Book review: The League Of Gentlemen's Book Of Precious Things

We haven’t heard much from the League Of Gentlemen in the two years since their Apocalypse movie.

To keep the brand name alive, then, comes this peculiar anthology, billed as a ‘cornucopia of material which inspired them’. There’s no new material here, other than the introductions to each extract, in which the troupe’s four members explain what memories they have of the work.

As you might expect, given their often sinister brand of humour, the collection includes extracts from as many horror sources as comedy ones. Edgar Allen Poe, the Exorcist and Hannibal Lecter can be found alongside the likes of Porridge, Fry and Laurie and Rising Damp.

Reece Shearsmith seems to have the darkest mind, given his choices. But thankfully none of the quartet have gone for the obvious influences. With the same comedy names forever cropping up on ‘100 Greatest…’ TV shows, it’s refreshing to see acknowledgments as wide-ranging as the Coen Brothers, John Shuttleworth, Rufus Wainwright , Martin Amis and Noel Coward.

This nicely presented pocket-sized hardback is part nostalgia for the examples you do remember, part primer in those you don’t – although some of the briefer samples would benefit from being longer. If you’re not already familiar with Mike Leigh’s Nuts In May, for example, a single page of dialogue, out of context, is unlikely to convert you. On the other hand, Poe’s Tell-tale Heart, which is widely known but little read, is reproduced in its satisfying, but relatively brief, entirety.

The pieces are generally left to speak for themselves, though a couple of Steve Pemberton’s picks, especially, have a direct link to the League Of Gentlemen’s work. A genuine 1979 documentary about a pre-op transsexual and his/her unsympathetic psychiatrist clearly paved the way for Royston Vasey’s cab driver Babs; while the insular local shop for local people has obvious echoes of The Wicker Man. A question mark over rights means the boys could not reproduce any of Anthony Schaffer’s gothic masterpiece, so instead the Gentlemen’s own work stands in.

Christoper Douglas and Nigel Planer’s I, An Actor is the only piece to be cited by two of the four; while the most obscure source has to be the endearingly ancient, and utterly useless, guide How To Be A Comedian, by Cockney music-hall comedian Lupino Lane.

Any eclectic collections of brief extracts like this is always going to be ultimately unsatisfying, as the reader can never be fully enveloped in the pieces being quoted. But this Book Of Precious Things does achieve its aim in stirring a compelling interest to visit, or revisit, the works it draws from. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to rent Theatre Of Blood…

The League Of Gentlemen’s Book Of Precious Things is published by Prion at £14.99. Click here to order from Amazon at £8.99.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

Published: 12 Sep 2007

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