The League of Gentlemen are back with three specials to mark 20 years since the show’s radio debut.
The new shows reunites Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith and Jeremy Dyson as the residents of the fictional northern town Royston Vasey – a place where the description disyfunctional doesn’t quite cut it. And to describe its residents as monstrous also seems to be something of an understatement.
The pitch-black comedy finished on BBC2 in 2002 and was followed by a film in 2005, The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse. Its been a while, and if you haven’t caught the recent BBC repeats, you may like to remind yourself of the main players you’ll be seeing again for another bite of their special stuff…
Edward and Tubbs Tattsyrup (Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton)
Perhaps the two most famous League characters of all, the former proprietors of the Local Shop (for Local People) have been through the mill – last we saw their precious establishment had burned to the ground and outsiders threatened to swamp their village. In the new specials they are about to fight back. Royston Vasey must be kept local as we know, even if it involves murder and kidnapping.
Ben and Val Denton (Reece Shearsmith and Mark Gatiss)
Ben (Shearsmith) is the nephew of Val (Gatiss) and Harvey (Pemberton) Denton and in many ways the sole voice of consistent normality in Royston Vasey. He’s the first person we met when the show started – and the first we see again in the opening moment of episode one of the anniversary specials. He is also the only permanent non-local character. It is through his eyes that we see much of the mayhem, including Val and Harvey’s obsession with toads, their strictures on hygiene and horror about bodily fluids. At the start of the new run Harvey is apparently dead – but don’t be fooled. Nothing is ever as it seems in this part of the world. And you will be seeing Harvey and Val’s creepy twin daughters again.
Mr Chinnery (Mark Gatiss)
Pet lovers – look away. Royston Vasey’s resident vet cannot even look at an animal without killing it, the result of a curse imposed on a Victorian forbear we have learned in previous visits. Every creature that comes into his care will end up dead, quite often in front of children. His character is apparently a twisted parody of All Creatures Great and Small’s Tristan Farron (Peter Davison, a former Doctor Who star). Another note for Doctor Who fans: Gatiss used Chinnery’s wig when playing Professor Lazarus in the time and space drama.
Geoff, Mike and Brian (Mark Gatiss, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton)
Old colleagues from a plastics moulding factory the trio have fallen on hard times – especially Pemberton’s ultra hapless Geoff (in the centre of the photo) who has been known to end their strained get togethers with the line: “You knew I had this gun, Brian”. Marital woes see a rather hapless plan for spousal murder in the anniversary specials – in other words, another normal day in Royston Vasey.
Mickey, Ross and Pauline (Mark Gatiss, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton)
Okey cokey, pig in a pokey. Pauline is the cruel, bitter mistress of the Job seekers’s class, Mickey is her admiring charge while Ross is a whole heap of trouble, at least as far as Pauline is concerned. Ross, you see, isn’t mentally incapacitated or evil, which is probably why he can see through Pauline’s petty beefs and obsessions with pens. But his habit of speaking up explains why Pauline often enjoys inflicting physical violence on him. If the Department for Work and Pensions saw what happened under Pauline’s care they would be horrified, I tell you, horrified As we meet them again, Pauline and Mickey have taken things to another level romantically speaking. (I know).
Legz Akimbo – Ollie Plimsolls and friends (Mark Gatiss, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton)
One of my favourite characters, Shearsmith’s Ollie Plimsolls is the embarrassingly well-meaning custodian of Legz Akimbo, a theatre company which tours the country in a van with pious educational plays for schools. Their masterpieces include Everybody Out! (a play about homosexuality) and Vegetable Soup (a play about the disabled). His friends Dave Parkes and Phil Proctor also appear in the new specials and, unlike poor Ollie, appear to have done rather well in the intervening years. Will Ollie ever get his big break and play the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane like the League did in their heyday? (No.)
And not forgetting….
There’s a whole host of other grotesques that populate Royston Vasey. Herr Lipp, the creepy pedaristic German teacher (Pemberton) makes an appearance in the new shows, as does Bernice, the toothsome sweary vicar who doesn’t believe in God (Shearsmith). And fans will be pleased to hear that Babbs, Pembertomn’s transsexual taxi driver also returns – with some very strong views on hate speech.
I’ve seen two of the three episodes and so far there is no return for Papa Lazarou, the black-faced clown who kidnaps women and deploys the unforgettable refrain: “You’re my wife now”. And so far no Hillary Briss, the creepy butcher who caused some kind of terrible epidemic with his under-the-counter meet, or “special stuff” whose origins remain shrouded in mystery…
The League of Gentlemen anniversary specials begin on BBC2 on Monday December 18 at 10pm