Follow TV Tropes


Radio / John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme

Go To
From left: Carrie Quinlan, Simon Kane, John Finnemore, Lawry Lewin and Margaret Cabourn-Smith

Radio sketch show from The BBC, written by and starring John Finnemore of Cabin Pressure, along with Carrie Quinlan, Margaret Cabourn-Smith, Lawry Lewin and Simon Kane.

In 2021, the ninth series was broadcast in an experimental format due to the COVID-19 pandemic meaning it was produced remotely with no audience; instead of traditional unconnected sketches, these episodes each followed a single character in the same family for a series of vignettes presented in reverse chronological order. Due to the increased continuity and recurring characters this series has its own list of tropes provided separately from the rest of the show. A guide by Finnemore himself on how best to follow the series is available here.

Well, since you ask me for a list of tropes in John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme, I do have an alphabetised assortment of common narrative elements you may find... egregious:

    open/close all folders 

     Series 1 to 8 and 2023 special 
  • Accidental Misnaming: An unfortunate slip of the tongue by an elderly professor has him calling Professor Beaumont "Bum-End", something of a sore spot for a palaeontologist who has a history with misidentified fossils and is at the end of his rag.
  • Acoustic License: Spoofed when two characters are supposedly in a cafe, established by the serving staff shouting "bella!" at one another at the beginning, only to immediately drop out, which the characters note soon after.
  • An Aesop: Spoofed with one sketch, namely; "If you're a mathematician, always make sure your sequences are established to ensure a unique response, but more generally, don't be a dick."
  • All of Them: A potentially divisive poem in the 2016 Christmas Special forces the appearance of "literally every lawyer" at the BBC.
  • Ambiguous Syntax: In the Store Detective sketch,
    Snowman: Crumbs, sir!
    Casterbridge: Are you exclaiming "Crumbs!", or pointing out some crumbs?
    Snowman: Both, sir. "Crumbs, sir! Crumbs."
  • Anachronism Stew:
    • Often, especially in Storyteller sketches. But sometimes elsewhere, such as the Nut-Hunting sketch, when the hunter-gatherers get confused about the difference between buffalo and bison. Bison, as one gatherer explains, is the one they don't know exists yet.
    • In Season 2 Episode 4, the Storyteller says he doesn't know what "red-eye flight" means because "I am from the olden days". The person he's talking to points out that he's the one who just made a The Devil Wears Prada gag.
    • The Storyteller sketch in the 2022 special is a Jules Verne parody, which begins with the Storyteller at his skateboarding club. He assumes that any problem the audience has with this is entirely because he's an old man, and reminds them that he said he was eighteen at the time.
  • And I'm the Queen of Sheba: In the Deconstruction of "Good King Wenceslas" in the Christmas episode, the peasant reacts to King Wenceslas introducing himself with "Oh. Nice to meet you, I'm the Pope."
  • …And That Little Girl Was Me: One Storyteller sketch has him meet with a man who claims to be a witness to the (supposedly) deadly tortoise stampede the Storyteller is talking about, which was provoked when he wildly fired at a bear, but he's dubious since there were only two witnesses. The visiting man concedes the point and leaves... stopping only to eat a salmon whole.
  • ...And That Would Be Wrong: An actor who cheerfully admits to "bumping off" people through his career says he no longer does it now partly because he has most of the things he wants, and he no longer has the physical strength to do it. After a moment, he hastily adds that it is, of course, wrong.
  • Artistic License – History: One Storyteller sketch has the narrator rescuing Peter Parker, who changes into a spider during the full moon, with a pizza takeaway pamphlet. Peter then points out that he doesn't have a phobia of historical inaccuracy by pointing at the pamphlet.
  • As You Know:
    • Spoofed, when a man welcomes his staff back to work, and mentions that since they all know what their job is, he's not going to tell them. Having done so, a newcomer pipes up that she doesn't.
    • The Storyteller sketch for season 7 episode 6 has him doing this to his boss, who keeps interrupting to tell him she knows what he's telling her, to no avail.
  • "Awkward Silence" Entrance: Spoofed when the Storyteller walks into an Arizona saloon, and the customers immediately start making a racket, until the barwoman tells them to quiet down.
  • Backhanded Apology: Patsy Straightwoman goes up against the government minister who has this as his job, and then manages to force him into sincerely apologising like he means it.
  • The Backstage Sketch: A regular feature, usually poking fun at John or the show, pointing out factual inaccuracies in the sketches, or making meta-jokes about the self-indulgence of the backstage sketches themselves.
  • Bait-and-Switch: In season 7's parody of the show itself, the parody of the Since You Ask Me goes thus:
    Storyteller: Well... since you ask me for a shaggy dog story with silly voices and lots of puns, I believe (reverts to John's normal voice) Round the Horne is repeating on Radio 4 Extra.
  • Bat Deduction: Winston Churchill was able to figure out the British secret weapon in World War II was not, as they wanted the Germans to believe, radar but rather rooms full of cats. After all, what other explanation could there be? He is also quite drunk.
    Boffin: You're a brilliant man, sir, and we're lucky to have you.
  • Beneath the Mask: One Interview Sketch has Patsy talking with an MP who makes a great pretense of being humble, until she keeps pressing him about whether he thinks he's better than a deadbeat loser. The MP suddenly explodes with a rant about how of course he's obviously, demonstrably better than such a person, never mind all the other people in politics he's had to go up against just to get where he is... and then it turns out this was just a daydream of his.
  • Berserk Button:
    • One sketch has a man getting really bent up over people declaring themselves geeks about something. As the conversation goes on, it becomes clear this because of a childhood of bullying at the hands of people now falsely declaring themselves geeks.
    • As the song "Put it on a Plate" goes on, one gets the feeling the singer feels this way about restaurants not putting food on a plate, as he becomes increasingly angry.
    • Robot Queen Victoria gets a little tetchy seeing the mourning masses of Victorian London.
      Robo-Queen Vic: Why. Weren't. You. This. Sad. About. ALBERT?!
    • If there's one thing the Storyteller can't stand, it's people giving him sensible veterinary advice for his horse.
