Jennifer Jane Saunders (born 6 July 1958) is a two-time BAFTA, International Emmy Award , British Comedy Award, Rose d'Or Light Entertainment Festival Award, two-time Writers' Guild of Great Britain Award, and Peoples Choice Award winning English comedienne, screenwriter, singer and actress.She first came into widespread attention in the 1980s and early 1990s when she became a member of The Comic Strip after graduating from the Central School of Speech and Drama. Along with her comedy partner Dawn French, she proceeded to write and star in their eponymous sketch show, French & Saunders, and received international acclaim for writing and playing the lead role of Edina Monsoon in the BBC sitcom Absolutely Fabulous.
In her other work, she has guest starred in the American sitcoms Roseanne and Friends, and won the American People's Choice Award for voicing the wicked Fairy Godmother in DreamWorks' animated Shrek 2. More recently, she wrote and starred in Jam & Jerusalem and The Life and Times of Vivienne Vyle.
Saunders was born in Sleaford, Lincolnshire on 6 July 1958. Her mother was a biology teacher, and her father served as a pilot in the Royal Air Force (RAF) and reached the rank of Air Marshal. He then went on to work for British Aerospace.Because her father was in the armed forces, Saunders moved to different schools many times. She was educated from the age of five to eighteen in boarding schools and then at St Paul's Girls' School, a prestigious independent school in west London. After school, she worked for a year in Italy as an au pair.
She later received a place at the Central School of Speech and Drama in London on a drama teachers' course in 1977, where she met her future comedy partner, Dawn French. Both came from RAF backgrounds. They had grown up on the same base, even having had the same best friend, without ever meeting. The comic duo originally did not get on well at first, and as far as Saunders was concerned, French was a "cocky little upstart". The distrust was mutual; French considered Saunders snooty and uptight. French actually wanted to become a drama teacher,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. Saunders was shocked to find that she was actually taking courses to become a teacher, as her mother had filled out the application form. Her mother however, was saddened when Saunders chose not to apply for an Oxbridge university education.After the initial friction, whilst at college, Saunders and French 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." The two later performed together after graduation, working the festival, cabaret, 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". The manager of the club where they performed recalled that, "They didn't seem to give a damn. There was no star quality about them at all
Saunders and French 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 until that point only had male performers. When they walked into the audition they were immediately told "You're booked. When can you start?".
Both Saunders and French became ongoing members of The Comic Strip, along with many of the comedians who were to become their generation's most well-known comedy performers, including Peter Richardson, Rik Mayall, and Robbie Coltrane, as well as Saunders' future husband Adrian Edmondson. The group performed at the Boulevard Theatre, above Soho's Raymond Revuebar, with regular audience members Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson and Robin Williams, who once joined in the performance. By the time French & Saunders became members of The Comic Strip, French was already working as a drama teacher, whilst Saunders was on the dole and spending a lot of her time sleeping in bed.
1980s and 1990sEditThe 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. In the episodes "Bad News" and "More Bad News", Saunders plays a trashy rock journalist touring with the fictional heavy metal band Bad News. 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. 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. She also appeared twice as guest on The Young Ones.
In 1987, she and French created French & Saunders, a popular sketch comedy series for the BBC, which aired until 2007. By the end of the 1980s, the show was an established comedy programme and became a staple in BBC viewing. Saunders has appeared in Amnesty International's The Secret Policeman's Biggest Ball live benefit in 1989, along with Dawn French and others.Both Saunders and French proceeded to follow separate careers as well as maintaining their comedy sketch show. Saunders' biggest solo success to date is 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. 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. The show ran for five full series, a two-part film and three special episodes over the course of thirteen years from 1992 to 2005.The series is also known as Ab Fab and was broadcast in the United States on Comedy Central and BBC America, becoming cult viewing.
Saunders has appeared on the American sitcoms Roseanne, playing Edina Monsoon in the episode "Satan, Darling", and Friends as Andrea Waltham, the stepmother of Emily, Ross Geller's fiancée, in the episodes "The One After Ross Says Rachel" and "The One with Ross's Wedding". In 1999, she appeared alongside French in Let Them Eat Cake.
|“||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
Saunders is currently listed as the fifth fastest "Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car" on BBC 2's Top Gear with a time of 1:46.1s. A self-confessed petrolhead, she has a passion for Alfa Romeo, and has so far owned four.
