NINE - Bonkers: My Life in Laughs - Jennifer Saunders

Bonkers: My Life in Laughs - Jennifer Saunders (2013)



In the days before Twitter* and email, there was writin’ postcards and sending faxes.

Jack Lumley and I used to send each other endless cards and faxes, handwritten, illustrated with drawings and cut-out pictures from magazines. We were nearly always in character: I was Sandwich and she was an ageing actress in need of work.

Dear Jennifer Saunders,

Thank you for your nice letter - I think the nice photo you love of me is out of print now (such a rush!) but I’m sending you the original fan picture which I send to my fans for your dressing room.

You know I could help you in your career as I could get you into the papers and give you oxygen of publicity which has always helped me in my career, which has admittedly taken a bit of a dip just now. But I could give you hints and tips. Please write again if you want HINTS AND TIPS and photos. Just off on my hols in the sun so see you soon.

Please don’t forget me,

Joanna Lumley

I have boxes and boxes of faxes. I have kept nearly every one to this day, plus every card and piece of paper and old menu that they were written on.

Dear Jennifer,

I expect you will be very excited to get this letter. Yes, it’s me really writing to you myself - although as you can guess my life is very full and very busy. I like to let my fans know that I care about them.

About your film next year - although I am very busy and very much in demand I’m sure I can fit it in somehow. In fact any time at all would suit me fine - I don’t usually play small parts but I do feel it might give your film more of a chance if it had a star name in it. Also I don’t usually eat out with fans as it usually creates havoc in restaurants. But just this once it would be lovely to eat anything at all with anyone actually. As I expect you can guess I am quite a shy private person so please don’t tell the newspapers where we are going!! Or they might send photographers and even journalists who might like to interview me. I must rush off now into another room - you can cut out my autograph and keep it if you like. Please don’t forget to come on Saturday.

Sincerely yours,

Joanna Lumley, xxxx

All the way through these faxes are mentions of a film. I cannot for the life of me think what this film is, but whatever it was, it never happened.

Dear Jennifer,

I am hoping my new lips will look nice for your show. I can only afford to get one done at a time. I’ve gone for the top lip like Ivana Trump. Also I think the BBC should pay to have my chest reinflated. They went down a bit during an Air Ethiopia flight and one burst during a screenfight with Kate O’Hara but they’d look good again I’m sure. I’m just off to Canada to see a world famous surgeon about my neck. Also the hair looks nice and yellow and the graft hardly shows. I’m learning my lines on page 2 already. Please don’t recast yet. We’ll make your film a ting-a-ding hit.

Love from Joanna

Only someone as beautiful as Joanna could make these jokes. And her beauty secrets, I hear you cry? Have just a modicum of everything - a little food, the odd cigarette, a small amount of exercise - and then a really good drink.

Dear Miss Saunders,

The word on the woodvine is that you is about to start auditioning ‘hopefuls’ for your new series of Absolutely Fabulous and would like to enter myself as you may remember I have worked with you in America givin interviews and helping you out with hair advice. PLEASE GIVE ME WORK AS I CAN HELP OUT with hair advice and looking natural. I also speak French in films and also work with Mrs Cath. Deneureveux as advice on hair and ‘BOTOX’.

Give me work please.

You can reach me at this address. Meet me soon.

My beauty regime is … er … erm … Should drink more water. Should eat less. Should exercise more (but not actually kill yourself the first time you try or suffer injury that means you can’t do any more). Remember to get your hair cut on occasion. Try not to bite ya nails.

Fax from ‘Cherry Lyn’, Laines due Pingguin, Sussex:

To Mrs J. Saundre, Star

Dear Madam,

I enclose a recent photo I have been a very busy model, never stop working, and hearde you was looking for talent, scouting I should say, I should coco!! I am up-to-the minute with goode dress sence and can bring fun to any session please will you give me this job as you can read on my cover photo sent in by my fan I am just the same! Always chirpy and can provide jersey skirt and earrings too I’m a professional but honestly times is hard madam. Give me work please send money.

I never sent Joanna money. I was immune to her begging.

Dear Madam,

Am available for high class modeling work as these recent Mario Testino photos will testify. Please let me know when you perpose to do a fashion shoot. I can bring wig and bobble hat if necessary.

Please send money up front.

Is you goin to Los Angeles in April or not? I am not sure we know what to do.

Please send pills.

I did of course send pills. I always has a few hanging about.

A great many of the faxes I sent to Joanna were informative and beautifully writed, apart from the odd begging fax …

Urgent! Official!

Needing money for trainin’. Wot have you left me in will??

Leave me all your money for trainin’ or else I won’t be any good and I am needin’ some J-Cloths and some plugs cos they never comes with them on. So leave them me in your will! + jewels + money + house.


You’m very rich so do it!!

I WANTS TO ACT! I have written to others as well so don’t feel special, yes alright,


… and the odd pleading fax …

Dear Jack the Bafta,

Well, it’s that time of year again.