  • Biting-the-Hand Humour: Verging on metahumour about biting-the-hand humour, as a BBC spokeswoman says John Finnemore should be targeting his jokes at the source of all evil in the world, according to the BBC: The BBC.
  • Book Ends: The final episode of series 7 opens with two robbers planning to raid Mulligan's Milliners, and ends with the Storyteller recounting a story about when he was head of security at Mulligan's Milliners.
  • Bland-Name Product: One sketch features the people whose job is to create all those knock-off websites you see on films and TV.
  • Brand X: "That big sporting competition that's like the Olympics, but isn't the Olympics, but happened at the same time as the Olympics and let's say in this universe the Olympics doesn't exist."
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs:
    • A woman being told about her past lives finds they were usually some variant of peasant or slave, except for one time she was a serf... which she is informed is basically a mix of a peasant and a slave.
    • The ghost of a businessman states that unlike most ghosts, his reason for lingering isn't to find out who murdered him or give his girlfriend his love, though he does ask someone do the later... even though his girlfriend is the one who murdered him.
  • Brick Joke:
    • The entire text of the Storyteller segment in series 4, episode 5 is "Since you ask me for a tale of Time Travel... you will find I have already told you one." He's referring to the Storyteller segment in the next episode. That segment is an even more elaborate example; during the story it becomes clear that while travelling through time, the Storyteller and Dr. Krupenstein passed through several sketches earlier in the episode.
    • At the beginning of the Robo-Queen Victoria sketch, it's mentioned the government has banned anyone saying the word "cheese", because it makes people look like they're smiling. Toward the end, Victoria says it herself, but says it's alright for her.
    • Also, during the same sketch, the Storyteller mentions he was conducting an experiment to see whether copper could cry. When the robotic Queen Vic - made largely of copper - cries, he considers this a data point for his experiment.
    • At the beginning of series 7 episode 6 the caper gang mention that a security feature of the place they're going to rob includes a wolf being poked with a stick. That becomes important in the Storyteller sketch.
    • The Storyteller sketch in series 7 episode 6 similarly reveals that several previous sketches were all part of The Caper planned in the first sketch — and all the silly names of different parts of the plan actually make sense in context.
    • One Storyteller sketch claims the story will chill the listener's marrow to the bone (to which the in-universe listener responds that the plate of marrownote  on the table isn't his). At the end of the episode, he asks them to check the marrow's condition, and it is indeed sufficiently chilled.
    Storyteller: It's a laborious method of refrigeration, but you cannot argue with the results!
  • Brutal Honesty:
    • Deconstructed in one sketch, where two friends meet up, and the one played by Finnemore admits that when they're together, he's brutally honest. A PSA-style announcement follows the sketch.
    Carrie Quinlan: You know how everyone says it would be nice if we were honest with one another? Well... no.
    • Eventually, Patsy Straightwoman starts getting so fed up with the people she has to interview she becomes this, not even bothering with basic false niceties such as "nice talking to you".
  • The Butler Did It: Played with in a Storyteller sketch, where the obviously wrong inspector states from the off that owing to narrative convention it can't be the butler who's done the murder. Then it turns out the butler is actually an inspector, and the inspector is the duchess. The duchess is actually her dogs, and the dogs are the actual butler in disguise... who did commit the murder of the duke, trying to kill the duchess for making him disguise himself as a dog rather than just let him have the day off.
  • But Thou Must!: A variation of this occurs at the start of a Storyteller sketch, when he is asked to pass some biscuits. The biscuits reminds the Storyteller of a biscuit-related story, and he tells the listener that they must listen to the story even though they no longer want the biscuits.
  • By "No", I Mean "Yes": One Interview Sketch has an expert in the communication of experts, who explains that most experts find it impossible to directly disagree with an interviewer. He gives a series of examples where his collegue gives typical interview responses, and he translates.
    Barbara: Yes, that's absolutely right, a hundred percent, you've put your finger on it.
    Mark: No, that's wrong. But it could be more wrong.
    Barbara: Yes, I think that's broadly right, certainly in the sense that...
    Mark: That couldn't be more wrong, so I'm going to say something that's right, and then we'll pretend that that's what you meant.
    Barbara: Yeah, I mean, I think you could ... you could definitely make a case for that.
    Mark: If you were a Nazi. And not one of the clever Nazis, either. A Nazi who was really bad at science.
  • Call-Back:
    • The Christmas Episode has the return of the "Most Miserable Time of the Year" singer, who finally gets to sing a Christmas song (sort of).
  • The Storyteller, when asked for "the greatest story ever told", refers to the Treasure Island story in the first series.
  • The Storyteller sketch in series 7 episode 4 (a Western) is a direct sequel to the one in series 5 episode 1 (about being the first person to cross the Atlantic by horse), since it conveniently ends with him in America with a horse. The sketch for series 8 episode 4 is then a sequel to that one.
  • After a sketch about how Pachelbel hates performing his Canon in D, he's eventually dragged back and forced to play it, which turns into a musical sketch about how much he hates it.
  • Captain Obvious: Mocked into oblivion with the BBC radio drama, "Explaining the Plot", where characters stiltedly explain things they already know to one another.
  • Carnivore Confusion: One sketch has a man and his daughter stumble on some Wombles as they're looking for their suddenly missing dog, and the daughter notes how the Wombles, which are scavengers, are built more like predator species (forward-facing eyes) rather than prey species like rabbits. Her father brushes this off in favour of looking for that missing dog...
  • Cats Are Mean: A plan by the British in World War 2 to get cats more invested in the war effort backfires when the cats see documentaries on what the Nazis are like and come to the conclusion that, actually, they're pretty similar.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The cake shop that makes cakes which look like other things in series 7 episode 6.
    • Mr. Floofywhiskers' can-opener for a horse in series 8 episode 4.
    [...]the underwater horse was smiling the smile which horses smile when they have spotted that something mentioned earlier in the story is about to pay off at the end of the story[...]
  • Christmas Episode: In 2016 - John Finnemore's Souvenir Christmas.
  • Classically-Trained Extra: One Storyteller sketch is disrupted by Carrie complaining that she's a classically-trained actress who's been given two lines as an owl. John attempts to brush past this by saying "Ignoring the owl..." repeatedly, then says he shot the owl.
