10 Fabulous Facts About Absolutely Fabulous

BBC
BBC

In the early 1990s, long before it was acceptable for women on TV to act in a juvenile manner, BBC scored a major hit with Absolutely Fabulous, a.k.a. Ab Fab, which featured two British women who behaved badly—chain-smoking and abusing drugs and alcohol. Jennifer Saunders played Edina, a publicist who said “sweetie darling” a lot and raised a mature-for-her-age daughter, Saffy (Julia Sawalha). Edina’s best friend was Patsy (Joanna Lumley), a model-turned-fashion magazine director who donned a beehive hairdo and came out as transgender (and also said “sweetie darling” a lot). She also enjoyed the booze, and asked important questions like, “Who dies in their own vomit these days? Nobody.” Edina’s nameless mother (June Whitfield) and Eddy’s personal assistant, Bubble (Jane Horrocks), also added flavor to the show.

The story began in 1990 when Saunders and Dawn French were a part of sketch TV show French and Saunders. Saunders did an eight-minute skit as Edina and French played Saffy. A few years later, while on hiatus from the show, Saunders jotted down the idea for what would become the pilot for Ab Fab. “At the beginning it was all about Saffy and Edina, because when I first wrote it, Patsy was a sort of add-on character who supported Edina in her awfulness,” Saunders told Out Magazine. “But actually I just love working in a double act.” 

The series originally aired off and on between 1992 and 2003, with a total of eight specials sprinkled between 1996 and 2012 (including a 2012 Summer Olympics special). In 2016, Fox Searchlight distributed Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, written by Saunders. The film revived the debauched antics of the friends and included an opening sequence in which Edina accidently killed Kate Moss. Here are 10 fabulous facts about the series.

1. JENNIFER SAUNDERS BASED THE SHOW'S CHARACTERS ON REAL PEOPLE.

By the time Saunders created the sketch on French and Saunders, designer fashion was becoming more widespread, and she knew a fashion publicist. “I thought, ‘That’s a genius job for a sitcom character,’ so we did her as a sketch,” Saunders told Lena Dunham during an interview with Lenny. “We also had another friend who had an absolutely bonkers mother who was eccentric and wild, and me and Dawn just combined the two.” Patsy was originally a “low-life journalist,” but Lumley’s background as a model helped shaped the character into someone who was more polished.

2. IT DEVELOPED A DEVOTED FOLLOWING IN THE GAY COMMUNITY.

BBC

When discussing the series, Saunders told V Magazine that the reason the show was such a hit with the gay community is because "[gay people] refused to be offended—and I admire them for that. Thank God you’re hanging on in there.” Looking back on the series, Lumley said that all the gay references seemed normal to her. “It’s really normal that one of [Edina’s] ex-husbands now lives with his young boyfriend,” she said. “It’s completely normal that [Edina] wants Saffy to be a lesbian or that Serge [Edina’s long lost son] is gay and living in New York. It’s completely normal that Patsy is transgender.” Lumley also said she thinks Patsy makes a good drag queen, “because Patsy’s quite tall,” she said. “You just want to get your good yellow wig on.”

3. IT PROBABLY WOULDN’T FARE WELL IN TODAY’S CULTURALLY SENSITIVE CLIMATE.

When Vanity Fair asked Saunders if Ab Fab would air today with the same jokes intact, she said: “I think it’s a tricky time for comedy, because people are now so aware of not offending, and everyone is quite precious now about their identity. I don’t think we could make half the jokes we did then.”

In fact, Saunders admitted that she did run into some issues while working on the 2016 feature version of the series. “If you write a movie, you have raft of lawyers telling you who you can offend and who you can’t offend, and who’s going to sue you and who won’t,” she said. “So, it was quite an issue, I have to say.”

4. AMERICA (UNSUCCESSFULLY) TRIED TO ADAPT THE SHOW.

In 2009, James Burrows directed a U.S. version of the show, which was set in L.A. It starred Kathryn Hahn as Edina, Kristen Johnston as Patsy, and Zosia Mamet as Saffy. Fox jettisoned the pilot, and Jon Plowman, executive producer of British Ab Fab, knew why. “The trouble with doing Ab Fab in America is that it will have to end with Edina and Saffy hugging, Patsy giving up drink and drugs, and them all hugging mum,” he said. “It won’t work. It’ll be too nice.”

