Monday, 28 June 2021

How to listen to Series 9 of John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme

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First, the straight-forward practical answer: All six episodes of the ninth series of my radio show John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme are now available here, on BBC Sounds. And the CD and digital download will be released in August by Penguin.

Now the more metaphysical answer. This series is rather different from the previous eight series. I'm very proud of it, and I'd love you to hear it. However, it turns out to be one of those shows where it takes a couple of episodes to get into it... but I think it's fair to say the people who do get into it REALLY get into it. Two days after the final episode aired, I was invited to a Zoom meeting where about a hundred people had got together to share theories, analysis, and poetry about it. That... didn't happen with any of the previous series. And not just because Zoom wasn't a thing then. 

So, if you haven't heard it yet, and this has convinced you, then I recommend not reading anything more about it - just click the link above and dive in. All you need to know is that each episode has a main character, and all the sketches are scenes from their life. Start with episode one... and if at all possible, stick with it till the end of episode three. If you're not enjoying it by then, it's probably not for you, and I'm sorry for wasting your time.

But if that hasn't convinced you, or if you've tried it but you're fogged, here's a little more information. Starting with the character of Russ in episode one, each subsequent episode focusses on someone in their family in the generation above, usually one of their parents. So episode two follows Russ' mother Deborah; episode three her father Jerry, and so on. Therefore, all the characters crop up in each other's episodes, and other secondary characters recur as well, and gradually, you build up a picture of a family spread over the past 130 years or so. However... it is not, in my opinion, necessary to follow exactly who everyone is and how they're related in order to enjoy it. Lots of people have enjoyed making family trees and timelines to follow it with, but you'll be fine without. To get you started, though: in the first sketch of episode one, you'll meet Russ, his partner Alex, their daughter Toby, Russ's mother Deborah, and his grandfather Jerry. 

However. If you can't bear not to know exactly who everyone is, or if you're re-listening to the series, then I highly recommend this wonderful resource made by Jamie Humphries: . It allows you to go to any sketch in the show, and see who every character is, how they are related to every other character, and even how old they are at the time. Even better, it allows you to click on any character or even theme of the show, and see all the sketches featuring them linked in either broadcast or chronological order. Obviously, therefore, it is by its nature full of spoilers; but actually Jamie does a really clever job of making it fairly hard to stumble over a spoiler by accident. 

I really hope you enjoy the show. In the future, I'll do a post explaining exactly why I had to change the format so radically this series... but the short version is: there's this nasty bug that's been going around.


Unknown said...


Many, many thanks for this series. It's an excellent piece of work, which got better and better as each episode dropped!

I would love to see your work books as you figured out how it all fit together...

Deb said...

As one of the 100 people on the zoom meeting, thank you so much to both you and Ed for taking the time to join us and answer our questions! It was a lovely afternoon and I hope you felt a lot of love and smiles directed to you and the cast. Deb :)

MONADO said...

The little one's eyes got bigger and bigger the further you travelled back in time; every narration, that big bigger. As a precaution, he's discouraged from wwatching any episodes of Doctor Who set earlier than the Victoriana Era.

Jamie said...

Thank you for your kind words about my website! I have continued to tinker with connections as I re-listen to episodes, but please do let me know if you think I have missed or misrepresented anything.

This series meant a great deal to me. I had been having a tough time personally when I first came across it while browsing on BBC Sounds. I knew that I could always rely on John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme to bring me a laugh, but, much more than that, your beautiful handling of life, love, family and even death, helped to bring me back my smile.

I don't think it is hyperbole to call this series a masterpiece of radio and I am glad to hear that you are deservedly proud of it. Thank you for giving this family and their story to the world.

Isabell said...

I just realised that my English is not good enough to describe exactly how much and why I love series 9. All the positive superlatives apply. Thank you so much.

Mobeena Khan said...

This series is genuinely one of the best things I have ever listened to. It makes me want to weep at the sheer loveliness of it all and I can’t even begin to tell you how wonderful it is and you are.

Annalisa Waite said...

Boy, I bet Jamie’s website would have been useful when you were writing it all out. Much more detailed than whiteboards and sticky notes. Still, you managed to keep it all sorted and pulled it off it the end. Well done. ;)

As a writer and editor, I am of course completely in awe of this *devastatingly* brilliant work. Not just the intricate nature of it, but the way you make such ordinary people seem extraordinary. I think it makes us all feel a bit like maybe we are extraordinary in our own ways, in our own families or circles, if we look for it. And that we also have these extraordinary stories in us if we look back, find the connections. So thank you for making us ordinary folk feel as though maybe we could be a little bit extraordinary. That is a gift.

Annalisa Waite said...

