Any fan of The League of Gentlemen, the BBC’s classic, twisted dark comedy sketch show about to return after almost 15 years for a new series of specials, is undoubtedly a fan partly for many of the catchphrases littered across the three previous series. Royston Vasey, the small, isolated Northern town that forms the show’s setting, boasts a cavalcade of eccentric grotesques, many of whom gave us repeated comedy catchphrases that rival anything Little Britain or The Fast Show delivered.
So as the League prepares a return to disturb, disgust and crack us up, let’s list ten of the show’s funniest catchphrases and talk about the characters who spouted them…
10 – “No need to be rude, dear!”
A joint response to customers from batty old charity shop workers Vinnie and Reenie, who would frequently squabble as they served customers over whether they had a plastic bag, or whether the cost had been put in ‘the book’. Vinnie gets frequently frustrated at the scatterbrained, deaf as a post Reenie as she rushes around, misinterpreting and mishearing instructions for comedy effect. The joke would always be both women turning on customers when their exasperation would show, delivering their singular line.
The third season’s ‘How the Elephant Got Its Trunk’ ends up killing Vinnie off gruesomely in order to pair Reenie up with the camp Keith Drop, disguise of the terrifying carnival owner Papa Lazarou. More on him later…
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9 – “Jump leads for two!”
Easily one of the most sympathetic characters in the show was Alvin Steele, kindly manager of the Windermere B&B with his wife Sunny. Perennially in a neck brace with a shock of white hair, Alvin loves plants, loves Alastair MacLean novels and doesn’t love the fact his wife is a disdainful swinger who routinely hosts sex parties. Despite the tragedy of his loveless marriage, Alvin remains cheery, his two signature lines being “Home is the hunter!” Whenever returning with shopping, or the above “Jump leads for two!” When suggesting a cuppa. Alvin hide his deep sadness behind the jovial facade of a faded raconteur who looks like Adam Faith.
Alvin becomes the focus of Season 3’s ‘The Medusa Touch’, which takes Sunny’s sexual adventures to a very, very dark place…
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8 – ‘Yes, Mrs Levinson…”
One of the best punchlines to an ongoing series of sketches the show ever did was the hilarious, and quite unexpected, way they resolved the antagonistic relationship between common cleaner Iris and Mrs Levinson, a glamorous, well to do housewife always off on holiday or buying expensive clothes thanks to her always absent husband ‘Eddie’. Iris would resignedly spout “Yes, Mrs Levinson…” as her employer would frequently, politely, try and throw her wealth back in Iris’ working class face, only for Iris to calmly respond by regaling about her active sex life.
At the end of Season 2, their antagonist spills over into a brilliant row as Iris confronts Mrs Levinson with a few dark Home truths and we get the bombshell of a comedy revelation that… well, let’s not spoil it if you haven’t seen it, eh? It’s gold.
7 – “Now go out, would you?”
Now this one you may not remember, as it came from a one-time character who filled the sub-plot for Season 3’s ‘The Lesbian and the Monkey’, Dr Ira Carlton. A hugely unsympathetic old GP, he frequently casts off patients doubts, prescribes them hurriedly and tells them to “go out, would you?” in hilariously brusque fashion. One patient, Mrs Beasley – quite possibly the same woman who we see lost a child in a Season 2 sketch – ends up being embroiled in what appears to be a sinister invitation to Carlton’s house for a special ‘treatment’, but which turns out to be, well… bizarre…
Once again, as with many sketches, this one deserves to be seen and not described. Carlton isn’t likely to appear again but he’s one of the funniest, and weirdest, characters from the underrated third season.
6 – “It’s a shit business… you’ll find out”
Without question, the most tragic character in Royston Vasey is poor old Les McQueen. Formerly of unknown band Creme Brûlée in the 1970’s, McQueen lives for his days as a one-time (almost) rock star, regaling anyone he can with tales of getting to the Eurovision ‘heats’ with songs like ‘Voodoo Lady’ and lyrics like “You’re always engaged, girl, but not to me, is there room in your heart, girl, for my last 2p?”. No one cares though. He’s a relic of a bygone age who is painfully uncool, working looking after the mindless elderly and infirm, and constantly coming to realise no one wants to hear his dreams and memories.
Late in Season 2, Les is heartlessly swindled of his redundancy money from work by his former band mates. Never has his melancholy catchphrase, the self-reassuring “It’s a shit business… you’ll find out” more empty and painful.
5 – “A real good treat! Mmm!”
One of the standout characters from Season 2 was easily Herr Lipp, a German exchange teacher from Duisburg who brings students to Royston Vasey and stays with a local family (not *that* local). Lipp is flamboyantly homosexual, tripping over his adverbs and English mispronounciations to deliver a raft of Carry On-style double entendres like “let me take you in my fist”. He’s also powerfully, awkwardly attracted to young boys, despite being a portly, balding middle aged queen. Lipp really does skirt the edges of bad taste from the League, perhaps more than any other character, given his open, paedophilic overtones, but his flamboyance and sheer silliness overcome too heavily these dark undertones.
