Interview: The League Of Gentlemen Returns - Mark Gatiss

The League of Gentlemen returns to BBC Two this Christmas with three new episodes to celebrate the group’s twentieth anniversary at the BBC.

Once again, the three performing members of the League - Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton and Mark Gatiss - will be playing a veritable host of bizarre and darkly comic characters inhabiting the fictional Northern town of Royston Vasey, in scripts written by themselves and co-creator Jeremy Dyson.

Royston Vasey is facing a threat more dire than anything it has faced before: dark rumours of boundary changes that could erase the town from the map forever. The fight to save Royston Vasey from administrative annihilation will come from unexpected and surprising directions, all of them local...

The League of Gentlemen's original radio series, On The Town With The League Of Gentlemen, won a silver Sony award 20 years ago this year. The first series of the ground-breaking TV series won a BAFTA award, a Royal Television Society Award, and the prestigious Rose D'Or in Montreux.

EPISODE 1 – Return To Royston Vasey

MONDAY 18 DECEMBER 2017 10pm BBC TWO

Familiar faces return to Royston Vasey, settling old scores and digging up some old friends - with more bad blood than an abattoir with septicaemia.

EPISODE 2 – Save Royston Vasey

TUESDAY 19 DECEMBER 2017 10pm BBC TWO

Royston Vasey is facing a threat more terrible than anything it has faced before: boundary changes that will erase the town from the map forever. The fight to save the community from administrative annihilation comes from unexpected and surprising directions, all of them local...

EPISODE 3 – Royston Vasey Mon Amor

WEDNESDAY 20 DECEMBER 2017 10pm BBC TWO

The local authorities, the local paper and the local police all play their part as the developing situation in Royston Vasey reaches its earth-shattering climax. Can the genie be put back in the bottle? And what dark forces have been unleashed in the amphibarium? 

 

INTERVIEW – MARK GATISS

Q: Have you felt a sense of joy making these specials?

A: It's been genuinely lovely, honestly. I said the other day, you know, if this all went south, and suddenly we’d lost the money or something, it would still have been worth it because it has just been such a good laugh. We’ve had a great time getting back together.

Q: You’ve been discussing this for a long time. What was the thing that finally prompted you to do it now?

A: We just set aside the time to do it - and we knew the 20th anniversary of us winning the Perrier Award and doing our radio series was coming up. We never split up. We just stopped for a break - like Abba! We’ve talked about it for ages and said that we would love to do something.

We didn't want to feel like a 90s band getting back together! But the lovely thing actually is that we are doing it because we want to, not because we have to. The thing that finally made a difference was the question: “Oh, I wonder what happened to...?” That’s the logical question which takes care of a lot of it. That immediately gives you somewhere to go.

Q: Did the characters instantly come flooding back to you?

A: Pretty much. It didn’t feel strange shooting here in Hadfield. The first day was in the Town Hall with Bernice and Murray. The first shot was on some stairs, and it felt like we’d just stopped two minutes ago! We were immediately back in the flow of it. Weird but great.

Q: Can you explain the thinking behind the premise of the specials, that Royston Vasey is about to be wiped off the map?

A: Right at the beginning of The League of Gentlemen, we linked it with the idea of a new road coming. We wanted that to be the most basic sort of thing, like a little bit of connective tissue. What we found, to our astonishment, was that people would say, “What’s happening about the road?” It’s amazing - you can do a lot with a little thread like that. Then the second series was the nose bleed epidemic. So for the specials, we wanted something like that which is simple. Royston Vasey under threat.

Q: You’ve got such a range of wonderful characters. How did you decide which ones to run with?

A: Obviously, some of them reached their natural conclusion – although that doesn’t always stop you bringing them back! It was mostly led by wanting to do certain things again and having a good laugh about it. We wrote more than made it into the specials but we wanted to go with the strongest material obviously.

Q: Is there an overriding theme to the specials?

A: Mortality, I suppose! Inevitably if you go back to something that you last did 15 years ago, then it’s about all of us getting older. Looking at people’s responses to the announcement that we were going to do it, inevitably, like all these things, it’s actually a reminder of happier times for some people. It seems extraordinary for The League of Gentlemen to be like that! 

Q: Which characters do you personally love the most?

A: Les McQueen, probably. I love the tragicomedy of his life! I also love Geoff, Mike and Brian, the businessmen. Dare I say it, I think over the years Geoff’s tragedy has developed a lovely richness to it. I just love it. It makes me laugh a lot. And Pauline, Mickey and Ross. I’ve always loved playing Mickey, and it’s one of those ones where once the teeth are in, he’s back!

Q: The “local shop for local people” has become an iconic sketch, hasn’t it?

A: Yes, that catchphrase is actually used in shops, without irony. Politicians also use it a lot, and I always get cross, thinking, “Do you know where that’s from?” That sketch works so well simply because it’s funny. The shopkeepers, Edward and Tubbs, are very silly, and they are disproportionately suspicious of anyone going into their silly little shop. They treat customers like they’re going to burn the shop down and kill them!

Q: That shop came from personal experience, didn’t it?

A: Yes, we were treated with great suspicion in a shop in Sussex. So from that little acorn grew this ridiculous Wicker Man-infused melodrama.

Q: How do you hope people will react to these specials?

A: I think there is something very joyous about it. Looking back, I think that our Christmas special was probably the best thing we did, and that was written in the same spirit of joyous enthusiasm. We thought, “Why don’t we just do it like a horror movie for Christmas?” and this has that kind of flow to it. It's happened very quickly in a similar sort of way. I think it is just very funny and we’ve had a great time doing it. I hope that translates to what people see because it really has been a joy to do. 

Read an interview with Reece Shearsmith here.

Read an interview with Steve Pemberton here.

Interview supplied by the BBC.

 

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