Given that the 100+ characters in the turn-of-the-century comedy horror The League of Gentlemen are almost entirely played by three actors (Mark Gatiss, Reece Shearsmith, and Steve Pemberton), you will probably be surprised to learn about these A-list cameos.
I don’t know about you, but the appearance of Christopher Eccleston in The League of Gentlemen made me do a spit-take. The star of Shallow Grave is no stranger to horror, but this is probably his first and last role as a cowboy who owns a cinema that plays movies only about cats. In the commentary, the League says that getting to work with him was “a dream.”
One of my favorite characters, the transsexual taxi driver Barbara Dixon, is unique in that we never see her face. Paul Hays-Marshall plays Barbara in the first and second seasons, and Michael Gallagher plays her in the third. The recognizable name, though, is that of comedy actress Sally Phillips, who plays Barbara on the radio when she gets a voice change.
In the radio show, On the Town with the League of Gentlemen, the village is called Spent, but when they moved the series to television, they decided to change the name. Almost as a joke, they included in their list of possible names the birth name of comedian Roy Chubby Brown: Royston Vasey. It wound up being the best name on the list, so it is suitable that they should have Roy Chubby Brown playing the (potty-mouthed) mayor of Royston Vasey in season 2.
Behind the camera
If you get the season 3 DVD, which is available in region 2 only, you can watch a behind-the-scenes special about The League of Gentlemen, hosted by comedian Adam Buxton.
The last Oompa Loompa
Rusty Goffe is the last surviving Oompa Loompa from the 1977 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. You’ve also seen him in tons of other things, like Harry Potter, MirrorMask, the Discworld film The Colour of Magic, and Doctor Who. In The League of Gentlemen, he plays Simba, one of Papa Lazarou’s circus entertainers.
Jeremy Dyson is the fourth member of the League. He’s the one you almost never see on screen, but if you look carefully, you can spot him every once in a while, whether he’s one of the orderlies in the closing scene of the film (The League of Gentleman’s Apocalypse) or as a spectator at a show in a dark pub. You can also catch him doubling for Reece Shearsmith sometimes, like when Benjamin escapes the circus dressed as a bear. The biggest film star, though, is Michael Sheen, who plays Jeremy Dyson in the film. The film is the old meta tale of Six Characters in Search of an Author, so while Gatiss, Shearsmith, and Pemberton all play themselves, Michael Sheen does a fantastic job at playing Dyson in the opening scene.
Pegg, Kay, & Pea
If you pay attention, you’ll spot comedians Simon Pegg and Peter Kay in The League of Gentleman’s Apocalypse. We are taken into an alternate story of medieval magic, starring renowned David Warner as the super villain Pea. Like the original Beauty and the Beast, the candles are held by human hands protruding through the walls. These are the hands of Pegg and Kay. We even pop behind the wall briefly to see them idly chatting. The two comedians get more screen time in the blooper reel than they do in the film.
In season 3, the minor character Lance Longthorne, the joke shop owner, becomes a major character. Portrayed by Mark Gatiss, Lance embarks on the classic Idle Hands adventure… except this hand is hell-bent on making Lance a nicer person. In the joke shop this season, we see a plaster foot, which we learn from the commentary track is actually a plaster cast of Steve Coogan’s foot, created for a different project.
Those who didn’t make the cut
Papa Lazarou’s circus giant was a part written for comedy writer Graham Linehan, but he had to cancel at the last minute to go write Black Books with Dylan Moran. Instead, they hired a real giant.
No, film director Edgar Wright is not in The League of Gentlemen, but he’s there in spirit: when they dressed up Reece Shearsmith as the squeamish Dr. Fish, he accidentally looked so much like Edgar Wright, they decided to name him Edgar.