Boy, I bet Jamie’s website would have been useful when you were writing it all out. Much more detailed than whiteboards and sticky notes. Still, you managed to keep it all sorted and pulled it off it the end. Well done. ;)

As a writer and editor, I am of course completely in awe of this *devastatingly* brilliant work. Not just the intricate nature of it, but the way you make such ordinary people seem extraordinary. I think it makes us all feel a bit like maybe we are extraordinary in our own ways, in our own families or circles, if we look for it. And that we also have these extraordinary stories in us if we look back, find the connections. So thank you for making us ordinary folk feel as though maybe we could be a little bit extraordinary. That is a gift.

Mike Rawlins said...

John. I cannot tell you how special this is and has been. I'm on my fifth listen and still finding new things. Quite simply the best thing I've ever heard on the radio. And, added bonus, I now know what I will be like when I am 86.
Thank you for this . You should rightly be proud.

Debs Templing said...

I’ve already said it on Twitter but it has been a pleasure to listen and relisten to. It is a beautifully crafted gem of a programme. Thank you.

Jellywoman said...

Agree with all above.
Is there any chance of a Finnemore and Pearce songbook with the dots? It would fit nicely between my Flanders and Swann and Tom Lehrer. With perhaps some pics eg red trousers.

Anonymous said...

This is the best piece of art I have consumed since the start of the pandemic! Not only was there great humour (Vanessa at the sewing circle was hilariously funny), but it was so lovely—who wouldn’t want an ‘uncle’ or a teacher like Newt? The acting was awesome (it does inspire me with awe, and I have been to the Grand Canyon), as were the songs. Of course, I would expect that after listening to Cabin Pressure, Double Acts, and the first eight series of the Souvenir Programme, but I think series 9 is on a different level. A big thanks to all involved.

I only wish I could have attended the zoom meeting, but I am in California and 3AM is way too early.

Anonymous said...

This was for this most wonderful BBC series ever. The final sentence in the final scene was so moving and brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.

lisa said...

John, thanks so much for creating the wonderful Nightingale/Noone/Wilkinson/Golding family and this beautiful piece of radio work with the world. Funny, clever, sweet and sad, it has lodged its place in my heart and mind. Glad you feel proud of it, you absolutely should.
Thanks to the rest of the cast too - they were brilliant (as always).
I would have joined the zoom call too, but I'm in New Zealand, and it was too late for me (on a school night).

Caroline said...

This series is truly excellent.
Thank you for the LGBTQ+ characters <3

Bazilnerk said...

This is the first series I had to listen to when it was broadcast for YEARS! A fabulous audio jigsaw. Wish I'd known about the Zoom call. Great to hear about your involvement in Good Omens 2 too!

Lilian said...

Hi John, Will absolutely listen when I've calmed down, just read that you will be a collaborator on Good Omens season 2 and this news honestly made my entire year! Congrats and can't wait to see and hear your brilliance. Also writing to ask you to please please please make sure it gets to be real queer representation with Crowley+Aziraphale and doesnt simply stay in the semi-queerbait-y way season 1 kinda went. I'm counting on you ♡ I'm off to listen to the new season now, but have a wonderful day! ♡♡♡

Unknown said...

Could the audiobook have a bonus feature chronological version....?

Dummydaydream said...

What a brilliant series. Like many, I was unsure whether to carry on after the first episode but it appeared in my BBC Sounds list so I persevered, listening as I went to sleep. After 4 episodes I found myself thinking about it everyday at some point and then relistening several times before the final episode. I felt a bit bereft afterwards as I wanted more of this family and their lives. How many of us are now going about our lives and occasionally singing “Woof woof woof …”. Thank you so much.

Anonymous said...

Feeling the need to join in the praising. I've lost track of how many times I've listened now.
And nice to have an asexual character as well. It's a rare thing, and nice to feel represented.

Jennifer said...

I have not listened to the new JFSP yet, but am proud to say I did notice the six recurring employees of Willard & Sons in the first series of Double Acts. Also, quotes from your shows are my primary means of communication with my teenage son.

Grimble said...

As this was produced without an audience, I wonder whether it was recorded roughly the same way as previous JFSP's (i.e. sketches mostly in the order they appear) or whether they were done in some way 'by character' and potentially in chronological order of events.
Doing it 'by character' might have made it easier on the actors, as they don't have to switch 'voices' and speech patterns all the time.
But then again, these are actors that can switch from monkeys to ghosts in a second, so switching between the various Nightingales and time periods should come easy to them.
Is there any chance of a 'behind the scenes'?
(I'm kind of missing the old 'Souvenir Programme Liner Notes' from Ed Morrish.)

Lilian said...