    Carrie: I played Ophelia!
    The Devil: Bloody owls.
  • Comically Missing the Point: The Storyteller is often prone to this, for instance telling a story of true love and romance which is actually the story of how he got targeted by a con-woman, or the moment when Dr Krupenstein pulls a baize cloth from her machine.
    Storyteller: I examined it minutely. "Well," I said, "I must confess it seems to me to be not obviously distinguished from any other baize cloth."
  • Continuity Announcement: One of the Since You Asked Me's comes after the credits and describes the time the storyteller met a hideous, wizened old fortune teller who said...
  • Continuity Creep: First there were Storyteller segments that implied or outright stated a cohesive life story for the Storyteller (although others flatly contradict this unless we assume he's a Legacy Character). Then series 6 & 7 experimented with final stories that tied together elements of the whole preceding episode. And then all the vignettes in series 9 are so deeply interconnected that it can't truly be called a sketch show anymore.
  • The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: One Storyteller sketch has his uncle, Uncle Deaduncle, dying very mysteriously and suddenly after recovering from a bout of illness. His servants are quite clearly responsible, having killed him for discovering they were raiding his wine cellar, but the Storyteller believes their lies anyhow.
    Storyteller: My uncle was always not discovering things. But it never killed him before.
  • Could Say It, But...: Subverted. An HR representative tries to get across to his friend that "Of course I can't talk about the upcoming layoffs, but I especially cannot tell you that your job is safe", which his friend mistakes for this trope played straight, despite the HR guy getting more and more explicit about precisely what it is he can't say. The punchline is that the reason he's so confident about his job security is that "I'm one of the best detectives on the force!"
  • Cozy Voice for Catastrophes: An actor is hired to read an emergency broadcast which he believes is part of a movie script. Unbeknownst to him, he's actually recording a real emergency announcement, because the government is about to release a biohazard and needs a recording of a soothing voice telling people not to panic.
  • Credits Gag:
    "If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in tonight's show... I'd be astonished!"''
  • Crippling Overspecialization: Deconstructed with one Patsy Straightwoman sketch where Benjie Armborough laments that he has Sacrificed Basic Skill for Awesome Training, among other things, and he's furious at the idea that anyone else could be as good as or better than him, since he trained solely so he could win.
    Benjie: Training the way I train knackers your body.
  • Cross-Cast Role: Sometimes a character specifically referred to by male pronouns will be played by one of the female cast members, for example Snowman in the Store Detectives sketch and the rancher in the Tortoise Ranch story. More rarely, characters specified as female may be played by a male cast member, for example the little girl in the Fairyland shop sketch, and a female judge in season 8.
  • Crossover: Two of the more ambitious Since You Asked Me's retroactively cross over with multiple other sketches from that episode;
    • The time-travel story reveals that apparent non-sequitur lines from passers-by were the time travellers all along.
    • The Caper story calls back to the very first sketch of the episode, which involved a lot of apparently gibberish names for cons, and revealed via Once More, with Clarity that each of them referred to a con being run in one of the other sketches, all in preparation for the big heist at the end.
    • A sketch in series 8 depicts a toast given by an insufferable mother of a bride at a wedding; this is a crossover with the episode "The Rebel Alliance" of John Finnemore's Double Acts, in which the mother of the other bride explains to a fellow guest why she doesn't get to give a speech.
  • Cybernetics Eat Your Soul: Pointed out by the Storyteller in one story, when he's hired by the PM after Queen Victoria dies to build her a robot body. He's not objecting, just pointing out it'll happen. Sure enough, Robot Queen Victoria goes on a rampage, cutting people in half with novelty scissors.
  • Dark Reprise: The musical Storyteller sketch ends with a flurry of them: "88 Keys in a Beautiful Smile" becomes "88 Teeth in a Sinister Smile", "Since You Ask Me For a Musical" becomes "Since You Asked To Be More Musical", in which Finnemore learns the terrible price he must pay, "Former Owners" goes from being about the mysterious disappearances to revealing the horrific truth, and finally "I Want to Buy That Piano" becomes " I Want to Leave This Piano".
  • Deadly Euphemism: Skewered in a Patsy Straightwoman sketch, where she interviews an actor who cheerfully admits to "bumping off" anyone who stood in the way of his career, or just annoyed him, such as his wife. Patsy bluntly points out this is still murder.
  • Death of the Author: invokedParodied with an English teacher who gets increasingly frustrated at not being able to correct his class's hopeless - sorry, "interesting" - interpretations of Macbeth (they're convinced he's a badass, and the whole conversation with his wife where he's remorseful and she's scorning him is them both being "sarcastic"). When the lesson ends and he covers the same class's Maths lesson, he's overjoyed at being able to tell them "NO! No, that's wrong, that's the wrong answer and I'm going to tell you the right answer which I know and you should learn! God that felt good!"note 
  • Did Not Think This Through:
    • The October Revolution was already running into communications difficulties when Pavel Dybenk suggests bringing Tsar Nikolai into it. Y'know, the person they're trying to get rid of. And Pavel's already sent him an invite, claiming to have forgotten the history, causing an increasingly apoplectic Lenin to point out he can't have because he's part of the history.
    • The Storyteller runs into difficulty trying to capture the last wolf in Scotland. For one, when he and his friends arrive, they find there is a thriving wolf population in Scotland. The plan then changes to exterminating all-but-one of the wolves, then capturing that one. For two, they're not allowed to shoot or poison them. So they try strangling the wolves, to which the Storyteller admits the wolfs "had the better of our exchanges". The survivors eventually settle on encouraging the wolves to lead an unhealthy lifestyle.
    • Noah and his family have a little problem vis-a-vis every animal being kept in one place for several reasons; prey animals and predator animals, and what happens when you've got two animals of separate sex breeding, especially when they reproduce quickly, like possums.
  • Did You Die?: "A Story About Me Being Told A Story By Somebody Else"; see Posthumous Narration below.
  • Dissimile:
    • On taking a rocket ship to the moon; "At first it was not unlike a trip in a hot air balloon, and after that it really was."
    • "And John Finnemore will return next year, like James Bond... except in every conceivable way."
