The most striking thing about the shooting scripts for Absolutely Fabulous is just how much the characters are there on the page. The verbal ticks and rhythms may differ a bit on screen, but that’s just performance choices in the moment.
So when we have a closer look at the script for Fashion, we won’t be noting every time some words are swapped, or even sentences, because more often than not, the change was probably unplanned, and the screen version is an improvement to the page version.
Fashion in the script begins rather differently to how it begins on screen. A whole three page dream sequence has been excised. It starts with a bit at Edina’s office, where she and Bubble are seen as effective and professional. I won’t reproduce the whole thing here, except this bit, which is referred to in a later episode.
EDINA: I know darling, but what about the party?Absolutely Fabulous Script Book, page 4
BUBBLE: That is all completely under control. We’ve moved Stonehenge to a tent in Hyde Park.
EDINA: Did you get permission for that, darling?
BUBBLE: They were very happy for us to use it, so long as it’s back for the summer solstice.
After some business with a clothes designer called Jonny (more later), the dream sequence moves to Edina’s bedroom, where she is being called names by Saffron.
Where we join the show on screen is as Edina wakes up from the nightmare.
The next excised scene is after Edina opens the blinds and puts on her sunglasses. On screen we cut straight to the kitchen, but on the page Edina walks into the bathroom.
Edina has her head down and is shaking out her hair. Eventually she looks up into the mirror pulling her best face. She pulls off the sunglasses and her disappointment is obvious.Page 6
EDINA: Old, old, old. (She inspects her face closely and tries pulling it into different positions.) Joan Collins … Kim Basinger … Ivana Trump … (She lets her face drop.) Barbara Bush.
The first kitchen scene with Saffy unfolds almost entirely as written, save for Edina using the honey/royal jelly moisturiser she scrapes from the toast on her face.
The character descriptions are sparse, if any, which is interesting.
Patsy arrives and they take the car to the office. A small chunk of the journey has been cut. After Patsy admits she gave up drinking for eight long hours, Edina is back on the phone.
EDINA: Bubble, it’s me. At last, I’m in the car coming in. Things are still under control this end … How is it with you …? Good. Models…? Good. Lights …? Good. Guest List …? Well, just do your best. Bye.Page 13-14
PATSY: I tried not drinking once. I heard myself talking all night and then, worse than that, next day I had total recall. It was terrifying.
EDINA: From now on, I will only drink when I am thirsty.
PATSY: Can you do that on your own? Surely, there’s somebody you could pay to help you.
EDINA: I don’t know, Pats. I’ve considered colour healing. I mean, that helped when I had my energy crisis in my vegan period.
PATSY: What did they do?
EDINA: Held up a purple card and told me to eat meat. It worked! Or I could get one of those earrings put in, and just turn it when I crave alcohol. Not that I do crave it. I just don’t really have the desire not to drink. But if I can prove to her that I can stop, then she can see I’m not an alcoholic and I can go on drinking.
PATSY: Don’t get an earring, darling … It’s all guess work. I had one put in to help me lose weight, but every time I turned it I just pissed my pants.
EDINA: I shouldn’t have left Bubble so much to do.
PATSY: Are you going straight to the office?
The cut bit is masked by using close ups instead of the two shot. Also, the end of the same scene has been truncated for broadcast.
PATSY: We’ll go to Joe’s cafe on the way back … You need a pasta. Then we’re going shopping. I’ve seen things for you. Look, there’s Yamishi’s new shop. Did you see it? Gorgeous window. Huge swathe of white chiffon over a terracotta pot.Page 16
EDINA: What does he sell?
PATSY: (thinks) White chiffon? Or maybe terracotta pots. Or both.
EDINA: I thought it was clothes.
PATSY: You can get white t-shirts.
This cut was hidden by cutting to a shot of the car turning a corner.
The next excision is remarkable, because it completely removes a character from the show. As they enter Edina’s office, and start chatting to Bubble.
PATSY: I told you things would manage without you.
EDINA: Lights … music … stage … press … tickets … models … designers?
BUBBLE: All in place.
The young male designer, Jonny, bursts furiously in, followed by a model wearing one of his creations, which is basically chain-mail. He is clutching other outfits.Page 18-19
JONNY: Hack off my tits … I’m having a nervous breakdown. I am a sinew on a stick. I am a nerve end about to ping into insanity.
EDINA: Johnny, darling.
JONNY: (in tears) I have been exposed to the hideous face-lifts on shoulder pads. Those bitch-buyers from Bloomingdales have told me my creations are unwearable. Unwearable? (indicates model) I am an artiste. These are my canvases. I’m not some blind tart seamstress huddled over her fabric in the Bois de Boulogne. These are to be worshipped. Did they ask Da Vinci for washing instructions? Picasso for zips? I’m going to do what every good Buddhist should do. I’m going to set myself alight.
EDINA: You’re a genius, don’t be crazy. You are an artiste, a creator, an innovator. Your clothes are fabulous. (Jonny, flattered, has now completely recovered) You just put in some zips on the left-hand side and a little tag with the washing instructions.
JONNY: Oh, all right. (They kiss) You’re so good for me. (He turns to leave and is confronted by Patsy who is standing holding a lighted match, challenging his Buddhist conviction.)
On screen, you can just see him passing the back window after he has left.
The second cut in this scene comes a page later, and culls yet another character.
PATSY: Finish the Chablis and walk away from it, my love.Page 20
EDINA: Don’t be silly, Pats, this is the bit I enjoy. Bubble, who’s helping you today? I told you to get an assistant.
BUBBLE: Yes, I have. She’s a friend of mine. She knows a lot about the fashion biz. Very experienced. (She calls) Lou-Lou!
EDINA: PR? PA?
Lou-Lou appears at the door, but can’t get it open.
BUBBLE: No, ex-model.
Lou-Lou is still trying to get the door open.
PATSY: Re-inforcing my prejudice with every pathetic attempt.
BUBBLE: Push! What’s push in French? Pousse, Poussin.
Lou-Lou gets in and walks languidly to Bubble.
BUBBLE: Did you find the toilet, this time?
LOU-LOU: (Shakes head slowly and talks with a French accent.) I don’t know.
PATSY: Right, I’m off. Are we eating?
There an awkward cut on screen, from the Chablis (Lumley says Beaujalais), to an unscripted bit of business where she snuffs out her cigaratte in the wine. This cut moment was obviously shot, but strangely, Lou-Lou stays in the office and has a line as Patsy leaves. There’s some clever editing going on here, or it’s a re-take from another time, because it’s not obvious how Lou-Lou has been removed.
During the montage where Edina works with Bubble to salvage the show, there’s a few extra moments on the page that don’t make it to screen, including a threat to Princess Anne unless she wears some Vivienne Westwood, and guilting Moet into donating champagne to the charity event so she can tell Joan Collins there’s free booze.
The final cut comes in the office after the show, when Patsy and Edina are drunk, and just before it cuts to the flashback sequence with June Whitfield as Mother.
PATSY: You’re only sake drunk. It’ll wear off.Page 26
EDINA: I think there may be some tea here, but no milk.
PATSY: I’ll go and get some milk.
EDINA: No, don’t. I don’t really want tea. Where would you get milk from? What place sells milk?
EDINA: Oh! No. Don’t bother. I don’t want delicatessen milk. She’ll never know.
PATSY: She’s not your mother.
EDINA: We got away with it then. My stupid bloody mother never noticed. My stupid bloody daughter won’t …