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Sunday Night Comedy - after The Archers

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Paul Murphy Paul Murphy 19:00, Sunday, 18 September 2011

Editor's note: This Sunday sees the launch of Radio 4's new Sunday Night Comedy strand with John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme. On the blog here's Radio 4 and 4 Extra controller, Gwyneth Williams, and star of the first show in the slot, John Finnemore, to tell you about it - PM.

John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme

John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme starts on Sunday at 7.15pm on Radio 4

Gwyneth Williams, controller of Radio 4, writes:

'John Finnemore launches our new Sunday night comedy slot just after The Archers at 7.15pm. While I was in Edinburgh during the festival the comedy department were waxing lyrical about his scripts. So I have been excited about this show for quite a while. Now here it is - a new sketch by the creator of Cabin Pressure, a Radio 4 favourite.

I was pleased to read Jane Anderson's comment about the new comedy slot in the Radio Times:

"Not a word is wasted - this is a chill-out zone for smart people".
And there is more to come - Rory Bremner and Sue Perkins to name just two who are bringing us new programmes for Sunday night after The Archers.'

John Finnemore on his new show:

'Right. This is it then. The one thing I have always most wanted to do in comedy is write and perform my own radio sketch show, and now I have. I really hope I haven't messed it up. (To find out if I have, and if so how much, listen to Radio 4 at 7.15pm this Sunday night, or shortly afterwards you can hear it on the Radio 4 website.)

It was always specifically a *radio* sketch show I wanted to do - much as I loved TV comedy growing up, it was listening to things like On The Hour, People Like Us and Harry Hill's Fruit Corner on the radio, and cassettes of things like I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again, Hitchhiker's Guide, and Pete and Dud, that really made me wish I could find a way to be allowed to do *that* when I grew up, as opposed to, say, a proper job.

There's something about the idea of a gang of people clustered round a microphone trying to make the audience and each other laugh that I particularly loved. In fact, we recorded this show round one central mike, rather than the usual method these days of having one each, more or less entirely (whatever I might have said to the cast at the time) so that I could pretend I was in The Goon Show.

There's no theme to the show. I felt that if I was going to write every sketch myself, which I was egomaniacally keen to do, I couldn't really afford to restrict myself to one subject area or even style. So, there are sketches, like Speak As I Find, which, if not exactly satirical, at least have a point to make. There are sketches like To Rerecord Your Message which come entirely from character, and there are sketches like Three Guards, which are just silly and fun. I hope.

The stories at the end are something I've been doing on the live sketch circuit in London for a while, and started as a parody of the great ghost story writer M.R. James, and in particular an audiobook of his stories read by Derek Jacobi, which I urge you to buy if you like that sort of thing.

Jacobi reads it perfectly, and part of reading it perfectly is that he - I'm sure deliberately - invests the narrator with an incredibly pompous cosiness which I find very funny. As I've written more of them, the style has widened out to be a bit John Buchan, a bit H.G.Wells, and a bit R.L. Stevenson - in fact any of those writers between about 1885 and 1939 who wrote stories in which chaps who only ever refer to one another by their surnames are reluctantly persuaded by other chaps at the club to tell tall stories in which, despite their apparent modesty, they feel able to say things like this, (from a Buchan short story):

"I learnt to walk in the Himalayas, and the little Saxon hills seemed to me inconsiderable, but they were too much for most of the men."

Mainly though, let's be honest, these sketches are a homage (or rip-off) to the Round the Horne or ISIRTA tradition of ending with a daft gang-show 'play', an opportunity for the cast to do even more than usually stupid voices, and me to do even more than usually stupid jokes and puns - and let me straight away acknowledge the glaringly obvious influences of Police Squad, Mark Evans' Bleak Expectations, and Stephen Fry's famous 'Letter' sketch:

"Of all the hideous disfigured spectacles I have ever beheld, those perched on the end of this man's nose remain forever pasted into the album of my memory."

That's it. I can't quite believe my luck in having got the chance to do this show. I'm really proud of it, and I very much hope you enjoy it.'

John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme starts on Sunday 18 September at 7.15pm. You can hear it shortly afterwards on the Radio 4 website.

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