Sweetie, darling: pour me a glass of Bolly – just a smidge – and come and sit down so we can talk all things FABULOUS. Absolutely Fabulous, that is.
Jennifer Saunders’ satirical sitcom set in the world of fashion and PR took the world by storm when it was first broadcast in the ‘90s, with its characters, clothing and distinct lexicon becoming iconic in the process. Absolutely Fabulous has remained a firm favourite ever since – camp, quotable and quirky, the exploits of Eddie and her sidekick Patsy captured the imaginations of audiences both gay and straight everywhere.
PR guru Eddie was the world’s highest-functioning alcoholic: she rarely went into office (thanks to her friend Mr. Mobile Telephone, she was always at work), yet she ran a semi-successful PR firm and managed to hold on to a large house in London’s classy Holland Park. Her ever-present best friend and confidante Patsy (played with venomous relish by Joanna Lumley) was the enabler of the situation, a parasitic magazine fashion director with a propensity for Stoli, ciggies, cocaine and windscreen washers with buns so tight they were bouncing off the bedroom walls.
Treated less well by these two were Eddie’s long-suffering, buttoned-up daughter Saffy (an excellently deadpan Julia Sawalha), the ‘adult’ of the mother-daughter relationship and constant voice of disapproval for her mother’s shenanigans – referred to by Patsy as ‘that little bitch troll from hell’ – and Eddie’s mother (June Whitfield) a kleptomaniac who may or may not be suffering from Alzheimer’s.
These were not a likeable bunch, but we loved them anyway; Patsy’s parasitic tendencies may not have been sympathetic, but for someone whose Mother reportedly hated her and for whom home was described as ‘a little place above Oddbins’ (a UK off-licence chain), her annexing of Eddie’s life seemed fairly logical.
As well as establishing one of the most dysfunctional families ever seen on television, Ab Fab also skewered the worlds of fashion and PR with razor sharp precision – stemming from the fact that even Eddie didn’t really seem to know what she did for a living. ‘P-R!’ she says, when pressed by Saffie. ‘I PR things. People, concepts – Lulu!’
Still, whatever they did or didn’t do for a living, they always seemed to have plenty of cash to spend on ridiculous designer clothes – “Lacroix, sweety, Lacroix” – and regular trips abroad: between flying to New York simply to find a new door handle, to selling Saffie into slavery in Marrakech, bearing their breasts atop the Eiffel Tower and getting married in a ceremony presided over by Whoopi Goldberg in the Big Apple, they clocked up some serious frequent flyer miles.
As with many high-profile sitcoms, Ab Fab attracted the fandom of a number of big celebrities who all clamoured for an appearance on the show. For a show that dealt with the cult of celebrity, this was a blessing, and Saunders’ often invited them to appear in unflattering roles, such as Minnie Driver, Elton John, Kate O Mara, Erin O Connor, Twiggy and Naomi Campbell.
Ab Fab ended its initial run with ‘The Last Shout’ in 1996, in which Eddie had a near death experience and became convinced she was the messiah (God, incidentally, looks a lot like Marianne Faithful). However, the show eventually returned for two more seasons and to this day sporadically produces one-off specials – meaning you’re never far from the hilarious shenanigans of Eddie and Patsy.
And who would want to be? Absolutely Fabulous is an iconic show in many ways and for many people – but especially to the LGBT community. Maybe it was their unabashed hedonism that appealed to us; maybe we just liked looking at lovely jackets. Whatever it was, Ab Fab has made an indelible mark on our collective memories.
So, it’s goodbye aging obscurity and Hello! Magazine…