Students in the mid-1980s may have bonded over many things – their opposition to the Thatcher government, perhaps, or their collection of albums by The Cure – but comic Edwardian novelist EF Benson?
Such was the unlikely beginning to a beautiful friendship between Mark Gatiss and Steve Pemberton, when they first met at a drama college near Wakefield.
The gay son of a Victorian Archbishop of Canterbury, Benson remains best known for his Mapp and Lucia novels, a series of social comedies about warring upper-middle-class ladies in interwar Sussex. Hardly the sort of stories one might expect to grip the imaginations of northern working-class youth, then – and yet capture Gatiss and Pemberton they did. “When Mark came to my room and he spotted them [the novels] on my shelf we started coming out with all the catch phrases… ‘au reservoir’… ‘Quai-hai’… and the like”, says Pemberton. “That’s right”, agrees Gatiss. “To be sitting here doing it 30 years later is absolutely bizarre really, but brilliant.”