  • Distinction Without a Difference: As Professor Beaumont points out, no matter how everyone keeps trying to phrase it, they are just basically asking him the same question in different ways.
  • Dualvertisement: Parodied in one sketch that involves the representatives of a major movie franchise and a huge burger chain settling on a price for movie tie-in toys to go with the burgers. Then they realize neither knows which of them is supposed to be paying the other.
  • A Dog Named "Cat": One of the Storyteller sketches involve a horse named Mr. Floofy-Whiskers. His owner actually raises him as a cat, to the point that it now says "meow" instead of "neigh".
  • Dude, Not Funny!: One of a series of sketches where famous witticisms are met with a realistic reaction from the person being addressed;
    Man: President Coolidge is dead!
    Dorothy Parker: How could they tell?
    Man: ...Jesus, Dorothy, a man just died.
  • "Eureka!" Moment: Parodied in the "Store Detective" sketch:
    Casterbridge: You know, all along there's been something nagging me about this case. Something not quite right about it. And it took Snowman here to make me see it. "That's the way the cookie crumbles" he said. Clumsily and for no obvious reason.
  • Every Episode Ending: Most episodes end with a story from the, er, Storyteller (in the first series these were mostly ghost stories, later branching out into all sorts of genres), full of wordplay, Lampshade Hanging and Playing With Tropes. Later seasons sometimes mess with the formula in more meta ways, for instance by having the Storyteller sketch be ridiculously short, or in one instance moving it to the Credits Gag.
  • Everyone Is a Tomato: One storyteller sketch has everyone in a murder mystery turn out to be someone (or something) in disguise. Except the storyteller, who is the jewel thief.
  • Exact Words: One Storyteller sketch has him asked to deal with a ghost, who appears at nine o'clock. He stays in the haunted building for an entire night, only to learn after this the ghost shows up at nine A.M.. He never bothered to ask.
  • Fantastic Racism: A sketch in which a character is called out by his friends for racist remarks about aliens. Little Green Men is apparently a particularly repellent slur, even if they do happen to be little and green.
  • "Fawlty Towers" Plot: The opening sketch of the 2023 special has a man who has been lying to his husband about his career for their entire relationship, because they met when said future husband was enthusiastically explaining something about music, and it's really awkward to follow that up with "Actually, I'm a bassonist for the BBC Philharmonic".
  • Fight for the Last Bite: One sketch has him recounting the tale of how he, as a member of the University Faculty of Logic and Ethics, witnessed a tragic event in which taking the second to last biscuit led to his fellow logicians agreeing that, since no one would take the last biscuit, the penultimate biscuit was the effective last biscuit and so could not be taken. They then follow this line of reasoning all the way back through the packet until none of them can eat any biscuits at all.
  • Film Noir: The Storyteller sketches in the third series. The Storyteller was being an American Hard Boiled Detective for tax reasons.
  • Forgot to Feed the Monster: In a Since You Asked Me parodying heist movies, this is how the crew got past one of the security features: a wolf that hasn't been fed for five weeks, and is constantly being prodded by a robotic arm to keep it annoyed.
    Carrie Quinlan: What you have there is a wolf skeleton being poked by an electronic stick. I mean, as modern art it's a provocative statement, but as a security feature...
  • Fractured Fairy Tale:
    • The Edinburgh festival has a father trying to read the story of the Ants and the Grasshopper to his kid, only to go off-story by having the grasshopper parlay his fiddle playing skills for a share of food. His kid objects and demands he tell it again. This time, the grasshopper dies, and so do the ants. The kid objects again, and then it gets even weirder as it turns into Carrie Quinlan telling John Finnemore to follow the story's original aesop and give up on his dreams.
    • The first episode of Season 5 has a version of Snow White in which the Grand Vizier, upon realising the mirror is really magical and the Wicked Queen isn't delusional, uses it to manipulate the stock market and spy on neighbouring countries, until the kingdom becomes the world's dominant superpower. And, as an afterthought, has Snow White killed by a professional assassin to keep the Queen happy.
  • Frivolous Lawsuit: Spoofed all to Hell in season 2, episode 2 with a Running Gag of adverts for a company specializing in getting huge cash payouts for minor offences, being bored at work, or just getting confused by a movie. The first one even points out how awful and lacking in self-awareness a person would have to be to do this.
  • Future Imperfect: One sketch in the last episode of Season 4 has a "lovingly restored" Tesco Metro, with a guide who explains that the shelves would have been restocked by small children called "shelf monkeys".
    Self-service checkout: Hail, good marketeer! A groovy day to you! I bid you welcome to this Tesco Metro! Approach ye now to checkout number 4, good buddy!
  • Gay Euphemism: Parodied. One episode has a businessman describes a potential employee of another using a variety of unlikely phrases like "in his farmyard the geese are all swans" and "he parts his hair in the middle", but when he gets the reply "Oh, I see. He's homosexual" replies with a baffled "Is he? I wasn't suggesting there was no bell on his bicycle." The second businessman never figures out what he was trying to say.
  • Gilligan Cut: Parodied in a sketch about a sitcom character trying to get by in real life (who also appeared in a sketch riffing on the trope Right Behind Me). He's asked to do something silly for charity, and outright refuses to do it. He then starts preparing to do it anyway, to the confusion of the other characters who've, naturally, already arranged for someone else to do it.
  • Gone Horribly Right: The Storyteller is approached by the PM and one of his ministers to revive Queen Victoria in a robot body, and does so knowing and warning them that a brain detached from body and soul becomes dehumanised to the point of monstrousness. Sure enough, Queen Vic does go on a rampage... and the Storyteller regards his work as done and pays it no mind until the PM comes back.
  • Gosh Dang It to Heck!: The Storyteller, seeing an odd thing in a bag, exclaims "QUEEN VICTORIA'S BRAIN!" He doesn't fill in Sir Hugo Hush that he wasn't just making an astounding deduction, but rather just yells that phrase whenever he's startled.
  • Government Agency of Fiction: Victorian England has the newly invented Let's Just Keep This Between Us Ourselves Shall We Service. Exactly what they do is unclear, but extracting brains with spoons is apparently part of it.
