Reprints of Interviews
my wife now, Dave!
Melbourne-based comedian, writer and all-round good guy
JAn spends a mere hour chatting to Reece Sheersmith of the
cult comedy quartet, The League Of Gentlemen – we
get to eavesdrop on the conversation. Read JAn’s full
article in the current FIEND magazine! (Australian)
FIEND would like to pay particular thanks to Jason Kenny
who runs the ultimate League Of Gentlemen fansite at www.leagueofgentlemen.co.uk
The first thing I wanted to ask you is
how do you and the rest of the guy see the League of Gentlemen?
How would you describe it to someone who had never seen
Well, it’s a strange kind of hybrid, really. When
we first arrived on television, no one really knew how to
describe us. They tried to call it a sketch show, but it
isn’t really quite that, because we decided not to
go that obvious route and do random sketches because that
had been done to death at the time, so we thought we’d
try to link them somehow. We kind of gave it a rough setting,
with this place Royston Vasey, we thought we would overarch
each half-hour with this running story and that then made
people think, ‘is it a sitcom then?” So I think
it is an odd one to describe to people. It’s kind
of a cross between a twisted soap-opera and a sketch show.
Did you find that that worked for you or against you in
I think it worked for us in a way that we could have never
planned because we never presumed that the idea of Royston
Vasey and that housing of all those weird characters a place…
We never banked on what that did, it was imagination. Royston
Vasey now, and the idea of that weird place inhabited by
all those weird people is kind of now greater than the sum
of its parts.
People remember Royston Vasey and it’s
actually like a term of reference now; people will say,
“Oh, that’s very Royston Vasey.” That’s
something we could have never planned because Royston Vasey
is only where we housed our sketches and our characters.
We had all these characters and we thought: let’s
not have them live separately in their isolated sketch world,
let’s put them all into a place. That place has become
bigger than any of us, I think, and that’s some thing
we could have never anticipated.
So is Royston Vasey, perhaps, to you what
the catch phrases were to The Fast Show?
Yes, I suppose it is. I mean, it was the last thing we came
up with, we had characters and ongoing characters. The thing
about our program, as opposed to sketch shows, is that if
the characters return, week after week, you do get a sense
of it growing, in the sense of a following, because you
come in on the joke. That’s a really cool thing to
do for people and then they’re in on these people
and the characters and the can anticipate what they’re
going to do this week based on what they did the week before.
Often programs that have isolated, week
by week, different scenarios, don’t tend to do as
well because you can’t latch onto it as a viewer.
You watch one episode of something and then next week it’s
different, despite the fact that it’s the same program,
if you’re swapping characters completely, it’s
harder again to get that momentum. You’re kind of
starting from scratch each week, you never build and that
can be a problem.
I mean that might have been a problem with
our third series which was more like that in some ways,
because it was isolating generally one character each week.
We thought we’d still be able to do it because we
did have this community that people knew. So, in some ways
that can work against you, but I think in other ways, especially
for what we were trying to do with our third series, which
was move it on again... We’d done this kind of sketch
show, we’d done it a bit more grotesque in our second
series, and we thought we’d go back to what we were
more interested in, which was the character development
in the third series. That was the way we went with it.
I don’t know, Fast Show is very different
to our thing because it is literally the boiled down sketch
concept, literally to a line. Ultimately it was one person
coming on, saying their catch phrase and leaving and you
couldn’t get more raw than that.
In the third series, even as you’d
escaped from the town, you kind of achieved that as well
because you could have Pauline or Mickey pop on the screen
just for a second and people would instantly associate that
character with a certain set of behaviours.
We did think that would probably happen because there’d
been two series already and people would have such a knowledge
of them it wouldn’t be necessary to do their jokes
again; that was what we left behind and that’s the
thing that’s very different about the way we approached
the characters. We gave them proper lives and Pauline wasn’t
always just that initial conceit of the Restart Officer.
We could do that joke for ever and if it was in the Fast
Show that would be what that joke was each week. Not saying
that’s wrong, but we just thought, let’s just
try and make her a real person and move her situation on
but still try and make it funny, which is obviously the
hardest thing in the world to do because you’re not
relying on the thing that she was funny for initially.
With the opening to the third [series]
with the scene between Pauline and Ross, was that just because
it was the most unexpected thing to do? I remember watching
that first episode and thinking: “what are they going
to do?” Despite how full-on and how grotesque and
how surprising the previous two seasons were I don’t
think anyone was expecting it.
No. Do you mean the bit when they first meet in the coffee
Yeah, and then they go back and they’re…
I know. Well, we thought… That originally came because
we just thought what would be… we had the idea that
Pauline would come out of prison. We could have done a whole
half hour of Pauline in prison but we thought that would
have been too obvious, so we had a brief glimpse of her
ruling the roost and then we thought we’d leave that
and have her go and live with Mickey for a little while.
Then we had the mystery of who’d gotten her out of
prison; we thought the worst case scenario perhaps, and
it would be interesting to follow this through, would be
that she was working with Ross against Mickey to try and
find out how he’s on the dole. We just thought that
was a really cruel kind of twist that people might not expect.
That was the initial thought, we started to write that scenario
where she was his partner in crime: It’s always interesting
when nemeses meet and they have to join forces. We had a
few more scenes like that actually, but once that was done
we just thought let’s leave that and try and take
the next step.
The sex thing between Pauline and Mickey
I think has always been there and also with Ross as well
in some ways. We thought there’s some kind of sexual
tension between them because of that constant vying for
power in the Restart room and we just thought it was the
natural next step. Mickey and Pauline was meant to be quite
sweet however horrific, but then the Pauline with Ross was
meant to be a nasty, hot, kind of savage mistake in a way,
that kind of left them both feeling really horrible as people.
We were tapping into something very real, I think, that
kind of… My favourite scene, I think, in the third
series is after they’ve had the sex and Pauline is
pulling her tights back up and Ross is hurriedly puling
his nightgown back on and making a cup of coffee, and it’s
that really awkward politness after the event when they
think, “what have we done?” In the heat of the
moment they’ve done this thing, they haven’t
thought it through, and then they’ve got all the consequences
to live with afterward. It was a human embarrassment vibe
we were going for with that and not so much the surprise
because we thought that no one would expect this: We do
a hard cut to him having sex with her from behind, no one
will expect that. We try to do that anyway, maybe sometimes
cynically, but regardless, we thought no one would think
Do you do that a fair bit? Do you think
as you’re writing: what do people want? What do they
We do think of that and the ones we’ve done more successfully
are the ones where we know we have fans that love it and
have handles on what they think we should do and what they
want. It’s really hard to not have in your head, but
you have to ignore it. We just have to do what we want to
do as a group of four writers, with these characters we
thought of. It’s very easy to think, “oh, I
think that we should do Pauline actually running a pen shop
and having Mickey and they go on holiday together”
and just do things you think that people would want to see.
I think that we really tried in our first
one to just do what we thought was funny. We’d arrive
at points and think, “well, that’s actually
what they’d expect.” We didn’t do the
whole half-hour in prison because we thought people might
think that, so we just did it quickly and got it over with.
