Goyston Vasey: The Secret Jewish History of The League of Gentlemen

 

So I have just been binge-watching The League of Gentlemen, which is a British sketch horror comedy show. Set in the fictional rural English village of Royston Vasey, it features a multitude of bizarre characters, including Edward and Tubbs, an incestuous couple who run a “local shop for local people”; Harvey and Val who give OCD a whole new meaning and have a weird obsession with bodily functions and toads; and Charlie and Stella, an endlessly bickering couple whose relationship is continually on the rocks.

One of its creators is Jeremy Dyson who is Jewish and while he is only one of a quartet of creative voices, a certain Jewish sensibility creeps into the show. For example, the village’ butcher is called Hilary Briss — a clear reference to circumcision. There is also a Star of David shaped design on the window of the village church.

A recurring sight gag involves different iterations of the poster for The Full Monty (e.g. The Dull Monty) and in one episode, it has been altered to The Shull Monty with a poster of semi-naked Hasidim.

Shull Monty

And there is a long-running explicitly Jewish character called Mrs. Judee Levinson. Her front door is adorned with a mezuzah and she talks about having stayed at the Dan Hotel in Haifa. Here, Dyson seems to have poured some of this own feelings about his Jewishness into the character. Her taste is garish, tapping into the stereotype of Jewish vulgarity. She employs a cleaning lady, Iris Krell, whom she delights in putting down at every turn, reinforcing her superior social and economic status. Indeed, one wonders what Judee is doing in Royston Vasey in the first place, given its obvious lack of any other Jews or religious Jewish infrastructure. Dyson admits that he based the character on his own mother and her relationship with their cleaning lady.

But where the show’s underlying Jewish sensibility comes through, arguably, is in its view of rural English village life, which is populated by a cast of freakish characters, who are scared of outsiders and change. The clearest illustration of this is Edward and Tubbs’ homicidal xenophobia and insistence on preserving their local shop for local people and refusing to serve or sell anything to visitors or tourists. In a clear analogy for Brexit in the latest series, they refuse to sacrifice this principle in the face of significant economic gain. When a new road is proposed to connect the village to the outside world, they do all they can to halt its progress. Edward even imprisons their son when he proposes to take his mother to London.

The population of Royston Vasey, whose tagline is “You’ll never leave,” is an exaggeration of the types that might be found in any English rural or small village location, places that have historically been afraid of such incomers and “strangers” as Jews. The makers are explicit in describing Royston Vasey as an “extraordinary” yet “quintessential English village.” It even has the sort of name that may well date back to the Middle Ages.