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Feature: The League of Gentlemen
Meet the Locals!
So, you've heard of The League of Gentlemen, eh? Let's get you up to speed. In the first of a two-part look at the story of the League so far, James Abery takes us back to the very beginning. It all started at Bretton Hall College in Wakefield…
The first time I saw the League of Gentlemen I knew they were going to be big. Very big. Say – a television series that wins the Golden Rose of Montreux and a sell-out season at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, for starters. I didn’t need any particular gift of prophecy, it was perfectly obvious that they were cleverer and funnier than anything around.
To backtrack a little, the League of Gentlemen is/are Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Mark Gatiss and Jeremy Dyson. Pemberton, Gatiss and Shearsmith studied drama at Bretton Hall College in Wakefield. Shearsmith was in the year below Gatiss and Pemberton, and apparently the three met for the first time on an all-sung production of The Taming of the Shrew (“Not Kiss Me Kate, that would have been sensible…”) which sounds bizarre enough to be a League sketch in itself. They discovered that all three had lived parallel childhoods – staying indoors to read Denis Gifford’s Pictorial History of Horror Movies or watch The Singing Ringing Tree while their parents moaned at them to go out and play in the fresh air. (This strikes a chord with many of the League’s fans, who had similar experiences – it certainly does with me.) They had a shared interest in old sepia-tinted pictures from Freak shows – three-legged boys, dog-faced women, pin-headed twins – and a preoccupation with things that would generally be regarded as morbid.
Mix up all of these elements, and you have the League of Gentlemen. Almost. The fourth member of the team, Jeremy Dyson, was not at Bretton Hall, but studying philosophy up the road at Leeds. Gatiss was introduced to him by a mutual friend and for half an hour, tried very hard not to get on with him. But when they discovered that they had both watched Carry On Screaming on Bonfire night in 1976, and that Oddbod Jr was a formative terror, they got on like a house on fire. Now, Gatiss and Dyson write sketches together, Shearsmith and Pemberton also pair up, although as they are quick to explain, all the sketches are worked through and altered in rehearsals, so it is difficult to say precisely who wrote what.
by James Abery
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