Next month, as part of the 20th anniversary celebrations, the BBC will air 3 completely new episodes of its iconic comedy series, The League of Gentlemen. These will be the first new episodes of the much loved TV show since it went off the air back in 2002, and if early on-set photos are anything to go by, all of our favourite characters will be returning.
Amazingly though, there will be people reading this who have never had the pleasure of taking a trip to Royston Vasey, where strange shit is the norm and outsiders never leave. So, in an attempt to have you newcomers up to speed before the big return, we present you with your beginners guide of everything you need to know about The League of Gentlemen.
1. Welcome to Royston Vasey
Royston Vasey – which is actually the real name of ultra crap comedian Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown – might look like your typical North English village but it is, in short, home to some of the weirdest, most dangerous characters in the history of British television. Folk who don’t take kindly to outsiders sticking their noses in to their business.
Welcome to Royston Vasey, you’ll never leave. So read the signs as you enter the village, and, as you’ll find out as you read on, it’s not just a catchy slogan.
2. Who Are The League Of Gentlemen?
Let’s be clear from the off. The League of Gentlemen is not some weird BBC spin on the Alan Moore comic book series. Nor is it a TV continuation of the God awful movie adaptation of the aforementioned comics. Nope. In fact, The League of Gentlemen is actually a quartet of British comedy writers and performers, who started performing together back in 1994.
The League of Gentlemen consists of writer and director Jeremy Dyson, comedians Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith, and perhaps the most famous of them all – Mark Gatiss. You know, the one off Sherlock, Doctor Who, and Game of Thrones.
3. On The Town With The League of Gentlemen
Gatiss, Pemberton, Dyson and Shearsmith – who we shall from here on out refer to as TLOG, to avoid confusion with the name of the show – had their first big break in 1997, when they won the coveted Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This would lead to their very first radio show titled On The Town With The League of Gentlemen, which made its debut on BBC Radio 4.
The radio show, which featured stories about a bizarre fictional town called Spent – would prove incredibly popular and lead to a transition to television 2 years later.
4. The Road To Royston Vasey
The first series of The League of Gentlemen TV show was largely focused on the idea of the quiet, country lifestyle in Royston Vasey facing upheaval by the arrival of a steady stream of non-locals, intent on building a new road right through the village.
For any city folk reading this, the struggle here is very real. Motorways and bypasses are the bane of any small community, the only difference is most towns and villages in the North of England wont kill you and burn your body should you dare to step foot beyond the boundaries. I say most because, well – Rotherham.
5. Are you local?
Over the course of 3 series (and one film), we are introduced to the many different local folk that inhabit the oddball village. There are perhaps too many to name individually, but a few of the standout characters from series one include Toad loving, nudists Uncle Harvey and Aunty Val, local shop owners Tubbs and Edward Tattysyrup, mega bitch and Job Centre employee Pauline Campbell-Jones, and Hilary Briss, a wild eyed and bearded butcher, known for his mysterious ‘special stuff’, a highly addictive food that has the locals hooked.
Gatiss, Shearsmith and Pemberton would portray every character in the show, with extras performing as background characters only. Jeremy Dyson on the other hand would work exclusively behind the camera.
6. Hello Dave
By the time series 2 landed on television in 2000, TLOG had devised a host of new characters. The most popular though would have to be Papa Lazarou, the blackface wearing proprietor of the Pandemonium Travelling Circus.
Lazarou seemingly appears from nowhere, forcing his way into the homes of vulnerable women under the pretense that he is there looking for “Dave,” tricking the women into joining him, declaring “You’re my wife now,” before carting them off never to be seen again.
Performed by Recce Shearsmith, Lazarou is one of the greatest comedy characters of the new wave of British comedy, but he is also one of the creepiest. Perhaps to the detriment of the show, he has become one of those beloved characters that fans spend their time waiting to see, instead of enjoying the rest of the story. Fortunately he’s never too far away, and before long he has a way of turning up again, just like a bad penny.
7. A Plague on Royston Vasey
Remember Hilary Briss and his ‘special stuff’? Well, by series 2 the cat was out of the bag as local residents started to drop dead in pools of their own blood. This would lead to literal anarchy in the village, as the residents eyes were finally opened to the insanity going on around them.
So what exactly was the ‘special stuff’? One popular theory was that the butcher of Royston Vasey was selling human meat, but TLOG have denied this, claiming cannibalism is too “mundane.”
The most intriguing assumption though, is that he is actually selling sausages laced with cocaine, which apparently is an idea based on the hidden nods to films like Goodfellas, and lines where the ‘special stuff’ is described as being more dangerous “when it’s cut.” Some fans have even gone on to suggest that instead of sausage skin he’s been using human foreskins, which comes from an obscure reference in the live stage shows in which Briss describes the contents of his produce as rhyming with drawstrings. If that’s true, then Briss’ special sausages wont be on the Horror Geek Life menu at the Christmas party this year.
8. Yule Never Leave
Like all good TV shows, The League of Gentlemen celebrated Christmas with a one-off seasonal special, imaginatively titled ‘Yule Never Leave‘. Get it?
In true League of Gentlemen fashion, instead of a heart warming look at Royston Vasey during Christmas time, the special is pretty creepy, and focuses on atheist female Reverend Bernice Woodall, who is visited by residents with stories to tell in the hopes they can offload their sinful guilt.
The special is presented in a 60 minute anthology format, but the real story of the night involves Bernice’s own nightmarish encounter with Santa Clause as a child. Over the course of the show it is revealed that her mother was kidnapped by a hideous man dressed as Old Saint Nick, and as a result she has never been able to truly enjoy Christmas.
By the end of ‘Yule Never Leave‘, Bernice is a changed woman. She has helped others and restored her faith in her calling. It is at this time the man dressed as Santa returns to take her, only to reveal himself as Papa Lazarou. As he stuffs her into his sack, he grins and growls “You’re my wife now.”
By 2002, The League of Gentlemen was winding down. After seemingly ending all of its main story lines at the end of series 2, the show was rebooted with an inferior 3rd series, and a bloody terrible feature length film.
Although series 3 had a spectacular Papa Lazarou-centric plot, it lacked the appeal of the earlier shows, receiving groans where once there had been howls of laughter. For many, the show should have ended after series 2, when all loose ends were neatly tied up.
Nothing, however, could prepare fans for the film. Nope. Despite promises that all our favourite characters would return to the fold, The League of Gentlemen Apocalypse was actually a horrible meta comedy in which the characters escape the confines of the TV screen in a bid to kill off their creators before they themselves are given the axe. It doesn’t sound all that bad when you see the plot written down, but believe me when I tell you – it was.
Maybe I’m being harsh, and maybe I’d feel differently if I were to rewatch it, but Apocalypse felt like the worst ending possible to such a classic horror comedy franchise. It’s a good job then that they’re giving it a new lease of life.
10. The Legacy of the Gentlemen
Following the (anti) climax of The League of Gentlemen, the troupe disbanded. Jeremy Dyson went on to write sitcoms for the BBC, while Mark Gatiss’ post-League works have already been highlighted.
Shearsmith and Pemberton though continued to work together, firstly on Psychoville, a League of Gentlemen-esque horror comedy about a seemingly unconnected group of misfits with a disturbing shared past, and then on the outstanding Inside No. 9 – a series of one off dramas all revolving around the number 9.
Despite all of their successes though, each of the four will forever be remembered for the nightmares they brought when they first took us on a trip to rural England, and unleashed the horrors that lay hidden in Royston Vasey.
The League of Gentlemen returns December, 2017.