  • Gratuitous Italian: The Voice in His Head pushes a man into asking for a coffee in "grande", despite the man knowing it'll make him sound like a pretentious git. The voice succeeds in persuading him, and the wait staff do indeed mock him for sounding like a pretentious git.
  • Gretzky Has the Ball: Played straight in one sketch, and then mercilessly skewered in the following Backstage Sketch with Carrie and Margaret commentating on the previous sketch.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Deconstructed in an Interview Sketch with Larry the Centaur, who points out the downsides of it. As a centaur, he needs to eat enough to feed his horse metabolism, so he's constantly eating, and his human mouth can't stand a horse's preferred grass. There's also the downside of running around a forest shirtless, and said metabolism means he burns through calories at an insane rate. He can't even sleep for very long because he keeps running the risk of nearly starving every forty minutes. So he's constantly eating, constantly starving and completely miserable.
    Larry: What mystifies me is how we evolved in the first place!
  • Has Two Thumbs and...: In the Edinburgh Festival special, Finnemore tells a spine-chilling Burke and Hare parody about an Edinburgh thimble factory, a supplier of thumbs who claimed to be getting them from a combined distillery and bacon-slicer, and of the terrible choice the factory owner gave him: to allow Pratt and Rabbit to continue in their trade, or to sacrifice his own thumbs.
    Finnemore: And that is why my answer to the question "What has two thumbs and a conscience stained black as pitch?" must forever be "This guy!"
  • He Knows Too Much: A man who specialises in cleaning sceptic tanks is approached by people from Buckingham Palace who want to employ him, but is outraged by their slight on his honour and refuses, boasting how since he never took the job he's free to tell all about their dirty secret. He's shot mid-sentence.
  • Hitler's Time Travel Exemption Act: Invoked, Discussed, Subverted and Parodied in the Storyteller's tale of twisted science. He is sumoned to Dr. Krupenstein's Austrian castle, where the professor shows The Storyteller her time machine. After demonstrating it by visiting some of the other sketches, The Storyteller asks if it can go to the past as well, to which Krupenstein answers yes - just before pushing the contraption into an Austrian lake. The Storyteller protests her destruction of the time machine, saying that they could use the machine to kill a supremely evil person upon whom all the bad things in the world can be pinned before his Start of Darkness, making him into a time-travelling hero who could eradicate all the evil in the universe. Except that this is 1908, and he can't think of any such person. He suggests William Gladstone, but immediately dismisses the idea pointing out that Gladstone wasn't evil, just boring. As he mulls the problem, a sallow-faced youth selling paintings of the lake shows up. The Storyteller tells the youth that the paintings are horrible, and that he ought to go into a new line of work. The youth says, "okie-dokie" and goes off to make his mark on society.
  • Hurricane of Euphemisms: One sketch has a man hiring someone being informed there's something questionable about him via these. Whatever it is, he's unable to determine what exactly the undesirable quality is, because the euphemisms are so obtuse. However, it isn't that the fellow is gay.
  • Hypocritical Humor: In one sketch, Lawry asks John why he never gets to sing.
    John: Can you sing, Lawry?
    Lawry: No.
    John: Right, so ... well, that's probably the main reason why you...
    Lawry: Can you sing, John?
    John: OK, you make a good point.
  • I'd Tell You, but Then I'd Have to Kill You: The Storyteller claims as such in one sketch when he's asked for a story about espionage. He tells it anyway, noting he'd been planning to kill the listener all along.
  • I Know You Know I Know: Are you sitting comfortably?
    Bob: Okay. I want you to listen very carefully and tell me if I've got this right. You're angry about what you think I said about what you said about what you thought I said (but we now both agree I didn't say) about what you thought I thought you thought about what I did when you did what you did when I didn't do what you thought I said I would do but what I thought I said I would try to do, is that right?
    Alice: Yes.
    Bob: Yeah I thought so. Well I didn't say that.
    Alice: Yes you did! You said you couldn't believe I said what I said about what I thought you said (but which we do agree you didn't say) because you thought I said I said what I said not because you didn't do what you said you'd do but because you said you'd do it, and that makes me feel that you feel that I feel that you don't feel what I feel.
    Bob: You know I feel you feel I feel what you feel.
    Alice: Yes but I don't feel you know I know that and that's why I said what I said.
    Bob: What did you say?
    Alice: That sometimes, I think you're a little over-analytical—
    Bob: Bollocks.
  • In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: As with John Finnemore's Double Acts.
    • Lampshaded in a Credits Gag; "I myself wrote and starred in the programme, but modesty precludes me from ever telling you my name, save for one cryptic clue hidden deep within the title..."
    • Parodied in a sketch about historian David Starkey, who insists that even his agent refer to all his thus-named books by their full titles.
  • Incompatible Orientation: A parody of "Missed Connections", in which the two people have never encountered each other, even briefly, and probably never will, has an Orkney crofter claiming to be perfect soulmates with a dental receptionist in Devon, despite the fact that - in addition to living at opposite ends of the country - "you're 22 and happily married and I'm 84 and gay".
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Double-subverted in one Storyteller sketch when the Storyteller does this with the butler, only for the butler to point out he was the one who showed the Storyteller the body in the first place.
  • Inherently Funny Words:
    • One of the Storyteller sketches has two characters unable to stop saying "back channels" because of how funny they find it.
    • In an "official BBC statement" apologising to Belgium for the gags at its expense:
      BBC Spokesperson: It happens that the word 'Belgium', simply by the fact of beginning with a hard, plosive 'b' and ending with an unusual combination of 'j' and 'm' sounds, has a superficially comic sound to the Anglophone ear, and that is the sole reason why lazy, hack comedy writers such as Mr Finnemore continue to reach for Belgium as a default funny country, decades after Douglas Adams and Rowan Atkinson did it far better.
    • Another storyteller sketch has a ghost of a businessman complain after several minutes that their exchange has made the word "business" this, which is kind of a problem when you're a businessman.
  • Invisible Backup Band: In "Since You Ask Me For A Musical", after a character admits he has a piano and bursts into an introductory song; "Oh yes, I also have a cello, a flute and a bassoon. And I can play them all at once!"
  • Insistent Terminology: It's not a picnic! It's the Teddy Bear's Annual Conference. It just happens to take place in the woods, because obviously no venue could hold all the teddy bears at once.
