Cheers, sweetie: Ab Fab’s best episodes

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It’s time to crack open the bolly, sweetie, as this Friday finally sees the release in cinemas of one of the most anticipated transitions from the small screen to the silver screen in the comedy world. Following months of speculation (and having to hold her comedy partner, Dawn French, to a bet that she wouldn’t ever do it), Jennifer Saunders’ louche, hapless and riotous fashion victims, Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone (played by one of my all time heroes, Joanna Lumley), make their big screen arrival in “Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie”.

This classic BBC sitcom ran for five series and six specials over a 20 year period and followed, with delightfully cutting humour, the flimsy, fly by the seat of your pants world of the culture of celebrity and fashion PR (not to mention cruelty, bad parenting, fags and alcohol a-go-go). I first discovered it properly when I was 14, and the fifth series was airing on BBC One. In the years immediately following, I invested in all the boxsets and books, and it’s fair to say it’s one of my all time favourite TV comedies. With the movie in mind, I have revisited my boxset for the umpteenth time this last week to decipher what I feel are the best episodes of this dysfunctional sitcom that never went out of style, darling…

“FRANCE”

(Series 1, 1992)

The show’s first outing abroad, and one that’s still a hoot even now. Edina and Patsy are bound for some ‘bonne vacances’ in the south of France, but due to their complete inability to read a map (or drive on the wrong side of the road) they wind up not at the exclusive, five star, Tatler approved chateau, sweetie, but instead at a derelict old farmhouse, where painting, board games and yes – Patsy actually enjoying a game of ping pong – ensue…

“POOR”

(Series 2, 1994)

Perhaps one of the best episodes to showcase Jennifer’s love of a good, anarchistic rant, it’s disaster time for Edina when she finds out both her ex-husbands are cutting their alimony payments, and that she and Patsy have to make some harsh adjustments to their Bolly soaked lifestyles. What follows is a drunken trip to the food hall at Harrods (‘You can’t expect people who live in Knightsbridge to eat out all the time!’) and Edina before a judge, demanding a tax on the inept in society (‘Just have a stupidity tax and tax the stupid people!’)

“GAY”

(Christmas Special, 2002)

Following on from the fourth series in 2001 was this feature length special, where Edina and Patsy – the latter now being the executive buyer at exclusive fashion outlet Jeremy’s –  jetted off to New York for Fashion Week. It’s an excursion which results in Edina searching for her long lost son by her second husband Marshall, ‘my pride and joy’, Serge, whom she discovers is gay and living in Manhattan, and not, as previously implied, taking lava samples from a volcano in Tibet. What follows is an outrageous romp, with a hilarious guest turn from acting legend Whoopi Goldberg as a marriage counsellor.

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“SCHMOOZIN”

(Series 5, 2003)

An affectionate nod to the 60s and 70s, the heyday of Edina and Patsy’s youth that is forever referenced in the show, this episode sees Edina briefly dating smooth talking record producer Pete (played by My Family star Robert Lindsay) whom, she and Patsy discover, is mastering some previously unheard Beatles tapes at Abbey Road – which not only brings about some hilarious nostalgia via tales of their groupie days (‘Did you have a favourite Rolling Stone, darling? – You didn’t have one Stone, Eddie, you had ’em all!’) and Patsy’s previous life as an adult film star in ‘Booberella’, but also some painfully funny antics at the recording studio when Edina attempts her own song, ‘Walking Down the Road’…

“SMALL OPENING”

(Series 4, 2001)

A sort of ‘episode within an episode’ this one. Edina is fuming when she finds out inadvertently that her long suffering daughter Saffy has written and produced a play about her life for the local fringe theatre (or as Patsy calls it, ‘your twisted little a***-wipe truth!’) and attempts everything she can to ensure it is a flop (Bubble, her dim witted PA, suggests she promotes it). This episode also contains one of the series’ best one liners to her first husband, antique shop owner, Justin – ‘Being married to him was like being married to an antique shop, darling – full of crap and always closed!’

“OLYMPICS”

(Special, 2012)

The show returned for three 20th anniversary specials in 2011/2012, the last of which being broadcast just as the Olympic games arrived in London. Edina’s full of excitement as Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones are renting a room in her sprawling Holland Park townhouse whilst the games are on – but is hugely disappointed when she finds out they’ve cancelled. Fearing her staying power in PR may be drying up (‘I’m a party girl, not a cup of tea!’), her and Patsy have no choice but to mingle with the great and good at the Olympic stadium – which results in them carrying the torch, and Patsy doing – what else? – but lighting her fags off it.

“Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie” is out in cinemas nationwide this Friday. “Absolutely Everything: The Definitive Boxset”, featuring all the series and specials, is available on 2Entertain DVD from HMV, priced £24.99. Twitter: @AbFabMovie

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#CrazyStupidBook: Giovanna Fletcher – “Always With Love”

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Hello all! We are back! We’ve gone and got the decorators in and we’ve got a shiny new look (and sort of new name) to boot 🙂 I felt with the blog approaching its two year anniversary (go figure) that it was time for a bit of an update. And what better way to kick things off than with my latest book review which I finished just a week ago, of the newest outing from Giovanna Fletcher.

The ever lovely YouTube vlogger, novellist and journalist (who I had the pleasure of meeting at her recent book signing at the Chelmsford branch of Waterstones – the picture is below. She was tops!) has won plenty of praise from me before for her books on this little corner of the web, so let’s see what I thought of this one…

“Always with Love” is the long awaited sequel to her debut 2013 novel “Billy and Me” (my review of which is here), which followed the adventures of shy and retiring tea room waitress Sophie May, as she met and fell in love with dashing Hollywood actor Billy Buskin, and the ensuing trials and tribulations they encountered together. Giovanna also wrote and published a festive novella in the interim in 2014, which followed them the Christmas immediately after the first book as Billy began his career break in Rosefont Hill with Sophie, by now the owner of ‘Tea on the Hill’ following the tragic death of its original owner, Molly, and also as her widowed mum met and became engaged to Colin, himself a widower with two young kids, Charlotte and Aaron.

This new novel picks up immediately following that novella, as Sophie and Billy jet off to Los Angeles for a vacation to see his family, who moved lock stock and barrel out there when he became a teen acting sensation, and are now settled in a sprawling Hollywood hills pad. Though welcomed with open arms on her initial meeting with them all, Sophie quickly find things aren’t all that they seem with his family – particularly with his controlling, over bearing mother Julie, who worries that her son is about to throw away all his hard work and dedication over, in her eyes, a plain and simple girl.

As a result, Billy finds his temporary career break over sooner than expected, when (partly thanks to a bit of social engineering from his mum) he is cast as leading man in a new action packed blockbuster ‘The Pious’, working with renowned film director Ralph Joplin. What then follows, as a new year beckons, is the start of Billy and Sophie being in, and working through, a long distance relationship as she travels home to Rosefont Hill to run the tea room, help her mum and Colin prep their spring wedding and also come to terms with some other drastic life changes.

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As always, I won’t spoil it for those yet to read it, but I will comment on the things that stuck out the most to me reading this novel. One of its central themes is that of dreams, and having the courage to pursue them that shines through brilliantly in all its characters, and particularly for Sophie, who, now two years into a relationship with Billy, is thinking about her own path and her own dreams and looking to the future, whilst trying to come to terms with her past – in more ways than one.

The same shy and retiring waitress of the first novel has come of age and Giovanna illustrates that perfectly with how she is now running the tea room, employing her own staff and thinking about her own aspirations for what to do with the place – a quality that seems to rub off on Billy’s sister, bubbly Lauren, who, fed up of their mum’s controlling behaviour, persues first an internship in fashion in Los Angeles, which then leads to an assistant job in Paris.

I also loved – and call me a sentimental old fashioned thing – the way Sophie and Billy communicated in handwritten letters whilst living apart from each other. There’s something so gloriously romantic about that kind of thing, and about using a timeless method as putting pen to paper, and, just as with the first novel, really made me root for them (regular readers will know I LOVE a good romantic ship-fest) to overcome whatever obstacles they were set to face next. I am officially, after reading this book, what-I-call Team Bilphie (Billy and Sophie, for those asking. DUH).

“Always with Love” for me certainly didn’t disappoint. Just as gloriously warm and romantic as its predecessor, but with more wit, side splitting humour, panache and maturity, and stronger character development, it’s exactly the sequel I was hoping for and more, and one Giovanna should be proud of. It’s a truly captivating novel that’s a real labour of love for author and creation alike.