Jennifer Saunders

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Jennifer Saunders
Jennifer Saunders 2014.jpg
Saunders in 2014
Birth nameJennifer Jane Saunders
Born (1958-07-06) 6 July 1958 (age 63)
Sleaford, Lincolnshire, England
  • Film
  • television
EducationSt Paul's Girls' School
Alma materRoyal Central School of Speech and Drama[1]
Years active1981–present
(m. 1985)
Children3, including Ella and Beattie
Notable works and rolesFrench and Saunders
Absolutely Fabulous

Jennifer Jane Saunders (born 6 July 1958) is an English actress, comedian, and screenwriter. Saunders originally found attention in the 1980s when she became a member of The Comic Strip after graduating from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama with her best friend and comedy partner, Dawn French. With French, she co-wrote and starred in their eponymous sketch show, French and Saunders, for which they jointly received a BAFTA Fellowship in 2009. Saunders later received acclaim in the 1990s for writing and playing her character Edina Monsoon in her sitcom Absolutely Fabulous.

Early life[edit]

Jennifer Jane Saunders was born on 6 July 1958 in Sleaford, Lincolnshire, England.[2][3] Her mother, Barbara Jane Saunders née Duminy, was a biology teacher, and her father, Robert Thomas Saunders, served as a pilot in the Royal Air Force (RAF). He reached the rank of group captain, and later worked for British Aerospace. She has three brothers.[4][5] As her father was in the armed forces during her childhood years, Saunders changed schools many times.[5] She was educated from the age of five to 18 in boarding schools and then at St Paul's Girls' School, an independent school in west London.[6] After school, she worked for a year in Italy as an au pair.[7]

In 1977, Saunders received a place at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London on a drama teachers' course,[5] where she met her future comedy partner, Dawn French.[8] French and Saunders came from RAF backgrounds, and had grown up on the same base, even having had the same best friend, without ever meeting.[4] The comic duo originally did not get on well, and as far as Saunders was concerned, French was a "cocky little upstart". The distrust was mutual: French considered Saunders snooty and uptight.[4] French wanted to become a drama teacher,[2] whereas Saunders loathed the idea and had not fully understood what the course was about; thus, she disliked French for being enthusiastic and confident about the course.[5] Saunders was shocked to find that she was taking a course to become a teacher, as her mother had filled in the application form. Her mother was saddened when Saunders chose not to apply for an Oxbridge university education.[5]

After the initial friction while at college, French and Saunders shared a flat together. French has remarked on Saunders' messy habits when sharing the house, stating: "When we lived together in Chalk Farm, she had a room at the top of the house. We got broken into and the police said, 'Well, it is quite bad, but the worst is that room at the top.' And, of course, nobody had been in there."[5] The two performed together after graduation, working the festival, cabaret,[5] and stand-up circuits. They formed a double-act called The Menopause Sisters. Saunders described the act, which involved wearing tampons in their ears, as "cringeworthy."[4] The manager of the club where they performed recalled, "They didn't seem to give a damn. There was no star quality about them at all."[4]


Early career[edit]

French and Saunders would eventually come to public attention as members of the informal comedy collective The Comic Strip, part of the alternative comedy scene in the early 1980s. They answered a 1980 advert in The Stage newspaper looking for female comedians to perform at The Comic Strip, which had, until that point, only had male performers.[2][4] When they walked into the audition, they were immediately told, "You're booked. When can you start?"[5] They became continuing members of The Comic Strip, which included Adrian Edmondson, Rik Mayall, Peter Richardson, and Robbie Coltrane.[2][4]

The group performed at the Boulevard Theatre, above Soho's Raymond Revuebar, and gained a cult following, with visiting audience members including Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson, and Robin Williams, who once joined in the performance.[9] By the time French and Saunders became members of The Comic Strip, French was already working as a drama teacher, whilst Saunders was on the dole and spending much of her time in bed.[4]


1980s and 1990s[edit]

The comedy group appeared on Channel 4's first night on air, in the first episode of The Comic Strip Presents: Five Go Mad In Dorset, broadcast on 2 November 1982.[2][10] In the episodes "Bad News" and "More Bad News", Saunders plays a trashy rock journalist touring with the fictional heavy metal band Bad News.[11][12]