  • It Runs on Nonsensoleum: The Storyteller sketch in the 2023 special takes the already scientifically dodgy giant Moon gun from From the Earth to the Moon, doubles the gunpowder to travel into the Moon, and on its return, stops dead forty feet above the Earth.
  • It's Been Done: A group of executives trying to find a premise for a detective show that hasn't already been done. Eventually they do hit upon an original idea; store detective.
  • "I Want" Song: Parodied with "I Want To Buy This Piano", all the lyrics to which are just variations on that very simple statement.
    Finnemore: There was no doubt in my mind about my objective, or the stakes of this story. But just in case, I sang a song about it.
  • Judgment of Solomon: Solomon has to figure out what to do when both women object to cutting up the baby. As one of them says, "No, we both like the baby. That's the whole point."
  • Just a Stupid Accent: Spoofed in season 1, episode 2, when the cast do a sketch set in France, complete with ouuuraageous accents... except Simon Kane who tries pointing out this is offensive, and is promptly banned from the sketch by John. Simon gets his revenge at the end of the sketch, when he returns doing an accurate French accent.
  • Just the Introduction to the Opposites: Lampshaded at the end of a sketch where truckers' private lounges on ferries turn out to be sparkling cocktail parties full of catty banter. "My expectations [had been] subverted. A group of people one might stereotypically assume would display one set of attributes, had in fact displayed the stereotypical attributes of another group of people entirely..."
  • Kick the Dog: A man looking to prove his worth to his girlfriend asks for a quest. When going after a dragon is rejected because they aren't real, she tasks him with shooting a panda and cutting off its ears.
    Man: But everyone likes pandas!
    Woman: Not me. They try too hard.
  • Knights and Knaves: Parodied in this sketch in the first episode.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: One sketch has a PSA supporting completely ignorant bar conversation, now being ruined by the advent of Google letting people know the actual answers.
  • Large Ham:
    • Simon Kane is pretty good for manic shouting.
    • The keeper of insects at The Zoo is pretty upset about how nobody ever goes to look at his exhibit just because they like insects.
    • Simon Kane gets very worked up by the meta-backstage sketch.
    Simon: Yes, it's self-indulgent! MASSIVELY, MASSIVELY SELF-INDULGENT! SO STOP IT!
  • Lemony Narrator: The Storyteller, frequently also an Interactive Narrator.
  • Literal Genie: One who, in fairness, forewarns the woman receiving the wishes that he is one with larger scale wishes, and that in terms of general wish-to-satisfaction ratios, people are generally happiest with something like wishing for a fancy car. The woman wishes for world peace, and he complies, after giving her multiple chances to reconsider, and even explaining how he would fulfill the wishnote . Very, very technicallynote . She then regrets her wish and says she'll take the car, but by that point it's too late to back out.
  • Literal Metaphor: The Storyteller assures his listener his story will chill them to their marrow... as in the marrownote  sitting right next to them.
  • Literal-Minded: A character who approaches Rory McIlroy and when asked "D'you want a photo of the two of us together?" replies "I'd be surprised if such a thing even existed". It eventually turns out he's giving McIlroy a World's Greatest Golfer mug, which he assumes was given to him in error.
  • Locked Room Mystery: "The door had been locked from the inside. The windows were barred, locked from the inside, didn't open and were made of brick. All the books were chained to the shelf save one, open on the table at a page entitled 'How to secure a room from the inside'. All the boxes had been ticked. And even the pen used to make the ticks was one of those ones on a little chain you get in banks." Turns out the maid killed him, and then built the locked room around the corpse.
  • Long List: "Since you ask me to sing you the capitals of each country in Europe..." And then he does. (Except for the ones that are partially in Asia.)
  • Lured into a Trap: A pair of lionesses hold a seminar on successful camouflage techniques, only to point out to all the prey animals in attendance the significantly foolish mistake they've made at the end...
  • Medium Awareness: The main characters in the "Store Detective" sketch are aware they're fictional characters, and don't think terribly highly of the writing.
  • Missing Steps Plan: The Storyteller's uncles Deaduncle and Phil plan to get to the Moon via shooting themselves at it via a giant gun, with no thoughts on how to get back since it doesn't do to overthink such things.
  • Mix-and-Match Critters: Polly the Croco-pie, the result of a union between "an unusually docile crocodile and a quite heroically determined magpie".
  • Modest Royalty: Aristocracy rather than royalty, but Emily, wife of the Lord of Bouncy Castle, doesn't like people to use the formal title. Because the title is "Lady Bouncy".
  • The Mole: One Storyteller sketch is set in the zoo, where the Storyteller has to find out who has been leaking information to their nearest rival, the circus. The sketch constantly lampshades that there's a rather obvious joke about who the mole could be. Then it turns out the mole is a parrot.
  • Mondegreen Gag: Lord Nelson's last words were meant to be "kismet, Hardy", but Hardy mishears it as "kiss me, Hardy" and obliges. A long back-and-forth ensues between them about why Lord Nelson decided to use a Persian word rather than one less likely to be misinterpreted, especially when he, in Hardy's opinion, really dropped the 't' at the end and makes Hardy look stupid.
  • Monochrome Casting: Discussed in one sketch when Simon, upon realising he's playing a character called Ranjit, stops the show to ask John about the sketch.
    John: I noticed that whenever I name a character in a sketch, I reach for a generic white Anglo-Saxon name like Paul or Sarah, and that doesn't really reflect ... you know, who we are as a society.
    Simon: No, but it does sort of reflect, you know, who we are as a ''cast''.
  • MST3K Mantra: invokedA lot of sketches are followed up with behind-the-scenes bits admitting that yes, they know such and such isn't accurate, but it's funny, so please don't write in to point it out. Then eventually a sketch pointing out how unnecessary those sketches are because everyone accepts the Rule of Funny already.
    Simon: This is a radio sketch show, no-one's mistaking it for the Open University.
    John: People do pick you up on this stuff, you know...
    Simon: So what! What are you trying to prove? I mean it's not as if you knew the order of the Labours before you looked them up on Wikipedia, is it? Why don't we just say that with this sketch, we have established that you do have access to Wikipedia, but sometimes you ignore it for jokes. And that way, you won't have to do any of these paranoid, arse-covering little meta-sketches ever again.