The reason why we tried it, I don’t think quite successfully,
to kill off Tubbs and Edward in the initial opening sequence,
was that we thought we would bring then back in this big,
grand resurrection like Frankenstein’s monster and
then just kill them outright before the credits come on
with the train. We just thought that would be such a surprise
because people would be like, “oh yeah, yawn yawn,
they’ve brought them back and they’re too lazy
to kill them off, they can’t think of anything else,”
and then bam, we kind of swept the board clean.
We are fully aware of our legacy and what
it means and what the characters are to people, but we really
try to be like fans of it and not to disappoint. I mean,
you may well… Some of the criticism of the third series,
although our third series got the best reviews we’ve
ever had which was amazing. We were so sure we’d have
a backlash, you know what it’s like when a third series
comes on, we’re so aware of what it’s like when
you try for the third time and people are bound to say:
Oh, they’ve lost it, it’s not what it was. I
think because we were so brave in changing the format and
not just doing the same thing again, people actually…
well, critics, did respect it; they were quite respectful
of the choices we’d made and our daring to do it.
We might have lost some of our loyal “oh, just do
sketches and let’s just have Pauline in a Restart
room”, but people who went with it, I think, really
liked the third series and find it really labyrinthine and
brave. So it is hard but we do try to keep one step ahead.
I know that you’ve said in the past
that the League of Gentlemen is basically what you find
funny and it’s just your sense of humour. Is that
still the case, or do you now try and write for an audience?
Is it still: This is what we, as four guys, find funny and
bugger the audience?
I think it’s a bit of both. You do think of the audience
and you do think of the program as a half-hour on television,
you have to have some kind of an eye on it and that’s
when we do censor ourselves and think, “well, no,
that would be too obscure”. Some things in there are
pure, exactly that what you said, just ourselves finding
things funny. Dr Carlton that character Steve [Pemberton]
plays the doctor that won’t treat patients, that was
just something we found hysterically funny; again, based
on the doctor we’d seen in a documentary, kind of
word for word, almost. He was just so cruel to his patients,
he was just being insulting. That’s so specific and
yet we put it in because we thought it was hysterically
funny. Other times you need to have an eye on beginning,
middle and end of things and you can’t just be so
willfully obscure because I think you might put people off.
Another thing though, is that you have to kind of go with
it, you can’t dip in and out without thinking. It’s
true to say you either really get it or you’re completely
baffled by it and don’t stick with it.
Sometimes I think that, you know? Sometimes
I think, what is it that we do again? What did we originally…
what was our… what’s the… why do people
like us? You do have to sometimes just say: well it isn’t
that really, we didn’t think about all that, we just
kind of write it.
Do you still find people that just don’t
get it or are just resistant to it?
Yeah, absolutely, lots of people, I hear a lot. Often my
mum will tell me or Steve (Pemberton) will tell me that
his mum’s seen someone who’ll go, “I hate
that show, it’s weird. I do not get it. They frighten
Recently, not last week, but the week before
we were made honorary doctors at Huddersfield university,
so I’m a doctor now. In the oratory from the chairman
he said, and we talked to him about it afterwards, he was
so effusive. “I think it really is a litmus test of
people whether they like your program or not. Your program
makes people look at life in certain ways.” And then
he said, “Really, I find when I speak to someone and
I discover they don’t like it, I don’t want
to know them.” (laughs) He then said, “Because
I really think that you must not have a certain thing that…
to not get it, you’re not the kind person I want to
know.” Or something like that. Which was really interesting,
I thought that it’s probably true; we do look at life
a certain way, you have to have kind of murky-tinged specs
It’s interesting that you would say
that because I found that to be very much true. You’d
get together to watch it with a group of friends and you’d
find that the people who are your core friends would love
it. And you do sort of think, “this is why were friends,
because we all find this sort of thing funny.” Then
you have some ‘weirdo’ who doesn’t and
you do think to yourself, “you are weird and I don’t
like you as much.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s funny, I do think it’s
true we kind of get two kinds of hats on people and you
either get it or you don’t. I am always surprised,
I mean I’m obviously proud of it and I want people
to like it, but I always think, “why don’t you?
Why don’t you give it a chance?” I want them
to kind of stick with it, but I think maybe sometimes it’s
just so… I’ve never really understood why people
find it that… when people say they’re frightened
to me, and it’s grotesque, it’s too sickening
and that’s a reaction that hasn’t really changed
so much. But other times, other people, go the other way
and say, “oh no, I love the show, it’s a children’s
program,” and I think, well, no it’s not that
either (laughs) It’s not so light and fluffy and some
bits are disturbing, but I think there’s a balance.
We did our live tour and there were people
of all ages. You couldn’t ever get a handle on the
audience. That’s what’s good about our program
we literally cater, like a board game, from ages 8 to 80.
Do you find across that range that there
will be specific things that kids find funny, specific things
that teenagers find funny and specific things adults find
Yeah, I think so. I think that’s exactly why. Our
show and program is peppered with such different types of
comedy, you couldn’t really put a handle on what it
is exactly that we do. We’ve got very verbal and intellectual
stuff, when the writing is everything: Mark’s [Gatiss]
monologues that he does so well, are brilliantly written
and acted, I mean hopefully the acting is also great to
watch. Then there’s obviously silly, broad, visual
jokes of Dr Chinnery killing the animals, we didn’t
think kids would like those things. Then there’s more
slapstick kind of situations. I think that’s what
pulls people in from all ages, because you can appreciate
the Charlie and Stella arguing and that kind of gritty writing
and then there’s this visual stuff of Chinnery and
the Denton’s with their toads. I think people can
just find something in it or a character or a situation
that they can identify with and that’s what pulls
So going back to the idea that this is
all just things you find funny, it must be really liberating
to have this program that has such scope where you can just
put anything in it because it has such a broad range of
humour. I think a lot of comedy shows are perhaps limited
in that way where you think, “that’s obviously
slapstick so I can’t stick that in because I’m
going for a very cerebral sort of show.” Whereas you
really have, you do run that gamut of people falling over
in mud and poo…
…and then you have these really vicious
word games with Stella and Charlie. I remember one of my
favourite parts is where they’re playing Trivial Pursuit
and the conversation that they’re having and the subtext,
that is really great writing, to have that many levels of
humour going on. Then the next scene will be someone hitting
someone else with a shovel.
That’s right, yeah, it’s true. We decided to
have this town where you can flit around and have all these
scenarios and situations carrying on and that gives you
the room to have all these different types of humour. It’s
great because we always were afraid of that that decision
would… I mean in some ways it does exclude, we had
lots of sketches, that were historical sketches, we had
a big bag of sketches from the early days and we’d
think, “well, we can’t do that.” We wanted
to flit around in time as well but we had to leave that
behind. You do have to have some rules about what you can’t…
It’s about choices you make about what goes in and
what stays out, but it is still very liberating.
Even watching the live show DVD and that
sketch with the ye olde days, “beware Sir, beware!”
That’s right for the, “Go Johnny go go!”