Saunders has also appeared in several films during her comedy career, such as In the Bleak Midwinter (1995), Muppet Treasure Island (1996), Fanny & Elvis (1999) and also made cameo appearances in the Spice Girls's film Spice World (1997) and Absolument fabuleux (2001), a French film based on Absolutely Fabulous.She most notably appeared in the internationally successful DreamWorks animated movie Shrek 2 in 2004, voicing Princess Fiona's evil Fairy Godmother and performing the song "Holding Out for a Hero". Her part took four days to record. The sequel broke the first Shrek's own box office record in the U.S in just a fortnight,and it proceeded to make $353 million in just three weeks in the U.S. Her role won the American People's Choice Award for the best movie villain in 2005. She also voiced Miss Spink in the animated film Coraline, in which Dawn French also voiced a character called Miss Forcible.
Saunders married Adrian Edmondson on 11 May 1985 in Cheshire. They have three daughters: Eleanor "Ella" Rose (born 22 January 1986, Hammersmith, London), Beatrice "Beattie" Louise (born 19 June 1987, Kensington and Chelsea, London), and Freya Domenica (born 16 October 1990, Wandsworth, London). Beatrice followed in her father's footsteps and studied drama at the University of Manchester where she became a member of all-female comedy troupe Lady Garden. All three of Saunders' daughters have appeared in Jam and Jerusalem.
Saunders currently owns a £1 million property with 45 acres (180,000 m2) of land in Chagford, Devon as well as a home in London. Edmondson and Saunders were estimated to be worth £11 million in 2002. In July 2010, she revealed that she was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2009, after finding a breast lump. She had a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. In June 2010 her treatment ended, and she was given an initial all-clear. She has now fully recovered.
Awards and recognitionEdit
Along with Dawn French, Saunders declined an OBE in 2001. In 2003, she was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy. Saunders 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. Saunders was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Exeter in July 2007. According to Forbes magazine, Saunders is the 26th most influential female British export. In 2005, she was named the fourth funniest woman in Britain in a poll of 4,000 women. To date, she has been nominated for and received many awards throughout her comedy career including:
- 1991: Writers' Guild of Great Britain Award for TV Light Entertainment - French & Saunders
- 1993: BAFTA Award for Best Comedy - Absolutely Fabulous
- 1993: Writers' Guild of Great Britain Award TV for Situation Comedy - Absolutely Fabulous
- 1994: International Emmy Award for popular arts - Absolutely Fabulous
- 2002: Honorary Rose Award - awarded with Dawn French
- 2005: People's Choice Award for Best Movie Villain - Shrek 2
- 2009: BAFTA Fellowship - awarded with Dawn French
- 1993: BAFTA Award for Best Light Entertainment Performance - Absolutely Fabulous
- 1993: British Comedy Award for Best Comedy Actress - Absolutely Fabulous
- 1994: British Comedy Award for Best TV Comedy Actress - Absolutely Fabulous
- 1995: BAFTA Award for Best Comedy - Absolutely Fabulous
- 1996: BAFTA Award for Best Comedy - Absolutely Fabulous
- 1997: BAFTA Award for Best Comedy - Absolutely Fabulous
Comic Strip Filmography
- Five Go Mad in Dorset (2 November 1982) - Anne
- War (3 January 1983) - Chas/Marilyn/Captain/Drunk
- The Beat Generation (17 January 1983) - Anne
- Bad News Tour (24 January 1983) - Sally
- Summer School (31 January 1983) - Liz
- Five Go Mad on Mescalin (2 November 1983) - Anne
- Dirty Movie (7 January 1984) - June
- Susie (14 January 1984) - Lorna
- A Fistful of Travellers' Cheques (21 January 1984) - Shona/Second Nun/Horse Rider
- Gino: Full Story and Pics (28 January 1984) - Angie
- Eddie Monsoon, a Life (4 February 1984) - Doreen
- Slags (11 February 1984) - Little Sister , Writer (written by)
- Consuela, or, the New Mrs. Saunders (1 January 1986) - Jessica , Writer (written by) (as Saunders)
- Private Enterprise (2 January 1986) - Debbie
- The Strike (20 February 1988) - Meryl Streep
- More Bad News (27 February 1988) - Sally
- Mr. Jolly Lives Next Door (5 March 1988) - Monica
- South Atlantic Raiders: Part 1 (1 February 1990) - Cathy
- South Atlantic Raiders: Part 2 Argie Bargie! (8 February 1990) - Cathy
- GLC: The Carnage Continues... (15 February 1990) - Ice Maiden
- Oxford (22 February 1990) - Hannah
- Spaghetti Hoops (1 March 1990) - Maria
- Red Nose of Courage (9 April 1992) - Margaret Thatcher
- Wild Turkey (24 December 1992) - Neighbour
- Space Virgins from Planet Sex (29 April 1993) - Needle
- Demonella (20 May 1993) - The Devil
- Jealousy (27 May 1993) - Jane Margory
- Four Men in a Car (12 April 1998) - Helen