Last we saw of Lipp we actually learned he was secretly a vampire, in a 1970s set origin story for the Christmas Special, but this could well not be canonical with the rest of the series. Lipp is back in the new run so I guess we’ll see…
4 – “Excude beev! Have anabady gat aany battle orange doove?”
Again, another solo character in just one Season 2 sketch which became legendary within the show. The setup is simple and ridiculous – a woman, Pam Doove, comes in for an audition for an orange juice advert. All she has to do is say, cheerily: “Excuse me, does anyone have a bottle of orange juice?”. When Pam delivers the line to camera, it comes out with the babbling garble above, delivered in a gruff, aggressive tone, totally unlike Pam’s real, sweet voice. It’s really weird and totally unexpected first time around but the gag works with surreal brilliance.
Wonderfully, in Season 3 episode ‘Turn Again Geoff Tipps’, we learn advert director Jed Hunter actually used Pam’s bizarre take and it made him famous! We briefly see Pam again in the same episode in a stage play performing as Anne Frank and, well… you can imagine how that goes!
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3 – “Hokey Cokey, pig-in-a-pokey!”
We’re entering the big three of catchphrases and characters now, those which really pushed the League into popular culture. That open greeting comes from Pauline Campbell-Jones, a job centre restart officer who treats her jobseekers like trash, belittling and maltreating them viciously and violently, all the while coveting ‘pens’, which she considers her only friends. Pauline is, outwardly, one of the most horrendous, grotesque League creations, but she’s also one of the most tragic and complex, to the point the writers enjoy developing her relationship with the brainless Mickey Love and the antagonism with educated nemesis Ross through the first, second and ultimately third seasons.
You couldn’t revive the show without Pauline and it looks like she may be back in her old job come the new series, having married Mickey and found some momentary peace with Ross. It surely won’t last…
2 – “YOU’RE MYYYYY WIIIIIFE NOW!”
The League has a few villains in its rogues gallery; the anally retentive and psychotic Harvey and Val Denton, sinister butcher Hilary Briss or the inbred lunatics Edward and Tubbs Tatsyrup (more on them later…), but if the show has a super villain, it surely has to be Papa Lazarou. Despite only appearing once in Season 2, he immediately struck a chord; blackfaced, speaking gibberish, he ran a travelling circus but also used terrifying, pleasant intimidation to force women to become his ‘wives’, calling them all ‘Dave’ as he offered to sell them pegs. It was as weird and frankly disturbing as it sounds, so inevitably Lazarou returned – popping up as a devilish Santa to give the Christmas Special a final sting, and later undercover in the Season 3 finale as effete charity shop worker Keith Drop.
We almost learned too much about Lazarou in that episode, with the suggestion he may have some kind of supernatural origin and has been abducting women for many many years. The key to Lazarou is the mystery and sheer weirdness and as he’ll almost certainly appear in the new series in some form, let’s hope he retains that as he captures more women declaring “You’re myyyy wiiiife now!”
1 – “This is a local shop, for local people, there’s nothing for you here!”
Of course this was going to be number one. How could it not be? The characters of Tubbs and Edward, a married couple pastiche of 1950s local corner shops, spliced with inbred, psychopathic murderers, are heavily responsible for the League taking off as it did. The above claim to anyone who entered their remote ‘local shop’ in the first two seasons wasn’t their only catchphrase either, they had a surfeit of them – Edward entering every week asking “Hello hello! What’s going on? What’s all this shouting? We’ll have no trouble here!”, or Tubbs misunderstanding maps as having “lines and lines and lines” or even interpreting someone asking for a can of Coke as “I can, I can’t?”. All of these would frequently be repeated when the show was on air, and many have never gone away in people’s minds.
Though they were killed off for comedy effect twice during Seasons 2 and 3, the writers seem to have figured out a way to bring the Tatsyrup’s back. Without their local shop, however, how will they function? Perhaps Royston Vasey doesn’t need one anymore. Perhaps the entire town *is* the Local Shop now…
The great thing about The League of Gentlemen is that these catchphrases and characters just scratch the surface. Dozens more interesting, funny and complex creations ripple through this small, weird town, many not even needing catchphrases to strike a chord – Dr Chinnery the hapless vet, Legz Akimbo the offensive theatre company, Geoff Tipps the psychotic plastics worker, Stella and Charlie Hull and their viperish marriage, the list goes on. These catchphrases have helped the show linger but they’re not the be and end all. If you’ve never watched the League, try it before the new episodes drop. Just be warned though: you may never leave.
What’s your favourite character and catchphrase in The League of Gentlemen? Let us know, Dave!