The League of Gentlemen
|The League of Gentlemen|
Title card (1999–2002)
|Directed by||Steve Bendelack|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of series||3|
|No. of episodes||19 (List of episodes)|
|Running time||30–60 mins.|
|Original network||BBC Two|
|Original release||11 January 1999 – 31 October 2002|
The League of Gentlemen is an English black comedy television series that premiered on BBC Two in 1999. The show is set in Royston Vasey, a fictional town in Northern England based on Alston, Cumbria. It follows the lives of dozens of bizarre townspeople, all of whom are played by the show's writers—Jeremy Dyson, Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, and Reece Shearsmith—who formed the League of Gentlemen comedy troupe in 1995.
Shearsmith and Pemberton later collaborated to create another dark comedy series, Psychoville (2009); Mark Gatiss appeared in one episode. The three also performed together in the fourth series of Horrible Histories, in which they play American film producers who hear movie pitches from historical figures. Shearsmith and Pemberton also wrote and starred in the black comedy anthology series Inside No. 9, which premiered on BBC Two in 2014.
The stage show began in late 1994 and it was not long before the team took as their name the title of a Jack Hawkins movie, The League of Gentlemen. In 1997 they were awarded the Perrier award for comedy at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and their radio series On the Town with The League of Gentlemen, debuted on BBC Radio 4. On the Town was set in the fictional town of Spent. They won a Sony Award for this six-episode run. In 1999 the show moved to television and quickly acquired a cult following; three series were produced, the first airing in 1999, the second in 2000 and the third in 2002. A Christmas Special was broadcast in December 2000, after the airing of the second series. Along with The Fast Show, the series is credited with the revival of the sketch show format in BBC comedy. Its influence can be seen on later series, particularly Little Britain (the first series of which was directed by Steve Bendelack and script-edited by Gatiss).
Filming took place mainly on location in the north Derbyshire town of Hadfield and consequently had no live audience. A laugh track was added to the first and second series, by inviting a studio audience to watch a playback of the completed episodes as well as the filming of certain interior scenes, such as the Dentons'. The laughter track was dropped from the Christmas Special and Series 3 when shown in the United Kingdom.
The group took the show on tour for the first time in 2001, using a mixture of old and new material. In early 2005 a special one-off sketch was broadcast on the BBC for Comic Aid, a charity benefit for the tsunami disaster. In this, two of the most popular characters, Tubbs and Papa Lazarou, kidnapped Miranda Richardson. A feature-length film, The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse, was released on 3 June 2005. Later in the same year, the League toured the UK with their new pantomime-themed show, The League of Gentlemen Are Behind You, which ran from October to mid-December.
The BBC has expressed interest in a fourth series, though the Radio Times has claimed that there is little chance of this. Shearsmith is more positive about the idea on the unofficial website, though he adds that any new series will not be set in Royston Vasey, as the group believes the village has exhausted its comedy potential. In any case, they have said that their decision would depend on critical reaction to the film and their second tour. It is unclear whether a fourth series would continue the style of the third series or return to the sketch-show format of the first two.
In September 2006, the unofficial website reported that The League of Gentlemen were to 'reunite' at the beginning of 2007, most likely to plan for the fourth series. Shearsmith and Pemberton appeared on The Russell Brand Show on 22 December 2006. When asked "Will there be any more of The League of Gentlemen?", Shearsmith simply replied "Yes" but was quick to change the subject and not reveal anything about a new series. On the official website, Shearsmith's blog entry for 23 May 2007 stated that the troupe had recently met up in London's West End: "We discussed our next project - it seems we have hit upon something. Early days - but exciting nevertheless."
In May 2008, Shearsmith confirmed that although he and Steve would be making Psychoville (broadcast in 2009) without the other members of the League, the League would re-unite in the future. Despite this claim, Gatiss appears in the show as an actor who is murdered by the characters played by Pemberton and Shearsmith.
In 2010, a one off radio show, The League of Gentlemen's Ghost Chase, was broadcast on 28 October for Halloween. Unlike other shows, this was not a scripted dark comedy but a documentary of the members spending a night at The Ancient Ram Inn, reputedly the most haunted hotel in the country.
Radio series (1997)
In the radio series, the plot involved outsider Benjamin Denton visiting his aunt and uncle in Spent to be interviewed for a job at the local power plant. Not surprisingly, he missed the interview and was forced to stay longer than expected.
Series 1 (1999)
In the first television series, a sketch show, the main plot involves a new road being built through Royston Vasey, raising the possibility of great numbers of strangers visiting the town. The road development ends when Tubbs and Edward discover that the construction manager is their long lost son, David, and convince him to end construction and live "locally".
Series 2 (2000)
The second series sees a deadly epidemic of nosebleeds grip the town's inhabitants, killing many. The plot is resolved after some confusion over the cause of the nosebleeds, involving butcher Hilary Briss' "special stuff", Benjamin Denton's escape from his relatives, and the murders in the Local Shop. The first episode of this series contains the debut of Papa Lazarou who (despite only appearing in three episodes) quickly became one of the show's most popular characters.
Series 3 (2002)
The third and final series focused on a different character each week but with the overlaps creating a more complex layering of the plot, more akin to a one-off episode of a situation comedy (albeit with intertwined plots) than a traditional sketch show. The end of each episode features a white van swerving to avoid a pedestrian and crashing into a garden wall. Some residents escape unharmed, while others are not so lucky. A red plastic bag is seen being blown by the wind through the town in every episode, indicating that all the stories occur simultaneously. It is the only series that does not include a laugh track.
