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Girls on Top (1985-86)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Girls on Top (1985-86)
Witzend/Central for ITV, 13/11/1985-11/12/1986
13 x 30 min episodes in two series, colour
DirectorsPaul Jackson
 Ed Bye
ScriptRuby Wax
 Dawn French
 Jennifer Saunders

Cast: Dawn French (Amanda); Jennifer Saunders (Jennifer); Ruby Wax (Shelley); Joan Greenwood (Lady Carlton); Tracey Ullman (Candice)

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The antics of four mismatched flatmates in a Chelsea house.

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Girls on Top was an early collaboration between four of the most influential women in television comedy of the last twenty years - Dawn French played Amanda Ripley, a dour and serious feminist journalist for 'Spare Cheeks' magazine; Jennifer Saunders was Jennifer Marsh, a slow-witted hanger-on constantly bullied by Amanda; Tracey Ullman was airhead hypochondriac bimbo Candice Valentine; while Ruby Wax was brash and pushy unemployed American actress Shelley Dupont. The show also featured Joan Greenwood as their landlady, Lady Carlton, a romantic novelist who kept a stuffed dog named Josephine. By the second series Ullman had departed to pursue her career in the US, and Candice was killed off.

Saunders was pleasingly deadpan in her delivery but was largely wasted, playing second fiddle to French, who had all the good (albeit few) one-liners. Ullman's performance was strong but her character was weak and not greatly missed in the second series. Wax was characteristically gregarious, over-the-top and attention seeking, and this was sometimes detrimental to the effectiveness of the show's humour. Despite the flaws of the individual characters, however, the ensemble somehow worked, and the collaboration between the women was the show's greatest strength.

Girls on Top has been seen as a female version of The Young Ones (BBC, 1982-1984), and that show's influence is certainly evident. It even poaches the ending of its predecessor, when all the characters are killed off in the final episode. Despite this, and the involvement of Ben Elton, it owed less to The Young Ones than to the 1970s female flat-share sitcom The Liver Birds (BBC 1969-1979; 1996), notable for its woman writer (Carla Lane) and for it's recognition of a female audience for TV comedy.

Neither the best nor the most successful project of anyone involved, Girls on Top remains interesting as an example of the early work of French and Saunders, Wax and Ullman, and for its unique status as a collaboration between four such high profile comediennes.

Hannah Hamad

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Video Clips
1. Cleaning rota (1:23)
2. Borrowed pants (0:29)
3. Gone with the Wind (3:01)
Complete episode: 'Stayin' Alive' (25:14)
French and Saunders (1987-)
French, Dawn (1957-)
Greenwood, Joan (1921-1987)
Jackson, Paul (1947-)
Saunders, Jennifer (1958-)
Wax, Ruby (1953-)
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