While Emily Atack cut her comedy chops on Channel 4 show The Inbetweeners in 2008, her mum Kate Robbins has been blazing a trail for female comedians since the Eighties – something that doesn’t go unnoticed by her daughter.
Speaking on the first lockdown special edition of White Wine Question Time, Emily said her mum is quite simply her ultimate idol. She told host Kate Thornton: “No-one can ever top her in my eyes!”
From a young age, Emily was used to her mum touring and appearing on stage and screen, but one particular moment in Edinburgh sticks out in her mind.
“I remember when I was 9 years old and I went to see her in a show up in Edinburgh,” she recalled.
“She came off stage and there were people coming over asking for autographs and this woman just looked at me and said, 'Is that your mummy?' And she said, 'Your mother is one hell of a woman!' And I've never forgotten it.”
She continued: “You know, little things stick out in your mind when you're little. I just always remembered that. I remember thinking: ‘One hell of a woman’, that's a really great sentence!”
While Kate is best known for her fabulous impressions, she actually began her career as a singer – she performed in the 1980 Eurovision Song Contest alongside her sister Jane in group Prima Donna.
This was followed by a performance in Crossroads and a number two hit, More Than In Love, selling half a million copies, which was only kept off the top spot by Smokey Robinson’s hit Being With You.
In the mid ‘80s Kate became the face of Saturday night TV: first as part of the Saturday Gang, alongside comedy duo Hale and Pace. This was followed by a show alongside her brother Ted, imaginatively titled The Kate And Ted Show.
Then in 1998, Granada gave Kate her own show at 7pm on Saturday nights – The Kate Robbins Show – which also featured a support cast of her brother Ted, and actor Paul Bradley, who later played Nigel in EastEnders. While a woman fronting her own show isn’t revolutionary now, back then she was one of the few alongside Tracey Ullman and Victoria Wood to have done so.
Emily, who recently sold the pilot to her very own sketch show, said she still watches her mum’s work.
“I still watch her things for inspiration,” Emily said. “Just before I started [the sketch show], I YouTubed my mum [and] The Kate Robbins Show in the '80s. I watched it and I just found it so funny.
“I thought I would cringe as I was watching it, you know? But it was so great, and it was so inspiring and she was actually quite ahead of her time.”
After a stint doing voiceovers for ads, Kate discovered her talent for impressions, which led to her spending nine years as the main female voice artist on Spitting Image, where she voiced everyone from The Queen to Cilla Black.
Her talents didn’t stop there though – she also wrote the unforgettable theme tune for Cilla’s show Surprise, Surprise – proving that a portfolio career is nothing new. More recently, she played the role of Spanish cleaner Consuela opposite Joe McElderry in ‘80s inspired musical Club Tropicana.
And Kate wasn’t the only female comedian paving the way for future stars back in the ‘80s:
Tracey made her big break alongside Lenny Henry and David Copperfield (no, not the magician) in Three Of A Kind in 1981. Soon after she was the first British woman to have her own TV sketch show in both the UK and the US. She became a huge star in America, going on to win multiple Emmys, and starring in major films and big TV shows like Will & Grace.
She started her career in the mid-70s after she won TV talent show New Faces and went on to rule the comedy scene in the ‘80s with shows such as Victoria Wood: As Seen On TV and Acorn Antiques. Her down-to-earth nature and hilarious songs inspired many other female comics – here was a woman who wasn’t gorgeous or rude, but just damn funny.
Alongside her TV career, Victoria broke records for her sold-out stand up shows. During her lifetime she won five Baftas and on her sad death in 2016, aged just 62, was hailed by then Prime Minster David Cameron as a ‘national treasure’.
French and Saunders
Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders first found fame at The Comic Strip comedy club and the TV series of the same name. They then went onto appear as the comedy section during music programme The Tube, where Dawn French won the somewhat dubious honour of being the first person to say ‘blow job’ on TV.
They really became household names in the late ‘80s after signing an exclusive deal with the BBC. Their sketch show, The French And Saunders Show, which ran until 2007, was at the time given one of the highest budgets in the history of the Beeb.