Exactly. Which is just a fabulous sketch
because you don’t see it coming and then when it hits
you, you think it couldn’t have been anything else
What know you of Eight Man Down?
So I guess you’ve got that freedom.
On top of this crazy town where you can do almost anything
you want, you’ve also got your stage show where you…
It was so good to see the different iterations of the characters
and situations, Scott in the Arctic and those sorts of things.
Of course. That was a great way of doing the tour because
we thought we’d… exactly that, we’d be
able to do those things we’d never been able to do
on the telly in the first half and then give people full
on Royston Vasey in the second half. I think people were
a bit scared to begin with. We did two and a half hours,
that show was massive; I think most people would have someone
else on in the first half. We did an hour, just in our tuxedos
as we used to do it on the stage, did all these sketches...
some [characters] were in there, Pop was in there, but not
dressed up; come the second half it was like, “thank
goodness, they’re going to do the full on characters
all dressed up.” It was like black-and-white and colour.
Do you remember from which part of the
tour the DVD was from?
I think it was about two weeks in. We did six weeks at Drury
JN: So it was still young, still fresh.
Yeah, yeah. We’d toured already before then, for months,
so it was a different thing again to arrive in London and
we went off again afterwards. It was odd because you have
such different audiences in different parts of the country,
we never knew what London would be like. We were so aware
by then of what it was to turn up at a town, we went to
Birmingham, Manchester and we had all these big receptions;
which was brilliant because it was the first time we were
aware that anyone was watching it.
To do it in London though, we were thinking,
“what kind of an audience will it be? Will it be touristy
or what sort of strange mix?” It was fabulous, we
only booked a week at Drury Lane and we did six at three-and-a-half
thousand people a night. So it was just phenomenal.
So how do people from the north [of England]
I think they kind of get it the most, they love it the most.
I also think they perhaps resent it and not like it the
A sort of Pauline and Ross relationship
Yeah, exactly: They’re having relations they’re
not happy with. It’s almost like a flagship and they
find it great because it is about the north and they can
relate to it and we’re all from the north and they
should be proud as we are about that. Then also there’s
people that think, sillyly, that we are somehow mocking
things, that we’re taking the piss out of people,
as though that town is representative of the north and the
horrible place that it is, blah blah blah. It was never
really that, we could so see it when we first arrived and
we had reviews written about us and and things that we’d
get accused of being: “Four northern chaps who…”
That’s what happens to people from the north. Alan
Bennett comes from Leeds and now he’s like, “he’s
done well, he’s come down south.” It’s
so patronising, you wouldn’t have that if he was from
the south, you wouldn’t have, “southern lad”
and all that.
We’ve always been very hateful of
north in the inverted commas, that’s why we did Legz
Akimbo do their play “North”. That’s our
bile against Ayckbourn and others that are from the north
that do the “north” and have these characters
that speak in these freaky voices. We didn’t want
to suddenly be part of that, but also it is a kind of…
it’s an amalgam of all our experiences in the north,
not literally, but we wanted a place and we’ve left
our mark on the comedy world I think. I’m glad that
it’s northern and it’s got a northern sensibility
but it’s not exclusive. I know people that have met
me and have said to me, fans, “It’s exactly
like that in Wales, I’ve been to Wales,” and
I would have said “No it’s not, it’s not
Wales, it’s the north.”(laughs) They’ve
just got it completely wrong, but I don’t mind because
I’m glad you’ve found your experiences in it
as well, that’s what’s international about it.
Weirdly, it does do very well overseas and I’m always
staggered by it because I think it’s so parochial
and specific and yet it does play everywhere.
Does it do well in America?
Yeah, it does. It was on Comedy Central and it’s on
BBC America now and there’s a big fan base there as
well and they get it, they think it’s kind of Monty
I was going to ask you actually, about
the difference between British and American comedy I find
that British comedies tend to push the boundaries, I guess…
I recently read that they’re apparantly
going to do an Office remake...
I read that too, yeah.
...with Brad Pitt as David Brent and I
It was in the newspaper here. Apparently
he’s a big fan so someone hear this and they’ve
approached him to perhaps play David Brent, and I thought
if that’s true, then if that’s not the biggest
sign of not getting it at all…
...then I don’t know what is.
I don’t really understand how you could do an Office
without the performance of Ricky Gervais. You could take
the conceit of someone, I think that is a universal thing
to know your cringe-worthy boss and have that scenario but
I think you’d lose something with Brad Pitt. (laughs)
It is a strange one.
Yeah, it is. There are massive differences, of course, but
sometimes you… On the one hand you can be snooty of
American comedies and say they are really tame and they
never do anything. A lot of our program was cut for American
TV, they couldn’t have Tubbs full-frontal naked and
all these things. On the other hand you get Larry Sanders
and you get the savagery of what they do in that and Larry
David and you just think, “oh my god, it’s completely…
it’s brilliant!” It’s absolutely more
savage and wicked than we could ever say. You can’t
really lay the claim that they have no irony anymore on
then, because some of them do very much, brilliantly.
Given that now we’ve got shows coming
out of America which feature this savagery and irony and
sarcasm and then series like your own, The Office and people
like Chris Morris, Daniel Kitson. Is it something about
this time that we’re living in that’s almost
demanding this sort of, uncomfortable comedy? That people
aren’t happy just having a laugh, that they kind of
want to squirm and then get a release?
Yeah. It’s strange it’s happened all in one
era, because it kind of has and you do feel that. We’ve
gone from Harry Enfield and then the Fast Show which were
much broader and kind of cozy.
They were very much still about making
people feel just happy.
They were just funny and gettable and also quite... there’s
a lot of appeal and heart to them. Now, with a lot of them...
It’s not easy to do cold and calculated comedy but
it is... maybe it is a sign of the times. Performance levels
have changed, people are more sophisticated about what they
find funny. Lots of comedies these days don’t have
the laugh track anymore, sitcoms never really do very well
anymore; you can’t really make a good one anymore,
there hasn’t really been a good one for a long time,
apart from The Office, of course, which isn’t really
a sitcom, it’s brilliant, but it’s much more
than that, you could almost see it as a documentary.
With your own series and The Office another
big mark of this comedy that’s emerging is that you’re
not sure whether you should be laughing.
I remember watching the League a couple
of times. I watched it once by myself and laughed at all
the bits I thought were funny and then watched it with friends
and I remember sitting around looking at people thinking,
“okay, I‘m finding this hilarious but are my
friends cringing, are they… am I disturbed in some
way that I’m laughing at this?”
(laughs) Yeah, well, some bits of The Office I can’t
even… I thought ours was bad but that is just unbearable.
Some of the scenes he ends up in when he’s sacked,
they were just awful situations.
(laughs) Comic relief and the dancing.
