Dawn French

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Dawn French
Dawn French 4.jpg
French in January 2005
Dawn Roma French

(1957-10-11) 11 October 1957 (age 61)
Holyhead, Wales
Residence Fowey, Cornwall, England
Alma mater Central School of Speech and Drama
  • Actress
  • comedian
  • writer
Years active1981–present
  • Lenny Henry
    (m. 1984;div. 2010)
  • Mark Bignell(m. 2013)

Dawn Roma French [1] (born 11 October 1957) is a British actress, writer, comedian and presenter from Plymouth. She is best known for starring in and writing for the BBC comedy sketch show French and Saunders with comedy partner Jennifer Saunders and for playing the lead role as Geraldine Granger in the BBC sitcom The Vicar of Dibley . French has been nominated for seven BAFTA TV Awards and also won a BAFTA Fellowship with Jennifer Saunders.

Plymouth City and Unitary authority in England

Plymouth is a port city situated on the south coast of Devon, England, approximately 37 miles (60 km) south-west of Exeter and 190 miles (310 km) west-south-west of London. Enclosing the city are the mouths of the river Plym and river Tamar, which are naturally incorporated into Plymouth Sound to form a boundary with Cornwall.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters are at Broadcasting House in Westminster, London, and it is the world's oldest national broadcasting organisation and the largest broadcaster in the world by number of employees. It employs over 20,950 staff in total, 16,672 of whom are in public sector broadcasting. The total number of staff is 35,402 when part-time, flexible, and fixed-contract staff are included.

Sketch comedy comprises a series of short scenes or vignettes, called "sketches", commonly between one and ten minutes long. Such sketches are performed by a group of comic actors or comedians, either on stage or through an audio or visual medium such as radio and television. Often sketches are first improvised by the actors and sketch down based on the outcome of these improv sessions; however, such improvisation is not necessarily involved in sketch comedy.


Early life

French was born in Holyhead, to English parents Denys Vernon French (5 August 1932 – 11 September 1977) [2] and Felicity Roma French (née O'Brien; 1934 — 2012), [3] who married in their hometown of Plymouth in 1953. She was educated at the independent St Dunstan's Abbey School (now absorbed by Plymouth College). She has an older brother, Gary (born 1955). Her father served in the Royal Air Force, stationed at RAF Valley. The RAF partly funded her private education. [4] When her father was stationed at the former RAF Faldingworth, she attended Caistor Grammar School in Caistor, boarding in the school's Lindsey house. She later won a debating scholarship that brought her to study at the Spence School in New York. [4]

Holyhead town in the county of Anglesey in Wales

Holyhead is a town in Wales and a major Irish Sea port serving Ireland. It is also a community and the largest town in the Isle of Anglesey county, with a population of 13,659 at the 2011 census. Holyhead is on Holy Island, which is separated from Anglesey by the Cymyran Strait and was originally connected to Anglesey via the Four Mile Bridge and now by the Stanley Embankment.

English people Nation and ethnic group native to England

The English people are a nation and an ethnic group native to England who speak the English language. The English identity is of early medieval origin, when they were known in Old English as the Angelcynn. Their ethnonym is derived from the Angles, one of the Germanic peoples who migrated to Great Britain around the 5th century AD. England is one of the countries of the United Kingdom, and the majority of people living there are British citizens.

Plymouth College

Plymouth College is a co-educational independent school in Plymouth, Devon, England, for day and boarding pupils from the ages of 3 to 18. It was founded as a boys' school in 1877 and became coeducational in 1995.

French has claimed that her self-confidence and self-belief stem from her father, who told her how beautiful she was each day. [5] She stated, "He taught me to value myself. He told me that I was beautiful and the most precious thing in his life." [6] He had a history of severe depression and two suicide attempts but managed to conceal his illness from Dawn and her brother. [5] However, on 11 September 1977 Denys French committed suicide by car exhaust, aged 45. [7]

Major depressive disorder all-encompassing low mood accompanied by low self-esteem, and by loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities.

