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Posts Tagged ‘The League of Gentlemen’

I know I’ve mentioned more than once my strange fascination with men in drag  I’m not referring to men who want to dress as women for their own personal reasons, the Jared Leto/Dallas Buyers Club kind of thing. I mean more power to them and all that, but that’s not amusing. I’m talking about men who are obviously men, dressing and behaving like women for comic effect.

In my opinion, Monty Python’s Flying Circus always did this shtick the best. I never fail to laugh at John Cleese wearing a wig and a dress while employing a high screechy voice. The Little Britain guys have their moments as well. But after finally watching all three series of the comedy/horror sketch show, The League of Gentlemen (1999-2002), I have come to the conclusion that the females of Royston Vasey surpass the Python ladies.

Reenie and Vinnie, charity shop workers who love carrier bags, won't work Thursdays and can't stand that Merrill image credit BBC

Reenie and Vinnie, charity shop workers who love carrier bags, won’t work Thursdays and can’t stand that Merrill
image credit BBC

 

I think this is because they actually develop many of these “women” bringing them back in multiple episodes and letting their stories evolve, often to ghastly ends.

For example, let’s begin with Tubbs Tattysyrup who is brilliantly played by Steve Pemberton. Tubbs and her husband Edward are shopkeepers on the outskirts of Royston Vasey.  Murderously xenophobic, the couple strenuously defend their bizarre way of life and the precious things of the shop. Tubbs is unquestionably loyal and obedient to her husband and for that reason has the mind of a slightly deranged child.

 

Pauline Campbell-Jones (also portrayed by Pemberton) is a restart officer for the local government employment services. Your very first impression might be that she is a compassionate public servant, but you will quickly learn that Pauline is in this job for the sense of superiority it affords her. She slags off her clients on a regular basis and if anyone challenges her, she strikes back quite ferociously.

Which is why Pauline is in the predicament of being out of a job and having to be a participant in the restart course she used to teach.

 

Reece Shearsmith plays Reverend Bernice Woodall, a bitter,chain smoking clergywoman with a ubiquitous smear of lipstick on her teeth. Her sermons tend to have a bit of a fire and brimstone feel about them as well.

We later learn the source of her acrimony and resentment has to do with a childhood trauma that has scarred her, but an even more sinister fate awaits the reverend at Christmas.

The tall and willowy Val Denton is portrayed by the equally lanky Mark Gatiss. Mrs. Denton genially but enthusiastically enforces her husband’s strict cleanliness rules. She gleefully recites the color code for household items and thinks nothing of her husband’s obsessive assumptions about self-pleasuring.

The family is oblivious to the degree of their freakishness until their nephew Ben arrives in Royston Vaysey for what’s meant to be an overnight stay. Apparently this is the first time their weird ways have been questioned.

 

Homely cleaning lady Iris Krell (Gatiss) is employed by Mrs. Judee Levinson (Shearsmith) a wealthy housewife who has a workaholic husband – or does she? Judee tries to feel good about her empty life by bragging to her working class cleaner about her lavish holidays and expensive clothes. Iris knows that she has a better home life than her employer and isn’t shy about sharing the spicy intimate details of her marriage.

 

A majority of the female population of Royston Vasey belongs to a mysterious sisterhood called Solutions.  Stella Hull  (Shearsmith) constantly rows with her husband Charlie and wants to stomp on his happiness by preventing him from pursuing his most recent passion, line dancing. Stella appeals to the group to help her find a “solution” to her problem.

 

If you’ve never visited the absurd village of Royston Vasey, you can pay a visit  through Hulu or Netflix. Watch with an open mind, get used to the humor and rhythms of this show and you will be richly rewarded with series three – the crowning glory of The League of Gentlemen.

If you are already familiar with this extraordinarily bizarre troupe of characters, please tell us about your favorites.  Bonus points to anyone who can tell me which character said this, ” SKEWED BEEF, HAVE ANY BODY GOT ANY BOKKLE AV ARAN DOOVE?”

 

 

 

 

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If I were to go back to college today, I think I would study linguistics.  I was rubbish at speaking French so it’s not really the different languages that interest me. Rather it’s the accents and dialects within a language that I find fascinating. It goes without saying, I’m sure, that my area of expertise would be accents of the UK.

When watching a film or TV series I often play a game with myself trying to guess the character’s place of origin based on their pronunciation and use of slang . I don’t always guess correctly but my ear for accents has been greatly improved by my exposure to endless hours of British telly. Besides the basic RP accent (similar to the Midwestern dialect in the US for being “free of an accent”), I can identify Northern Irish, Scottish dialects generally but not specific to the area, Welsh, West Country, Geordie and Yorkshire.

