League reveal all

Gents tell secrets from their pasts

The League of Gentlemen have one piece of advice for anyone working in comedy - and that's to ignore all advice.

"Don't dilute your work." Mark Gatiss suggested. "We got all sorts of advice - that we must have girls, that sketches should be just one minute long, that we should have songs.

"If you do that, all you get is an amorphous mixture of what's come before."

His tips came in a Radio 4 show recorded today, but not due to be broadcast until March next year.

During the wide-ranging interview with Paul Jackson for the In Conversation With series, the team discussed their life and their work. Revelations included:

  • Reese Shearsmith once had a letter published in the Beano. "It said 'Dear Dennis, I read only half my Beano and now can't remember where I put it. Can you help?'", he recalled. And he recently got hold of a copy after spotting it in a shop in Highgate, north London. "The cover had Walter the Softie wafting an elephant with a big green fan," he said.
  • Jeremy Dyson's parents once burnt notes he had written with a school friend to make each other laugh. They were angry because The Goat Book, as it was called, contained lewd drawings.
  • Mark has written four Dr Who novels (including this one)
  • As a child, Reese Shearsmith sealed " a load of bees in a jar with a load of worms to see who would win". Then he buried the jar.
  • Jeremy went to the same art college as Damian Hirst, only a year later. One of Dyson's exhibits was a fish left to rot in a plexiglass box - foreshadowing Hirst's later work. Dyson had previously made a paintbrush from the fish, by attaching it to the end of a stick.
  • Jeremy and Mark became friends after a long- conversation about the forgotten John Inman sitcom Odd Man Out, set in a seaside rock factory.
  • Reese's real first name is Reeson.

The team - who toyed with the names The Assassination Bureau and The Porn Dwarves before settling on the League Of Gentlemen - mainly spoke of their rise from weekly gigs at West London's tiny Canal Café theatre to the TV show and national tour.

Steve Pemberton said: "We would do ten minutes in an evening of stand-up, and it never really worked. So we just booked our own night at the Canal. And the only way we could get audiences was to change the material. It's a very good way of developing material if you can stick at it."

The team have just started working on a third series of the TV show, and Jeremy added; "We're going through the writing process again, and it's no different to the Canal Café."

A live video of the League Of Gentlemen's shows at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane will be released on November 19.

Published: 11 Sep 2001

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