Major depressive disorder (MDD), also known simply as depression, is a mental disorder characterized by at least two weeks of low mood that is present across most situations. It is often accompanied by low self-esteem, loss of interest in normally enjoyable activities, low energy, and pain without a clear cause. People may also occasionally have false beliefs or see or hear things that others cannot. Some people have periods of depression separated by years in which they are normal, while others nearly always have symptoms present. Major depressive disorder can negatively affect a person's personal life, work life, or education, as well as sleeping, eating habits, and general health. Between 2–8% of adults with major depression die by suicide, and about 50% of people who die by suicide had depression or another mood disorder.

She studied at the Central School of Speech and Drama in 1977, where she met her future comedy partner, Jennifer Saunders. [5] [8] Both came from RAF backgrounds. They had grown up on the same base, even having had the same best friend, although never meeting. [9] At first, as far as Saunders was concerned, French was a "cocky little upstart". French considered Saunders snooty and aloof. [9] The comic duo originally did not like each other as French wanted to become a drama teacher [8] whereas Saunders loathed the idea and thus disliked French for being enthusiastic and confident about the course. [5]

Jennifer Saunders English comedienne, screenwriter, actress and teacher

Jennifer Jane Saunders is an English comedian, screenwriter, singer and actress. She has won three BAFTAs, a British Comedy Award, a Rose d'Or Light Entertainment Festival Award, two Writers' Guild of Great Britain Awards, and a People's Choice Award.

French and Saunders shared a flat whilst at college and were influenced to do comedy by their flatmates as part of their projects for college. After talking in depth for the first time, they came to be friends. [5] While at college she broke up with her fiancé, a former Royal Navy officer. After they graduated, they formed a double-act called the Menopause Sisters. Saunders has described the act, which involved wearing tampons in their ears, as "cringeworthy". The manager of the club recalled, "They didn't seem to give a damn. There was no star quality about them at all." [9] French and Saunders came to public attention as members of the Comic Strip, part of the alternative comedy scene in the early 1980s.

Royal Navy Maritime warfare branch of the United Kingdoms military

The Royal Navy (RN) is the United Kingdom's naval warfare force. Although warships were used by the English kings from the early medieval period, the first major maritime engagements were fought in the Hundred Years' War against the Kingdom of France. The modern Royal Navy traces its origins to the early 16th century; the oldest of the UK's armed services, it is known as the Senior Service.

The Comic Strip is a group of British comedians who came to prominence in the 1980s. They are known for their television series The Comic Strip Presents... which was labelled as a pioneering example of the alternative comedy scene. The core members are Adrian Edmondson, Dawn French, Rik Mayall, Nigel Planer, Peter Richardson, Jennifer Saunders and Alexei Sayle, with frequent appearances by Keith Allen, Robbie Coltrane, Lanah P and others.

Alternative comedy is a term coined in the 1980s for a style of comedy that makes a conscious break with the mainstream comedic style of an era. The phrase has had different connotations in different contexts: in the UK, it was used to describe content that was an "alternative" to the mainstream of live comedy, which often involved racist and sexist material. In other contexts, it is the nature of the form that is "alternative", avoiding reliance on a standardised structure of a sequence of jokes with punch lines. Patton Oswalt has defined it as "comedy where the audience has no pre-set expectations about the crowd, and vice versa. In comedy clubs, there tends to be a certain vibe—alternative comedy explores different types of material."

French has also written a best-selling epistolary [10] autobiography, which she has titled Dear Fatty. French was paid a £1.5 million advance for the book, which was released in 2008. [11] On an appearance on The Paul O'Grady Show on 6 October 2008, French said that "Fatty" is her nickname for Jennifer Saunders, as a joke about her own size. French said that she became great friends with Saunders well before they started working together, which was "over 30 years ago". The book consists of letters to the different people who have been in her life. In 2017 Me. You. A Diary, French's second book, was released. [12]

Epistolary novel novel written as a series of documents

An epistolary novel is a novel written as a series of documents. The usual form is letters, although diary entries, newspaper clippings and other documents are sometimes used. Recently, electronic "documents" such as recordings and radio, blogs, and e-mails have also come into use. The word epistolary is derived from Latin from the Greek word ἐπιστολή epistolē, meaning a letter.

