Monday, 22 February 2016

Back Channels


Holy moly this is late! As I'm guessing pretty much everyone who reads this blog already knows, series five of "John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme" has gone out now and is (nearly) all up on Her Britannic Majesty's extant iplayer for further study. (Alright, a couple of episodes have dropped out of earshot but at least I plugged it in advance so I'm not a total idiot). Among other things, this series must have marked the most perilously concentrated period of writing I've seen the great man yet subject himself to, written as it was in Goodies-style-trandem with both "Double Acts" and the live show. The fact that everything turned out totally fine is a little worrying: He's not going to try and do all that again this year, is he? (On the Finnemore scale, "fine" of course means "won an award". Yes! "Double Acts" won best sitcom. Elsewhere, Cabin Pressure was nominated for best drama. John's producing so much that his work has literally spilt over into the wrong genres.)

The other thing this series marked was our first recordings post-"Souvenir Cabin". A bit off book, with a nod to costume and another nod to banter, it was the first live sketch show I'd ever done. I loved doing it, and felt by the third of my three nights pretty justified in loving doing it, but I'm not sure what I picked up helped me in Series 5. I'm talking about the grunting. I'm talking about the weird unscripted grunting before you even realise my character's in the scene. I don't know. No point worrying about your craft now, sunshine. Plough on...

Thank you, thank you, Ste-eve Ullathorne.

What else? Our gallant Producer Ed did some behind-the-scene production notes. I'll do that then. Here then are my own solipsistic titbits.

Episode 1 - Okay you can't hear the episode now, but... I'd say by the time Episode 1 aired there was still about a third of the series as finally broadcast yet to be written. Exciting. Unrelatedly, when I first saw John perform the final story, about crossing the Atlantic on a horse that thought it was a cat, it didn't have that ending - the ending where the day is saved by the horse landing on its feet - you know, the punchline you might have thought was the whole point of including a horse that thought it was a cat. No, he'd simply decided to include a horse that thought it was a cat and see where it went. Come on, that's fascinating! Another tiddlebiscuit: I think "School Slogan" marks the only time Margaret and I have turned up to a sketch accidentally wearing the same accent. Incidentally, Jason Hazely turned up to play the piano for this one having just learnt that six out of the top ten non-fiction books for that week were the Ladybirds he'd co-authored with Joel Morris. By Christmas it would be eight. He looked terrified. I remember bumping into Joel on the day of a tube strike back in Summer when the two of them were just getting started: they do a Christmas book every year and this year decided to have a proper think about which publisher they'd really like to write for. Joel was so happy showing me the caption for the dog rack. The secret of comedy is love. Timing's just a symptom. I've changed the subject. Anyway, I love Jason and was very happy to do stuff in front of and with him.

Here him in the actual Ladybird archive

Episode 2 - For some reason when playing the voice in John's head I found it very hard not to think "How would Rob Webb play this?" I'm not saying I could guess the answer, or that I would think it ethical to act upon it if I could. I'm just saying... I'm just saying. Similarly I first encountered the Wrong Friend sketch rehearsing "Souvenir Cabin" with John and his comedy partner of yore mum Kevin Baker. Kevin was unmatchably hilarious in this role. I tried to match him regardless, which is why I am shouting here more than acting.

Episode 3 - Oh, Ed hasn't done any notes for this. I remember we went to see "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" on John's birthday - the one where Mark Strong hits a burning owl mid-flight with a cane. Back when the circus really was a circus. The spy story here, set in a zoo which is actually not a spy story at all, was first performed in "Souvenir Cabin". It was here I learnt to keep schtum through a laugh and hold out for a second wave, like some BMX skillz. Obviously stillness doesn't show up on radio though. It's like the grunting. Plough on. What else? I don't think Jurassic Park 3 is a worse movie than Jurassic Park 2.

Episode 4 - We do a thing called Silly Voices Day: a closed-plan, blue-sky, coffee-and-biscuits ideas ramble that helps give John something to write for. That's where "Kirates" came from. The first time we tried out "Word To The Wise" at the Canal Cafe I could barely get through the sketch with what the Americans call "breaking". In retrospect I think it helped. By the time of the recording I could rattle right through them, and I wish I hadn't. "Kirates" of course is all about not getting through it - the building pressure that corpsing (no pun intended) can provide is written in. (To see what the real thing can add to a sketch, watch the wave after wave Rachel Dratch catches with the line "I can't have children" below.)

Episode 5 - Silly Voices Day probably paid for itself with just this episode, which I adore. "Schmoogle" came from that as well as pretty much everything Lawry suggests here. That extra recording in January really paid for itself too: John had had a month off (on the Finnemore scale of course, "a month off" means "a month spent writing just the one thing") and returned carrying gold, bright-eyed and bushy tailed... a phrase I realise is a lot easier to imagine applied to John than to most other humans.