Do you think ya might be moseyin along on 21st to pick up another or are you going to China or are you dead?

I certainly is not going if you ain’t - and will start backing out now -

I believe Gina Lhologrobidigillolloda is there this year with her mother so that might be fun.

Love J X

Jack Lumptious was often abroad, and I felt it my duty to keep her in the swing and up to date on all matters.

Dear Jack,

I told Alex Keshishian (Bless Ya!) that you had declined gracefully the offer to ‘do’ Patsy in America. He duly passed the message on and reports that people are dumbfounded. People turning down the chance to have their own Series Network in US just doesn’t happen, especially when they come from a small place like London. So, he says, they are likely to throw great wads of cash at you as punishment - they will try to break you down with loving words launched at your person - they will try and Velcro it to your body - they will try to make you eat it - millions of it - and then sign a contract.

Be strong!

On the other hand, they may accept the decision in a business-like manner and cast Bette Midler and Dame Diana Rigg.

Heigh-ho! Just kiddin’! I think we should treat Ab Fab as a bit of a Larry Doomer - if ya know what I mean. Ya don’t wanna be Patsy après 50 - ya wanna be with big horses me thinkin’.

La di da!

See thee


Fri lunchtime

Dear Jack,

Have just returned from costume fitting at Angels for ‘The Piano’. And guess what! As I came out of the fitting room, who should be sitting there waiting to come in but Anna Paquin who played the little girl in Piano. I said nothing as was overcome and in awe of someone so little and in possession of an Oscar. My resemblance to Holly Hunter is uncanny. For she too is very small and petite and birdlike. It is rumoured that when they were shooting The Piano they wasted three days just filming a little piece of seaweed thinking it was Holly Hunter. She is the size of a very small budgerigar. She didn’t have a caravan on set but a rather elegant birdcage where she could be placed for safety when not in shot. If the weather was less than clement, a lovely lace cover would be placed over the cage to protect her. When needed the director would open the little cage door and put one finger in on to which Holly would climb and perch on as she was taken on to the set. She was always shot very close to the camera to give the illusion of almost normal proportions. I admire her. It was only her perfect Scottish accent that persuaded Jane Campion to use her.

Blimey, I’ve got a horrible cold!

Harriet is coming over in a minute and we are going to torture each other about how fat we both are. Take Polaroid photos in size 10 bikinis and swear to not eat for ever and ever Amen.

Dawn went to a mighty celebrity gorgeous party at Elton John’s house the other night. (I was invited, phew!, but couldn’t go.) Many, many A-list celebs and high class entertainers were there plus PRINCESS DIANA!

1. Dawn said Elton mighty nice, good sort, kind boyfriend - who showed them around the house which used to be a real pop star’s mansion but which got cleaned up at the same time as Elton and is now a shrine to beautifully ruched curtains. He has a specially made cabinet to keep his spectacles in.

2. Richard Gere was there - v. good looking but sincerely dull.

3. Tim Rice (who did lyrics to Elton’s music for Lion King) with girlfriend of teenage years.

4. Jeff Katzenberg - ex Disney boss - staying with Elton and main reason for bash.

5. Sylvester Stallone - v. small - attached himself to Princess Diana - velcroed himself to her side. She complained to Dawn, who was unable to detach him.

6. Princess D - v. beautiful - relaxed. Girly.

Sylvester Stallone has a three-storey caravan at the stage at Shepperton! Mentioned that to Disney in passing.

Have had no word from Dame Judi or Dame Diana. Waiting in anticipation. Secretly hoping that it is Lady Dame Diana for gossip sake.

Have to go and see Sandra Bernhard show at the Royal Festival Hall on Monday night. Going with Ade, Ruby, Richard E, D and Len. Can’t say I’ve ever liked her in anything I’ve seen except King of Comedy but Roseanne says she is a great actress and anything Roseanne says is alright by me. Richard E Grant is a friend of hers and says she has got a long way on a small amount of talent. She has aura of a huge star because she lives with an entourage - hair, make-up, secretaries, girlfriends, etc. She is desperate to be Patsy.

I have to work with D now - finish off the Dickens.

Still 3 episodes of Ab Fab to do before next week. Never felt calmer in my LIFE.

Great to talk w/ya yesterday.

Love ya


Dear Jack,

Going Dutch appeals to me. Eating sugary cake and sweet liqueur is a charming pastime. And not having to display any character or personality that would make you stand out from the crowd is a very good way to live. Makes people very happy. Nice flat life. All day see horizon. Always horizon sometimes bicycle. Make jolly jolly life for Dutch people. We are very popular in Holland.

And cult in Brazil. Much mail and interview requests coming in now from Brazil where we are a cult. Just awaiting invite on first class airline to Rio and I’m off. Real mouse goes to Disneyland yet again.

They are making a film of Ab Fab in America with Jodie Foster and Courtney Love and have asked me to be the voice of an invisible pudding. I have agreed and think I can get you the ‘mumbling invisible cigarette’. Oh yes!!


