"Name a more iconic duo" is a phrase that is bandied about a lot at the moment, but it is surely true of Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders.
The comedy sketch show French and Saunders, written by and starring the iconic comedy duo, first aired in 1987 and ran for a whopping 30 years before its last episode (to date) was released in 2007. French and Saunders is a classic of British comedy, and each episode was made up of various skits featuring the eponymous duo in various roles. Each episode was just 30 minutes, but was jam packed with so many laughs that the show and its actors repeatedly won the BAFTAs for Best Light Entertainment and Best Light Entertainment Performance (as well as BAFTAs for hair and makeup design and lighting, and a range of other awards).
French and Saunders' particular brand of humour revolved around satire, and in particular satirising well known figures such as Madonna and members of the pop band The Spice Girls. One of their most famous sketches, for instance, involves them recreating famous scenes from the hit movie 'Titanic' (1997), with French taking on the role of Leonardo di Caprio and Saunders playing Kate Winslet's part. French and Saunders' overblown humour tended to be received positively even by its 'victims' - in fact, French and Saunders performed alongside The Spice Girls themselves in order to raise money for comic relief. A lot of their comedy arises from the gap between who they are and who they are pretending to be. French and Saunders have an uncanny ability to skilfully mimic a famous personage, but at the same time they remain, unmistakeably, Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders.
Though French and Saunders' topical references could have rendered their comedy dated within a few years, they picked their targets well. Viewers continue to laugh at their send-offs, and their performances are spirited, bold, self-effacing, and filled with vim and verve. As with many of the duo's solo shows (for instance, the BBC series The Vicar of Dibley, which also ran until 2007 and which starred Dawn French as a female Anglican vicar), French and Saunders was also groundbreaking: as female British comedians in the 1980s, they were blazing a trail in what remains a very male dominated world. If times have changed for women in comedy in Britain in recent decades, then we certainly have French and Saunders to thank for a substantial amount of the trailblazing that occurred in the late 20th century.
Published on December 14th, 2018. Written by L Salzman (May 2018) for Television Heaven.