Five classic comedies that owe a debt to the League of Gentlemen

The taboo-busting grotesques of Royston Vasey were a breath of fresh air when they first appeared on stage 20 years ago quickly followed by appearances on BBC Radio and TV. Here are the shows that might not have existed in the same way without them...

Programme Name: The League of Gentlemen Anniversary Specials - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. 3) - Picture Shows:  Edward (REECE SHEARSMITH), Tubbs (STEVE PEMBERTON), Supporting Artists - (C) BBC - Photographer: Ben Blackall

Okey, cokey pig in a pokey – good morning jobseekers!


As we ready ourselves for the long-awaited return of the nutjobs and cranks of this classic comedy, it’s time to reflect on the influence the boys from Royston Vasey had on the comedy world.

The pitch-black comedy won the Edinburgh Festival Perrier award in 1997 – and were quickly snapped up by BBC Radio 4. Their TV series finished on BBC2 in 2002 and was followed by a film in 2005, The League of Gentlemen’s Apocalypse.

But what shows wouldn’t quite be the same without the League boys Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Mark Gatiss and writer Jeremy Dyson?

At their best the League were like a Millennial Monty Python and their extreme, unsparing, fantastically boundary-free hilarity shook up the comedy world.

As Shane Allen, the BBC controller of comedy ultimately responsible for the League’s return later this month, tells “The League arrived from out of nowhere with a fully formed voice unlike anything else in comedy at the time. With their influences rooted in horror they felt like they had come from a more filmic character tradition than sketch shows of the time.

“I think their abiding influence alongside the work of Chris Morris is to have pushed the taste and taboo boundaries to where they are today because their work is so inventive and intelligent they could take on shocking themes and elevate them to art form.

“I think a lot of British comedy benefitted from what they achieved and meant that darker themes and grotesque characters became more prevalent throughout the British comedy that followed. “

So here’s a * cough * league table on the great comedy that came after…

Little Britain (BBC3 and BBC1 2003-2007)

Mainstream comedy felt the touch of the League. Matt Lucas and David Walliams’ Little Britain was notable for its grotesques – Bubbles de Vere could have been a resident of Royston Vasey. And it is hard to imagine David Walliams’ grown man Harvey, always keen to sup “bitty” from the breast of his mother (played superbly by Geraldine James), without the League…

The Mighty Boosh (BBC3 and BBC2 2004-2007)

There was an anarchic brilliance about the Mighty Boosh that is all their own – and yes, Noel Fielding did have a career before Bake Off. But would TV commissioners have let the shocking wackiness of characters like The Crack Fox grace the small screen if The League hadn’t already shown the way?

Human Remains (BBC2, 2000 – 6 episodes)

Big teeth and sexual deviancy lurking behind the net curtain lives of supposedly ordinary people… Rob Brydon and Julia Davis’ anthology comedy Human Remains is another show which trod the path of key League of Gentlemen themes and styles. Here are the pair’s hilarious Swingers…

Nighty Night (BBC3, BBC2 2004-5)

It’s Julia Davis again, and to say her pitch-dark comedy Nighty Night was taboo busting is an understatement. Ordinary people (like Rebecca Front’s poor, naïve Cathy) bumping up against savagely portrayed grotesques feels in the League tradition. Davis’ Jill is devious, manipulative, evil and desperate to sleep with her neighbour. In short, she is someone who would fit into Royston Vasey very nicely…

Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace (Channel 4, 2004 – one series)

Richard Ayoade and Matthew Holness’ show about fictional horror writer Garth Marenghi and his publisher Dean Lerner debuted in 2004. It had its own distinctive voice but the delight in low-budget TV shows of the past, the look of its characters and the massive cult following this show gained… well it’s all very much in the tradition of the League of Gentlemen.


The League of Gentlemen returns to BBC2 on Monday December 18 at 10pm