While I find most British accents pleasant, I can’t abide the really aristocratic sounding ones as they irrationally irritate me somehow.  Perhaps my aversion  began with posh speakers such as this…

 

The  next challenge I’ve set for myself is to decipher what I call the vernacular of the mumblers. From what I’ve witnessed, this incoherent muttering seems to be a fairly common speech pattern in Britain.

The first time many of us in the States were exposed to this phenomenon is probably when the Osbournes came to America…

 

The following are my research findings thus far concerning this small but widespread British dialect:

Most often this mumbling can be found in elderly people due to hearing loss, lack of energy needed to enunciate words, or can even be the result of ill fitting dentures.  Sometimes such individuals need an interpreter…

 

In other instances, no translation is necessary. Everyone in Pontyberry, Wales can understand what Daddy has to say…

 

Apparently a lack of diction can sometimes be stress induced…

 

But perhaps my biggest challenge in comprehending the verbally muddled was when I tried to watch the long-running, therefore I also assume well-loved, Scottish sitcom Rab C. Nesbitt. It took me three views of this scene to understand what Rab was going on about; however, with only the smallest amount of investigation, I can deduce Mr. Nesbitt’s speech anomalies have everything to do with drinking…

 

Who knows? Perhaps I’ve stumbled across something really big in the linguistics world.  Maybe someone will give me all kinds of funding to unravel the mystery of the UK mumblers.  And this bloke here could be our poster boy!

Keith Richards

Keith Richards

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Those British actors really like to show off, don’t they?  Isn’t it enough to play one character at a time really well?  Apparently not.  There are quite a few out there who insist upon taking on more than one role within the same series. And I’m talking completely formed personas with specific personalities, back stories and quite possibly, catch phrases.   How do they do this without getting one character confused with another? Well, besides the fact that a great many of them have attended drama school, I’d have to say the inner transformations are enhanced in large part by the elaborate costumes ,wigs, and in some cases, detailed prosthetic makeup.

In the mockumentary series Human Remains, (dvd cover art pictured to the right) Rob Brydon and Julia Davis portray six unique roles in each of six episodes.  They range from an aristocratic couple with disparate feelings towards one another to a pair of middle-aged married swingers who carry on while taking care of a comatose sister.  The comedy is quite dark as most of Julia Davis’ work is, but you have to marvel at how each character is unique in appearance, mannerisms and dialect.

The Mighty Boosh, which can be best described as a surreal musical sitcom,  features Noel Fielding and Julian Barrett as zoo employees and later shop staffers, Vince Noir and Howard Moon.  In the course of a given episode however, these two actors, along with their supporting cast, may transform into any number of other guest characters including Old Gregg, the Hitcher, the Crack Fox and the Moon.

As it’s difficult to accurately describe this show, let me introduce the Board of Shaman as they head out for a stag night:

Another show with a very versatile cast is Knowing Me, Knowing You with Alan Partridge.  Steve Coogan stars as inept talk show presenter, Alan Partridge, but it’s the supporting actors – namely Rebecca Front, Patrick Marber, and David Schneider- who reappear week after week as wildly different guests on the program.  It took me a few episodes to realize this was a recurring cast and not different actors in each role.  Here’s an example if you’ve never experienced the delightfully awkward Alan Partridge:

Next we move on to the real workhorses.  In sketch comedy, multiple characters are the whole point.  French and Saunders, A Bit of Fry and Laurie and of course Monty Python are among the elite comedy teams who alter their gender, age, size and personal history in the space of a five minute sketch.  As I’ve featured Little Britain a number of times here because of their amazing attention to detail in the creation of a diverse array of characters, I won’t go on about them just now.

However if we take this concept one step further, we arrive at the pinnacle of multi-character performance.  The League of Gentleman is a loosely interweaved horror/sitcom that all takes place in the (hopefully imaginary) village of Royston Vasey.  Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, and Reece Shearsmith take on over two dozen characters each in the course of a three series run and probably portray at least 6 or 7 roles per episode.   From a transsexual cab driver to a sadistic job centre manager to a mysterious shop-keeping couple who do not welcome non-local clientele,  Royston Vasey is full of secrets and very dark behavior indeed.  A concept like this leaves Saturday Night Live in the dust.

In order to demonstrate the versatility of this cast, I found a trailer for the dvd collection which features each actor in a handful of roles.

Oh yeah, and did I mention most of these actors write their own material as well?  What a bunch of overachievers!

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