Dyson cleans up with his tales from dark side

Jewish Telegraph, June 2000

A VET who kills any animal unfortunate enough to cross his path; a psychotic Italian landlord with a saliva problem; a butcher whose ‘special’ meat causes nosebleeds and death.
Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Jeremy Dyson.
Jeremy is a quarter of The League of Gentleman, the award-winning twisted comedy troupe who are as dark as a winter night.
But whilst fellow ‘Gentlemen’ Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith are now well-known faces, Jeremy prefers to stay in the background.
‘‘We all have the same sense of humour,’’ Leeds-born and educated Jeremy told me this week. ‘‘It drew us together. We don’t think of it as weird.’’
He goes even darker with the release of Never Trust A Rabbit (Duck Editions, £9.99) — a collection of his short stories.
‘‘The stories do contain a surprising number of Jewish characters,’’ he said. ‘‘I surprised myself with that. I gave up practising Judaism after my barmitzvah; it’s not for me as a religion.
‘‘But for my MA in screenwriting I wrote about a Jewish funeral — it was a bit Rabbi Lionel Blue — and I became aware that Judaism was important to me.’’
Never Trust A Rabbit includes the story At Last where two brothers in the Jewish area of Leeds await in terror the arrival of a Nazi hate mob in the middle of the night.
The chanting gang turns out to be all Jews, trying to scare their co-religionists into being proud of their identity.
‘‘At Last came to me in a dream,’’ Jeremy, who was once a member of the Bnai Brith Youth Organisation, said. ‘‘I didn’t suffer much antisemitism growing up, but the fact it was there was enough.’’
Many of the stories are based on true incidents.
‘‘The twists weren’t conscious,’’ he added. ‘‘I surprised myself as I was writing them.’’
Jeremy, who turned 34 on Wednesday, is currently writing his first novel — and once again it is Jewish-orientated.
‘‘It starts in 1979 with a 14-year-old Jewish boy who wants to be an actor,’’ he explained. ‘‘He lands a part in an Anne Frank-style story and terrible things happen. It then moves forward to the present day.’’
Of course, any conversation with Jeremy will always return to The League of Gentleman.
‘‘It’s something I’ve dreamt of doing since I was 11,’’ he gushed. ‘‘And to have people in pubs and schools repeating lines that I’ve written is unbelievable. It is better than winning a BAFTA.
‘‘My sister, Jane Maurice, is a teacher in Leeds and she says all the children quote from League all the time. It’s amazing.’’
Before the series made it to BBC-2, it was an award-winning stage show and radio programme.
‘‘I wrote a character called Rabbi Frischmann, the randy rabbi, and he gives a barmitzvah speech on a deviant sexual practice,’’ Jeremy said with a smile.
‘‘I tutored Steve on all the Yiddish pronunciations and it was really funny. But it died on stage in front of an audience because they knew he wasn’t Jewish.
‘‘It was like Laurence Olivier in The Jazz Singer.’’
Although, the comedy team hasn’t introduced a truly Jewish character into the fictional town of Royston Vasey — where League is set — Jeremy revealed a little known secret.
‘‘Iris and Judy — the sex-obsessed cleaning lady and her stuck up daughter — are Jewish,’’ he said. ‘‘If you look closely during one of their scenes in the first series you will notice a mezzuzah on the door.’’
Jeremy’s favourite character is Les McLean — a failed rocker trying to relive his past glories.
‘‘We thought he was going to have a happy ending, but it wasn’t funny,’’ he said. ‘‘He is very close to my heart because I played in a number of bands during my student days.’’
Jeremy is also surprised at what BBC-2 allows them to show.
Dr Chinnery, the hapless vet, turned murdering animals into an art form, but strangely no-one complained.
‘‘Killing animals is a comedy staple,’’ he laughed. ‘‘We had a lot more complaints when we were on the radio, but that’s probably because we were on before The Archers.
‘‘At 9.30pm on television, it’s a totally different audience. Some of the things we have done we thought we’d never get away with. Audiences love extreme things.’’
‘‘My parents — Elaine and Melvyn Dyson of Alwoodley — enjoy League, but when we had filmed the pilot, I took a tape of it home to show the family after Friday night dinner.
‘‘Then I remembered how filthy it was. We were sitting there with my great aunt Doris and I was cringing.’’
The League of Gentleman has just been bought by Comedy Central which will screen it in America. It is now the best selling BBC comedy since Blackadder.
Ever-busy Jeremy — who lives in Highbury, North London, with girlfriend Nicky Clarke — has just finished work on a December special of League and a book on the series.
‘‘The special is very scary,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s like Tales from the Crypt, while the book is brilliant, it’s reminiscent of the classic Monty Python books.’’
League then goes on a British tour from October 31, ending in the West End.
Jeremy said: ‘‘We started on stage, so it’s good to go back to our roots. It’s going to be very spectacular.’’

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Mike Cohen

Jewish Telegraph deputy editor and arts editor. Email Mcohen@jewishtelegraph.com with your Jewish arts stories