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The Derbyshire League of Gentlemen!

Posted Monday, July 2, 2007

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The Derbyshire League of Gentlemen (Reflections Magazine 2004)

It would come as no surprise to discover that the inhabitants of the north Derbyshire village of Hadfield - which sits at the end of the Longdendale Valley, two miles west of Glossop and at the extreme northern edge of the County - were found to be suffering from a strange personality disorder.

The village’s schizophrenic tendencies are quite understandable for not only does Hadfield sit on the boundary - half in and half out of the Peak District National Park - but its dual personality is compounded by the fact that it is also the location of the quirky, fictional northern town of Royston Vasey, home of the BBC 2 hit comedy series, The League of Gentlemen.

`home to a sinister and bizarre community of tragic misfits, grotesque and psychotic characters'

In the award-winning television series the fictional setting of Royston Vasey is home to a sinister and bizarre community of tragic misfits; grotesque and psychotic characters like local shopkeepers Edwards and Tubbs, who murder anyone who ventures innocently into their shop who is not `local’. There is also a local butcher who sells `special sausages’ – rumoured to have cannibalistic ingredients, and the last series ended when all the inhabitants collapsed with `special stuff’ induced nose-bleeds.

Of course, it was left to the viewers to conjecture exactly what the `special stuff’ consisted of....!

In it’s third series, the League of Gentlemen enjoyed cult-status and devotees of the dark comedy can now visit the surreal haunts of the sinister residents of Royston Vasey, for Derbyshire Heritage Centre is offering guided tours around the village of Hadfield where the series is shot on location.

Spokesman Richard Felix of the Derbyshire Heritage Centre promises visitors an `hilarious time’ and says, “I know the show has a big cult following and the trips are receiving a lot of interest from fans”.

The once sleepy, inconspicuous north Derbyshire village at the dead-end of a branch railway line, whose single Main Street had remained unchanged since the 1950’s was transformed after a roving BBC location researcher wandered – or rather blundered into Hadfield in 1998 looking for a place that would pass as `a fictional town where visitors were frowned upon and murky secrets dwelt behind every door’.

One look at the unsuspecting streets of Hadfield was enough to convince the researcher that the ideal location had been found. Royston Vasey was born and the T.V. filming circus duly rolled into Hadfield. Residents watched in amazement as the village changed before their very eyes; the old fishmonger’s became a veterinary surgery and the empty estate agents found new life as a dating agency. The little handicraft emporium was transformed into a joke shop one day and a video rental shop a few days later. Hadfield folk were first bemused by all the activity, then amused, and finally excited when a circus big-top and small fun-fair were set up nearby and they were invited along to populate the new attractions.

When the T.V. crew finished filming and the trucks drove away leaving only fragments of Royston Vasey behind, life in the village returned to `normal’ – if such a description can ever again be applied to Hadfield – and the villagers waited for `their’ show to appear on television.

Filmed in 1998, the League of Gentlemen was first transmitted on BBC 2 in January 1999 and went on to win both the prestigious Golden Rose of Montreux and the RTS award for `best entertainment’ in 1999. It quickly became apparent that the dark humour and acutely observed characters were destined for cult status. Catchphrases like `are you local’? and `you’ll never leave’ soon caught on and fans began to make the pilgrimage to the place they soon hoped they could leave!

Since then the television trucks have returned numerous times; a second series was filmed during 2000 and screened on BBC 2. This proved so successful that a third series was filmed and is being shown weekly every Thursday night at 10pm on BBC 2.

The League of Gentlemen is written by Jeremy Dyson and co-written and performed by Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith, a trio of talented actors who between them play all the grotesquely surreal characters who inhabit the fictional madhouse of Royston Vasey.

In reality, the League of Gentlemen (Mark, Steve and Reece) started life on the London Fringe with a show first performed at the Cockpit Theatre in 1995. This led to a weekly residency at the Canal Café Theatre and to their first appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1996. They were signed up by the BBC to record a radio series with a view to future T.V. work and returned to Edinburgh with a new show in 1997, scooping the Perrier Award for Comedy in the process.

Their Radio Four series `On the Town with the League of Gentlemen’ was broadcast in 1997 and won the Sony Silver Award and the Talkie Award for the Best Audio Comedy. The following year the `future T.V. work’ became a reality and the location researcher was despatched to find Royston Vasey – which incidentally, is the real name of comedian Roy `Chubby’ Brown, who played the Mayor of Royston Vasey in the first series.

The rest as they say is history, and the multi-award winning `dark princes of comedy’ are currently breathing new life into the weird and wonderful inhabitants of Royston Vasey in the new series which delves into the disturbingly dark and distinctly bizarre behaviour of the most peculiar `locals’ on the planet.

Little wonder then that the confused inhabitants of Hadfield – or is it Royston Vasey? - seem to be experiencing something of an identity crisis.

At the time of writing the Main Street contains the Café Royston, previously, and still primarily a bicycle hire-shop; a pub serving `Royston Vasey Beer’; a fish & chip shop selling portraits of the fictional residents; a butcher making `special’ sausages – the special ingredient is rumoured to be alcohol rather than the cannibalistic content featured in the t.v. show - and a newsagent offering a variety of souvenirs including `league’ inspired fridge-magnets! However, visiting fans of the show should not be confused by Edward’s Wine-Bar – it was so-named before the television cameras arrived and has no known connection to the proprietor of the Local Shop as featured in the T.V. show!

One final tip for any League of Gentlemen fans who may be thinking of making the pilgrimage to the village of Hadfield, - be careful and keep your wits about you, watch out for Pauline, and if you happen to bump into any of the other inhabitants and they ask “Are you local?” just simply answer “Yes” – otherwise you could end up as an ingedient in the local sausage!

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