Monday, 14 June 2021

John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme - Series Nine

If there's one thing you - the readers of this antique, spam-reply-infested blog which I almost never mention elsewhere, and sometimes forget to update for months at a time- know about me, it's that my real talent is for publicity. 

And in accordance with that, I have allowed an entire new series of John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme go out on BBC Radio 4 before it occurred to me I should probably mention it here. 

However, that does at least mean that, at least for now, it's possible to listen to all six episodes on BBC Sounds. I hope you do, because Covid meant we didn't have a live audience for this one; which lead to us doing something quite new, and quite ambitious with this series. I'm rather proud of it, and I think the cast absolutely excel themselves. 

I'm not going to describe it further here, because I want to keep this post spoiler-free, but I hope to do further posts about it later. 

One thing I will say, though - I didn't intend this, but the feedback clearly indicates that this is one of those series where you have to give it a couple of episodes to get the hang of what's going on. Hopefully there's still stuff to enjoy along the way, but if you've enjoyed my stuff in the past, I suggest it might be worth pushing on at least until the end of episode three, even if you don't love the first one. 

To glassware! 


Tealin said...

To glassware!

I am tempted to feel smug about 'getting it' more or less from the beginning, but I think it's more truthful to observe that my Radio 4-heavy diet fed me the 'life in sketches, told in reverse order' trail at least 16 times before Episode 1 aired. Not getting it, after that, would have been rather disgraceful. They did try to warn us.

Anyway, I have, coincidentally, just listened through from the top for the first time since it all kicked off, and ... yeah, you done a good thing, there. I'm very glad those who don't have R4 piped into their heads all day got on board with it after all. I hope the comments after Ep. 1 weren't too dispiriting. As with so much, it's the reversal that counts, and that seems to have come around spectacularly!

Thank you so much for such a beautiful series, and for sharing your talent in such an accessible way, and not, say, locking it away on a premium cable channel. The people who take you for granted don't know how lucky they are.

Kirsty said...

I'm just part way through. Interesting so far - I think it'll need a second listen. It's kind of different in tone than the usual Souvenir Programme - more like Double Acts.

I've just listened to the deconstruction of the story of Cinderella :-D

Russell said...

Dear Mr.Finnemore,

I am reading things like „work of genius“ and cannot deny a certain truth. Was very proud to get it by the second listening of the fourth episode. Do agree with Kirsty that the subtlety of double acts is rarely interrupted by the BRILLIANCE of Arthur Schappy, but thankyou for both!

MandyBrigwell said...

I’m currently up to episode 5, and I’m amazed by it. I get this feeling of wistful, slightly melancholic joy from it. It may be the best thing you’ve ever done, and that’s saying something when you consider your previous work. Thank you!

Monotreme said...

I’ve loved it, but I think benefitted from hearing episode 3 first and then 1,2 and 4 in relatively quick succession. The joy of realising the episodes were linked to each other as well as the sketches was great. I think I might have listened to most of the episodes at least 3 or 4 times now. I really hope you do something similar again. I think it probably might have been better to have a different title to distinguish it. Meanwhile I’m trying to encourage everyone I know to listen to it and stick with it. I’ve been singing the songs for days!

Zouk Delors said...

When I see the title "John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme", I expect some brilliant sketch comedy, not whatever this is. I tried listening to the first three or four episodes but then gave up. After the first couple, I started listening exclusively on BBC Sounds so I could stop and calculate what the approximate age of any character I might perhaps recognize from the preceding sequence might be, but it didn't help that much. Maybe this is an idea that is better in a written work where one could flick back and forth reminding oneself wtf might be going on?

I am happy for you that everyone else who has commented seems to be enjoying it. Maybe I'm the only one horrible enough to tell it to you straight? A good friend of mine who is one of your biggest fans (or rather, you are one of his favourite comedy writer/performers) thinks you have reached the point of 'jumping the shark'

Charlie said...

@Zouk Of course not everything can appeal to everyone, but I wonder what made you post that rude comment here rather than (for instance) not doing so.

Gappy said...

It's a lovely series, really well done. I think it should probably have gone out under a different title, if I hadn't been a Finnemore-fan from the outset, I may not have been convinced by episode one, but I guess that's academic.