Episode 6 - I'm not saying you can't act and shout at the same time. What I find oddest about the self-proclaimed "Most Self-Indulgent Sketch In The World" is just how much I enjoyed playing someone not enjoying playing someone playing themself. It's all a bit

The story about putting Queen Victoria's brain in a robot was apparently inspired by this film, and the robot hedgehog itself was inspired by a remote-controlled hedgehog from the charity Christmas cabaret where the story had its first performance. (Go, Mighty Fin!)

(Before I deliver my final tildaswintonbids: if anyone is wondering if Lawry Lewin, Carrie Quinlan, Margaret Cabourn-Smith, Sue Pearse and Ed Morrish are not just brilliant at their jobs but also fun and kind, they are.)

Final tin lid: When I sang "For he's a jolly good fellow" to John as the train manager, we had to retake the whole thing because the audience joined in.


  1. Is it good etiquette to thank the blogger for a lovely post? I think I’ll do it anyway, for I truly enjoyed reading it.
    (For the record, I knew you were referring to John’s own post with the ‘not a total idiot’ thing, and I find this amusing for some reason. But then again, John is by his own admission rubbish at publicity, so it’s not that surprising after all.)
    Anyways. Series 5 of John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme was pure gold, and that’s saying something given the quite high standards set by the previous series. And by Double Acts too, I’m still not over how much I love The Goliath Window.
    (By the way, I don’t know who is responsible for picking the titles for John’s works. Fans have started referring to them as ‘John Finnemore’s Four-Word Title’, and I’m beginning to think he should rename Cabin Pressure after this trend. Well, not really, but Patsy Straightwoman would maybe be a bit proud of my attempt at making a joke. Or not. Probably not.)
    Which reminds me, I still regret I didn’t get to see Souvenir Cabin on one of your nights. Carrie was brilliant, and there were other reasons why I picked that specific date, but still.
    Alright, this is getting awfully long, and I suspect that might be bad commenting etiquette. I don’t know. But I suppose you could always ignore my comment it, or delete it, or whatever. I’d still very much like to say something about your behind-the-scenes titbit thingies, and I’ve never been any good at any kind of etiquette anyway.
    I came to one of the tryouts in November. The funniest thing was John struggling his way through what later became the ‘Denoument’ Since You Ask Me. He hadn’t finished writing it – I honestly don’t know how he copes with deadlines. He probably doesn’t, if the Procrastination song is anything to go by. But I’m digressing. The point is, everyone was laughing so hard, including the cast. (Except for Lawry, who wasn’t there. Maybe he was laughing hard wherever he was. Who knows.)
    And, well, that is one of my favourite memories ever. John reading a half-finished story, and you laughing harder than anyone else – yeah, you can tell I’ve lead a rather exciting life so far. I hope this doesn’t sound too weird or anything. Especially now that I’ve mentioned the word ‘weird’. Sorry.
    But I’m babbling again. I meant to say something about my favourite sketches, but there are so many of them, and everybody’s acting was absolutely first-rate. I’m still trying to figure out how the Most Self-Indulgent Sketch In The World works in-universe – as in, from the point of view of the characters. Which are also the writer and the actor. Or not, as a matter of fact. Thank you for the fractal metaphor, it’s just the perfect thing to describe how my brain feels about that sketch.
    On a related note, I love your shouting. In that sketch, and elsewhere. (As Mark in The Goliath Window, for instance. And Sir Maxwell House, of course. I absolutely love Sir Maxwell House – but then again, who doesn’t?) The way you deliver ‘I don’t know, I’m still reading lines’ is worth an award in itself, and I would probably hide under my desk for an hour if someone told me ‘you have such a cheek’ in such a scary tone.
    But enough of this. I know I shouldn’t have written half of it, but then again you’ve probably stopped reading long ago so that’s fine. Still, I hope you have as much fun doing your job as we do listening to it.
    Thank you for everything.
    Be Kind & Have Fun.

  2. You are WELCOME.
    Om the topic of staying "in-universe", I've just remembered another tidbid: The line originally just read: "I don't know!"
    I suggested adding "I'm still reading lines!"
    This, as John pointed out, was therefore a lie.
    Get your head round that.
    Be Excellent To Each Other & Party On Dude.

  3. YoBit allows you to claim FREE CRYPTO-COINS from over 100 distinct crypto-currencies, you complete a captcha one time and claim as many as coins you can from the available offers.

    After you make about 20-30 claims, you complete the captcha and continue claiming.

    You can press claim as much as 30 times per one captcha.

    The coins will safe in your account, and you can exchange them to Bitcoins or Dollars.