The dancing yeah, just brilliant. The whole thing when he’s
been told they don’t need him anymore and then the
woman takes his photograph and he has to pose. (laughs)
It’s just brilliant. Why didn’t we think of
that? Just brilliant moments of TV writing, you’ve
got it spot on; because it was filmed thinking about how
it would look in the camera and they conveyed it so brilliantly,
it’s fantastic. I think it’s true, Alan Partridge,
he’s again another monster, another monstrous creation
of embarrassment and faux-pas from Coogan, again another
I think there’s a lot of real character
comedy coming through and has been for a while, more than
say, sketch show characters because they are much broader
whereas the comedy of today is done with a scalpel. You
had in the past a lot more crayon-like drawings, literally
sketches, only two or three scenes with them. We’re
moving on I think and it’s much more sophisticated,
frightening because people are so sophisticated it leaves
you with nowhere to go, it’s like, oh my God! We might
end up going the full circle and going back to much broader,
funnier stuff. We might be coming out of this dark time,
I don’t know but it will be interesting to see what
It’s interesting that you talk about
the scalpel and that the other stuff being broader because
this type of comedy still has an extremely broad appeal,
it’s still widely popular, it does become the thing
people talk about at work the next day.
That’s true, maybe I’m just talking about the
performance level or the precision of it all, but you’re
right it is, it’s really… The Office is a phenomenon.
I don’t know whether it’s because it is literally
in an office and that many people are, but whatever it is,
you can’t deny it. For everyone to get it like that,
it’s done something.
I’m wondering about the difference
between something like The Office which is really uncomfortable
and your show, is it the grotesquery? That The Office will
never have a whole series with everyone having blood noses
all the time.
It’s so real, The Office, they’re so painstaking
with the conceit, that it was a mock, a documentary and
anything that was in there could only have been in there
with the consensus of the people watching. You’re
very sure when the people in it are not meant to realise
they’re being filmed because they do different things.
They have constrained themselves with that conceit, brilliantly
though, you can’t pick a hole in it because everything
they say is there for the fact that they think they’re
saying it for the camera and it’s all exactly where
it’s meant to be, which is like a camera crew in an
office filming and creating the story out of the mundaneity
of the situations. I would think that it is really broad
in comparison, I think. If you look at David Brent and you
look at Tubbs and Edward, they are like cartoon characters
in comparison. In some ways, you can’t take one and
put it up against the other because… well, if you
went to Royston Vasey, suddenly Tubbs and Edward are the
real thing of that place and Pauline, however big she is
as a character, she is real in that Restart room in Royston
Vasey, and gritty as well. If you looked at the first scenes
of Pauline from the first series when she’s doing
Restart, that’s filmed like The Office: that’s
really grittily done and real and we wanted that kind of
feel in terms of the direction, like Ken Loach or Mike Leigh
type thing where you really think you’re there with
these miserable men smoking and she comes in, breezes in
and the funny thing is that it’s a man in a dress,
that’s Steve [Pemberton], but he completely plays
it as this woman with all these big blokes, (laughs)
I definitely think your show has an internal
consistency, you’ve done the suspension of disbelief
very well. With things that are surprising, they’re
surprising because they’re genuinely surprising, not
because they’re out of context. Things shock you because
you don’t expect characters to do certain things,
but you’re never thinking, “oh, that can’t
happen.” With Papa Lazarou coming through, that’s
normal, you’re watching that thinking, “oh wow,
that’s brilliant, this crazy circus is coming to town.”
You’re not thinking, “What’s that?”
(laughs) I think you’re right, you do just go with
it. I think it’s because we’re so sure of these
extraordinary things that you just go with it. I mean, Pop
is such a monstrous character with no redeeming qualities.
I think every character we’ve got has some softer
side, but Pop has none; and Geoff with his gun and his best
man speech and stuff. They’re so visceral and full
on that you might not like it, but you can’t really
argue with it because it’s so sure of what they are
in that world
I guess in some way they’re still
people that you know. Everyone has that embarrassing friend
or everyone had a friend who had a crazy and overbearing
dad. Even though they may be taken to the extreme, they’re
still identifiable, real-world people.
Absolutely. If you’ve ever been to, it might not be
a relative, but just to have been in a bed-and-breakfast
or a hotel where someone is being slightly pernickety about
what time you have to leave your key or something, you’ll
instantly get what the Dentons is because that’s that
taken to the ridiculous extreme. Yes, it’s a mundane,
real kind of thing taken to an extreme, like Geoff and his
gun. Telling a joke and he ends up pulling a gun out to
get it right, which is how that was born.
You’ve said before that Geoff is
your favourite character.
(laughs) Yeah, I love doing him.
Yeah, I do enjoy him, I’ve got the capacity to play
his frustration. Again with Olly as well, I love doing Olly
Plimsoles from Legz Akimbo. I enjoy doing him as well because
he so kind of… pent up anger and I have a lot of that.
I was going to say that they’re very
similar in that way, they start off innocuous and nice and…
and they’ve got that…
And at the end they’re screaming
about lesbian ex-wives.
There’s a lot of hidden rage within them. Well not
hidden actually. (laughs) It all comes out, I enjoy doing
that. Also, I love doing Papa Lazarou because he is almost
iconic now. I just saw in Kerrang magazine this week, there
was some rock band talking about how he’s their favourite
weird character. It’s weird that kind of crossover
he’s made into like goths and the heavy-metal world,
He’s made for that though.
We never thought of that at the time, but they have embraced
him and it’s weird, his whole look and the rings.
I definitely think among the goth friends
that I have he’s is definitely the favourite character.
He’s just so… I think that he is probably the
most detached from the real world…
Absolutely, he is otherwordly.
...a kind of spectre that kind of floats
in and steals your taps. (laughs)
Yeah, yeah (laughs) Steals your taps. He is bizarre, but
again in a really… He kind of insists on being part
of the real world in a strange way when you first see him
asking for Dave. He’s so sure that the woman is called
Dave, (laughs) you’re kind of wrong-footed by his
I think that’s the thing, it’s
such a horrible… It’s one of those situations
where you identify with it because it is so unidentifiable:
It’s this nightmare.
Can you imagine if these people came into your house and
were just not leaving and just overtook the house. It is
And that beautiful reveal of, “I’m
not really his wife.”
(laughs) Just go along with it.
The nightmare really begins then.
Please help me.
Do you think that the show is influential?
In terms of comedy. Do you ever see things on TV or in a
movie and think, “that’s us, we did that”?
Yeah, well, maybe… I’m thinking that there are
comedy shows coming up now that definitely have our influence,
that are playing with this kind of world of characters.
However, to what degree of grotesques you think, “we’ve
had a hand in that. That way of looking at comedy and putting
together a sketch show”, we might have done that.
I think that Johnny Depp was Papa Lazarou in ‘Pirates
of the Caribbean’ (laughs) I think he had a little
in him with the walks there, he’s put a bit of the
I’d like to think… what’s
nice is now if new comedies come out on television we are
mentioned in the reviews that this new program is like us,
which is nice because it means we are a thing now; we were
like the Fast Show when we came out and now other programs
are like us. It’s nice to think we’ve established
ourselves as a type of comedy.
So do you think you’ve made it?
I never dare think that.
I still can’t believe that, I find it amazing. I wake
up every day and think, “oh, wait, I do that for a
living”. I love it; I think it’s fantastic.
