Jennifer Saunders to play mad prison boss

As 'a sexual Margaret Thatcher'

Jennifer Saunders is to play an unhinged prison governor, described as ‘a sexual Margaret Thatcher’ in the new BBC Three sitcom Dead Boss

Filming has begun on the show, written by Pulling creator Sharon Horgan and stand-up Holly Walsh, and formerly known as both Bitches and Life Story.

It stars Horgan as as an inmate falsely imprisoned for murdering her boss while Saunders portrays Margaret as ‘a woman of culture and elegance who finds playing mind games with guards and prisoners to be good for her morale’ – and ‘probably even more psychotic than any inmate in Broadmarsh’, the fictional setting of the sitcom.

Last year, Saunders gave a Baby Jane-influenced interpretation of Baroness Thatcher in the Comic Strip’s The Hunt For Tony Blair.

Bryony Hannah – who outshone Keira Knightly in the West End production of The Children’s Hour last year, plays Helen’s cellmate, an arsonist; while Geoffrey McGivern – the original Ford Prefect – plays a hapless lawyer and familiar comedy actor Tom Goodman-Hill will be one of the guards.

Also in the cast is Lizzie Roper, who plays a leader of a gang whose members include Scottish stand-up Susan Calman. Caroline Quentin also has a guest role.

Walsh said the style was influenced by ‘comedy films that went for big jokes like Police Squad, Stir Crazy and The Other Guys. We wanted to make something with big, colourful characters – like a John Waters film. We spent ages casting for people who were not only great comic actors but also had really expressive faces.’

‘Helen deals with her time in prison by being naively optimistic and ridiculously self-righteous’ Walsh adds. ‘She's convinced that the truth will out. She reveals her innermost thoughts and fears to a murderer on Death Row in Kansas via weekly postcards. Her biggest concern is getting out of prison and getting bloody married.

‘However, no one on the outside is that keen to help her out.’

Jeremy Dyson is script consultant while his League of Gentlemen director Steve Bendelack is also in charge of shooting this.

Walsh adds: ‘We went for high stakes and gags – we wanted big, laugh out loud moments. The idea of writing something where all the characters were both good and bad mixed together really tickled us.

‘It's also worth noting that none of this is based on reality. Neither of us have been to prison – Sharon has killed but never been punished.’

Dead Boss is currently shooting in London and expected to be broadcast in April.

Published: 19 Feb 2012

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