In 1985, Saunders starred in and co-wrote Girls on Top with French, Tracey Ullman, and Ruby Wax, which portrayed four eccentric women sharing a flat in London.[2] Saunders also appeared in Ben Elton's Happy Families where she played various members of the same family, including all four Fuddle sisters in the six-episode BBC situation comedy. Saunders starred in a Comic Strip film called The Supergrass, a little-known parody of slick 1980s police dramas, directed by Peter Richardson. Saunders played Meryl Streep playing Arthur Scargill's wife in Strike, a Comic Strip spoof on the 1984 miners' strike. She appeared twice as a guest on The Young Ones.[2]

In 1987, she and French created French and Saunders, a popular sketch comedy series for the BBC, which aired until 2007.[13] By the end of the 1980s, the show was an established comedy programme and became a staple in BBC viewing.[4] Saunders also appeared in Amnesty International's The Secret Policeman's Biggest Ball live benefit in 1989, along with Dawn French and others.[citation needed]

Saunders and French followed separate careers as well as maintaining their comedy sketch show. Saunders' biggest solo success has been Absolutely Fabulous. The comedy was, in fact, based largely on a fourteen-minute French & Saunders sketch called "Modern Mother and Daughter". Saunders and French were going to star in the comedy together, but just as the studio had been booked, French received a long-awaited phone call confirming that an adoption agency had a new baby for her to adopt.[5]

Saunders proceeded to star in the comedy. The series, which she wrote and starred in as the irresponsible fashion PR agent Edina Monsoon alongside Joanna Lumley, who played Patsy Stone, brought her international acclaim and attention.[2] The show ran for five full series, two telemovies, three special episodes, and a feature film over the course of twenty-four years from 1992 to 2016.[2] The series is also known as Ab Fab[4] and was broadcast in the United States on Comedy Central and BBC America, becoming cult viewing.[14]

Saunders has appeared on the American sitcoms Roseanne, playing Edina Monsoon in the episode "Satan, Darling", and Friends as Andrea Waltham, the step-mother of Emily, Ross Geller's fiancée, in the episodes "The One After Ross Says Rachel" and "The One with Ross's Wedding". Although they don't share any scenes, Jennifer's Absolutely Fabulous co-star June Whitfield also appeared in The One With Ross's Wedding Part Two as the Waltham's housekeeper. In 1999, she appeared alongside French in Let Them Eat Cake.[2]


I wanted to write something about the sort of community I was living in, why it works and how different it was. How life in the country didn’t have to be sinister.

— Saunders on her motivations for creating Jam & Jerusalem[15]

Saunders wrote and starred in a comedy drama about a Women's Institute entitled Jam & Jerusalem, also known as Clatterford in the United States. The first series aired in 2006, the second in 2008, and the third in 2009 on BBC One.[16] The show starred David Mitchell, Sally Phillips, and Sue Johnston, as well as Dawn French and Joanna Lumley.[17]

In 2007, Saunders and psychologist Tanya Byron[5] wrote BBC Two's The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle about a neurotic daytime talk show host. The show ran for one series. Saunders played the eponymous character whose programme features crude headlines such as "Wife a slapper? Lie detector reveals all".[18]

Also in 2007, the final series of French & Saunders aired. A Bucket o' French & Saunders featured a compilation of old and new sketches and aired on BBC One in September 2007. It was the third show she had written in a year.[5] In 2008 and 2009, French & Saunders completed their final live tour, French & Saunders: Still Alive.[19]

Saunders appeared on the "Star in a Reasonably Priced Car" segment of BBC Two's motoring show Top Gear, posting a lap time of 1:46.1s, making her the fifth-fastest guest ever in the car that was used at that time. A self-confessed petrolhead, she has a passion for Alfa Romeos and has so far owned four.[20]


In 2011, Saunders wrote and appeared in "Uptown Downstairs Abbey", the Comic Relief parody of the critically acclaimed historical television dramas Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs. Playing the Dowager Countess, she starred alongside Lumley, Kim Cattrall, Victoria Wood, Harry Enfield, Patrick Barlow, Dale Winton, Olivia Colman, Tim Vine, Simon Callow, Michael Gambon, and Harry Hill.[citation needed]

In 2012, Saunders guest-starred in Dead Boss, a BBC Three comedy set in the fictional Broadmarsh prison where she plays the cruel and work-shy governor, Margaret.[21] The show's creator, Sharon Horgan, stated that she 'begged' Saunders to take the role, having been a fan of Saunders' previous comedy work.[22]

She also wrote the script for the Spice Girls-based jukebox musical Viva Forever!