5. THE SHOW WAS INFLUENCED BY THE BAND BANANARAMA.

Lumley and Saunders were guests on The Graham Norton Show and Lumley said in the ’80s, she and Dawn French used to party with the group. “Bananarama were the hardest drinking girls I’d ever met in the ’80s,” Saunders said. “I never met girls who drunk so hard. They drunk so much vodka. I remember one of them opening a cab door and coming out ass first, and I thought it most brilliant thing I’d ever seen.”  

6. SAUNDERS SAID IT WAS "PAINFUL" TO PORTRAY EDINA.

Edina wears clothing that are two sizes too small because she refuses to wear anything that fits her. “Edina gets to wear some extraordinary costumes but they’re always so painful,” Saunders told Elle. “When I think of Edina, I think of painful shoes and painful clothes.”

7. IT’S A FEMINIST SHOW.

“It’s never been about them finding a relationship, or defining themselves by having to have a man,” Saunders told Vanity Fair. “They live life entirely on their own terms as women, and to be honest, men don’t really affect them much. I mean, occasionally they want sex, but who doesn’t? They’re not defined by normality. They create their own normality.”

8. JULIA SAWALHA’S FAVORITE SCENE TO FILM INVOLVED BOMBAY MIX.

BuzzFeed asked Sawalha, who played Edina’s daughter, what the funniest scene she had to shoot was. She said it was the moment when Edina asked her if she wanted to nibble on some Bombay mix. “It was my most painful scene moment,” she said. “It took about half an hour, because she had to come up behind me and say [puts on accent] ‘Bombay mix.’ And for a week she did it and for a week in rehearsals I couldn’t hold it together, and on the night it had that thing of I know it’s coming, and it just went on and on and on.”

9. A MENTION OF IVANA TRUMP LED TO AN ENCOUNTER WITH DONALD TRUMP.

Twenty years ago, Patsy mentioned Ivana Trump in an episode. As Lumley told Vanity Fair, Trump got wind of it and invited Lumley to a party in London. “He was with Marla Maples then, and first she came and was the sweetest little character: ‘Oh, I think you’re so gorgeous, you look so beautiful,’” Lumley said. “And then the Donald came along, with that Brillo Pad hair stretched across his head, and gave me a very odd look, as if he was sizing up a horse or something. And after examining me, he muttered, ‘Yes, she’s quite good-looking, she’s a bit like Ivana.’”

10. SAUNDERS AND LUMLEY ACCIDENTALLY MADE PATSY AND EDINA RELATABLE.

BBC

In an interview with Lena Dunham, Lumley stated that Edina and Patsy were “really vile and dreadful” people. However, Lumley had fans coming up to her saying the characters reminded them of people they knew. “And some people would queue up to say, ‘My mother and my aunt are just like you and Eddy, and this is a picture of them.’ And you go, ‘Oh, no, how great. Well done, you. But oh my God, we are awful.’ And they went, ‘Oh, yeah, they love it. They go out, they get drunk.’ And you go, ‘Oh my God, we weren’t trying to teach people to get drunk.’”

Lumley further explained they didn’t set out to do that. “I don’t think we had expected that, because we painted them with such broad brushstrokes. We were trying to be high satire.”

10 LEGO Sets For Every Type of LEGO Builder 

Amazon
Amazon

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If you’re looking for a timeless gift to give this holiday season, look no further than a LEGO set. With kits that cater to a wide age range—from toddlers fine-tuning their motor skills to adults looking for a more engaged way to relax—there’s a LEGO set out there for everyone. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite sets on Amazon to help you find the LEGO box that will make your loved one smile this year. If you end up getting one for yourself too, don’t worry: we won’t tell.

1. Classic Large Creative Gift Box; $44

Amazon

You can never go wrong with a classic. This 790-piece box contains dozens of types of colored bricks so builders of any age can let their inner architect shine. With toy windows, doors, tires, and tire rims included in addition to traditional bricks, the building possibilities are truly endless. The bricks are compatible with all LEGO construction sets, so builders have the option of creating their own world or building a new addition onto an existing set.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Harry Potter Hogwarts Express; $64

Amazon

Experience the magic of Hogwarts with this buildable Hogwarts Express box. The Prisoner Of Azkaban-inspired kit not only features Hogwarts's signature mode of transportation, but also Platform 9 ¾, a railway bridge, and some of your favorite Harry Potter characters. Once the train is built, the sides and roof can be removed for play within the cars. There is a Dementor on board … but after a few spells cast by Harry and Lupin, the only ride he’ll take is a trip to the naughty list.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Star Wars Battle of Hoth; $160