Okay, came back from listening to it to give you some feedback. :)

It's quite difficult to find the words to praise your work without feeling as if I'm repeating all that had been said before, but it was wonderful and I'm incredibly touched by the naming of the dogs? just. wow.

Uncle Newt's character. Everything about him. <3

Thank you for the inclusivity too, I spend half my life seaching for life-affirming LGBTQ+ stories and this is something delightful and completely lovely to add to my meagre collection.

I laughed so hard at the Teenage Hero Turtles story! :D

In conclusion, I'm so greateful I get to exist in this time and space and have the opportunity to hear your work. Thank you so much. May you be as happy as you continue to make us with your cleverness and humour. :)

madwippitt said...

Wow. Just wow!

Gid in Zambia said...

Best thing I have heard, probably ever. I laughed and cried a lot and haven't stopped whistling woof woof woof. I'm finding something new each time I listen, some hints of darkness which are so disguised with understatement it's agonising. Broke my heart and filled me with delight - thank you for this original, brave and exquisite story told with such lightness of touch and such evident affection.

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Ruth said...

Thanks so much for this series, and for all the past ones too. I recommend them to everyone. I was also very surprised when listening back to old episodes of The Unbelievable Truth you accidentally predicted Boris as PM, however you were a year out. Looks like we've got a lot coming in 2030 if you stand to be correct there too. said...

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Laura said...

How ironic that the spam in this comment section is for feel-better drugs, when all 9 series of Souvenir Programme are pure serotonin.

Andria said...

I’ll admit to being baffled after the first one, but enjoyed it. As I continued with the episodes and realised that there were recurring characters, it began to click. I loved the warm and quirky characters, and the hilarious songs, poems and stories. I shall definitely re-listen, maybe on my next long journey. Thank you!

Neil Leacy said...

I have to second all of the superlatives above. If this series doesn't win a radio award or two all I can say is thankyou to you, cast and crew for creating something that has made me laugh out loud; surprising fellow dog walkers in the vicinity, cry silent tears at the touching love of the characters for each other and smile inanely; again surprising fellow dog walkers, at the sheer joy repeated listening to this series has given me.

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flotsam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
flotsam said...

Well said.

flotsam said...

I am blown away by this series. My brother recommended it to me and he explained the structure.

I have got to admit, it makes me tearful when I listen to it. A sort of poignant happiness and recognition of previous generations. I find the nightingale song so cheerful and funny but it is also filled with pathos and beauty when you observe its path through the generations down to Russ. I LOVE Jerry. The scenes with his wife and kids, the making of the pancakes. It just makes me cry and miss my grandparents and wonder what is coming through in our genes now. It is the most spectacular, delightful, sweet, funny, happy yet painful thing I have every listened to. It really is genius. Well well done. It's so moving. From Buster Thompson's sister. Buster being your best Welsh fan obvs. I think Beril Sozmen out in Istanbul is going to melt for this too xxxx

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Gappy said...

Dear John

I don't know whether you read all the posts on this blog (unless you need to find links for pharmaceutical sales or what have you), but I wanted to ask you two things about this lovely series, if I may.

Firstly, I've just been trying to decode Jerry's 60th speech. Now, I don't know whether that's possible, but it seemed that "Gently, ladybird, here we come" lends itself so well to "welcome, ladies and gentlemen" and "to glassware!" seems so much like "raise your glasses" (with a hint of "half a glass"), that I couldn't resist it, especially as I know you like word puzzles.

So, my query is whether Jerry is trying to make reference to the very famous words of 1 Corinthians 13. The Joycean little section "'s a dusky dusk it, or they wish it were only on the oppo-sight bear same as upward, also the same is true after glass, or glass where, or glassware. But I don't find so, under dark..." seems to have especially strong echoes, and course chapters 13-14 are all about communication and meaning (not to mention love).

My second question is more straightforward: was the Desert Island Discs episode a sly dig at David Mitchell, who basically has no time for music, and who chose Stranger on the Shore because it's his own show's theme tune?

Many thanks (I mean, just in general).

Gappy said...

Obviously "don't let the bedbugs bite" and "onwards and upwards" are mixed up in there as well (perhaps sometimes Hilla is actually hiller, meaning higher, or maybe I'm trying too hard now!)

Rankersbo said...

I relistened to 5&6 on the train this evening. You do get teary listening.

Andy Munro 73 said...

At last I've found a tribe who have listened to 'this thing' and have found it as utterly absorbing as I have. Last night (in a Travelodge in Sunderland!!) I was up til 3am looking at the Timelines and filling in the blanks in my understanding. I'm still overwhelmed, from the crying and the laughing and I'm gutted that I missed the Zoom meeting. Thank you so much for this work, John. Really thankyou.
Backwards & Forwards.
Andy Munro

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