Your Next Box Set: The League of Gentlemen
What is it?
When The League of Gentlemen first hit our screens in 1999 it was quite unlike anything the BBC had screened before. Part sitcom, part sketch show, the action centres around the fictional northern town of Royston Vasey; a strange, eerie place inhabited by some of the weirdest characters ever seen on British television.
Created by the quartet of Mark Gatiss, Reece Shearsmith, Jeremy Dyson and Steve Pemberton, The League of Gentlemen began life as a stage show in 1994. By 1997 they had been awarded the Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Fringe, shortly followed by the debut of their series for Radio 4, On the Town with The League of Gentlemen.
When the first series, consisting of 6 episodes, hit our screens two years later, it quickly began gaining a cult following thanks to its dark humour and uniquely creepy characters. Two more series followed in 2000 and 2002, as well as an extended Christmas special and a feature-length movie, The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse, which arrived in cinemas in 2005.
So what’s the story?
Royston Vasey is reportedly an exaggerated amalgamation of the towns that the four writers grew up in, and its inhabitants are a very strange bunch indeed. There’s a local shop (“for local people” only) run by Edward & Tubbs Tattsyrup, an odd-looking couple with pig-like noses who are hell-bent on halting the construction of a new road into the town, fearing the arrival of outsiders. Then there’s Babs - proprietor of the local taxi company, Babs’ Cabs - a pre-op transsexual whose face is never revealed and whose only appearances consist of a hairy arm and a gruff voice which explains to the various passengers the grim details of his (her?) ongoing medical procedures, whether they like it or not.
There’s also a butcher with a sideline trade in an unidentified, under-the-counter mystery meat, known only as the ‘special stuff’; a well-meaning but cursed vet who kills every animal he attends to; a Job Centre officer who seems determined to keep her clients in a state of permanent unemployment and the utterly tragic Les, former member of a band called Crème Brûlée, whose main achievement appears to be reaching the heats of the Eurovision Song contest back in the seventies (“It’s a shit business…”). This is far from an exhaustive list, the show is packed with oddballs and eccentrics that have to be seen to be believed, and we haven’t even mentioned Papa Lazarou, who despite only appearing in a couple of episodes has become one of the show’s most infamous characters.
Why should I revisit?
The League of Gentlemen was something of a game-changer and, along with The Fast Show, was credited with reviving the ‘tired’ sketch show format, even though it isn’t really a sketch show in the traditional sense; there are story arcs running through the series which are just as strange as Royston Vasey’s residents. The writing is extremely smart, inventive and, above all, funny as hell.
Who will enjoy it?
Anyone with an appreciation for black comedy. Be warned: this is pretty dark stuff for the uninitiated, but we still highly recommend it to anyone who missed it the first time around.