In 2013, Saunders starred as Connie in the BBC adaptation of Blandings by P. G. Wodehouse. In 2017, Saunders appeared on the Simpsons episode "Looking for Mr. Goodbart" as an elderly woman accompanied around by Bart.[23]

She appeared on stage in the production of Noël Cowards play ‘Blithe Spirit’ as eccentric clairvoyant Madam Arcati, which first opened at Theatre Royal Bath in June 2019, and after a short tour of England it later transferred to the Duke of York’s Theatre, London in March 2020. Two weeks into its run, performances were cancelled due to the pandemic.

She reprised the role in Autumn 2021 for 8 weeks in the West End at The Harold Pinter Theatre.


Saunders has also appeared in several films, such as In the Bleak Midwinter (1995), Muppet Treasure Island (1996), Fanny & Elvis (1999), and also made cameo appearances in the Spice Girls' film Spice World (1997) and Absolument fabuleux (2001), a French film based on Absolutely Fabulous.[2][24]

In the animated film, Shrek 2, she provided the voice of the Fairy Godmother and singing the songs "The Fairy Godmother Song" and "Holding Out for a Hero". Her part took only four days to record.[4] The sequel broke the first Shrek's own box office record in the U.S in just a fortnight,[4] and it proceeded to make $353 million in just three weeks in the U.S.[25]

Her role won the People's Choice Award for the best movie villain in 2005.[26] She voiced Miss Spink in the animated film Coraline, in which her comedy partner Dawn French voiced a character called Miss Forcible. In 2015, she voiced Queen Elizabeth II in the animated film Minions,[27][28] and in 2016, she voiced Miss Nana Noodleman in the animated film Sing.

Personal life[edit]

Saunders married Adrian Edmondson on 11 May 1985, in Cheshire. They have three daughters and four grandchildren.

In July 2010, Saunders announced that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer the previous October,[29] and was in remission following a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy.[30]

In 2012, Saunders and Edmondson became grandparents when their eldest daughter, Ella, gave birth to a boy.[31] , she had her second son in 2014 and her third child,[32] a daughter, was born in 2016. In 2019, their fourth grandchild was born when their middle daughter Beattie gave birth to a daughter[33]

Saunders published her autobiography, Bonkers: My Life in Laughs, in October 2013.[34]

She has volunteered for Dress for Success, a non-profit organisation which gives free clothes and advice about job interviews to women who are unemployed.[35]

Awards and recognition[edit]

Along with Dawn French, Saunders declined an OBE in 2001.[36][37]

In 2003, she was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy.[38] Saunders was placed 93rd out of E!'s 100 Sexiest British Stars. She also came 18th for Best British Role Models for teenage girls in Britain according to Good Housekeeping Magazine.[citation needed]

Saunders was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Exeter in July 2007.[39] In July 2011, she was awarded an honorary doctorate by Edge Hill University.[40]

In 2005, Saunders was named the fourth funniest woman in Britain in a poll of 4,000 women.[41] To date, she has been nominated for and received many awards, including:



  • 1993: BAFTA Television Award for Best Light Entertainment Performance for – Absolutely Fabulous[43]
  • 1993: British Comedy Award for Best Comedy Actress – Absolutely Fabulous[50]
  • 1994: British Comedy Award for Best TV Comedy Actress – Absolutely Fabulous[citation needed]
  • 1995: BAFTA Television Award for Best Comedy Series for – Absolutely Fabulous (shared with Jon Plowman and Bob Spiers)[51]
  • 1996: BAFTA Television Award for Best Comedy Series for – Absolutely Fabulous (shared with Jon Plowman and Bob Spiers)[52]
  • 1997: BAFTA Television Award for Best Comedy Series for – Absolutely Fabulous (shared with Jon Plowman, Bob Spiers and Janice Thomas)[53]