The Christmas Special took the slightly different format of three self-contained stories, with three of the characters seeking the help of the vicar, Bernice, on Christmas Eve. This episode was aired between Series 2 and Series 3.
The League of Gentlemen have played in total nearly a hundred characters, many created in the early stage shows, others during the span of the television series and some specially for the team's film.
Nearly all of the characters live in Royston Vasey. Tubbs and Edward Tattsyrup run the local shop, despite the fact it is far away from the actual centre of the town. However, they believe themselves to be local and will protect their localness by any means. Deeper inside Royston Vasey, there is Pauline Campbell-Jones, a Restart officer at the local Job Centre who hates the "Dole Scum" she has to work with. Then there is Barbara Dixon, a transsexual taxi driver who goes into great detail about her process of sexual conversion. Alongside them is Mr Matthew Chinnery, a veterinarian who suffers from a curse which results in any animal he comes into contact with dying a violent death; the Rev. Bernice Woodall, the local priest who does not believe in God and spends her time berating her parishioners; and Hilary Briss, "The Demon Butcher of Royston Vasey" known for serving his "Special stuff" to a select few customers.
Elsewhere, there is Charlie and Stella Hull, whose marriage is falling apart. There is also Judee Levinson and her cleaning lady Iris Krell, who are in a constant mind-battle. Levinson has a grand lifestyle, while Iris has a grand sex life. Then there is Geoff Tipps, who works in the local plastics company. Geoff likes comedy, but is hopeless at joke-telling. His relationship with his workmates Mike Harris and Brian Morgan is shaky, with Brian having a relationship with Geoff's wife, and Geoff often threatening people with a gun under pressure.
Royston Vasey has its share of visitors. Benjamin Denton comes to the town on a hiking trip, but his friend is killed by Tubbs and Edward. He is forced to stay with his toad-loving Uncle Harvey and Auntie Val, whose house is managed in an insanely ordered manner, with them being paranoid about germs and masturbation. There is also "Legz Akimbo" theatre company, who perform plays for the area, and whose manager Ollie Plimsolls is often shown to be unsuitable for acting. From abroad, there is Herr Lipp, a homosexual German exchange teacher who has a disturbing and monstrous side. The most evil of all the visitors is Papa Lazarou, a circus ringmaster with a blackface, who calls everybody "Dave" and steals wives.
It is widely believed that a lot of the characters and indeed the town are based on Pemberton's home town of Chorley, with Royston Vasey based on Adlington, a village within Chorley Borough. The character of Herr Lipp is believed to be based on a hospital chaplain Steve Pemberton encountered after suffering a heart attack in Germany and Pauline is primarily based on a restart officer of Reece Shearsmith's. Similarly, Ollie Plimsolls is based on a community theatre actor that Shearsmith had worked with. In the DVD commentary on the second series, Pemberton and Shearsmith state that Papa Lazarou's speech patterns are based on their former landlord, who would phone their flat and insist on speaking only to Steve. Gatiss has said in interview that the local shop was inspired by a shop in the village of Rottingdean and that he was influenced growing up around the former Winterton Hospital asylum near Sedgefield.
The majority of the inhabitants of the village — male and female — are played by Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, and Mark Gatiss, and the script was written by these three, along with Jeremy Dyson. Dyson, not an actor like the others, appears only in cameo roles. As there are usually only three actors on screen at any one time, the different characters mostly play out their own stories in several serialised sketches, rarely crossing into each other's storylines. Only rarely do actors "meet themselves". Exceptions include Papa Lazarou facing the Reverend Bernice in the Christmas Special (both Reece Shearsmith), Les McQueen buying a magazine from Pop's son (both Mark Gatiss), and Alvin Steele buying food from Iris at a supermarket checkout in Series 2 (again, both Mark Gatiss). The idea is taken further in The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse, when the characters meet the actors (especially when Herr Lipp meets his creator, Steve Pemberton). In the live shows, when Pam Doove was auditioning for a part in the Christmas Nativity Play, directed by Ollie Plimsolls, Pam had to audition in front of Ollie's Legz Akimbo colleague Dave (Pemberton), who said that Ollie couldn't make it "for obvious reasons" (Shearsmith plays both Pam and Ollie in the television series).
The film was made in 2005. The plot is that Royston Vasey is coming to an end and that the locals appear in the real world to try to save it. In the beginning Jeremy Dyson is killed by Tubbs, Edward, and Papa Lazarou.
The show contains dark humour, with many of the scenes inspired by horror films (the policeman who visits Tubbs and Edward in the first series is a reference to The Wicker Man), documentaries (Dr Carlton came from a programme called Change of Sex which featured a "monstrously unsympathetic" doctor) and personal experience - Legz Akimbo came from the writers' experiences in amateur theatre; Pauline Campbell-Jones came from Reece Shearsmith's own Restart officer and Papa Lazarou came from a former landlord Pemberton and Shearsmith had. The village sign reads, "Welcome to Royston Vasey. You'll never leave!" In real life, Royston Vasey is the given name of comedian Roy 'Chubby' Brown, who makes several appearances as the town's foulmouthed mayor.
The series has garnered considerable critical acclaim, as well as a BAFTA award, a Royal Television Society award and the Golden Rose of Montreux. In 2003, its creators were listed in The Observer as among the 50 funniest acts in British comedy. In 2004 The Radio Times listed Papa Lazarou as the 8th funniest comedy sketch of all time.
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- The Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town. twitchfilm.net, 12 January 2010.
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- Lunacynet.com - character index
- derbyshire|Hadfield, Glossop, Derbyshire, England, SK13 1 Link to map of Hadfield, where most of the series was filmed.