So was Ab Fab ab fab for you, sweetie dahlings? Did you pour yourself a Bolly Stoli or six? (For the uninitiated, that’s a cocktail of Bollinger champagne and Stolichnaya vodka.) We drank little else at my decadent 30th-birthday bash in the mid-90s…so long ago it’s a wonder I can remember. But it is a keen reminder of just how long Ab Fab has been lodged in fan psyches.
Of course, two decades on there’s no way this show could still aspire to be cutting edge. In 1992, it created a zeitgeist; now it claws to attach itself to one. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t a delight to catch up with the core characters and see Eddy’s Holland Park basement kitchen rebuilt at BBC Television Centre. It’s as instantly recognisable as the reception of Fawlty Towers or Dad’s Army’s church hall.
The first of three 20th-anniversary specials reunites Eddy, Patsy, Saffy, Bubble and Mother (aka Gran and Mrs M) for the first time since 2004. The characterisation, lines and sight gags (Saffy, not Patsy, emerging from the prison gates) are as sharp as ever. And it may be scheduled on Christmas Day, but this special is blissfully free of any mention of Christmas.
As always, Joanna Lumley’s Patsy gets the biggest laughs – tugging an array of narcotics from her beehive, mistaking a wallet for a mobile phone, and collecting her pension for the first time. At the benefits office, she gives her last known age as 39 and her full name as Eurydice Colette Clytemnestra Dido Bathsheba Rabelais Patricia Cocteau Stone.
Alongside iconic Patsy, Jane Horrocks’s cartoonish Bubble (who many love but leaves me cold) and June Whitfield as lovable scene- and cutlery-stealer Mrs M, it’s easy to overlook just how immaculate Jennifer Saunders is as Eddy. Study her timing in her wannabe-cool drive through Brixton, ordering the chauffeur, “Wind down the window. Play some dubstep”, then panicking when her Mercedes attracts two hoodies. “Drive, drive, drive!”
Eddy is a comedy grotesque, now going for “the Prairie look”, still disappointed that Saffy isn’t gay (“Was there any fiddly-diddling in the [prison] showers?”) and obsessed with her “huge truncal obesity… every fat cell I’ve ever lost or gained has come back for the fat cell reunion of the year!”
Saunders said on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row earlier this month that she’s tried to work all the old regulars into the episodes. Hence Eddy’s gay ex-husband, Justin (Christopher Malcolm), pops up, as does Saffy’s manic chum, Sarah, who once had to be sectioned. Since her last turn as Sarah (or “Titicaca”) eight years ago, Naoko Mori has gone on to play Torchwood’s Toshiko and Yoko Ono in Naked Lennon.
The coup for the show, though, has to be a cameo by The Killing’s Sofie Grabol in full torch-wielding, sweater-clad Sarah Lund mode. She’s the hottest woman of the moment and Ab Fab have got her.
And coming up…
The second special, airing on New Year’s Day (9:40pm, BBC1/BBC1 HD), is by several degrees less hysterical, even if Lindsay Duncan is supremely fabulous, all dragged up as a Dietrich-style star who cannot sing.
I’ve also seen the third and final special. Or rather I had the pleasure of watching the studio recording at TV Centre. It’s another good one, with Eddy stalking Stella McCartney and Patsy having “little accidents”. I’ll not give away any more, except to say this one is being held over till Olympics time and there are cameos from Kelly Holmes and Tanni Grey-Thompson.