Year Programme Role Notes
The Comic Strip Presents... Various characters Main cast
30 episodes (plus 6 specials)
1982–1984 The Young Ones Helen Mucus/Sue 2 episodes: "Interesting" and "Time"
1985 Happy Families Granny Fuddle
1985–1986 Girls on Top Jennifer Marsh 13 episodes
1987–2007 French and Saunders Various characters Main cast (48 episodes)
Absolutely Fabulous Edina Monsoon Also creator and writer
35 episodes (plus 4 aired specials)
1996 Roseanne 1 episode: "Satan, Darling"
1998 Friends Andrea Waltham 2 episodes: "The One with Ross's Wedding: Part Two" and "The One After Ross Says Rachel"
1999 Let Them Eat Cake Colombine 6 episodes
2000 Mirrorball Vivienne Keill TV pilot
2006–2009 Jam & Jerusalem Caroline Martin
2007 The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle Vivienne Vyle 6 episodes
2011–2014 This is Jinsy Miss Reason
2012 Dead Boss Governor Margaret 6 episodes
2013–2014 Blandings Lady Constance Keeble 13 episodes
2014 The Boy in the Dress Miss Windsor TV Movie
2015–present Josh Judith 3 episodes
2017 The Simpsons Phoebe Voice, 1 episode: "Looking for Mr. Goodbart"
Grandpa's Great Escape Miss Dandy TV Movie
Joanna & Jennifer: Absolutely Champers[54] Herself/co-presenter One-off BBC Documentary, co-presented by Joanna Lumley
2018 RHS Chelsea Flower Show Herself Presenter, 1 episode: "The A-Z of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show"
2019 Moominvalley Mymble Voice, in production
2019–present There's Something About Movies Team captain Series 2–present
2020 The Stranger Heidi Netflix mini-series
The Graham Norton Show Guest Series 28: Episode 10[55]
Jennifer Saunders’ Memory Lane Presenter One-off ITV special[56]


Year Film Role Notes
1985 The Supergrass Lesley Reynolds
1987 Eat the Rich Lady Caroline
1995 In the Bleak Midwinter Nancy Crawford
1996 Muppet Treasure Island Mrs. Bluveridge
1997 Spice World Fashionable Woman
2001 Absolument fabuleux Herself French adaptation of the series; cameo appearance
2004 Shrek 2 Fairy Godmother Voice
2009 Coraline Miss April Spink
2015 Minions Elizabeth II
2016 Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie Edina Monsoon Also writer
Sing/Sing 2 Nana Noodleman Voice
2018 Chuck Steel: Night of the Trampires Dr. Alex Cular
Patrick Maureen
2019 Isn't It Romantic Natalie's mother
2022 Death on the Nile Marie van Schuyler Post-production



  • Absolutely Fabulous: Continuity
  • Absolutely Fabulous (scripts from the show)
  • Absolutely Fabulous 2 (more scripts from the show)
  • A Feast of French and Saunders (with Dawn French)
  • Bonkers: My Life in Laughs (Viking, 2013)


