is reported as saying ‘My proper New Year’s resolution is to do the film, otherwise it’ll be a pointless year of procrastination.’

This is not to say that there have been other attempts, most famously the French version described in this book where Edina and Patsy sat with Catherine Deneuve and JS slaughtered her lines in French.

I enjoyed the structure and format of this bibliography which I would describe (unsurprisingly) as typical of English comic writers. The reader is regularly addressed in friendly self-deprecating terms while the linear format is regularly interrupted by lines of tangential thought that may clarify or simply explore ideas or events. In this sense it has elements of typical stand-up comedy and reminded me of the sainted Graham Chapman’s autobiography ‘A Liar’s Autobiography, Volume VI’. Listen and you will hear her distinctive voice delivery.

Apart from her early years as an Air Force brat (which didn’t seem to do any damage), Saunders seems to have had pretty good adolescent and early adult years which straddle a comfortable middle class country background through to student slumming adventures. By dint of plenty of entertainment experimentation and a lucky chance meeting with her lifelong friend Dawn French, she felt her way toward a sometimes exercise capacity of comic writing and performance. It was with French that two embarked on a learning curve through The Menopause Sisters who developed into the Menopazzi Sisters She was also lucky to recognise and marry the love of her life (Ade Edmonson, Vyvyan Bastard from ‘The Young Ones’).

She also developed a knack for turning her personal characteristics into those of her written characters though not entirely. It is easy to recognise the much more manic Edina in what she says here.

“Oh, everyone’s always going, ‘Jennifer, they think you’re frightening.’ But what could possibly be frightening? They’d go, ‘Well, because you don’t smile an awful lot.’ But I’ve had that face since I was a kid, actually. A sort of blankness, that’s what it is, it’s a blankness. And I think that’s what people find odd, because if you’re blank they don’t know what to think.” What she was actually feeling most of the time, she says, was shy. “And I don’t realise what I look like when I’m scared.”

However popular the Saunders and French material, it is left behind in most people’s minds by the Ab Fab years which I will not dwell on except to day that I did once posses a set of champagne flutes with the etched wording ‘Champers, Sweetie’.

JS emerges as someone sure in herself and her capabilities without anything like overweening pride, honest and open, self-deprecating and entertaining – the ideal companion for a set of G&Ts. The Ab Fab and later celebrity years are filled with mostly hilarious episodes that often occur within their celebrity in the Gay world.

The episode of her brush with breast cancer is sensitively and honestly portrayed with expected dollops of humour.


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