Television production’s ‘hidden labour’ lies concealed behind what we see on our
screens. This thesis investigates the creation of The League of Gentlemen, a show
that is considered a ‘special moment in television’, unpacking the end product and
mapping the critical elements within the show’s creation process, to make this ‘hidden
labour’ visible. It examines the The League’s production ecology to understand
how this cultural breakthrough came to be, and contributes to broader discussions
about the BBC’s broadcasting environment and comedy production in the 1990s.
This thesis is the first study of The League that combines a detailed textual analysis
with production studies, media history and media anthropology. Through its
multi-method approach this study yields new insights into the creation process of
The League. Through a very detailed analysis, this case study illuminates how the
initial idea and the key textual devices (location, character and narrative) developed
through various media and creation stages, revealing who and what shaped this process.
Through original interviews it gives a voice to various contributors, including
the costume designer and the producers, who are often overlooked because of the
strong authorial signature of the writers/performers. Therefore, the study sheds light
onto some of the ‘hidden professions of television’ and updates our understanding
of the creation process and the final product in the light of these new insights.
The study of The League’s creation process illustrates that each production is
unique and faces different challenges. It reveals that despite major structural and
cultural changes at the BBC in the 1990s, which some considered a crisis inimical
to creativity, innovation and craftsmanship, there was still room for innovation and
creative freedom. The 1990s were not simply a period of crisis in BBC programme
making, as some commentators suggested at the time, but an exemplar of how the
production ecology was changing. As this study shows, while comedy production is
clearly constrained by larger organisational structures and strategies, it also depends
crucially on the individuals involved in making comedy, and how they work together.
This study highlights that culture production is the sum of all the small moments
that happen on the ground - in the corridors of media organisations, in TV studios,
during phone conversations - and during the many little decisions made by thinking,
feeling and interacting individuals. It is the coming together of these small moments
that shape what we see on our screens.