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22nd of October 2018


TV review: Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders' fizzy new show

Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley sip their way around Champagne in their likeable TV series, Joanna and Jennifer: Absolutely Champers.


Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley sip their way around Champagne in their likeable TV series, Joanna and Jennifer: Absolutely Champers.

Small-screen pop culture is all about personality.

We get our news dished up by D-list women's mag celebs, our TV travelogues delivered by desiccated cooks and comedians, science served up with a side order of Hollywood voice-over, and history relayed via spray-tanned antiques experts or the family trees of sitcom stars.

So, when you see a show like Joanna and Jennifer: Absolutely Champers your heart lurches at the prospect of half-baked wine-science-cum-travel-doco crammed into an hour of Ab Fab outtakes. Amazingly, though, this is a joy.

Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders happen to be the kind of personalities who are utterly comfortable both in front of a camera and with each other. (It also helps that Lumley, especially, has a voice that could read out the weekend's NPC results and make it sound like Shakespeare's as-yet undiscovered Mills & Boon novelette.)

The schtick is simple and delivered right at the outset: "Champagne-fuelled Edina and Patsy's friendship and Ab Fab was the start of ours." And so starts a clever enmeshing of two storylines: the creation of two fictional lushes and the blossoming 25-year bond between two very funny actresses.

Yes, they do the obligatory helping-in-the-harvest scenes, watch a bit of grape stomping, follow dutifully in the footsteps of some very accommodating vineyard owners and coo at the thought of bottles dating back to 1914 with potential price tags of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

For those taking notes, there's even a helpful animation to explain the ingenious double-fermentation method that puts the bubbles into the bottles.

But as becomes immediately clear when they effervesce with giggles over their first glasses at St Pancras railway station in London (Saunders: "I can't believe we're doing this because we're not Eddy and Patsy"), both Lumley and Saunders are honest, vibrant storytellers and fully aware that they can play up the chasm between their characters' storylines and their own personal lives.

And because they spend the better half of the show sipping, swilling and sniffing what must have been bucket-loads of fizz, there's adequate opportunity for the stories to flow.

Excellent biographical nuggets include Lumley being "a bit afraid" of Saunders when originally cast for Absolutely Fabulous in 1990; Saunders insisting that she passed her driving test first time because her mum gave her a small glass of sherry, and Lumley expounding on how women her age "don't know how to look old" because of the preponderance of pills and potions designed to keep them looking young.

Age (Lumley is 72 and Saunders 60) and appearance are a constant theme throughout the show, leading to a fairly long conversation (including vintage clips) about Lumley's 1994 documentary Girl Friday, in which she was marooned for nine days on a desert island to see how she'd cope, and her recollection that when she returned to civilisation "I'd forgotten what I looked like".

The pair make for delightful and natural guides to the famous French wine region of Champagne and their banter about their characters' connection to Bollinger is wonderfully schoolgirlish, but by the end of the show you're rather hoping that the producers have spotted their chemistry and decide to give them a whole series. Joanna and Jennifer: Absolutely Voddy, anyone?


Once you've given in to the cult of personalities, one of the best places to go in search of expertly crafted biography is the Arts Channel.

Basquiat: Rage to Riches won a 2018 Bafta for its portrayal of the street-artist-turned-80s-celebrity Jean-Michel Basquiat and expertly places his tragically short life in the context of a money-hungry gallery arts scene and a New York pop industry where Blondie was experimenting with hip-hop, and Warhol and Madonna could still be mentioned in the same breath.

While Basquiat: Rage to Riches squeezes a life into 55 minutes, The Last Lennon Interview focuses for 22 minutes on one man's death by retelling the story of BBC DJ Andy Peebles' December 6 interview with the ex-Beatle and Yoko Ono in New York.

While Peebles was flying back to London – and before he'd even re-listened to the eight reels of 12-inch tape to see what he'd recorded – Lennon was shot dead on the steps of his apartment by Mark Chapman and that interview immediately became "the most important obituary in the history of modern music".

Hearing Lennon talk about his life through the immediate lens of his own death is a sobering exercise, even 38 years later, but this little gem of a programme is also testament to one of Lennon's own acute insights: "It seems all revolutions end up with a personality cult…"

Joanna and Jennifer: Absolutely Champers is on Living Channel at 8.30pm, Sunday September 16.

The Last Lennon Interview is on the Arts Channel at 8pm on Sunday, September 16; and Basquiat: Rage to Riches is on the Arts Channel at 8pm on Tuesday, September 18.

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