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23 April 2014
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The League Of Gentlemen

Edward and Tubbs

We all need to be jealous of something. The League of Gentlemen must be near the top of the tree of ideas other comedians wish they'd had first. But Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith and Jeremy Dyson thought of it -so to them, the glory.

The story of a simple Northern village where everyone keeps themselves to themselves and people like to keep things 'local', The League of Gentlemen is one of the most powerful comic formats ever created.

Steve Pemberton as Reenie

Along with The Fast Show, it made the sketch format 'cool' after the genre spending years in the wilderness. Without The League, there would have been - almost without a doubt - no Little Britain.

At times genuinely moving, at others so profoundly disturbing and shocking that it transcends traditional comedy, most of the time TLOG is just extremely funny, biting and brilliantly, dramatically written - the classiest sketch-based format written in recent broadcasting history.

Starting as a revue format at Edinburgh and then vaulting onto radio, The League of Gentlemen is a sketch show, although it is also a sitcom - particularly in its television guise.

In the village of Royston Vasey, various characters mostly played by Gatiss, Pemberton and Shearsmith inhabit a dark world of secrets and offhand depravity.

Mark Gatiss as Hilary Briss

The local butcher, Hilary Briss, serves a particular kind of 'special stuff' the nature of which is never discovered. German scoutleader Herr Lipp has questionable relations with his charges. Theatre troupe Legz Akimbo are led by the thoroughly inadequate Olly, whilst sadistic restart officer Pauline rules her charges with a mixture of cruelty and contempt. The Dentons worship toads and condemn self-abuse. Cab driver Barbara is never seen but is always saving up for her/his/its 'operation'.

Most appalling and most famous, however, are characters such as Papa Lazarou, the owner of a traveling circus whose catchphrase 'Hello Dave?' looks innocent on paper but which sounds utterly disgusting, and Tubbs and Edward, who run the 'Local Shop for Local People', fiercely hate outsiders, and at least in the TV version of the show, both show pronounced inbred, piglike noses.

Most formats that travel from radio to television, especially dark, imaginative formats such as The League, suffer because the mind tends to be able to 'do' things with the characters which reality can't match.

Edward and Tubbs

But the imaginations of the League, as well as Producer Gemma Rogers and Director Steve Bendelack, gave visual life to the League's monsters in far more horrifying, though comic, form than virtually anyone could have pictured on radio.

On radio, too, the series was more obviously 'sketches' - mainly owing to being performed live. Most of the TV series was made, however, on location and then screened for the audience.

The result is that although there's a laughter track, it's hardly noticeable, and doesn't interfere with the scenes - allowing The League to become its own world much more effectively.

Three series of The League were produced, with the BBC not closing the door on a fourth.

The first series saw the inhabitants reacting badly to a road being built through the town; the second saw plenty of deaths owing to a rash of nosebleeds. The first two series were both massively popular and cultish at the same time, winning a BAFTA, a Royal Television Society Award and a Golden Rose at Montreux.

Steve Pemberton as Pauline

The third series, however, took a different turn, with the characters all involved in a skein of stories which all interlinked into a larger narrative. The creators were getting frustrated with their characters and situations, and imprisoned within them - and this was made even plainer in the film version of the series, The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse, in which Royston Vasey is destroyed after a series of adventures between our world and that of the series.

Debates about the slightly less popular third series and the film remain rife - with diehard fans of the 'proper' League wishing that the creators had simply stuck to their original idea.

This, however, misses the point - which is that it was that need to create truly original characters that drove the League in the first place, and you can't stuff that genie back in the bottle. Whether they do another series or something completely new, it will be startling, and different - not just the old stuff redone.

Cast

Mark Gatiss
Iris Krell, Hilary Briss, Les Mcqueen, Val Denton, Haig and others
Steve Pemberton
Tubbs, Pauline, Pop, Harvey Denton, Herr Lipp, Charlie Hull and others
Reece Shearsmith
Edward, Papa Lazarou, Benjamin Denton, Judee Levenson and others

Crew

Mark Gatiss
writer
Steve Pemberton
writer
Reece Shearsmith
writer
Jeremy Dyson
writer
Steve Bendelack
director
Sarah Smith
producer
Jemma Rodgers
producer
Jon Plowman
executive producer

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