Amazon

Star Wars fans can go into battle—and rewrite the course of history—by recreating a terrifying AT-AT Walker from the Battle of Hoth. Complete with 1267 pieces to make this a fun challenge for ages 10 and up, the Walker has elements like spring-loaded shooters, a cockpit, and foldout panels to reveal its deadly inner workings. But never fear: Even though the situation might look dire, Luke Skywalker and his thermal detonator are ready to save the day.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Super Mario Adventures Starter Course; $60

Amazon

Kids can play Super Mario in 3D with LEGO’s interactive set. After constructing one of the courses, young designers can turn on the electronic Mario figurine to get started. Mario’s built-in color sensors and LCD screens allow him to express more than 100 different reactions as he travels through the course. He’ll encounter obstacles, collect coins, and avoid Goomba and Bowser to the sound of the Mario soundtrack (played via an included speaker). This is a great gift for encouraging problem-solving and creativity in addition to gaming smarts.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Gingerbread House; $212

Amazon

Gingerbread houses are a great way to enjoy the holidays … but this expert-level kit takes cookie construction to a whole new level. The outside of the LEGO house rotates around to show the interior of a sweet gingerbread family’s home. Although the living room is the standout with its brick light fireplace, the house also has a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and outdoor furniture. A LEGO Christmas tree and presents can be laid out as the holidays draw closer, making this a seasonal treat you can enjoy with your family every year.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Elsa and Olaf’s Tea Party; $18

Amazon

LEGO isn’t just for big kids. Toddlers and preschoolers can start their LEGO journey early by constructing an adorable tea party with their favorite Frozen characters. As they set up Elsa and Olaf’s ice seats, house, and tea fixings, they’ll work on fine-motor, visual-spatial, and emotional skills. Building the set from scratch will enable them to put their own creative spin on a favorite movie, and will prepare them for building more complicated sets as they get older.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Collectible Art Set Building Kits; $120

Amazon

Why buy art when you can build it yourself? LEGO’s Beatles and Warhol Marilyn Monroe sets contain four options for LEGO art that can be built and displayed inside your home. Each kit comes with a downloadable soundtrack you can listen to while you build, turning your art experience into a relaxing one. Once you’re finished building your creation it can be exhibited within a LEGO brick frame, with the option to hang it or dismantle it to start on a new piece. If the 1960s aren’t your thing, check out these Sith and Iron Man options.

Buy it: Amazon

8. NASA Apollo Saturn V; $120

Amazon

The sky (or just the contents of your LEGO box) is the limit with LEGO’s Saturn V expert-level kit. Designed for ages 14 and up, this to-scale rocket includes three removable rocket stages, along with a command and service module, Lunar Lander, and more. Once the rocket is complete, two small astronaut figurines can plant a tiny American flag to mark a successful launch. The rocket comes with three stands so it can be displayed after completion, as well as a booklet for learning more about the Apollo moon missions.

Buy it: Amazon

9. The White House; $100

Amazon

Reconstruct the First Family’s home (and one of America’s most famous landmarks) by erecting this display model of the White House. The model, which can be split into three distinct sections, features the Executive Residence, the West Wing, and the East Wing of the complex. Plant lovers can keep an eye out for the colorful rose garden and Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, which flank the Executive Residence. If you’re unable to visit the White House anytime soon, this model is the next best thing.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Volkswagen Camper Van; $120

Amazon

Road trip lovers and camping fanatics alike will love this vintage-inspired camper. Based on the iconic 1962 VW vehicle, LEGO’s camper gets every detail right, from the trademark safari windshield on the outside to the foldable furniture inside. Small details, like a “Make LEGO Models, Not War” LEGO T-shirt and a detailed engine add an authentic touch to the piece. Whether you’re into old car mechanics or simply want to take a trip back in time, this LEGO car will take you on a journey you won’t soon forget.

Buy it: Amazon

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How It's a Wonderful Life Went From Box Office Dud to Accidental Christmas Tradition

Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures

Director Frank Capra's 1946 classic It's a Wonderful Life is sacred in the holiday movie pantheon. It's not as quotable as A Christmas Story (1983) or as lyrical as 1966's How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, but the story of George Bailey has a universal message behind it that endures more than 70 years later. Though the movie is the quintessential Christmas tale today, when it was first released in 1946, audiences and critics were lukewarm toward the picture, resulting in a box office disappointment that killed Capra's nascent production company, Liberty Films. In a strange twist, decades after it was first released, an unlikely clerical screw-up managed to turn It's a Wonderful Life into the Christmastime staple we know today.