  1. ^ Autobiography "Bonkers: My Life in Laughs"
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Hannah Hamad. Jennifer Saunders — Retrieved 4 October 2007.
  3. ^ Editors at The Times. Birthdays The Times. Retrieved 5 October 2007.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Decca Aitkenhead. What are you looking at? The Guardian. Retrieved 15 November 2021.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Chrissy Iley. "Farewell French and Saunders", The Times; retrieved 15 November 2021.
  6. ^ Griffiths, Sian (12 July 2015). "Forget university. It's jobs for the top girls". The Times. Retrieved 15 November 2021.
  7. ^ Editors at Teletronic. Dawn French — Retrieved 4 October 2007. Archived 20 January 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ William Langley. "'We know how to use our mighty weight and the power of a full and voluptuous body'"[dead link],; retrieved 6 December 2007.
  9. ^ "Home Cinema @ The Digital Fix - The Comic Strip Presents - The Complete Collection in July". DVD 4 July 2005. Retrieved 7 October 2010.
  10. ^ Neil Wilkes. "'Comic Strip' returns to Channel 4", DigitalSpy; retrieved 15 November 2021.
  11. ^ BFI
  12. ^ IMDB
  13. ^ Editors at Screen Online. Dawn French",; retrieved 10 May 2007.
  14. ^ James Welsh."'Ab Fab' stars receive GLBT Pride award", DigitalSpy; retrieved 15 November 2021.
  15. ^ Rosie Millard. "Absolutely no more TV sketch shows, darlings", The Times ; retrieved 15 November 2021.
  16. ^ Press Release. BBC America to co-produce new comedies with Jennifer Saunders,; retrieved 5 October 2007.
  17. ^ Chater, David (18 November 2006). "TV Choice". Times – via Factiva.
  18. ^ Carol Midgley. "Jennifer Saunders and Dr Tanya Byron take on the chat shows", The Times; retrieved 15 November 2021.
  19. ^ Ed Stafford. "Comedy preview: French & Saunders: Still Alive",, 11 October 2008; accessed 18 December 2017.
  20. ^ "Top Gear - Celebrity Laps". Archived from the original on 19 April 2012. Retrieved 11 April 2014.
  21. ^ "BBC Three - Dead Boss - Margaret". Archived from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 11 April 2014.
  22. ^ Tarley, Rachel (14 June 2012). "Dead Boss producers: We begged Jennifer Saunders to be on the show". Retrieved 11 April 2014.
  23. ^ "Jennifer Saunders". IMDb. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  24. ^ Kimberley Dadds Spice Girls: Timeline, Digital Spy; accessed 15 November 2021.
  25. ^ Fiona Morrow. Jennifer Saunders profile, The Times; retrieved 5 October 2007.
  26. ^ Daniel Saney. People's Choice Awards presented Digital Spy. Retrieved 15 November 2021.
  27. ^ White, James (15 May 2015). "New Minions Promo Drops Online". Empire Online. Retrieved 15 November 2021.
  28. ^ "Trailer: 'Minions' spin-off from 'Despicable Me' series". Yahoo! News. 4 November 2014. Retrieved 26 May 2015.
  29. ^ "Jennifer Saunders's secret cancer battle". The Age. Melbourne. 9 July 2010. Retrieved 9 July 2010.
  30. ^ "Jennifer Saunders reveals her breast cancer fight". BBC News. 8 July 2010. Retrieved 7 October 2010.
  31. ^ "Ella Rose Edmondson (ellaedmondson) on Twitter". Retrieved 28 July 2014.
  32. ^ "Twitter/ellaedmondson: Well I'm now a mother of two". 11 February 2014. Retrieved 11 April 2014.
  33. ^ "Jennifer Saunders' daughter gives birth". Female First. 20 June 2019. Retrieved 5 October 2020.
  34. ^ "Bonkers: My Life in Laughs". Penguin Australia. Archived from the original on 3 December 2013. Retrieved 9 October 2013.
  35. ^ Emma Barnett, Dress for Success: the charity quietly getting British women back into work, The Daily Telegraph, 18 October 2012.
  36. ^ Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. It is an honour to stand among the refuseniks — Retrieved 11 May 2007.
  37. ^ "Leak reveals honours snubs". BBC News. 21 December 2003. Retrieved 11 April 2014.
  38. ^ The A-Z of laughter (Part II), The Guardian; retrieved 15 November 2021.
  39. ^ "Uni bestows honorary doctorates",; retrieved 6 May 2008.
  40. ^ "Jennifer Saunders awarded honorary degree by Edge Hill university". BBC News Online. BBC. 21 July 2011. Retrieved 23 July 2011.
  41. ^ Daniel Saney."Victoria Wood Britain's funniest woman", Digital Spy; retrieved 15 November 2021.
  42. ^ "Writers' Guild Awards 1990". Writers' Guild of Great Britain. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  43. ^ a b List of BAFTA awards for 1992 Bafta web site
  44. ^ "Writers' Guild Awards 1992". Writers' Guild of Great Britain. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  45. ^ Guide, British Comedy. "The British Comedy Awards British Comedy Awards 1993 – British Comedy Guide". British Comedy Guide. Retrieved 10 May 2017.
  46. ^ "Golden Rose for French and Saunders". BBC News. 17 April 2002. Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  47. ^ "2005: Nominees and Winners". People's Choice. Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  48. ^ British Academy of Film and Television Arts Fellowship Archived 24 April 2009 at the Wayback Machine presented on Sunday 26 April 2009.
  49. ^ List of Award winners for 2012",; accessed 18 December 2017.
  50. ^ "BBC due for an Absolutely Fabulous awards time". The Stage. 25 November 1993. Retrieved 7 October 2018 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  51. ^ List of Award winners for 1994,, 18 December 2017.
  52. ^ List of Award winners for 1995,; accessed 18 December 2017.
  53. ^ List of Award winners for 1996,; accessed 18 December 2017.
  54. ^ "IMDB".
  55. ^ "The Graham Norton Show". Retrieved 17 December 2020.
  56. ^ "Jennifer Saunders' Memory Lane". Retrieved 15 December 2020.

External links[edit]