John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme: Series 9

  • Radio Programme
  • Hosted by John Finnemore 
  • Reviewed by Kit

The following are out of 5

Racial Representation: 0

LGBTQ+ Representation: 5

Disability Representation: 5

Body Size Representation: N/A

Gender Representation: 5

Socioeconomic Representation: 0

Mental Health Representation: 0

Religious Representation: 5

Own Voice: no

The ninth series of the radio show is a departure from the sketch comedy of the past seasons. Instead, it’s a series of vignettes from the life of the Wilkinson family across the years. Each episode focuses on the life of a specific member of the family. As the series progresses it becomes obvious that there is an overarching storyline about the many secrets of the family. Despite the prominent theme of family secrecy, series nine is one of the most joyful and realistic celebrations of familial love I’ve ever seen (one of the inspirations was Finnemore’s disagreement with the famous quote that happy families are all alike). Despite various dramatic things that happen, the series is focused on the mundane moments in between. There are many little reoccurring lines and quirks across the episodes showing how such things can be inherited across generations (symbolized by the reoccurring Dog Song which initially seems to be a filler gag before the reveal that it has several symbolic meanings for the family). It’s an incredibly intricate piece that requires multiple listens to get the full story and all the callbacks across the generations.

**Representation Spoilers Below**

Episode viewpoint character Jerry experiences a stroke that leaves him with the wernicke’s aphasia (aphasia being a difficulty in forming coherent speech due to brain injury; patients with the wernicke variety often confuse unrelated words making their speech unintelligible to most). There are jokes about his bizarre speech, but they aren’t mean-spirited and he continues to be a joyful presence while making light of his disability. He’s mostly recovered in the present day which is implied to be a lengthy process instead of the overnight Hollywood Miracle. A more minor character Walter is blinded while serving in WW2 and opts to hide this from several family members, his wife Vanessa subtly giving him cues about his surroundings to help him pass. When a younger relative finds him out she accepts it as just another thing about him. In both cases the incidents that disabled them take place offscreen and aren’t treated as big dramatic happenings and no one laments their conditions. While their wives are formidable and sympathetic women they aren’t shown to be wonderful just for staying with and supporting disabled husbands. There’s zero inspiration porn or misery here. Russ, the first viewpoint character we meet, is a gay man whose coming out scene with his mother is as awkwardly funny as it is endearing and heartfelt. In later episodes we meet his partner and their daughter Toby, and they have some entertaining banter. One of the foundations of the family line is the relationship between Gally and Susana. Despite getting together in the 1890s they feel no angst about their sexuality and, thanks to Galley’s performance as a male impersonator (a popular form of theatre in Britain at the time), they even get to act out their romance without anyone realising. Gally’s brother Newt, one of the most prominent characters, is asexual. Newt is a reconfigured version of a character that’s been part of the show from the beginning. He’s the furthest thing from a loveless person, being a teacher who is treasured by his students and is adored by several generations of the family. The final episode reveals that despite his complete lack of interest in sex, he fathered Vanessa with Susana so she and Gally could have their own child. It’s beautiful that this unconventional queer love story involving a character who’s been part of the show from the beginning brought about the entire story. Hilde is a German-Jewish woman who, alongside her father, managed to survive the war and marries Jerry and emigrates to Britain with him. While she’s a steely and collected person she also has several adorable moments of affection in interactions with her husband and children. Several of her customs are carried on by subsequent generations. John Finnemore is particularly noted for giving prominent story roles to middle-aged and elderly women. All of the women of the Wilkerson family have sharp wits and unwavering confidence whether they’re planning to elope, being caught in the middle of blitzes, or fencing against younger opponents. Generally, all the members of the family remain active characters with interesting inner lives into old age instead of being considered irrelevant, for example, Jerry who is as mentally sharp and energetic as ever at 86 and Newt who remains a creative poet, story teller and beloved uncle figure into his nineties.

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