  • Musical Episode: In the final episode of season 6, the Storyteller is persuaded to tell his story as a musical.
  • The Music Meister: The above story involves a cursed piano which gives its owner a wonderful singing voice while at the same time causing them, and everyone around them, to sing involuntarily. And then eats them.
  • Named After Somebody Famous: Discussed In-Universe as part of a Credits Gag:
    John: [Margaret] had wisely added the "Cabourn" early in her career, as it was clear that no one would ever get very far in theatre with a name like Maggie Smith.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: Done in one of the Storyteller tales with a bear, of all things.
    Storyteller: The bear looked at me, sneered, made a gesture I didn't know bears knew, and ambled back in to the forest.
  • Never My Fault: The Sketch About the Human Condition has a pair of in-laws working on a farm, one who tries growing goats and one who grows daffodils. The goats eat the daffodils and then die, since daffodils are poison to goats, but neither party is willing to put up a fence, even though they go through this every year, because they think it's the other person's job.
  • Nested Stories: One of the "ghost stories" has The Storyteller telling a story about a man at his club telling him a story about a letter he found containing a story about a landlady telling a story about an old drunk who said "I went for a walk, and I saw a ghost." So there you have it! You devout believer (or no less devout skeptic), from henceforth you must find some accommodation in your convictions for the fact that you once met a man who met a man who found a letter from a man who once stayed with a lady who knew a man... who saw a ghost! Except it turns out he actually said he saw a goat.
  • Never Heard That One Before:
    • A song by the Keeper of Small Mammals at a zoo begging visitors 'When you see a meerkat, don't say "Simples."'
    • A sketch featuring a man whose name turns out to be "Kermit", and who defensively heads off all the usual jokes. The woman he's on a date with sympathises, as her name is... Lisa. Lisa Simpson.
    • A series of sketches in S5 where a socially anxious man tries to buck up the courage to ask a tall man how the weather is up there, say to Tony Robinson "I've got a good idea!", and tell an attractive woman she has a lovely pair of glasses.
  • No Man of Woman Born: Skewered in one sketch which has Macbeth and Macduff arguing over the semantics of being from one's mother's womb untimely ripp'd. Macbeth feels that it's nonsense, since c-section or not, Macduff still came out of a woman and still has a birthday. Instead, a noblewoman just stabs Macbeth then and there. Macduff goes to steal the credit anyway.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent:
    • One sketch has John give this as the reason he casts Simon as "Ranjit", because he knew Simon wouldn't try to do an Indian accent, whereas Carrie enthusiastically says she would, which is why John didn't give her the part.
    • Another sketch begins thus: "In a land far, far away, but don't worry, we're not going to do the accents..."
    • Inverted in one sketch involving Voltaire, they are specifically doing "outrageous french accents" all apart from Simon Kane who pointedly can do a correct one.
  • Not What It Looks Like: A character is confronted with evidence he's been having an affair, and says this. Asked if he can't come up with something more original, he says not really, on account of how it looks like he's having an affair, and he's not.
  • Not My Driver: One Storyteller sketch where he's being a hardboiled detective has him jump into a cab and tells the driver he'll get extra money if he doesn't turn out to be a crook with a bottle of chloroform. The driver laments he really could've used the extra fare, too...
  • Obligatory Joke: Seen coming in the Zoo sketch, when they think they've got a mole (as in a spy). Finnemore is cautioned not to make any jokes about there being a mole in the zoo. Later on, another person in the Zoo is astounded they had a perfectly good set-up and didn't use it.
  • Oh, Crap!: The two most feared words in all of Canada: tortoise stampede!
  • Once Done, Never Forgotten: A sketch involving a paleontologist who is making a presentation about a fossil to his society. Despite his attempts to forestall it, all questions involve checking the head is on the right end, this time.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: John's foreign accents are a frequent target of Self-Deprecation.
  • Organ Theft: In the world of the Storyteller, when someone says they've "got" your nose, they've got your nose. Including the Storyteller himself, who is a serial schnoz-fence, looking to replace his own incredibly cute nose.
  • Overly Long Gag: "Grigori Zinoviev is out of office." His alert goes off in response to every e-mail in the "Russian Revolution E-Mail" sketch, even after it turns out he isn't out of office, driving Lenin to screaming fury.
  • Overly Long Name: Patsy Straightwoman's full name is actually Pat Simplistic Feed-Lines Straightwoman. Her parents were unusual people.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: The PM in one Storyteller sketch, whose desire to remain anonymous is foiled by the advent of photographs and newspapers, meaning people know what he looks like.
  • Parrot Exposition: One "Accidental Archers" episode is the cast recounting what they were doing to one another, then explain that to the people they've found, and anticipating repeating it all to whoever they find in the next scene.
  • Phlebotinum Analogy: One of Patsy's interviews is a scientist trying to explain the universe, who has problems explaining things, either too complicated (talking to scientists) or too simplistic (talking to people). Patsy suggests he does this, but being a quantum physicist, he can't even manage that.
  • Plot Threads: Nearly all the sketches in the final episode of series 7 turns out to be this. The opening sketch features two robbers discussing their plans to raid Mulligan's Milliners. In the Storyteller sketch, the robbers then reveal that they had been working in the background of several other sketches to bypass all the security measures, before the Storyteller makes the final reveal that he had also been in another sketch to foil the robbery.
  • Political Overcorrectness: The Zoo sketch, when the woman in charge of sloths utters the phrase "political correctness gone mad", when a sloth escapes on a motorbikes, pointing out that while the usual use of this phrase is just "something politically correct I don't agree with", this time political correctness has gone literally mad, which is why sloths have access to motorbikes.
  • Posthumous Narration:
    • Parodied and subverted: One of the Storyteller's stories is of being told a story by a man who became a tortoise rancher in Canada, until the day he shot at a bear, missed, and started a tortoise stampede which, a few months later, ended with him being trampled to death over the course of a week. When the Storyteller points out the man telling the story isn't dead, he says maybe it happened to a friend of his. When it's pointed out there were no witnesses, he admits he was just making it up. He's actually the bear.