Being actors we all have gone off and since had bit parts
for other things and have been asked to do things, which
is very flattering. All the same, we can’t beat the
situation we’re finding ourselves in where we write
our own thing and perform it. There’s such strength
in that and it’s the thing that made us, because we
all tried to be actors before and never really got anywhere.
To have our own world and write our own
lines, it’s the dream.
Talking about doing other things, you did
‘Art’ as well…
Yeah, we did, that was great, I loved that.
…and you did TLC. Do you want to
do more of that? Are you happy just performing in things
other people have created?
We’ve always had a kind of rule that we wouldn’t
do… it would depend on the timing and what were doing
at the minute with the League because finally we’re
doing our film, definitely next year, it’s all happening
now. That’s going to be and has been a big project
this year, we’ve been writing it all year; yet at
the end of the year we had a kind of break and I went and
worked with Reeves and Mortimer, Vic and Bob, on their new
series Catterick. Steve [Pemberton] at the minute is in
Egypt doing a Hercule Poirot, he’s literally there
now it’s great, he’s doing ‘Death on the
Nile’. It always depended on if it fitted in with
the League, we would never take anything on that might take
away from us needing to concentrate on our thing, the actual
program or in this case, the film. We’re all too aware
that you can’t juggle too many things, we’ve
always been believers in one thing at a time.
Is it going to be a League film?
There are elements of Royston Vasey in it but it also moves
around and does something a bit different. We kind of tried
to, again, make another jump into a different direction.
Can’t really reveal too much, but I think people will
I would assume that film’s concepts
Yeah, we tried to make a film in it’s own right that’s
not reliant on the series; that was a challenge before we
Is there going to be a fourth series?
It’s been optioned, yes, we can maybe go back and
do a fourth series after the film. The next thing is the
film so I can’t even work out when we would be free
to do TV. They’ve asked for a fourth so if we decided
after the film to go for it, it’s there ready for
us to return to.
With the show, do you have things that
are definitely out of bounds or do you just find things
you can’t make funny yet? Do you have clear set boundaries?
We never have had that, if we’ve steered into anything
it’s because the humour has taken us there, we’ve
never thought, “don’t even try to find that
funny”. Conversely we haven’t thought, “oh
no, we mustn’t make jokes about that, we’d like
to but we can’t.” We’ve never been in
that situation and we’ve never been told if we’ve
written something out of bounds. We censor ourselves sometimes
we’ve had things where we thought, “that’s
too grizzly”. We had a whole thing with Barbara’s
sex-change operation in the series where it’s a bit
more graphic. At the end when David was in the shop and
I think the stump of the penis was thrown down the stairs
…when they’re trying to work out if he’s
a no-tail or a tail. It’s that visible thing and we
thought that we didn’t need that, that it was horrible
so we cut that. So we do have half an eye on it, but we’ve
never felt that we can’t make jokes about it or about
anything, so long as it fits in the world.
I’m also conscious that there is
very little swearing in it and I thought: Is that perhaps,
if you don’t swear you can get away with a lot more
Being actors were very aware of that as a thing. That’s
a thing that actually happens at some stage during the writing
or when we go through and we’re finessing the scripts,
we go through and look how raw the swearing is and we’ll
check it so that it’s not too much. Because a, it’s
for television anyway and b, you lose the power somehow;
if you limit them it’s much more powerful than if
you’re peppering it throughout constantly it doesn’t
have any effect anymore. The debt collector in the third
series, I swore in that but we thought we needed him to
be that savage; it’s correct for him to be really
It definitely had the impact it wouldn’t
have had in a different show.
Absolutely. You can do it and you don’t need to be
swearing to have power in the moment.
When you’re writing, I’ve read
that you write in pairs, you and Steve [Pemberton] and Mark
[Gatiss] and Jeremy [Dyson]. Do you work on each others
characters or do you stick to your own?
We kind of stick to our own because we just always have.
We almost write for the characters we perform as well. With
Pop, Steve said to Jeremy: “I want you to write me
a character.” So that was how that happened, actually
Jeremy wrote Pop for Steve knowing it would be Steve playing
him, so that was a very different thing. Jeremy writes the
Dentons with Mark, so Mark will be aware that he’ll
be playing Val in that, but I’m Benjamin and Steve’s
Harvey so we get given the stuff. Then we’ll look
at each other’s, we do look at each other’s
stuff and then edit it and then go through it again and
say, “maybe you could lose that bit, that’s
kind of reactive”, we work on each other’s stuff.
Usually we don’t have too many… we’re
not fighting for the same turf constantly because otherwise
we would never get anything done. We’re generally
happy with each other’s stuff se we never really have
to go back and say, “that’s just not very good”.
(laughs) It’s usually about the length of things or
things change in rehearsal, no one seems to mind that because
that’s when you actually get a feel for how it will
really be. It’s one thing to have it written on a
page and think it looks artful and nice but if you can’t
stand up and act it out visibly and see how it will be.
It’s a different process again, you have to know ultimately
that it’s how it looks, how it performs that matters;
it’s not a novel, it’s going to be acted out.
How much do you rehearse?
A lot. We’ve always had that kind of discipline because
of being actors and doing all on the stage we’ve always
had the need to work things out. You have no rehearsal time
in television, generally you can have a week or a couple
of days but we factor in weeks. Before anyone even sees
it we’ve rehearsed it and worked on it and finally
there will be a day when the whole production comes in and
looks at what it will be, the director comes in.
Our director has never really directed
us as actors because we’re so sure of our characters
and we just do it; he’s much more the visual flare,
(Steve) Bendelack is brilliant with the look of the place
and those kind of film looks and techniques but we work
on the characters and the comedy of it just independently,
privately. Jeremy comes in to have a look as an outside
eye at the end of our rehearsing time. It’s so great
to be sure of it once you get on the set. I’ve done
other things in the past where you arrive and you’re
filming it and it’s being committed to how it will
be forever and you’ve only had one go at it.
And it might not have been very good. (laughs)
And you think, “if we had the time”. Things
come out at rehearsal, things you could never think of writing,
there’ll be a new joke here and it will be brilliant
because it’s so spontaneous and it’s come out
of something that you could have never sat down and worked
out on the page. Those things often are the inspiration,
where your watching it and thinking, “how have they
thought of that? That’s brilliant”, and it’s
only because it came out of rehearsal. So it’s invaluable
to get that extra, the next level of sheen on it that gives
you the extra something.
There are definitely bits in the series
where you think, “that’s incredible writing.”
Knowing now that it’s been ad-libbed…
That’s not to say that we aren’t strong believers
in the power of the word and we’re not really improvisers;
sometimes it’s just, “if I do that there,”
and it just tweaks it and takes it to a different level.
Well, that’s it. One thing I did
want to mention is that a new bottled water has come out
in Australia called Aquavite.
(laughs) Has it really?
Yeah, I find it hilarious. I try to buy
a bottle and can’t quite bring myself to it.
(laughs) Yes, micturate. The water of life, that should
be the tag line of the advert. Maybe it is literally aqua
It’s one of those signs where I thought
perhaps the spread of the show and its fan base isn’t
as large as I thought. Because there’s no way a fan
of the show would… or perhaps it is a fan of the show.
