French and Saunders

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.

French and Saunders
French and Saunders
Created byDawn French
Jennifer Saunders
StarringFrench & Saunders
Country of originUnited Kingdom
No. of series6
No. of episodes48 (regular)
12 (compilation) (list of episodes)
Running timeVarious
Original networkBBC Two (1987–1993)
BBC One (1994 onwards)
Original release9 March 1987 
25 December 2017
External links

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. 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.


Background (1978–1987)

Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders met in 1978 while they were undergraduate students at the Royal 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 alternative 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 later 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)

In 1987, French and Saunders created their eponymous sketch show, which has carried over six series up until 2007. Their show began humbly, but immediately established its own niche as a spoof on other types of shows. In the first series, 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 series 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, especially following a move from BBC Two to BBC One from 1994 onwards, 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 Star Pets ("What a lovely dog Lady Fortescue I bet he 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.


French and Saunders first broadcast on 9 March 1987 on BBC2, with the first series consisting of six episodes. With its popularity and high ratings, a second series commenced on 4 March 1988, followed by a Christmas special in late 1988. The third, fourth and fifth series', which broadcast between 1990 and 1996, and all consisting each of seven episodes, relied heavily on movie parodies, and some music parodies, alongside their own material such as the sketch "Modern Mother and Daughter" which spawned Saunders' popular sitcom Absolutely Fabulous in 1992. Classic movies parodied include What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, The Exorcist, Misery, The Silence of the Lambs, Thelma & Louise, Braveheart, and Pulp Fiction. A second Christmas special was screened in 1994, between the fourth and fifth series. For the next several years the series included only Christmas and Easter specials; in 1998, a new special, "The Making of Titanic", was broadcast at Christmas and featured a spoof on the behind-the-scenes and making of James Cameron's 1997 film Titanic, with Dawn French as Jack and Jennifer Saunders as Rose. Five further specials, including spoofs on the films Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace and Love Actually, had been broadcast from 1999 to 2003, before the sixth and final series in 2004, and an additional Christmas special in 2005. A total of 48 episodes (not including the compilation episodes) have been broadcast between 1987 and 2005.

The series additionally consisted of compilation specials starting in 1995 with the two-part "French and Saunders Go To the Movies", which highlighted their movie parodies from the series. A second two-part compilation special, "I Can't Believe it's Music" and "I Can't Believe it's Not Music" from 2005 showcased their classic music parodies from singers such as Alanis Morissette, ABBA, The Corrs, Guns N'Roses, and Björk. In 2007, the compilation series, "A Bucket o' French and Saunders", which featured new material, aside from the classic clips, was broadcast to highlight the 20th anniversary of the series. However, this proved unpopular with viewers and the initial seven-part series was edited down to six episodes. On 25 December 2017, a new compilation special, "300 Years of French and Saunders", marked the 30th anniversary of the series, and again consisted mainly of classic clips, while new material featured spoofs of Gogglebox and Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

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

  • The Extras: who are always trying to upstage the actors in whatever they're in.
  • Dot and May: Two farm workers who are owners of ever-failing questionable enterprises including; 'Star Pets', 'Star Vegetables', 'Prickly Pear Park' and 'Pet Cemetery'.
  • Junior and Emma: Public school girls who have been abandoned by their parents and stay at school during the holidays.
  • Jim & Jim – Dirty Old Men: Whether at the pub, in front of the telly, or trying out for panto, they think they're God's gift to women and sexually harass any woman they meet.
  • The Fat Women Aristocrats: Living in a country house, they spend their days at the races, drinking whiskey, getting severe injuries and brushing them off as minor incidents. They also insult anybody who interferes in their business.
  • Madonna: is often mentioned in the shows but infrequently parodied apart from a mockumentary ('In Bed With Madonna') and skits such as Mother Madonna and Muscly Madonna.
  • Jackie and Leanne: Young women who are drama queens and are obsessed with catalogue shopping. They also put too much effort into organising a wedding or holiday.
  • Lananeeneenoonoo: are a parody of Bananarama they've done on the show as well as live on Comic Relief.
  • Dancers: they try out different dancing styles (Irish jig, Flappers, 90's Clubbers, 60's Disco, 50's sock hoppers) the dancing always goes wrong in the end.
  • Mother and Daughter: they take turns playing each, the daughter always gets into trouble or a dispute with her mother.
  • Special Effects Specialists: who excel in making the worst props ever used in such big budget parodies as Titanic, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and Troy.
  • TV Host & Expert: one natters on with vapid introductions, transitions and interviews; while the other spouts off pointless expertise showing them to be completely clueless.
  • Daniel & Terry: chain-smoking, bitchy, camp hairdressers to the stars.
  • Elizabethan Women: Two women who are unhygienic and enjoy living a backwards peasant way of life. They either cook disgusting recipes using urine or go to the bar and gossip about the locals.
  • White Room: usually as themselves (Dawn & Jennifer) in a white living room; Dawn always enters with an outrageous assertion about herself, while Jennifer usually sits on the sofa and makes her feel unwelcome.


