An Evening with Mr Finnemore

Or, Living Without A Television Set and the Coming of Mr Capaldi

John_Finnemore's_Souvenir_Programme having fun
John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme cast have fun

I don’t have a TV. My daughter and I moved to this flat ten years ago, swapping Barbican  spaciousness for a Stepney garret and it seemed a good time to leave it behind.

We spent a lot of time in our local libraries at Whitechapel and Bethnal Green, getting to know the librarians and borrowing lots of audio books. I’ve read the whole of the Harry Potter books aloud plus countless others over the decade but my voice and tolerance aren’t infinite and she enjoyed choosing and listening to them.

BBC Radio 4 Extra was Radio 7 back then and we often had that on for stories and plays. I managed to buy a laptop about five years ago and we watched lots of films, then BBC iPlayer.

Ten years down the line, I’ve acquired a husband and lots of boxed sets. It’s finally Game of Thrones time here (that refers to the boxed sets: he’s not my brother and I don’t think his family is a significant House, even in Dartford.) We picked up the first season at The Forbidden Planet last week and got through the first two episodes of Season Two last night.

I can’t imagine ever bothering with a television again. Whilst I thoroughly enjoy swooning over Sherlock and am a lifelong Dr Who fan (more of that in a minute), I still love the radio. Comedy every night from 10pm until midnight, sci-fi, fantasy and horror for the next hour if I can’t sleep (most nights recently), Test Match Special of course …

The three of us don’t agree on everything to watch or hear and nowadays she’s usually attached to various tiny screens and plugged into headphones. But we all adore two radio series: Cabin Pressure and John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme.

We’re lucky enough to be able to get along to the BBC for radio show recordings. These are among the best free events going in London: everyone should know about them as long I can still get tickets, please.  We’ve been to The Infinite Monkey Cage, The Now Show and Bleak Expectations. Meet David Sedaris is the only other point of agreement between the three of us and the only recording she’d attended.

On Monday evening, we braved levels of rain that left two of us wringing out litres from socks and t-shirts in a restaurant lavatory while the third did the teenage eye-roll thing and made horrified noises of embarrassment. Fortified by Big Night Out lobster and chips on offer near Great Portland Street, we arrived for the recording.

There was an element of risk: my husband had managed thus far to avoid finding out Who was Who. Unlike the rest of the nation, rejoicing as smoke went up from the BBC (joke first seen on Twitter: can’t find the original for a link so please tell me if you do) to announce the new Dr, he didn’t want to know. No chance of keeping it a surprise until the regeneration, he knew that, but just for as long as possible.

This had meant no news in any medium, (diving for cover from the Evening Standard on the Underground), walking around with headphones in etc. The first things you see on arriving in the BBC waiting room are a TARDIS, a Dalek and a GINORMOUS TV screen.   By the entrance to the recording studio, there’s a GINORMOUS picture of Matt Smith, captioned The Doctor or Dr Who, I forget which. Two of us were a little sad that this hadn’t been updated just for the eff off scale of telling him the news …

And into the studio. All good Cabin Pressure fans and true will understand daughter’s delight on hearing the voice of Arthur in the flesh, as it were. We started with a warm up: the audience divided into a human tennis game, complete with a standing-up-people net, half of us being the plucky Brit and half being their Swiss opponent and Mr Finnemore conducting us in grunts of ‘UH!’ as the green balloon ball went from side to side.

Mr Finnemore introduced the cast entirely via references to Dr Who (husband holds breath) without a mention of Mr Capaldi (husband exhales.)

There were some spiffing sketches about red trousers and the wearers thereof, a beautiful ballad of a Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name sung by the supremely talented comedian Margaret Cabourn-Smith, a wonderful corporate speak git who crumbles into childish self-pity and a (sorry, I have to say ‘wryly-observed) couple instructing their house-sitter that had us shrieking.

I really enjoyed a Dashiel Hammett/film noir spoof with great Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet impressions. The guide dog in the audience barked with perfect comedy timing just after the recording and before the retakes.  The tallest man in the world with a gigantic afro who usually sits in front of me at the cinema and theatre had fortunately chosen to be somewhere else for the evening. It was pretty much perfect.

The rain had stopped as we headed home for some more Game of Thrones. And then I accidentally gave the game away about Dr Who.

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