Yeah, it could be.
One last thing, do you have any plans to
come to Australia?
Well, we have thought about it and we often get asked for
the Melbourne Comedy Festival, we’ve been asked three
years running and each year we’ve been too busy to
come because there’s been a series happening or now
with the film so we’ve just not had time. We would
love to, obviously, and we will eventually.
We’d definitely love to have you
here, there is a huge fanbase.
Is there really? We’re just never sure if we came
out would it be just silence.
Yeah. I think if we came out then the people who knew it
would turn up.
The series played here on the ABC…
…and the DVDs have been released
locally so just from a cynical, marketing point of view
you’d think that they’re not going to release
the DVD locally if they didn’t see a profit to be
There must be somebody watching. Definitely, we’d
love to do it one day. Maybe next year, the year after I
That would be fantastic. Thank you very
Thank you, Jan. Take care.
My London: Pemberton & Gatis by Simmy Richman
How long have you lived in London?
Steve Pemberton: Since 1990. I came here straight from college after spending the summer in Germany with a theatre company that was strangely similar to the Legz Akimbo troupe in League of Gentlemen.
Mark Gatiss: I moved down one year later after staying in Leeds to do odd jobs and a play called Death Warmed Up.
Where do you live and why?
SP: I've just bought a house in East Finchley. Areas without Tubes are underrated, I think. It's the very house that was used for the exterior shots of Ronnie Barker's house in Going Straight.
MG: I'm currently living in Barnsbury, but I'm trying to move, God willing, to Stoke Newington. It's odd, you spend more time buying a pair of jeans than a house. I've only seen the one I'm about to move into once, for about five minutes.
Are you a member of any club?
MG: I jumped the queue for Soho House because our agent was one of the founding members.
SP: Archway Snooker Club. I go there with my friend John Leary who was in Emmerdale for a while. The woman behind the bar recognized him so she gave me free membership.
What's the last book/CD you bought?
MG: Children of the Matrix by David Icke who is clearly seriously ill.
SP: The new Björk CD, Vespertine. It's good for chilling out to, as I believe the young people say.
Where would you most like to spend a 'lost weekend' in London?
SP: In bed. I can't get enough sleep as I have a 15-month-old baby, called Lucas.
MG: I'd like to stay in London over Christmas. There's something magical about the place when no one's around.
What keeps you awake at night?
SP: Can I refer you to my last answer?
MG: The indistinct figure of a man sitting on the end of my bed.
What's your earliest memory of London?
SP: Going to see England Schoolboys at Wembley when I was 11. I thought we'd drive past Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, everything. But Wembley was in the middle of nowhere and to make matters worse, a boy behind me at the match did a 'genie' on me, igniting a small amount of gunpowder in my hair.
MG: Queuing for the Tutankhamun exhibition in 1972. It was incredible.
What is the most beautiful London landmark?
MG: The Great Court of the British Museum and the Post Office Tower, which I'll always call it.
SP: I like the Thames from Waterloo Bridge, even though it's a cliché. It played its part on one of my first dates with my partner, Alison.
And the ugliest?
MG: South London. The whole thing.
SP: I agree entirely.
What's the last film you saw in London? Did you enjoy it?
MG: Planet of the Apes. It was a disgrace.
SP: I saw Together at the Phoenix cinema in East Finchley. It was a great film. Warm-hearted but not saccharine. It reminded me of early Mike Leigh.
When and where did you last get drunk?
MG: After our first night at Drury Lane. We had no idea how good the reaction would be. We were borne aloft that night.
Where is the most intimidating place in London?
SP: I had to buy a tuxedo and went into all the posh shops on King's Road. I find them very intimidating but somehow I don't think that Mark does.
What don't you leave London without?
MG: A return ticket.
What's the most embarrassing thing you've ever done?
MG: Agreeing to appear on one of those I Love the 1970s shows.
SP: I don't know about the most embarrassing, but the best thing I've ever done was refusing to take part in that programme.
When did you last lose your temper?
MG: All the time. I particularly enjoy shaking my fist at the telly.
SP: Buying a house is designed to make you lose your temper. Every person you deal with is incompetent.
Where did you last blow £2,000 and what was it on?
MG: This suit - made by a tailor on Upper Street.
SP: A bed from the Amazing Emporium in Cricklewood.
What's the first piece of advice you'd give a London tourist?
MG: That it's only a short walk from Leicester Square to Covent Garden. You don't need to get the Tube.
SP: Don't go to Buckingham Palace. Go to St James's Park instead.
What's the last conversation you had with a London cabbie?
SP: I said: 'How long will it take to get to town?' He said: 'Ten minutes.' I said: 'OK.' It took an hour.
MG: New Labour etc.
If you were invisible for the day, where would you go and what would you do?
SP: Break into Buckingham Palace and watch the Queen having a bab. [That's Northern for 'on the throne'.]
MG: I'd wrap myself in bandages and put on dark glasses so I could slowly reveal myself.
Give us your best tip for overcoming depression.
MG: Get a shrink. Worked for me. Or leave London at the weekends.
SP: It's satisfying to write down what you need to do and then do it. Then you can cross it off the list.
What's the most overrated thing in London?
SP: Camden f***ing Market.
MG: I wholeheartedly agree.
What do you miss most when you're out of London?
MG: I spent last weekend in Ely, Cambridgeshire. I missed the throb.
SP: The Tube posters. I always enjoy seeing them when I get back from being away. It's like a new world of culture has replaced the old one.
Which shop could you not live without?
SP: The Local Shop, quite literally.
What's the most expensive meal you've had in London and who did you eat it with?
MG: The promoter of our show took us to The Ivy every Thursday. The first time we went we saw Joan Collins, Helena Bonham Carter and Cilla. You can't beat that.
SP: Jesus Christ! Soho House, Islington, The Ivy. We are in danger of sounding like a right couple of luvvies.
What's your favourite meal to cook at home?
MG: Special stuff on toast.
SP: I don't cook. But I throw everything in the cupboard together as well as anyone.
What is your favourite view?
MG: That man [points to a man in the café slouched over his coffee]. What last made you cry?
SP: England beating Germany 5-1. It wasn't the game, I got overwhelmed seeing the clips again the next day. MG: My boyfriend forgetting to tape Bargain Hunt this morning.
Where in London would you have your ashes scattered?
MG: I'd never be cremated. It's so dreary. I want a marble effigy at the Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington.
SP: Cherry Tree Woods in East Finchley.
If your house were on fire, which three things would you rescue?
SP: My baby my Bafta, photos and a video of Lucas's first steps.
MG: The Bafta, this scary Victorian monkey Reece [Shearsmith, from LofG] bought me and, of course, my time machine.
The League of Gentlemen Interview!
"Dark princes of comedy", "murderously funny", "comedy's new macabre shock
jocks", "sheer brilliance in motion" and "downright nasty" are some of the
descriptions of The League of Gentlemen's unique brand of comedy.
The inventive comedy quartet, who defy these macabre adjectives by appearing thoroughly normal
in the flesh, came to prominence at the 1996 Edinburgh Festival and went back a
year later to scoop the prestigious Perrier Award in 1997.
Their comedy reveals the bizarre and often twisted lives of their collection of
characters including: the disturbingly regimented Denton family Tubbs and Edward, the inbred keepers of The Local Shop, Barbara, a transsexual taxi driver, Mr. Chinnery, the lethal vet, Pauline, the monstrously unsympathetic Restart Officer, Judee, the affluent housewife and her effluent cleaner Iris and Lance the sadistic joke shop owner.
In all, over sixty utterly familiar yet original characters, male and female, are acted out in masterful depth and detail in an astonishing range of guises by just three male League members.
Born in various parts of northern England (Darlington, Chorley, Hull and Leeds) the three actors/writers Steve Pemberton, Mark Gatiss and Reece Shearsmith met at Bretton Hall drama college in the early 1990s. The fourth Gentleman - writer and non-performing member Jeremy Dyson - studied philosophy at Leeds University, and was introduced to the group by Mark.
Their name The League of Gentlemen and their distinctive tuxedo-clad stage style was developed in a bid to deflect any 'northern comics' label and set them apart from other comedy and stand-up performers.
Mark explains: "The name and stage image is a trick to look and sound like an old style 1950s revue... but our material is anything but."
Mark gave up his writing Dr Who books and occasional appearances as a dalek, Reece said a fond farewell to the local Job Centre and his Restart Officer (more of which later) and work in Theatre in Education, Jeremy abandoned his literary ambitions, turning his back on short-story writing and entertaining children as 'Uncle Jeremy' and Steve left his work in fringe theatre behind.
After three years of trying out their material in London's Canal Café, the League took their trademark dark and shocking comedy sketch show to Edinburgh in 1997 and won the coveted Perrier Award, the first sketch team to win this accolade since 1981.
Fending off producers and lucrative deals, The League Of Gentlemen signed with the BBC and producer Sarah Smith (BBC 2's In The Red, Friday Night Armistice) and made their 1998 Sony Silver Award-winning BBC Radio 4 series 'On The Town With The League of Gentlemen'. The next step was to bring their extraordinary voice to television.
The BBC 2 television series
In a unique comedy format, a whole town has been created for their extraordinary host of popular stage characters. In the BBC 2 television series the fictional northern town - which is every small town anywhere - is called Royston Vasey.
Why Royston Vasey? As Mark succinctly puts it: "It sounds like an ordinary town but with something wrong" which sums up this intriguingly different black comedy soap.
The origins of the characters
Many of the "lovable monsters" in their David Lynch-esque world have their basis firmly rooted in reality and are developed from genuine situations.
Material for Pauline, the Restart Officer, whose idea of retraining her job seekers is to teach them how to sell The Big Issue, was gathered from Reece's own unemployment experiences. "Pauline was my Restart Officer - she was the
seed, even if it's not a specific person, you can always identify a type."
The idea for the Dentons - the toad-breeding obsessive couple gripped by their grim routines such as placing shoes in exactly the right position underneath the hall barometer - came from visits to one of the League's own relatives (family
loyalty prevents them from revealing which one).
Mark explains: "It's a very real domestic situation - about an enforced stay with relatives when you are not sure what you should do, taken to the extreme."
A version of Edward and Tubbs, Royston Vasey's slightly paranoid local shop owners ("This is a local shop for local people. We'll have no trouble here"), who are violently opposed to strangers coming into their shop and touching their
"precious things", actually exist somewhere in Sussex.
"We were visiting a local shop in Rottingdean, a village just outside Brighton," Reece explains, "and the owner was absolutely terrified that we must be trying to steal or beat her up just because we were four men walking in and picking up
In true League fashion, this idea was taken to the comedy limits and mixed with a large dose of their favourite macabre moments from horror films to become the local shop owners with some very strange and nasty habits who would never want to sell anything to anyone.
The envious and overbearing businessmen, Mike, Geoff and Brian, were born from overheard conversations in pubs and restaurants.
Steve remembers one particular inspiring incident. "We were sitting in an Indian restaurant and there were three businessmen at the next table. The two older men kept talking about "Kong" (meaning Hong Kong), imitates Steve in a pompous voice. "And insisting that the younger man would have to visit "Kongers". They then made some racist comment about "our foreign friends" just as the Indian waiter was serving the food. Geoff, Brian and Mike are a satire on that kind of person".
"Not everything is taken directly from life" says Jeremy. "Some characters like Bernice (the outspoken lady vicar) or Mr Chinnery (the unfortunate vet) begin as single jokes, although we do tend to flesh out the details of their lives for
our own amusement. Me and Reece once spent a whole night determining Bernice's home life, right down to the fact that she's very fond of canned fruit and that sometimes she just sits for hours and hours with the lights off doing nothing.
There's also speculation that Mr Chinnery's bad luck with animals comes from being cursed by a gypsy."
Strong characterization is the key to their comedy. "If the acting and the writing are good enough and the characterization strong enough, even though the characters do very extreme things, you get to know why they do them, so it doesn't feel gratuitous," Steve insists.
But in the end, The League of Gentlemen write about things that they themselves find funny. Mark says: "We write what makes us laugh, it's our sense of humour... we have no mission to shock".
Jeremy explains "We have a shared sense of humour, that's what brought us all together. The only agenda we have comes from wanting to entertain each other."
Their world does not offend their audiences, Steve adds: "We learnt from our stage shows - if these characters didn't go down well with audiences we wouldn't do them. We're responding to our audience. You could say we're providing a
service!" he laughs.
And audiences do love them. Everyone from young comedy aficionados to the blue rinse brigade can be found at a typical League of Gentlemen stage show. Comedy veterans Ronnie Corbett and Griff Rhys Jones have also been spotted in their audience - and Chris Morris was reported to have found the show disturbing!
The comedy quartet are thrilled, if a little anxious about their television debut. "I was incredibly nervous of doing our stuff for television, not having had that experience, but we had incredibly talented people we were working with who helped to guide us through. We were so busy playing all the characters ourselves there wasn't time to get worried," says Steve.
Jeremy says: "We've been very lucky to have a producer who understands our material and wanted to put it undiluted on to the screen. The only downside of that is that if people don't find it funny we can't blame anybody else but
Mark adds: "I feel excited now it's done, now I'm starting to get that buzz about seeing the trailers, watching the episodes all put together with the music. It means like oh god for the first time ever you have to pinch yourself when you're not way down there on the cast list."
These Gentlemen need have no fear, with their uncompromising and sometimes cruelly truthful comedy vision, they certainly will stand out from the crowd - in a league of their own.
"A GAME ON BOTH SIDES"
Documentary Maker and Subject in conversation with Jack Kibble-White
In September 2000 OTT published a review of the United Kingdom! documentary "Working for the Enemy". The documentary followed the progress of Kev (a "dole-ite" and proud of it) in his struggles against an establishment that viewed "his kind" as reprehensible and morally deficient. It painted an honest portrait of an amusing and likeable character, providing a much-needed human dimension to the debate on Dole Culture.
