Media: Let them lust after Lumley: With her eye - and ear - for a laugh, Jennifer Saunders needn't be concerned about her co-star stealing the limelight, says Jaci Stephen

At a recent event held in honour of George Cole's 100th Minder, a group of male journalists sat around a table picking at chicken breasts and demanding the waiter stop serving the wine and simply leave the bottles on the table. The scene was, as is usual at such events, a noisy and frantic one. The talk was of Absolutely Fabulous and the launch for the second series, which had taken place a few days before.

Suddenly, a voice axed through the chaos: 'Actually, I don't fancy Joanna Lumley.' Jaws cracked on to plates; eyeballs took leave of their sockets. The scene was a Bateman cartoon: The Man Who Didn't Fancy Joanna Lumley.

To many, Lumley is the undoubted star of Absolutely Fabulous. Gorgeous, pouting and undeniably sexy, she has already picked up numerous awards, including a Bafta, for her brilliant performance as Patsy: nymphomaniac, drunk and best friend of fashion PR Edina. Jennifer Saunders, who plays Edina and wrote the series, has also picked up a Bafta and an Emmy for the script, yet male television executives continue to whisper that she must be pretty peeved to have had the limelight stolen from her by her pal.

Lumley has certainly revealed herself to be a great comic actress, and the celebration of her new star status is justified. But a sitcom does not propel itself from BBC 2 to BBC 1 after one series on the strength of one performer, and to believe it does is to detract from the many other reasons behind the show's success: reasons solely to do with the imagination, vision and satirical eye of Jennifer Saunders.

Until now, Saunders has been most widely recognised and praised as part of the duo French and Saunders, where she proves not only an acute observer of human foibles and idiosyncrasies (especially those of women), but a versatile actress. Yet it is her partner, Dawn French, who seems to command most media attention. When the pair appeared recently on Des O'Connor Tonight, the host addressed most of his questions to Dawn. An insider told me that each time Jennifer spoke, Des cut across her. The edited result was virtually a tete-a-tete between Des and Dawn.

But Saunders is not just a talent in her own right, but an enabler of the talents of others. In show business terms, enablers allow others to become stars; they are the people whose sole aim is the quality of the finished product rather than self-glorification, and they will draw on the best resources they can to make that quality the highest. Saunders knew better than anyone how brilliant and successful Lumley's Patsy would be: she created her.

It is reported that when the idea of Absolutely Fabulous was first put to BBC Television's then head of comedy, Robin Nash, he said he could not see what was funny about two women getting drunk. But that's rather like saying you don't find funny the idea of a man who shouts all the time, as did Basil Fawlty; or a man who grumbles all the time, as does Victor Meldrew in One Foot in the Grave. The best comedy always exploits one particular aspect of characters' lives in order that the audience then sees the world through their eyes and empathises with them.

Absolutely Fabulous is not about two women getting drunk, despite its central characters being two women who regularly do get drunk. It is a satire on the world of public relations, a brilliant observation on aspects of female friendship (the battles with weight and men, the 'Let's go on holiday]' mentality that strikes after the first bottle of bubbly), and a hilarious exploration of the situations, both fantasy and real, in which women find themselves. The stories are well constructed, well paced and varied in tone, and the one-liners outstanding.

Most important, it is real television in that the material would not work in any other medium. Most of today's sitcoms consist of words that do little more than accompany people moving between the kitchen and the living-room, and might just as well be on radio (indeed, many of them have come from radio).

But Saunders has as good an eye for the visual joke as she does an ear for the verbal one: a pair of feet jumping on to four different weighing scales, hoping for a better result; a mobile phone in an iso-tank; a wine tasting where the bottles seem to take on the life of real characters. You could take away the sound, and still you would laugh.

In the 10 years I have been reviewing television, nothing has made me laugh as much as Absolutely Fabulous. Men will continue to drip saliva at the feet of Ms Lumley - who can blame them? - but Saunders's extraordinary imagination is the backbone of the show's success. If you see Des O'Connor, tell him.

'Absolutely Fabulous' starts tomorrow on BBC 1 at 9.30pm.

(Photograph omitted)

Life and Style
life
News
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie reportedly married in secret on Saturday
peopleSpokesperson for couple confirms they tied the knot on Saturday after almost a decade together
Life and Style
Chen Mao recovers in BK Hospital, Seoul
health
News
Joan Rivers has reportedly been hospitalised after she stopped breathing during surgery
people81-year-old 'stopped breathing' during vocal chord surgery
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Diana from the Great British Bake Off 2014
tvProducers confirm contestant left because of illness
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live
tv
Life and Style
fashion

Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

Data Feed Administrator

£15,000 - £20,000: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join...

Junior Microsoft SQL Developer

£20,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone