The League Of Gentlemen series 4 episode 1 review: Return To Royston Vasey

The League Of Gentlemen is back with comedy writing at its finest - sinister, tragic and very, very funny. Spoilers ahead...

This review contains spoilers.

4.1 Return To Royston Vasey

League Of Gentlemen fans rejoice! The dark comedy that first hit our screens in 1999 is back, and while our beloved Royston Vasey has had to move with the times a bit, it’s still a dilapidated cesspit home to some of our much-loved oddballs. Come and join the celebration. We’re all local here…

What a way to begin the much-anticipated reunion of writers Jeremy Dyson, Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith. Just as he did 18 years previously, Benjamin sits on the train and reads a message from his off-the-wall Auntie Val. This time, he’s not holding a letter but a smart phone and, with the camera slowly panning left, we get two gags in one. Much like that first fateful trip to Royston Vasey, the voiceover we hear of the letter being read out is actually an old lady reading over his shoulder. This time it’s Auntie Val herself, fully in the buff to observe Monday ‘nude day’. Breathe a sigh of relief, folks. We’re back.

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As the familiar theme music swells it all comes flooding back like some sort of mad fond nightmare. The cast have woven their scriptwriting magic and have brought Royston Vasey as far into the modern world as it will go, but it’s still stuck in that glorious small-town time warp. Taking Benjamin and Auntie Val back to the family home for Uncle Harvey’s funeral, Barbara encourages her passengers to move with the times. “Gender neutral pronouns only”, she insists. “People used to make fun of the likes of us. Well that’s all gone now. The world’s moved on. We are no longer a source of cheap humour and laughs”. It’s a funny point well made as Barbara discussed the nuances of gender in her snazzy new pink people-carrier.

There’s a delightful string of visual gags on the streets of the town, including signs in the boarded up shop fronts and Mrs Levinson’s cleaner Iris dropping a bag of dog poo in a charity donations box, but as with the original show these aren’t isolated sketches. Everything is linked… and there’s something odd going on with that photo booth. Where did Iris disappear to? It may run as deep as that mysterious bout of nosebleeds at the hands of butcher Hilary Briss.

Royston Vasey itself is in peril. A change in the county boundary line means that a neighbouring town is going to have to incorporate the place, and fittingly, Bernice the vicar doesn’t give a flying dead hedgehog. Until, that is, her parking spot outside Oddbins looks to be compromised. While the town faces an uncertain future, we’re treated to the murderous delights of the poor vet Mr Chinnery (still well meaning and still very, very funny), the creepy innuendos of Herr Lipp who says he’s come back “to dig up some old friends” (we all remember what happened there) and those film-loving youths who have failed to move with the times, trying to flog some local kids Terminator 2. It’s oddly sad, but that’s nothing compared to what’s coming.

The Pauline, Mickey and Ross storyline is a stroke of pure genius. It’s not initially clear why we find ourselves back at the very beginning in the familiar Job Centre set-up. Pauline is asking her now husband Mickey to introduce himself and she doesn’t appear to have met Ross yet, her long-time enemy. Once again the writing team are holding a mirror up to the first ever episode, but something is amiss here. When the elaborate roleplay unravels to reveal that Pauline is suffering from dementia and needs help remembering her former self, we may as well have been given a swift punch to the stomach. It’s a genuinely upsetting, tragic twist. Comedy writing at its finest from The League Of Gentlemen.

A radio broadcast lightens the tone amid later anxiety of Pop’s return, the Mediterranean swindler who formerly disowned his son over a situation involving nine Maverick bars. As Pop’s son listens to the radio, the shipping forecast is introduced by the one and only Pamela Doove. It’s, frankly, fabulous news that this aspiring actress has found her true calling.

Then, of course, the moment we’ve all been waiting for: with the haunting scenes of what remains of the Local Shop early in the episode, we’ve all been wondering what has become of Edward and Tubbs Tattsyrup. Their emergence from the back of their new ‘shop’, holed up in an abandoned flat in a condemned building, is like a warm embrace back into the land of bonkers. And the number 9 on the door? Well, we all know that’s just brilliant.

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