Lothiriel said...

This series is quite possibly the best thing you've ever written, and that's saying something. To glassware!

Alan C said...

I need to give it a second listen. I think it suffers from not having an audience. But, even if it doesn't land for me, I really appreciate that it exists. And I still have the previous 8 seasons to listen to over and over and over again!!!

min said...

Thank you John. Not at all what I was expecting, which made it all the more rewarding. Of course, what you’ve managed to do is to smuggle a two-and-a-half hour non-linear radio play into the 6.30 comedy slot. Stoppard never thought of that. Bravo sir!

Anonymous said...

(not sure if my original comment didn't post or is just about to, in which case, if you see two of vaguely the same nature you know what happened.)

This series was absolutely beautiful. I can't wait to go and listen again, with full knowledge this time. As a side note, the inclusivity was brilliant, and it is genuinely the first time I've felt represented in media as an ace person.
There's something so intimate about the show that you forget you're listening to the same actors (I actually hadn't noticed that Hella and Deborah were the same, but thought you'd brought back the person who played Theresa of Lichtenstein!) You feel like you're part of the family, somehow, rather than just listening in to snippets of their lives.

There was something so joyous about the uncovering of each small revelation, even one as small as the age of a particular hat.

It's perfectly crafted, and now holds a special place in my heart - quite separate from the other series, but just as important.

Anonymous said...

This is something really special.
I agree that it isn't at all like previous series' of Souvenir Programmes, and perhaps should have had a different title. That aside it is probably my favourite thing I have heard in a long time. I have re-listened several times to every episode and find that on subsequent listening I appreciate the interlinking stories even more.

'perhaps there's been a mistake' 'not really an uncle' - tears.

a triumph.

To Glassware

Mark Pack said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark Pack said...

The enjoyment from this series is rather different from previous ones. This time it's more like the fun of doing a puzzle when suddenly some pieces start coming together... (though there's a bit of foreshadowing of that technique in some previous series of course).

Having listened to the whole season twice, I'm now ready to *really* enjoy it on third time of listening. I think it brilliantly balances just enough enjoyment the first time round to keep you going until the point (in episode three for me) where it really clicks that something very special is going on, with also a depth that means it really is one of those things you can get more from each time you go back to it.

Anonymous said...

Loved it, wonderfully crafted. Only problem is I have “woof, woof, woof etc” going round in my head, even now, weeks after first hearing it. 👏👏.

Caroline said...

I hadn't heard the trailer or read about the different format of this series, though I had wondered how it was going to work without a live audience. I was slightly adrift in episode 1, started getting excited in episode 2 once I realized the stories were going to be connected, and was bowled over by episode 3.

I love what this series does with reverse narrative and the ensemble of characters, the thread of song(s) running through it all, your wonderful cast being fabulous as always, and the way things fit together and spark in different ways as the series goes on. It's a beautiful thing, and a joyful one. 💕

Unknown said...

I just love it. I listened to them all and am going through again. So beautifully crafted and really touching. Feel genuinely bereft about not being with the characters once it's over.

Fiona said...


Seb Andrews said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seb Andrews said...

I was talking with my mum yesterday about the quote “All happy families are alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” and how we thought it was by experience simply not true- and then a few hours later, reading a review of series 9 I saw you say the exact same thing! One of life's little coincidences that mean little to anyone else but you feel like you have to tell someone anyway. I absolutely loved this series; the first episode I was hesitant, the second I was warming up to it, and by the third I adored it. It's such a beautiful look into a regular but not so regular family, in a way that most stories with fast moving plots can't really stop and look at. Maybe it's not such a coincidence that we were talking about that quote- I thought about it almost every time I listened, because it really does stand out as such a contrast to it. If nothing else, know that one listener heard exactly what you meant to tell through this story- a credit to how well you wrote it.

If I had to make a criticism, I'm sure you've heard it before- I feel I would have adjusted to the change a lot better if s9 was instead a different title, with no brand or expectations before it- going lighter on laughs but bigger on emotions and story was definitely the right idea for this socially distanced context, but hearing it on your Souvenir Programme definitely blindsided me a little. Nonetheless, while not exactly a story akin to Winnie's dysfunctional honey addiction, a great one in its own right!

