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'Absolutely Fabulous' Producer Jon Plowman on How He Got Edina and Patsy Back Together Again

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire March 23, 2012 at 10:52AM

The longtime BBC producer discusses reuniting Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley for three 20th anniversary episodes of their screamingly funny series.
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When the first of the three new episodes premiered in Britain, it drew 7 million views, not bad considering the "Downton Abbey" season finale was airing at the same time. Were you surprised it still had this massive popularity, 20 years on?

Absolutely Fabulous Special 2

It was very nice. Well, yes I was surprised truthfully. You never quite know whether it's a thing where people will think, that was then and this is now. I think part of what has happened in between, was because of time passing, you're able to look back and say, "Well, that didn't work quite as well." Like odd things. We redesigned the kitchen to the way it had been back before the last season. Jennifer was intent that she wanted to write something that was set mostly inside the house with the main cast. By and large, that's how it was.

Two decades on, the show's format has remained intact. The only thing that appears to have change/evolved has been the clothes, Edina's home and the rampant pop cultural references.

I remember when I first read the pilot script that Jennifer had written with a pencil in an exercises book. She asked me to take it look. She was quite sheepish about it. It felt like she was initiating everybody into a world that no one knew existed, really. A world that was sort of ahead. In other words, Jennifer has always stayed slightly ahead of where the audience are. The look of things and the fact that she had an isolation tank, when nobody had an isolation tank; it was the sort of thing that only people on the edge of fashion would know about.

I mean -- it's been a weird one. When we started it, part of the point was to point at this part of the world and laugh at it, and say, "Look at these people, they are clearly bonkers." Maybe they caught up with us.

When we started it, the people who thought it was funny were the exact people we were laughing at.

That's the funny paradox about the show. The "bonkers" characters are by far the most endearing of the ensemble.

Yes. I think it appeals to a wish fulfillment thing in everybody. We all think, wouldn't it be nice to live like Patsy and Edina? Wouldn't it be nice just to drink champagne and not really appear to work at all. The second episode of the new ones, Patsy comes in and does what appears to be five minutes of work on the magazine. She snorts a line of coke and her working day is over. We all sort of think, wouldn't that be fun?

"When we started it, the people who thought it was funny were the exact people we were laughing at."
Like "Sex and the City," but more extreme.

Yeah, but we did it first. It was very nice that they ran with our idea. I watched (and probably not many people did), the second "Sex and the City" movie, and it takes place in Morocco. I met the writer afterwards and he said, "You did that." And I said, "Yeah we did that, but in half an hour." We were lucky that good people followed us.

What was Jennifer's original pitch to you some 20 years ago?

It came from a sketch. I produced the sketch show "French and Saunders." There was a sketch in one episode that had Dawn French playing Saffy and Jennifer playing Edina. That felt like it had life in it. It didn't feel like it had to be pitched anew. We wanted to run with these characters.

We had various conversations when we started. First thing, I had Jennifer explain who people were; who was this designer Christian Lacroix? We had a pre-discussion about whether we should keep the real designer names or make it up. Also the title. It felt like a gift to critics; "Absolutely fabulous? Oh no, it's not." But thankfully they didn't say that.

I remember thinking it was a bit like "42nd Street." If it isn't like that, then it sort of ought to be. And if the world of fashion and PR isn't like in "Ab Fab," then it sort of ought to be. People tell us it's fairly accurate, even now.

This article is related to: Interviews, Absolutely Fabulous, Joanna Lumley, Jennifer Saunders