Pound sterling Official currency of the United Kingdom and other territories

The pound sterling, commonly known as the pound and less commonly referred to as sterling, is the official currency of the United Kingdom, Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, the British Antarctic Territory, and Tristan da Cunha. It is subdivided into 100 pence. A number of nations that do not use sterling also have currencies called the pound.

<i>The Paul OGrady Show</i> British comedy chat show

The Paul O'Grady Show is a British comedy chat show presented by comedian Paul O'Grady, first shown on 11 October 2004. The programme is a teatime chat show consisting of a mixture of celebrity guests, comic stunts, musical performances, and occasionally viewer competitions.



French has had an extensive career on television, debuting on Channel 4's The Comic Strip Presents series in an episode called "Five Go Mad in Dorset" in 1982. [8] Each episode presented a self-contained story and, in addition to French and Saunders, showcased Comic Strip performers Peter Richardson, Rik Mayall, Robbie Coltrane and Adrian Edmondson. She acted in 27 of the 37 episodes and wrote two of them. [8] One episode featured a parody of spaghetti westerns and another a black and white film about a hopelessly goofy boy. Some of French's first exposure to a wider audience occurred when comedy producer Martin Lewis recorded a Comic Strip record album in 1981 which featured sketches by French & Saunders. The album was released on Springtime!/Island Records in September 1981 and presented French and Jennifer Saunders to an audience outside London. In 1985, French starred with Saunders, Tracey Ullman and Ruby Wax in Girls on Top , which portrayed four eccentric women sharing a flat in London. [8]

French has co-written and starred in her and Saunders' comedy series, French & Saunders , which debuted in 1987. [8] On their show, the duo have spoofed many celebrities such as Madonna, Cher, Catherine Zeta-Jones and the Spice Girls. They have also parodied films such as The Lord of the Rings , Star Wars and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets . After 20 years being on television together, their last sketch series, A Bucket o' French & Saunders, began airing on 8 September 2007. [5]

French and Saunders have also followed separate careers. During French's time starring in Murder Most Horrid , from 1991 to 1999, she played a different character each week, whether it was the murderer, victim, or both. [8] In 2002, French appeared in the comedy/drama mini-series Ted and Alice. In the series, set in the Lake District, French played a tourist information officer who falls in love with an alien. She also appeared in the BBC sitcom Wild West , with Catherine Tate, [13] in which she played a woman living in Cornwall who is a lesbian, more through lack of choice than any specific natural urge. This series did not meet with as much success as her earlier roles and it ended in 2004 after two years. [ citation needed ]

French's biggest solo television role to date has been as the title figure in the long running and popular BBC comedy The Vicar of Dibley , which Richard Curtis created for her. She starred as Geraldine Granger, a vicar of a small village called Dibley. An audience of 12.3 million watched the final full-length episode to see her character's marriage ceremony. [14] Her last appearance on The Vicar of Dibley was with Damian Lewis in a mini-episode made for Comic Relief in 2013. She was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Comedy Performance in the last episode of The Vicar of Dibley. Repeats of the show on BBC One still attract millions of viewers and it also retains a following amongst PBS viewers in the United States. [15]

French played a major role in Jam & Jerusalem as a woman called "Rosie" who has dissociative identity disorder and with it an alter ego called "Margaret". She co-starred alongside Sue Johnston (as the lead character, Sal), Jennifer Saunders (regular bit-part as Caroline – also created and wrote the series) and Joanna Lumley (regular bit-part Delilah). She made a guest appearance in Little Britain as Vicky Pollard's mother. French also appeared in a special version of Little Britain Live which featured several celebrity guests and was shown by the BBC as part of Comic Relief. She played the part of a lesbian barmaid in a sketch with Daffyd Thomas. [16]

In 2006, French appeared in Agatha Christie's Marple (episode: "Sleeping Murder"). She appeared as Caroline Arless in the BBC television drama Lark Rise to Candleford in 2008. Talking about her role, she has stated, "I'm quite a vibrant character. She's quite extreme, in that she drinks too much, laughs too much and sings too much. But she loves her family very much; it's just that she goes over the top sometimes." [17] In late 2010, French starred in Roger & Val Have Just Got In with actor Alfred Molina.