In the 1930s, Capra became a magnet for Academy Awards, directing movies like the screwball comedy It Happened One Night (1934) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). After Pearl Harbor, Capra knew he could contribute something to the war effort, so he took a post in Washington overseeing the development of U.S. propaganda films for the government—most notably the award-winning Why We Fight series of documentaries.

Upon returning from Washington in 1945, Capra—along with other wartime directors William Wyler and George Stevens—helped finance Liberty Films, an independent production company poised to give filmmakers the one thing they all dreamed of: freedom. The company's first film would be an adaption of a short story titled "The Greatest Gift," which would also appear in Good Housekeeping under the title "The Man Who Was Never Born," and would be adapted for the screen as It's a Wonderful Life. It's one of the few movies Capra also received a screenwriting credit for, and with a proposed budget of $2 million, it was a huge gamble for Liberty.

Something akin to a nightmare

In the book Five Came Back, writer Mark Harris describes It's a Wonderful Life's production process as something akin to a nightmare. Script rewrites, a bloated shooting schedule, and an ever-changing crew cost the studio nearly all of the original $2 million budget—well before filming was even wrapped. The spending became such a concern for Capra's partners at Liberty that George Stevens remarked, "Why the hell couldn't it be springtime?" when he saw how much it cost the production to produce fake snow for shots. Capra bet Liberty's future on audiences looking for some comforting nostalgia after the war, but he was about to see firsthand just how much the world had changed since he came back.

The original plan was to release It's a Wonderful Life in January 1947, after the Oscar deadlines, but when RKO—the film's distributor—needed a movie to release in time for Christmas, Capra's project was the easy solution. It opened just weeks after William Wyler's major studio film The Best Years of Our Lives, a hard-hitting drama about a U.S. soldier coming home after the war to pick up his life again. The two films couldn't be any more different, and the reviews reflected that.

Even at nearly three hours long, The Best Years of Our Lives was an absolute hit with critics and at the box office, recouping its budget multiple times over. It's a Wonderful Life, with its inflated budget and saccharine tale touting old-timey values, was met with a whimper, making only an estimated $3.3 million against a $3.7 million budget. Wyler beat Capra in every way: reviews, box office, and awards. The Best Years of Our Lives won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, while It's a Wonderful Life received only a lone technical award—ironically for the fake snow Stevens loathed.

Liberty Films had borrowed more than $1.5 million to make the film, and with such a disappointing box office return, the production company was soon sold off to Paramount. Capra only directed five feature films afterwards, none of which ever reached the heights of his pre-war work. As unlikely as it seems today, It's a Wonderful Life was seen as a flat disappointment destined for anonymity—until a clerical error changed its fate.

A Wonderful free-for-all

In 1974, the movie entered the public domain after the film's copyright holder simply forgot to file for a renewal. This meant that TV stations everywhere could play It's a Wonderful Life all day and all night and not have to pay a cent for it. Networks aren't necessarily shy about exploiting free Christmas content, and the film's reemergence on television gave Capra's story new life. While a post-World War II crowd may have rejected the movie's sentiment, subsequent generations seem to revel in the opportunity to visit the nostalgic whimsy of it all.

“It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen,” Capra once told The Wall Street Journal about the film's revival. “The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I’m like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I’m proud ... but it’s the kid who did the work. I didn’t even think of it as a Christmas story when I first ran across it. I just liked the idea.”

Legalities rewrote the history of It's a Wonderful Life yet again in 1993. The Supreme Court's previous ruling in Stewart v. Abend established a precedent that allowed the film's original copyright owner—Republic Pictures—to regain its ownership of the movie. The ruling claimed that since Republic owned the copyright on the original short story which the movie was based on, and the score for the film, they, in essence, still owned the movie. So what was once a near barrage of networks airing It's a Wonderful Life has since been pared down to just one: NBC.

The network paid for exclusive rights to air the movie, which is why you'll only see It's a Wonderful Life on TV once or twice during the holidays. But the movie's modern appeal exists because of that scarcity. The film that killed a production company 70 years ago is now an annual television event and part of countless family traditions around the globe. It turns out Capra always knew what audiences wanted, he just needed to wait for the right clerical error to prove it.

This story has been updated for 2020.