Fab to be back, darling

Lumley and Saunders discuss their sitcom's return

Five years after downing their last Bolly, Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone are back for another run of Absolutely Fabulous - but the new series proved a little more difficult to write than the last.

"I didn't consciously update the characters," says creator Jennifer Saunders, "but there are such different things to write about now.

"But it was much more difficult this time around because people are less extreme now. New Age stuff, the whole holistic thing, has all become sort of routine. The spiritual thing has died down and everybody's much more up for the quick fix. They don't want to work too hard - they'd rather lie on a massage table than chant for six hours. Even the word 'ayurvedic' is all over Boots."

Saunders made the decision to resurrect the show after the Ab Fab team reunited for Mirrorball last Christmas.

"We had such a great time that we all wanted to work together again, and it also felt like there was something missing," she says. "Sometimes when you do something new, you feel like you're cancelling something else out. When I sat down to write new characters, I felt Edina and Patsy vying for my attention."

In the end, she gave in, which came as great news for the show's legions of fans.

Repeats of the first three series have attracted huge audiences across the globe, there have been constant calls for an Ab Fab feature film and the States is about to get its own version, reportedly starring Kirstie Allie as Eddy and Jerry Hall as Pats.

"It's been very successful in America, says Jennifer. "Last series, Comedy Central threw us a party. I was there with my drab old mousy hair, wearing a leather jacket and was completely ignored the whole evening because there were 6ft Patsys and Edinas trampling all over me, going: 'Excuse me, she's gonna be here in a minute, excuse me..!' In the end I thought: 'Better not own up, just let them think I'm not here at all..

"This idea of celebrity is probably the biggest change in the new series," Jennifer explains. "Eddy's now got Radical TV, a production company, because it seems everyone has one of those. It's turned into a world of presenters - minor celebrities famous for reading off the autocue."

Hence the arrival of new character Katy Grin, Bubble's cousin (and also played by Jane Horrocks) and Eddy's business partner, who's making a last-ditch attempt to avoid the inevitable slide into infomercial oblivion.

Katy's plight of the "insecure presenter who goes to trendy bars just so they can hang out with other celebrities", is made all the more desperate, says Jennifer, as "the really big celebs, just hang out at their local".

Similarly, once filming is over, Saunders is more likely to be found hanging out with husband Ade Edmondson, and their children, Beattie, 15, Ella, 14, and Freya, 11, than with the glitterati. Even the family's forthcoming holiday is trendily low-key.

"We've got a nice two weeks with the kids in Greece as soon as this is finished. Can't wait," the 42-year-old sighs.

On the other hand, holidays are the last thing on the mind of co-star Joanna Lumley.

"I'm not a great holiday merchant, though I quite like desert islands," she laughs, referring to her real life exotic exile in 1994's Girl Friday. "I think I was quite lucky to be on my own, though. It would have been ghastly if I'd been stuck there with other people. Hell is other people.

"I saw some of Castaway last year, and there seemed to have been some particularly dreadful people in that. I'm sure a lot of people could have made a real go of it, but then if they'd built houses and planted vegetables, we'd all have hated it. Give us the trouble and strife!"

Lumley says she feels bitter towards those who have jumped on the reality TV bandwagon - but only because they beat her to it.

"I'm kicking myself," she says. "I came up with the idea of a channel called Me TV about five years ago, which was literally just cameras filming ordinary people who think they're stars just because they're on television. And that's what it's turned into!

"It's just like on Blind Date, which I have to watch because it's so unutterably awful, I love it. They sit there with their trite, unfunny lines and everybody goes 'Woooo!'. They're the kind of people who would just want to shine on Me TV - they're so completely self-obsessed, it's fascinating."

Joanna, who lives in south London with her husband, composer Stephen Barlow, says it's good to be back on Ab Fab.

"It's smashing," she says. "The world has moved on five years and a lot of things have changed but Patsy hasn't. In fact, she's slightly younger - she's now 42 and she's also had a promotion so she does even less work."

Quite how Patsy has managed to hit the heady heights of editor of her magazine remains as much as a mystery as her flexible date of birth, but the Anna Wintours of this world can relax.

"She's really not modelled on anyone," says Lumley. "People always clamber to claim that the characters are based on them but that happens with successful shows. Everybody knows a Del Boy, everybody knows a Rodney, and everybody knows an Edina, Patsy and Saffy."

The secret of Patsy's appeal is not hard to pin down. Lumley has described her as "tragically vile" and "born without brakes". She doesn't know when she's gone over the top and she doesn't care.

"She's good fun to play, she wears some nice clothes, she gets some good lines and people like old Pats. I don't think she's very badly behaved in this series - I've done nothing outrageous at all yet," the 55-year-old actress says with mock indignation.

"Patsy's a complete character. I understand her completely and when I do it, I am her, and I know how she'll respond to things. But I think that people outside know more about this show than those of us inside! People often come up and say lines to me and I don't know what they're talking about. I never watch the programmes and you forget the scripts, while other people have got them all on video - which is great, and just as it should be - but I'm looking at them completely blankly."

Committing Patsy's venomous putdowns to memory is but the tip of the iceberg for some of Joanna's more devoted fans, however.

"For years I've wanted to go to the Sydney Mardi Gras because they're crazy about Patsy over there and during the parade they even have floats dedicated solely to her," she laughs. "They're terrific, they really are. I think they all look much better than I do - I've seen pictures of them and they all look grand."

If only she was a holiday person, she could well visit - it would be, well, absolutely fabulous.

First published:August 28, 2001

Published: 22 Mar 2009

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