mon 22/07/2024

The League of Gentlemen, BBC2 review - an anniversary to celebrate | reviews, news & interviews

The League of Gentlemen, BBC2 review - an anniversary to celebrate

The League of Gentlemen, BBC2 review - an anniversary to celebrate

Triumphant return of iconic dark comedy

'The League of Gentlemen': back on BBC Two to celebrate 20 years since the sketch group won the Perrier Comedy Award

In 1994, a group of students at Bretton Hall drama school – Jeremy Dyson, Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith – began writing and performing together.

They took as their name the title of a Jack Hawkins film, The League of Gentlemen, and in 1997 won the Perrier Comedy Award at the Edinburgh Fringe. The show, set in a fictional village peopled by some colourful characters, was on BBC Two between 1999 and 2002 and was made into a film in 2005. The four members, meanwhile, have gone on to write and/or star in various projects, singly or in various permutations.

So it was a mightily welcome return for the iconic show over the past three nights on BBC Two to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the group's Edinburgh success; it also acts as a warm-up for TLoG's live tour next year. Most of the old characters, male and female, played by Gatiss, Pemberton and Shearsmith (pictured below) – Dyson writes but doesn't perform named roles – were there, including shopkeepers Edward and Tubbs (who spawned the show's calling card of “local shops for local people”), ghastly Job Centre manager Pauline, trans woman Barbara, owner of the local taxi firm Babs' Cabs, and the seriously weird Dentons.

What am I talking about? All the residents of Royston Vasey are weird, psychotic or destroy everything they touch – or all three. Nobody is safe, nor indeed does any animal survive for any length of time in this village, in some unidentifiable county in the north of England. All four members of TLoG, by the way, are from that neck of the woods...The League of Gentlemen, BBC Two

The creators skilfully brought matters up to date in a Royston Vasey that was mostly boarded up and deserted. The series started with Benjamin Denton (Shearsmith) returning for his uncle Harvey's (Pemberton) funeral; Edward and Tubbs no longer run their shop where their “precious things” are not for sale and now live in a building listed for demolition; while Pauline has dementia and the Job Centre recruits are merely players in a re-enactment that her doctor believes will help her condition. Babs, meanwhile, reflects the change in society's attitudes to trans people; she doesn't recognise the LGBT designation and has created her own acronym, ACRONYM – "Actively Considering Reassignment Or Not Yet Made Your Mind Up".

There were some other nice touches to mark the passing of time – Edward and Tubbs' flat was No 9, a nod to Pemberton and Shearsmith's dark comedy series, Inside No 9, while Les McQueen (Gatiss), the former glam rock band leader, was cleaning floors for a bloke who was a dead ringer for Liam Gallagher (or was it Noel?).

The series, shown over consecutive nights, had the same combination of the original three series – a distinct narrative (this time about Royston Vasey being taken off the map by a fracking company), with entirely unrelated vignettes about various people who live in the village dropped in. My favourite was the accident-prone vet treating a young girl's pet hedgehog: as he injected the creature, it exploded and blinded her mother when its spines shot into her eyes, and covered the child in its viscera.

The series finale ended with serial killers Edward and Tubbs on the run and all its story strands unresolved, which suggests the quartet will revisit Royston Vasey again in the near future – and that would be super news.

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