The single cover for "Help!" featuring French, Saunders, and Burke (Lananeeneenoonoo) with the real Bananarama
Background information
OriginUnited Kingdom
Years active1988-1989
LabelsLondon Records
Associated actsBananarama
Past membersDawn French
Jennifer Saunders
Kathy Burke

Lananeeneenoonoo was a British spoof all-girl group consisting of comedians Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders and Kathy Burke. The group, and its name, was a spoof on the popular group Bananarama and was introduced during the 1988 Christmas special of "French & Saunders", in which Burke was a guest.

In 1989, along with Bananarama, they created a charity single called "Help", to raise money for Comic Relief. It was a cover version of the Beatles' song "Help!", and was released on the London Records label, entering the UK Singles Chart on 25 February 1989 and reaching a high of No. 3. It remained in the chart for nine weeks.

The Sugar Lumps

French, Saunders and Burke returned for Comic Relief in 1997 as the Sugar Lumps, along with Llewella Gideon and Lulu, to parody the Spice Girls, with whom they performed a version of Who Do You Think You Are.[2][3]

Side projects and spin-off series

Featuring French and Saunders

Featuring French

Featuring Saunders

Video and DVD releases

UK video

  • French and Saunders The Video (Best of Series 1 & 2) (1990)
  • French and Saunders Live (4 Front Video) (1991)
  • French and Saunders Series 3 (1993)
  • French and Saunders at the Movies (Best of Series 4) (1994)


  • French and Saunders Live (Universal) (2001)
  • The Best of French and Saunders (or Gentlemen Prefer French and Saunders) (2002)
  • French and Saunders at the Movies (also includes the 1999 Christmas Special) (2005)
  • French and Saunders: Complete Series 1–6 (2008)
  • French and Saunders: Still Alive (2008)

USA video

  • French and Saunders At The Movies (1997)
  • Gentlemen Prefer French and Saunders (1997)
  • French and Saunders Ingenue Years (1998)
  • French and Saunders Living In A Material World (1998)


  • Gentlemen Prefer French and Saunders (2002)
  • French and Saunders At The Movies (2002)
  • French and Saunders The Ingenue Years (2003)
  • French and Saunders Living In A Material World (2003)
  • French and Saunders On The Rocks (2005)
  • French and Saunders Back With A Vengeance (2005)

Australian video

  • French and Saunders: Series 3 – Complete and Un-edited(ish) – (Part One) (1993)[4]
  • French and Saunders: The Best of Series 4 (1994)[5]
  • French and Saunders: Series 3 – Complete and Un-edited(ish) – (Part Two) (1996) [6]
  • French and Saunders: Live (2002)

Australian DVD

  • French and Saunders: Live (2003)
  • French and Saunders At The Movies (with 1999 Christmas Special) (2005)
  • BBC Presents "The Best of: French and Saunders" (2005)
  • French and Saunders: Complete Series 1–6 (2008)
  • French and Saunders: Still Alive – The Farewell Tour (2008)[7]
  • French And Saunders: Series One Episodes 1–3 (Comedy Bites) (4 March 2010)
  • Dawn French Bundle (2011)

International broadcasters

CountryTV Network(s)
AustraliaABC (first runs) UK.TV/The Comedy Channel (repeats)
CanadaBBCK on BBC Kids
FranceArte (first runs), Pink TV (France) (repeats)
GermanyEinsFestival, Arte
New ZealandUK.TV
PortugalRTP2 (first runs), BBC Prime/BBC Entertainment (repeats)
SingaporeBBC Entertainment
ThailandBBC Entertainment
United StatesBBC America


  1. The TV Museum Youtube channel: a trailer for the programme, transmitted 6 October 1983, appears on their YouTube website
  2. Rice, Tim; Rice, Jonathan; Gambaccini, Paul (1990), Guinness Book of British Hit Singles & Albums, Enfield, Middlesex: Guinness World Records and Guinness Publishing, ISBN 0-85112-398-8
  3. Brown, Joe (1989), Girls Just Wanna Make Bucks, Washington post, archived from the original on 5 November 2012, retrieved 30 July 2009
  4. Australian Board of Classification Archived 27 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  5. Australian Board of Classification Archived 27 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  6. Australian Board of Classification Archived 27 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  7. Australian Board of Classification Archived 27 February 2009 at the Wayback Machine
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