At last. A family show packed with values and morality. Make your little’uns watch it. Kidding.

Think Royston Vasey and you conjure up images of cannibalism, nosebleed epidemics and kidnap. Not the usual fodder, then, of your traditional British sitcom – and the locals of this unwholesome town would have Terry and June choking on their coco. In their place as resident old timers are shop-keepers Tubbs and Edward, who have the quirky habit of viciously murdering any punter who wanders their way.

Nevertheless, the group is keen to refute the suggestion that the combination of professional success and an end to twenty-something romantic uncertainty (all are now settled in marriages or long-term relationships) might have made them soft.  The new series, they promise, will contain "quite a lot of unpleasantness", including the two aforementioned debt-collectors "savagely beating a simpleton" and "a lot of people gathered together inside the skin of an elephant". I can hardly wait.

Then there’s Papa Lazarous, a 100-year-old travelling circusman who collects pegs and middle-aged housewives. Not to mention the Dentons – who imprisoned and drugged their own nephew – sadistic vicar Bernice and mad, bad lesbian workstart officer Pauline. Not exactly Heartbeat, is it? But the League of Gentlemen, aka Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith and Jeremy Dyson, have seen their black creation become a cult legend. And as the heavily-anticipated third series begins darkening our screens from Thursday on BBC2, the League’s millions of fans are reaching the point of hysteria. But then, this show has already spawned conventions, tribute dolls and sell-out tours since its debut a mere three years ago. Celebrity fans include DJ Sara Cox, comedian Peter Kaye, Hollywood hunk Johnny Depp and David Bowie – who was spotted stocking up on videos.

Mark Gatiss, the face behind hapless vet Dr Chinnery, Aunty Val Denton and unemployable Mickey, still seems amazed by the fuss. “It’s like a form of Satanism,” he says. “The fan websites fly into blind panic when they don’t hear news. They seem to need a constant fix.”

But filming the show is no small undertaking – and its stars suffer for their art. Reece and Steve glued their noses for the ‘local’ effect and for a nude scene as Aunty Val, Mark even had to don an ill-fashioned pubic wig. “The costume department didn’t have a proper one – known as a “merkin” – so they stuck two wigs together,” he says. “It was flattering but I can’t make any great claims.” Sadly, hirsute Aunty Val met a ghastly demise – at the hands of her two evil twins, before you ask – and won’t return for this series. But Mark is at pains to point out that many old favourites will be back. “Episode One see Pauline released from Clitclink prison and develops her relationship with Mickey,” he says. “This series is different. We wanted to look at the individual’s character depth rather than repeat the sketch format. Each episode is from a different character’s perspective but they all end at the same point in time.”

The League draws its main influence from horror classis such as The Wicker man and the surrealism of Monty Python – but Mark hinted there are also more innocent factors. “It’s like Trumpton,” he reflects, “when you follow a character into town and see how their day goes.” But you can’t help thinking small children really wouldn’t want to know what the Royston Vasey locals get up to. Especially as Mark insists the group’s latest series will be more shocking then the previous two. “It’s much darker would you believe, and edgier,” he says. “This series is sexy, mucky and seedy. We’re staking out a new area and a few jaws will be hitting the floor.”

Sex in Royston Vasey could be the weirdest thing yet – but Mark has been brushing up on his own sex appeal by following in the dainty footsteps of pop princess Kylie – as the voice of Eurostar. “I’m hoping to be totally glamorous,” he says, “and wear the gold hotpants, too!” Let’s just hope he manages to tidy up that merkin in time.


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