diamond geezer

 Friday, November 27, 2015

After a night at the football, a night on Radio 4.

Keep an eye on the BBC's tickets page and you too could attend the recording of a show. Most are in London, but quite a few are around the regions and nations, which is how come my Dad's attended a recording of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue and I never have. Just a Minute is booking right now for just before Christmas, via a random draw, but that'll be vastly oversubscribed so don't get your hopes up.

I ducked the Radio 4 A-List and applied for a ticket one rung lower down, for John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme. You may not have heard of Mr Finnemore, he's not on TV much, although has had a minor role as one of Miranda's lowlier sidekicks. Instead he mostly writes, and performs, as you might expect from a former Cambridge Footlight. His most celebrated creation is Cabin Pressure, the 26-part sitcom set set in the world of chartered planes, tickets for whose final episode were oversubscribed by a factor of a hundred. For a taste of Finnemore, if you're curious, his sextet of Double Acts finished only last week, so several episodes are currently available on iPlayer. Meanwhile the legendary Souvenir Programme, a half hour pot pourri of comedy sketches, is now on its fifth series and will be returning to your radios in January.

The first essential thing you need to know about BBC tickets is that they're always free. The second essential thing is a consequence of the first, namely that the BBC always give out too many. It would be ghastly if people applied with no genuine intention of turning up and there were loads of empty seats, so a significant number of extra tickets are issued just in case. But this has a further consequence which helps to make the start of the evening rather less fun, namely that if you don't turn up early enough you don't get in. And sometimes this means very early.

For a blue ticket recording like the News Quiz the queues can start ridiculously early. Admission may begin at T Minus An Hour And Fifteen Minutes but people'll turn up well before that, lined up stoically to ensure a seat. To counter the tedium, the crew start validating tickets even earlier, slapping a numbered sticker on your printout to match your position in the queue. With this obtained you can bugger off and have a life in the surrounding area for well over an hour, only needing to return just before the doors open. Be warned that you have to be actually physically present to get a sticker - it's no use turning up with a sheaf of four and claiming the rest of your party will be along later. But no pain, no gain.

I arrived at the Shaw Theatre straight after work, a full two hours before the recording was due to begin, and there were already more than a hundred people in front of me. A fair number of these clearly hadn't come from work, but dozens of later recruits from a younger demographic clearly had. The Radio 4 audience remains distinctly mixed, although a very different kind of crowd to that I'd found myself in earlier this week at the Emirates. More females than males for a start, and more people wearing glasses, and slightly more hipster beards than proper stubble. If my Tuesday night had been with spent with the sport lovers, Thursday saw me in the company of those more likely to have been left on the touchlines.

I could have spent my spare hour in the pub, or having dinner, but instead I made the most of my location on the Euston Road. The Wellcome Foundation have recently opened a new exhibition entitled Tibet's Secret Temple which tells the story of the Lukhang, for three centuries the Dalai Lama's private place of contemplation.

The setting established, the main focus of the display is an exposition of Tantric Buddhism, yoga and the spiritual physiology of chakras. Rest assured it's more enlightening than preachy, and a fascinating insight into a very mindful way of life. If you're a reflective kind of person, I think you'll learn lots. Open until the end of February - late opening Thursdays.

The Shaw Theatre's lobby isn't ideally suited to corralling an entire auditorium full of attendees. Two pillars obstruct the foot of the stairs, and more importantly the bar, and it only takes a handful of static chatters to place the entire space in lockdown. The great majority of ticket holders are always in pairs or groups, either from the same family or like-minded friends, a comedy recording being a good and rather different social evening out. This at least made it easier for a singleton like me to squeeze through some gaps in the wall of people to some spare carpet on the far side, awaiting the ever-so-polite 'rush' when the doors finally opened.

At some BBC venues they let you in by sticker number, with double digiters ahead of triple, so the sooner you arrive the better the seat you get. At the Shaw, however, it was every licence fee payer for themselves. Again my lone status worked in my favour as I was able to fill in a single seat in the middle near the front, while other linked souls were forced to wander rather further back or to the side. There were even a few spare seats at the back by the time everyone was in... whereas last time I attended a JFSP recording here I arrived just late enough to nab the very last seat in the entire auditorium.

Almost bang on time the show's producer appeared from the wings to do the warm-up in an appropriately self-deprecating way. And then we were off, with a greeting from the star of the show and the introduction of his four actorly sidekicks perched with scripts in hand on a row of chairs behind. John's a very likeable man who beams a lot - your mum would be chuffed if you brought him home - but also linguistically very sharp and with an eye for whimsy. And hurrah, we were due an hour of fresh sketches, which is double what you get on the radio, plus all the unintentional comedy of stumbles and slips.

A very typical Finnemore set-up is to take something well known and mine the situation for absurdity. What exactly happened when Good King Wenceslas arrived to give alms to that poor peasant, and what if there was an actual heritage site named Bouncy Castle? I particularly enjoyed what will come to be known as the Hunter Gatherer sketch, a lengthy tour de force, and also a meeting between two management consultants and a nursery rhyme character which seemed a shallow excuse to force the cast to (attempt to) talk in tongue twisters.

One particularly heartfelt song with a restaurant theme was familiar to those of us who'd attended John's recent (paid-for) show at the very same theatre. Comparing the amount I'd forked out for that, and for not a great deal longer in my seat, I have to say the Radio 4 recording was more enjoyable. I may smile a lot but it takes a heck of a lot to make me laugh out loud, and there will be a moment in January when you can hear me do just that. That's assuming of course that this particular take survives the cutting room floor - a second run-through with exactly the same material was scheduled immediately after ours. And you could so have gone to that.

Update: one further recording of JFSP has been announced, at the BBC Radio Theatre on 5th January. Apply now!

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