So, since we asked you for a story to keep us going through 2021, you have certainly done so. Thank you for this amazing series, and while I definitely look forward to live studio audiences coming back, I'm so glad that this is what came of not having it. To glassware!

Lucy Knight said...

Loved it all and have listened several times now. Utterly life-enhancing. Have one question: why do reading glasses indicate widowhood?

PhlebasJon said...

I was a bit late getting started but now I'm nearly through my second listen and am fairly sure this is the best thing I'll listen to this year. Beautiful and sad and joyous and clever and I love what you did with the song and Jerry's rubber stamp and "Mister James" and the lilo and "half a glass". Thank you.
The only frustration is that I'm generally listening while doing something else with my hands, so haven't been able to take notes - maybe next time!

Unknown said...

It's a beautiful series John. Wasn't sure about episode 1 (but that's probably because I was only listening with half an ear) but really, really enjoyed the whole. Definitely one for listening to again and again!

HolRose said...

I went for a long walk in the rain today and listened to the whole lot, and I was utterly bowled over by it. Now I can’t get it out of my mind. Superlative, it made me chuckle, and feel melancholy and even a little tearful at times. Most of all it achieved that rare thing in making me care very much about all of these wonderful characters. Thank you for it, and especially for Uncle Newt, with whom I have a particular affinity.

Anonymous said...

Dear John, I am midway through my second listen to the series. Thank you for tackling something so ambitious. I must say that I was quite baffled by it first time out and I nearly gave up, but Uncle Newt drew me back in and I'm getting more out of it this time. Have you seen this serious academic analysis? Blimey.

Isabel said...

I have just finished the last three episodes (a little late i admit) and I loved it. I can't wait to listen again, I'm sure there are many things I missed the first time round. It was a completely different listening experience to anything I've heard before (I don't listen to enough R4 apparently!) and was a perfect blend of funny and sad and everything in-between. You just sketched these beautiful characters and I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with them. Can't wait to see/hear what comes next. Also curse you for that song, it'll be stuck in my head for days.

Isabel said...

Also, the cast were absolutely incredible although I think special mention should go out to Carrie and Margaret for juggling that sewing group scene. It had me in stitches.

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v.edgy said...

And if there's one thing that you- the writer of this barely-publicised occasionally-updated but much appreciated spam-reply-infested blog- know about us, it's that we can spam. Only on this occasion spam stands for superlatively praise a masterpiece. Here's my spam:

Series 9 has been, and is, utterly brilliant! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

I could go on but I don't want to dilute that with my normal nonsense. Having said that, I have two things- simply stated, they are:

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To glassware!

Timothy said...

So is there any possible way that we could get Farewell Newt Facts, like we had Farewell Bear Facts?

Eclectic Man said...

It was certainly different, and one had / has to pay attention, instead of forgetting one sketch when listening to the next one. I did find my self wondering how long it took you just to work everything out and that doing six episodes in chronologically reverse order would actually work.

I did however miss finding out whether Newt's 'nephew' ever found out what he did to help the war effort - it would be nice to think that someone told him, eventually.

You are certainly keeping up your reputation for trying out different things, so (hopefully without seeming too much of a sycophant), keep up the good work. But do, please let us know on this blog before your next show is aired.

HolRose said...

I literally just finished my third listen through of this wonderful thing. I love it so much. Then I got home and found out that you are co-writing the second series of Good Omens, and I am overjoyed about that. I hope it goes well. Can’t wait!!

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Melissa Dow said...

I legit cried at the end of episode 4. It's a beautiful series. Thank you.

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Leon said...

Just beautiful.
In hindsight, there was something rather nice about the title being the same as previous series. I think I enjoyed it even more due to being a little baffled by episode 1 at first... and then only gradually discovering how it is all connected so wonderfully… this made it an EVEN more satisfying journey than it might otherwise have been. And By the end of the whole series, it has become one of my favourite things I have ever heard on the radio. And by now I have listened to each episode multiple times.
Thank you so much! it has brought me so much joy.

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