From Spent to Royston Vasey. The prehistory, with and without pictures.
"If David Lynch wrote sketches, they'd come out like this."
London Evening Standard
The League Of Gentlemen are four comedy writers who specialise in dark, surreal and often tastless material that has the advantage of being exceptionally funny. To cut down on confusion, their TV series is also called The League of Gentlemen. They are:
Jeremy Dyson (writer)
Mark Gatiss (writer and performer)
Steve Pemberton (writer and performer)
Reece Shearsmith (writer and performer)
They met while studying at Bretton Hall in Leeds, UK - Mark, Steve and Reece were studying drama and Jeremy was reading philosophy. It's worth noting also that they write together in pairs, Steve with Reece and Mark with Jeremy.
Before the television series was commissioned, even before Royston Vasey, The League of Gentlemen presented their nightmare vision of smalltown life to listeners of BBC Radio 4 from the fictional northern hamlet of Spent under the name of On The Town with The League of Gentlemen. Most of the characters made familiar by the television version (ironically, since the radio episodes came first but then few people keep their eye on radio comedy output) were present including Pauline, the over-vicious Restart Officer at the Job Centre, the exacting, toad-loving Dentons, the well-meaning but ultimately hapless town vet Dr. Chinnery and the transsexual taxi driver Barbara, perpetually in the process of a difficult sex change. Notably absent are the local shop owners, Edward and Tubbs, represented instead by the diminutive Mr. Ingleby who refuses to let the differences between his height and the height of the shelves get in the way of serving the locals with groceries. "Can you lift me up?".
It's become something of a cliche, like seeing a film and maintaining that the book was better, to bestow the same superiority to the early radio versions of popular television comedies. And yet the cliche can't be fully applied to The League since the show format on each medium is kept strikingly similar so there's good and bad things to be said for both. A few new characters were introduced for the television, just as some were dropped during the transition but the basic idea of ignoring the standard one-story-per-episode plotlines in favour of interweaving stand-alone sketches remained perfectly intact. It wasn't broke, so it didn't get fixed. Of course, it being radio, visual gags are an impossibility but the use of sound effects (particularly on Dr. Chinnery's segments) were simultaneously suberb and utterly, utterly gross.
Wisely cashing in on the success of the Telly League, the BBC released the On The Town League as part of the BBC Radio Colection sometime in early 2000. Also, given that The League Of Gentlemen are a comedy troupe first and foremost, they've embarked on a live tour, releasing the inevitable video stroke DVD choice along the way.
Halcyon radio days.
- A Guest At The Dentons 6th November, 1997
- Death By Mau Mau 13th November, 1997
- Go To Joan Glover 20th November, 1997
- Gunpowder, Treason and Plot 27th November, 1997
- A Kind Of Loving 4th December, 1997
- God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen 11th December, 1997
Television season one.
- Welcome To Royston Vasey 11th January, 1999
- The Road To Royston Vasey 18th January, 1999
- Nightmare In Royston Vasey 25th January, 1999
- The Beast Of Royston Vasey 1st February, 1999
- Love Comes To Royston Vasey 8th February, 1999
- Escape From Royston Vasey 15th February, 1999
Television season two.
- Destination: Royston Vasey 14th January, 2000
- Lust for Royston Vasey 21st January, 2000
- A Plague on Royston Vasey 28th January, 2000
- Death in Royston Vasey 4th January, 2000
- Anarchy in Royston Vasey 11th February, 2000
- Royston Vasey and the Monster from Hell 18th February, 2000
Television season three.
- Christmas In Royston Vasey 27th December, 2000
- The Lesbian And The Monkey 26th September, 2002
- The One-Armed Man Is King 26th September, 2002
- Turn Again Geoff Tipps 3rd October, 2002
- The Medusa Touch 10th October, 2002
- Beauty and the Beast (Or, Come Into My Parlour) 17th October, 2002
- How The Elephant Got Its Trunk 24th October, 2002
A bunch of them. As well as scooping the Perrier Award for 1997, the radio series picked up a Sony Silver Award for best comedy in 1998, and the television series has managed to top up the trophy cabinet with a BAFTA for Best Comedy Program or Series in 2000.