French appeared in Little Crackers, short comedy films which were broadcast over Christmas in 2010. [18]

French appeared as a special guest on Michael Bublé's Home For Christmas in December 2011. In July 2012, she was a judge in ITV's Superstar live shows. In March 2013, it was announced that French would replace Brian McFadden on the judging panel of Nine Network's Australia's Got Talent alongside Kyle Sandilands, Timomatic and Geri Halliwell (who replaced Dannii Minogue). [19]

Film and theatre

In films, French played The Fat Lady in the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban , [20] replacing Elizabeth Spriggs, who played the character in the first film of the series. French's then-husband, Lenny Henry, provided the voice of the Shrunken Head in the same film, though they shared no screen time. In 2005 French provided the voice for the character Mrs. Beaver in Disney and Walden Media's film adaptation of C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. [21] In 2010, French lent her voice to the role of Angie the Elephant in the environmental animated film Animals United . In 1996 French appeared in The Adventures of Pinocchio as "The Baker's Wife" alongside Martin Landau and Home Improvement star Jonathan Taylor Thomas.

She has also taken roles in the theatre. French has appeared in plays such as A Midsummer Night's Dream , My Brilliant Divorce, and Smaller, which last is about a schoolteacher caring for her disabled mother. January 2007 saw French performing as the Duchesse de Crackentorp at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, in The Daughter of the Regiment ( La fille du régiment ) by Gaetano Donizetti. Soprano Natalie Dessay and tenor Juan Diego Flórez were the leads in the production. [22] French returned to Covent Garden and La Fille du règiment in the 2010 revival.

Her tour of 2014 is called 30 Million minutes since she will be this age in 2014. According to her time of birth this will happen on 25 or 26 October. [23]


French was chosen as the face of Terry's Chocolate Orange, [24] until August 2007, when she was dropped. [25] She has also been in advertisements for Churchill Insurance Company.

Music videos

French has appeared in the videos to Alison Moyet's songs "Love Letters" (which also featured Saunders) in 1987 and "Whispering Your Name" in 1994.

She also appeared in two Comic Relief music videos. In 1989 she joined Jennifer Saunders and Kathy Burke to form "Lananeeneenoonoo" and, along with Bananarama, they created a charity single to raise money for Comic Relief. It was a cover version of The Beatles song "Help!", and was released on the London Records label, entering the UK Singles Chart on 25 February 1989 and reaching a high of #3. It remained in the chart for nine weeks.

French, Saunders and Burke returned for Comic Relief in 1997 as "The Sugar Lumps," along with Llewella Gideon and Lulu, to parody The Spice Girls, with whom they performed a version of "Who Do You Think You Are?"

In 1986 she appeared as a blonde in Kate Bush's music video titled "Experiment IV."

Personal life

French met Lenny Henry on the alternative comedy circuit. The couple married on 20 October 1984 in Covent Garden, London. They adopted a daughter, Billie. [26] French has stated that Billie has always known that she was adopted, [26] but once took out an injunction when a biographer came close to revealing the identity of Billie's biological mother. When faced with a question about how she and Henry would feel if Billie wanted to find out about her birth mother, French commented, "Whatever she wants to do when she's 18, we'll support her. What I do worry about is anyone else making the decision for her." [26]

On 6 April 2010, French and Henry announced they were separating after 25 years of marriage. It was reported that the separation was amicable. They had decided to separate in October the previous year but left it until then as they were still in discussion over the separation. [27] Their divorce was finalised in 2010. [28]

French began dating charity worker Mark Bignell in 2011. On 22 April 2013 it was reported that they had just married. [28] The couple reside in Fowey, Cornwall, in a mansion with 40 rooms overlooking Readymoney Cove and neighbouring Poldridmouth Cove. The grade II-listed building dates back to the 19th century. [10]

In September 2014 French was named as the new Chancellor of Falmouth University. [29]

French is a supporter of the Labour Party. [30]

Awards and recognition

French and Saunders won the honorary Golden Rose of Montreux award in 2002 and in 2003, she was listed in The Observer as one of the 50 funniest acts in British comedy. In a 2006 poll consisting of 4,000 people, French was named as the most admired female celebrity amongst women in Britain. [31]