In mid November 2000, Kev contacted OTT regarding the piece and put us in touch with the documentary's director Sean McAllister. Both agreed to answer questions on "Working for the Enemy". The following, then, looks at the process of making and starring in a network television documentary, demonstrating that the experience is not always as exploitative as we often hear; and indicating that there is life after transmission for the film, the director and the subject.
OTT: What's the background to "Working for the Enemy"?
SEAN: "Working for the Enemy" was my first "broadcast" film (which means a lot in "the industry"). Ironically when I do festivals people refer to it as my "first" film. Even I start to refer to it as my "first" film. But my "first" community centre based documentary was in 1988 during my seven years of unemployment. I then made a few community centre documentaries until 1990, mainly about social/political issues with a clear screaming message. I then went off to film school in Bournemouth and rejected the "professionalism" they tried to instil. [I believe] working with crews etc. kills the film - and the experience. Instead I made my own video 8 documentary about my summer job at Bird's Eye factory. Although Bournemouth would not acknowledge the film, the National Film School did, and so I went there for the next four years.
It was there I learned the most about documentary making and discovered my voice and my interests (really just by making mistakes, which I think is the only way we learn). I left and went back on the dole for a year, then got an offer from a company making a series called United Kingdom!
KEV: Thinking back now I'm not really sure why I agreed to do it, I think I was just annoyed at the nastiness that was in the air in those days. The poor seemed to be getting the blame for everything. It took me a few weeks before I decided to take part because I knew it had to be honest and that could have caused a lot of problems.
SEAN: ["Working for the Enemy"] was commissioned as a film about the scheme "project work" (which was in itself boring). The production company gave me a camera and some pocket money to survive and let me do whatever really. I became interested in Kev, because I guess I'd been there myself. I find it very difficult finding people "worthy of being filmed". It becomes my life so I need to enjoy being with them and to be able to get something from them. I see working class representations on the telly that are constantly insulting - the makers do not relate or have the empathy to understand. Kev was a voice in the wilderness that I had great pleasure in helping being heard. His opinion is not unusual among people I know. I knew Kev's mates and he knew mine. I'd been in his world in my past and I identified with him.
OTT: All of the people featured seem very natural in front of the camera. How was this achieved?
SEAN: My technique and style is "truthful" filmmaking - which is the skill of getting continuous action and behaviour unfolding in front of the camera in real time. Kev and Robbie are very private people and really were tough nuts to crack. A number of skills and drugs were required.
OTT: It has to be said though that Kev's mate came across as a bit of a letch ...
SEAN: He is a good friend of both Kev's and mine and in a way he was "cast", and would ham up a little.
KEV: Nick (the slimeball) is still around, I got drunk at his house last night, but don't think badly of him, its just the way he is: a good man with a mad brain.
SEAN: He always fancied Robbie and actually snogged her on camera that night. But it was too much to include really.
OTT: The Job Club scenes were particularly memorable. Was there a lot of good stuff cut out, or did we get most of it? How do you feel about The League of Gentlemen ripping it off (complete with Mr Waddilove)?
SEAN: I was in and out of the job club for months looking for potential characters. But it was my familiarity with the staff that allowed the stuff with Kev to happen. There was loads of great stuff - in fact a film in itself.
KEV: I did see Mr Waddilove a couple of times afterwards. He told me that he was actually thrown out for smoking in class. I was told soon after that I would be thrown out too if I said anything negative. We were going to ask the folk from League of Gentlemen for some freebies but bottled out.
OTT: How did you feel about the final version of the documentary? Did it remain true to your original intentions? What reaction did you get from the public?
SEAN: The only major compromise I had to make with "Working for the Enemy" was allowing the production company control over the final edit of the film. However, after one year of doing nothing it seemed an opportunity and I had nothing else. There were loads of problems concerning money and control but I guess the film is what it is through my utter desperation. Nevertheless, the beauty of the series was that they would cut the film to run to its best length. Fortunately the editor was really moved by the material and would call me and invite me to the cutting room for advice on how the film was looking and eventually we came up with something we all liked. I ended up with a one-hour documentary as a first film. This meant I could move onto better slots immediately: like Modern Times. Plus the editor now works with me on all my films and no longer with this company.
KEV: [After the documentary was broadcast] little old ladies used to come into Scope [the charity shop were I was sent on a work placement] to see me. Radio Humberside had a go at me in their phone-in (the presenter was spluttering with rage). I rang in demanding to have my say, and I was allowed to explain the whole situation. It didn't take long before all the callers were supportive.
OTT: And what's been happening to you since "Working for the Enemy"?
KEV: After the film, I got asked to do some large paintings - which I said I could do (I had never painted before) purely to see if I could. The guy who commissioned me wanted 10, four foot by three and a half foot paintings done in a month. I said I could do it: the confidence of ignorance. Anyway I did them, got paid two thousand English pounds and left for Hong Kong for three months to avoid wasting loot on drugs, beer and fancy women. I came back, stayed up for a year and went mad.
SEAN: I went on to make "Minders" - a film for Modern Times. It was filmed in Iraq at the time of the bombardment and was an insight into the plight of ordinary Iraqi's as depicted through my friendship with my Minder. I also made "Settlers": a film made in Jerusalem over the last year that follows a Palestinian who spent 17 years in prison for planting a bomb and now works as a tour guide; and a right wing Jewish Settler from New York.
KEV: I went to Portugal, Denmark, Germany, Holland, and America with Sean to do Q and A after screenings of the documentary at film festivals. It has been shown at festivals in England, Germany, Portugal, Holland, Israel, and America. It's also been on telly in Israel and Finland. It's been shown in Denmark (teaching Danish TV how to do it), and Cuba (teaching students how to do it). The company who made the film were always a bit funny about letting us know when and where it was on so Sean sort of took over and entered it for festivals himself. In Paris in 1998, the film got a spontaneous standing ovation on both nights it was shown.
SEAN: At the moment I'm working back in Hull on a film about people that work in a de-unionised Britain with men who work round the clock on a shipyard repairing ships. The hardest and most horrible work; inhabited by some of the hardest people, conditions and lifestyles. Something I don't see on the telly anymore. I don't really view the current crop (Living With the Enemy/Trouble at the Top/Back to the Floor) as documentaries - although they do entertain on a very superficial level. My fear is that real ballsy films are not being made any more - audience ratings have become the concern of telly. The stuff I do is being forced further and further from the mainstream 9pm slots to 11pm's. Documentaries about dot com millionaires are the thing now and I don't know what the answer is. The only way to survive though is to somehow not think about what it is that "they" want and constantly pursue what it is you care about.
KEV: I'm now living with my 16-year-old son (I didn't mention him in the film, as I didn't think it was fair to involve him in any rubbish that may have occurred after I was on telly). His mother died last year from a mysterious illness, and his grandfather who moved in with him died last year. So now I am here washing and shopping and cooking and messing around on the computer.
Robbie left me for a DHSS fraud squad investigator shortly after the film was aired. And - no - I haven't got a job. The Social are still on my back, but it's just a game on both sides I think.
WITH THANKS TO KEV AND SEAN
Reproduced with permission from http://www.offthetelly.co.uk