Fax to Joanna when she was filming James and the Giant Peach in the US:

Dear Jack,

Got your fax. Hurrah, it works! I can start ripping pages out of newspapers and sendin’ them to you.

I hope yer final make-up test goes well - and when did you ever meet a director that didn’t treat actors like stop motion puppets? Eh?

I am not intendin’ to move to Hollywood. I am not wantin’ a house in Bev Hills and am only intendin’ to sell the series format to Roseanne. Nothing more. Don’t think you can get rid of me that easy, my dear. I intends to do me film come what may. (Am watchin’ many episodes of Martin Chuzzlewit today with my dear friend Dawn French and so has to be talkin’ like this, dear lady.) What mean ya by ‘Mr Floppy (must he go)’?

No news from Jeanne Moreau, I has yet to write part for her and shall send it to her.

I am sorry that San Francisco isn’t nice for you and don’t apologize for being gloomy on the blower. When gloomy - ring me and moan. That is what I is here for.

Dawn and I are watching as many videos as possible in the name of research for our Xmas Special. Dickens, The Piano, Anne and Nick. I want Dawn to be Charlie Drake and we are trying to get Julie Andrews to be Christmassy with us in our finale Dickensian dance number. Heigh Ho. By gad!

Our Julia excellent in Chuzzle.

Damn! - you’ll miss the comedy awards. Damn! You’ll miss the Light Ent Party. But don’t be too downcast, ya may arrive back in time for the Noel’s House Party Celebrity Crinkly Bottom Christmas edition. And don’t forget the Hearts of Gold Sunshine Variety Club Bravery Awards dinner. I’ve organized for you to be Guest of Honour.

The awful Michael Hurll Comedy Awards are giving June a life-time achievement award and wanted me to present but I’ve turned it down. Nothing on earth would drag me to that dreadful occasion again. I’m sure Roy Hudd will do it and much better too. Good old June!

Have you got Alan Bennett reading his diaries? Great stuff. I’ll send them to ya!

So, babe. Don’t forget to write your ghost story.

You are much missed and talked about.


Fax after fax after fax. No wonder I never got a script written on time.

Hi There!

Christmas seems far too close now. I just can’t see time to do anything. We complete on the house in Devon next week and I can’t foresee a time when I can go down there. Every day this week is Rehearse, Write, Shop, Sleep, Write, Rehearse, Shop, School Play, Write, Work, Rehearse, Studio, Shop, Shop, Light Entertainment Party.

Yesterday as I was driving through Richmond I said to Ade, ‘I won’t ever come shopping on a Saturday, it’s a crowded nightmare of desperation’ and he said, ‘It’s a Sunday!’ What horror! Richmond used to be glorious on a Sunday, feeding the ducks on the river, strollin’ along the river bank, a little antique window shoppin’, church bells ringin’, tower clocks a tickin’, a little boatin’, a little eatin’ in local bistro, drinkin’ in the Ducks Arms and sitting on the Hill on a bench dedicated to a dead pensioner, a’gazin’ at London’s most famous river view. But now! That ain’t possible. WOT A FUCKIN ’ORRIBLE WORLD THIS IS! Heigh-ho!

Going to see Oliver! tonight with Ben and Sophie and all the girls, who are already great fans of the musical.

Saw a clip on the Royal Variety Show the other night (which had been edited to a mere 2½ hours. WHY!) and Jonathan Pryce seems to have decided not to make Fagin particularly Jewish - more actory sounding really. I suppose he may be worried after the trouble he got into for going a bit slanty eyed in Miss Saigon. But really! Will give full report tomorrow.

The tickets cost £27 each. Most W-End prices are now over £30. Maggie Smith is charging for Three Tall Women (play with Frances de la Tour and unknown tall woman by Edward Albee) a cool £35. A ticket. They apparently get a very executive audience. I think they should get shorter actresses and cut the ticket price accordingly.

Apparently executives and Americans are willing to pay - sometimes the price is just tagged on to their hotel bill and it is unnoticed. I expect soon it will be all inclusive and you’ll get your complimentary tickets to Three Tall Women or Cats, right alongside the soap and shower hat.

I’ve had an idea that I think we should patent along with the bra radio mike. It is for Celebrity Airbags that come out of your steering wheel when you’ve had a crash. You could plunge your head into a huge cleavage of someone’s outstretched arms. I think it would do very well in the executive toys market.

There must be some other way to make money. This writin’ thang is bloody time consumin’ and borin’. Gotta go, babe. - work to do. See ya soon.

Lotsa love


A brief word here about the Ab Fab film that never has been. You may see it one day. You may. Only the other day, I saw a G-Wiz and thought how funny it would be to have Eddie and Patsy in a G-Wiz car chase.

There’s only one problem. I actually have to sit down and write the damn thing. Most frustratingly for me, it just doesn’t seem to be able to write itself. It requires me to write it. And that is why it has never been written. Heigh-ho!

You never know. You just never know.