In February 2013 she was assessed as one of the 100 most powerful women in the United Kingdom by Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4. [32]

BAFTA Awards

British Comedy Awards

National Television Awards




1982 The Comic Strip Various Roles
1982 Five Go Mad in Dorset George
1983Five Go Mad on MescalineGeorge
1982–84 The Young Ones Insane Christian Woman/Easter Bunny
1985–86 Girls on Top Amanda Ripley
1985 Happy Families Cook
1987 The Storyteller Bad SisterEpisode: Sapsorrow
1987–2007 French and Saunders Various Roles
1991–99 Murder Most Horrid W.P.C. Diane Softly
Judy Talent
Rita Proops
Bunty Bresslaw
Katie Hatcliffe
Sonya Redfern
Anthology - a different character each episode
1992 Absolutely Fabulous KathySeries 1, Episode 6 - "Magazine"
1993 Screen One Elaine DobbsEpisode: "Tender Loving Care" [34]
1993 The Legends of Treasure Island Jim Hawkins
1994–2007 The Vicar of Dibley Geraldine GrangerLeading role; 2 series and 10 specials (20 episodes)
1997Sex & ChocolateBev Bodger
1999 Let Them Eat Cake Lisette
1999 to present Kipper Narrator Audiobooks only
2000 Watership Down ButtercupVoice
2000French and Saunders LiveVarious Roles
2002Ted and AliceAlice Putkin
2002–04 Wild West Mary
2006 Agatha Christie's Marple: Sleeping Murder Janet Erskine
2006, 2008–09 Jam & Jerusalem (Clatterford in the U.S.)Rosie
2006 Dawn French's Girls Who Do Comedy Herself
Little Britain Abroad Shelly Pollard
2007High Table
The Meaning of Life
Dawn French's Boys Who Do Comedy Herself
2008, 2011 Lark Rise to Candleford Caroline Arless
2009–11 Psychoville Joy Aston
2009 The Paul O'Grady Show Guest Host
2010–12 Roger & Val Have Just Got In Val Stevenson
2012 Superstar Judge
2013 Heading Out Frances
2013–14 Australia's Got Talent Judge
2013–14 The Wrong Mans Linda Bourne
2016— Delicious [35] Gina Sky1 drama
2017— Little Big Shots [36] Presenter ITV talent show
2017300 Years of French and Saunders [37] Various BBC One Christmas special


1993–94Me and Mamie O'RourkeStand Theatre, London
When I was a Girl I used to Scream and ShoutWhitehall Theatre, London
All Soul's NightLyric Theatre, London
1996 Swan Lake
1997Then Again
Side By Side
2001 A Midsummer Night's Dream
2003My Brilliant DivorceApollo Theatre, London
2005SmallerLyric Theatre, London
2007 La fille du régiment Royal Opera House, London
2008–09Still Alive
2014–Thirty Million Minutes
2018-19Snow White at the PalladiumLondon Palladium


1985The SupergrassAndrea
1987 Eat the Rich Debbie Draws
1996 The Adventures of Pinocchio The Baker's Wife
1999 David Copperfield Mrs. Crupp, landlady
2000 Maybe Baby Charlene
2004 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban The Fat Lady
2005 The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Mrs. BeaverVoice
2006 Love and Other Disasters Therapist
2009 Coraline Miss Miriam ForcibleVoice
2010 Animals United AngieVoice
2016 Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie InterviewerAlso executive producer



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  32. British Academy of Film and Television Arts Fellowship, presented on Sunday 26 April 2009, bafta.org; accessed 25 June 2014. Archived 24 April 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  33. "Tender Loving Care" via www.imdb.com.
  34. "Emilia Fox joins Dawn French's Delicious drama". 4 August 2016 via www.bbc.co.uk.
  35. Guide, British Comedy (25 August 2016). "Dawn French to host new ITV entertainment series".
  36. Reporters, Telegraph (19 September 2017). "French and Saunders to reunite for BBC Christmas special" via www.telegraph.co.uk.