Review: Mark Gatiss talks Sherlock, Doctor Who and The League Of Gentlemen at York Lit Fest

Mark Gatiss signing books for fans at the Grand Opera House in York. Photograph: YorkMix

Mark Gatiss is in confessional mood.

Almost as soon as he has settled himself on the sofa on the Grand Opera House stage, he is revealing secrets.

A Conversation with Mark Gatiss

Grand Opera House, York

Sat Mar 18

All York Literature Festival events

Mark tells us he recently learned that The League Of Gentleman was turned down no fewer than seven times for TV.

Who by? Only Mark Thompson, back then controller of BBC2, and soon to become the Beeb’s head honcho – director general.

Which only goes to prove that BBC management are generally about as daring and innovative as a small dish of aggregate.

Fear of horror

Mark Gatiss and Michael Palin backstage with host Robert Ross. Photograph: Robert Ross on Twitter

Hosted with knowledge and skill by writer Robert Ross, this afternoon with Gatiss at the York Literature Festival was pure pleasure.

A gentle prompting from Ross was enough to spark anecdotes from his star guest by turns acerbic, nostalgic and revelatory.

He talked about his early years dominated by a love of books and films, particularly horror films.

Today, he said, “there is a fear of horror” – berating the “mimsiness” which fails to recognise how important being scared by stories is to a healthy childhood.

He would love to write more ghost stories for Christmas but can’t get the backing. What is wrong with you, BBC??

Gatiss was very funny about The League Of Gentleman – he came up with the name, he said, after The Porn Dwarves was rejected.

And filming the show took him into dangerous territory – playing the cheerfully dangerous vet Mr Chinnery he once had to pretend to inseminate a giraffe which, its keeper told him, could kill him with one kick.

Last Doctor Who..?

While the first half of the show began with a bleakly funny League sketch, the second began with a Doctor Who clip of Gatiss as Professor Richard Lazarus, who creates a machine that can reverse the ageing process.

That was his first encounter with the new Who. In the first script for the episode, it stated “a blond adonis steps from the machine”. After Mark was cast, it was changed to “Richard Lazarus steps from the machine…”

Since then he has written a number of Doctor Who episodes. His latest, Ice Warriors On Mars, could be his last, he told us. After it is screened as part of the new series, a new showrunner will take over with his own team of writers.

He also wrote An Adventure In Space And Time, about the origins of the series starring York actor David Bradley as first Doctor William Hartnell. During the show Gatiss dressed up as ‘his’ Doctor, Jon Pertwee, to surprise his friend and League co-star Reece Shearsmith who played Patrick Troughton.

Favourite Sherlock episode

Questions from the audience led us on to the other huge show Gatiss co-created with Steven Moffat, Sherlock.

“My favourite episode is A Scandal In Belgravia. I think it’s absolutely brilliant from the beginning to the end,” he told us.

“Steven sometimes despairs that he will never write anything as brilliant again. I said, ‘you will’. He won’t…”

Apart from the fact that Gatiss was every bit as charming, smart and funny as you would hope, this encounter revealed how hard working he is.

Gatiss meets another fan

The day after his York appearance, the actor and writer was off to record a radio version of The Unquenchable Thirst Of Dracula.

And he revealed: “I have written a film which may be made next year. We can’t say much about it.

“It’s a true-life murder case from the 1940s which I am very interested in.

“It’s my favourite murder!”

And on that positive note, Mark retired from the stage to meet, greet and sign for a huge queue of fans in the Grand Opera House bar.