Girls on Top

Girls on Top is a British ITV sitcom, broadcast in 1985 and 1986, and made by Witzend for the ITV contractor Central Independent Television. It stars Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Ruby Wax and Tracey Ullman, and was written by French, Saunders, and Wax with additional material from Ullman. Despite a poor critical reception, the series was a ratings success.

The show focused on four female flatmates and their landlady. It was a female version of The Young Ones, two series of which were made in 1982 and 1984. French and Saunders had both appeared in it and, like most of its stars, were members of The Comic Strip group.

The theme tune was written and performed by Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford from the British band Squeeze (with the cast singing the theme for the first series, and Tilbrook singing for the second).

The first episode had Amanda struggling to find a flat and managing to procure one (that she cannot afford) from Lady Carlton. The former resident, Candice, convinces Amanda to let her stay until Wednesday because she has nowhere to go. Then, Jennifer, Amanda’s childhood friend, arrives unexpectedly with nowhere to go. Eventually, Shelley is recruited to move in because of her hefty trust fund from her rich parents back in the States and because none of the others can afford to cover the rent and deposit.

Each episode centred on the fact that Shelley could order the others around because they relied on her to get the rent paid; usually the show incorporated Candice’s latest invented fatal illness, or any other reason to not pay the rent. One episode had Candice convincing everyone she was dating Prince Andrew, while another found her tricking Shelley into starring in a porno movie.

Tracey Ullman left after the initial series owing to her first pregnancy.

Characters

  • Amanda Ripley (Dawn French), a radical feminist who is strait-laced, anti-male and very liberal journalist, and the central character around whom the series was based. Like Shelley, she takes her efforts too far when she has something to prove. Amanda tries to hide her fascination for men and the Royal family to comedic effect, and is always conscious of people’s thoughts of her, in particular her colleague Yvonne. All in all, though, she was generally the most level-headed of the group. She has a previous history with Jennifer, which led to Jennifer moving into the flat.
  • Jennifer Marsh (Jennifer Saunders), a mousy and childlike woman (whom Saunders portrays as having mild learning difficulties) who was Amanda’s childhood friend who serves as the whipping post for everyone else. In the first series, she is studying at Madame Laines’ Secretarial and Cookery School. By the second series she is more assertive though no less naive, even briefly working as a stock broker.
  • Shelley DuPont (Ruby Wax), a struggling actress and the British stereotype of a gaudily dressed, rude, loud-mouthed American. The other women only tolerate her and let her live with them due to her hefty trust fund and her agreement to pay the majority of the rent in return.
  • Candice Valentine (Tracey Ullman), a promiscuous, lazy, manipulative gold-digger. The character is written off in the second series, with Candice leaving a voice mail declaring that she has moved to Oman and was engaged to a prince. She is not heard or spoken about after this episode.
  • Lady Chloe Carlton (Joan Greenwood), an eccentric elderly romance novelist and the landlady of the women’s flat.

Others in small roles included Helen Lederer, Pauline Melville, Helen Atkinson Wood, Mark Arden, Stephen Frost, Robbie Coltrane, Harry Enfield, Hugh Laurie, Pauline Quirke, Alan Rickman, John Sessions and Arthur Smith plus the Beverley Sisters and American Soap series actor Katherine Helmond, who appeared in one episode as Shelley’s mother.

Ben Elton – was the main Script Editor

Comments are welcome on your 80s memories...