    • The Storyteller musical ends with him eaten by the piano and never seen again. He advises the audience not to think too hard about that bit.
  • Pooled Funds: Surprisingly Realistic Outcome occurs for the Storyteller in the final episode of Season 4.
    Storyteller: It took place in the spring of 1908, a year which found me even more than usually rich. As a result I took time off from diving into my swimming pool full of gold florins to recover from the various head-injuries thus sustained.
  • Promoted Fanboy: In-Universe. We hear the life story of a boy whose lifelong dream is to become The Man Who Makes The Noise Of The TARDIS, and he goes to amazing extents to achieve this - even, after Doctor Who's cancellation in 1989, becoming the BBC Director General to get it Un-Cancelled, before stepping down from his post to go and work in BBC Wales's sound design studios. It's a shame that his TARDIS noise is just him going 'vrooom' into a microphone.
  • Puff of Logic: An argument between Victor Hugo and Quasimodo ends after getting too meta for its own good when Quasimodo points out he doesn't even actually exist, and therefore ceases to be, leaving behind a very confused Hugo wondering just what he's doing in Notre Dame.
  • A Rare Sentence:
    • A Subverted Trope when the Storyteller describes encountering thumb-sellers who claim they get their thumbs from a combined bacon slicer and distillery.
    "The owner of that thumb was no alcoholic bacon slicer!" It was a sentence I'd uttered a thousand times before, but rarely with such meaning.
    • And again when one of his listeners asks for a story with the phrase "that robot weasel might just be King Edward VII". He doesn't have anything like that, and points out how improbable that would be.
  • Reed Richards Is Useless: In the wake of Queen Victoria's death, the Storyteller had been working on cures for diseases, but felt with the monarch's death this was too frivolous, and so decides to see whether copper can cry instead.
  • Reluctant Mad Scientist: Dr Krupenstein, who is 95% sure her invention isn't evil. Or maybe 90%. She gets down to 51% and then chucks it in the lake.
  • Right Behind Me: Parodied, with a guy who launches into a tirade against his new boss, trailing off with "...and he's right behind me, isn't he?" His coworkers respond with "No... of course not, we'd have said something." He then reveals, with the air of a man admitting to a compulsive disorder, that he's a sitcom character, and really needs the "scene" to resolve itself humorously, and gets more and more anxious at the lack of a punchline. However, as the boss is out of the office there's nothing to be done, until;
    Colleague: Don't worry, I'll handle this - my brother's a sitcom character too. What's that you say about the new boss, Colin?
    Colin: He's ugly and stupid and bald and awful!
    Colleague: He's also in charge of who gets a Christmas bonus this year.
    Colin: ...and I won't hear a word said against him! Ohthankyousomuch.
  • Rule of Three:
    • Finnemore has a self-imposed rule that no sketch can return more than three times in an episode. There are a few episodes where a recurring sketch appears four times. But technically, the first time doesn't count as a return... (and more to the point, in most such cases the fourth sketch will be a subversion of the joke used in the other three).
    • In the Musical Episode, the fates of first two victims of the piano are described in detail in their own verses, and then:
    Shop assistants: Then we sold it to a chef— [spoken] and it happened a third time.
  • Schmuck Bait:
    • One sketch has John telling the audience how he, not normally one to fall for clickbait, fell victim to some clickbait on the BBC's own website.
    • Parodied in the Storyteller's story about how he once stayed for three nights in an inn where he was warned never to open the trapdoor in the floor of his room. So he didn't, and in fact seems perplexed by the whole idea of doing something he's agreed not to do.
  • Self-Deprecation:
    • There are numerous jokes to the effect that John isn't as talented an actor or singer as the others and only gets to be on the show because it's his show.
      ''"Simon Kane's lines were voiced by an actor. John Finnemore's lines should have been."
    • The Storyteller: "[I am] more inclined to telling long, stupid stories full of puns than listening to them."
    • The final episode of series 7 includes a parody of the show itself (similar to the previous parodies of The Archers). Simon interrupts to ask if John is becoming self-indulgent to a potentially fatal level.
  • Serious Business: Disagreements between cat lovers and dog lovers results in Britain being divided in two.
  • "Shaggy Frog" Story:
    • At the end of the Robo-Queen Victoria sketch, it turns out the Storyteller had misheard the sort of story being asked for.
    • After poor, unfortunate Professor Beaumont spends several minutes having to assure everyone the head is on the right end of his find this time, one colleague reveals an important fact everyone else has overlooked: Namely, the fifth leg.
  • Shallow Parody: invokedLampshaded; following a sketch about Wolverine and his "adorable little hair-ears" comes an open letter admitting that John doesn't really know anything about Wolverine and didn't get around to watching any of the films in preparation.
  • Shaped Like Itself: A man goes into a cake shop where they sell cakes that look like other things, and asks for a cake... shaped like a cake.
  • Sherlock Scan: Holmes himself performs one on a woman who considers Dr Watson to be a great hero, but seems to have genuinely no idea who he is. Not only does she remain unimpressed, but she casually works out how he did it in a tone that suggests anyone could have seen that, and then turns the tables.
    Miss Bateman: I can tell you that you smoke two types of pipe, that you do not keep a valet but that your maidservant, or perhaps — may I see your cuffs? — ah, I beg your pardon, your housekeeper grows increasingly exasperated with you, and that you are reasonably adept upon the violin.
    Holmes: Reasonably adept??
  • Shout-Out:
    • Three characters in a pub in 2208 discussing racism against aliens order Gargle-Blasters.
    • The Storyteller arrives at Krupenstein's ominous gothic castle to a sinister man who informs him he is not Dr. Krupenstein, a mistake many people seem to make, in reference to Frankenstein. Where the Storyteller goes wrong is assuming he's Krupenstein's creature. He's actually Krupenstein's husband.
  • Showdown at High Noon: Spoofed when the Storyteller faces off against the dreaded Big Bad Bob for Mr. Floofywhiskers at twenty past noon, a fact the Storyteller is irked about to begin with. Bob actually turns out to be an entirely reasonable fellow who, on hearing Mr. Floofywhiskers is not for sale, declares he'll just go somewhere else for a horse.
  • Silly Will: A dead man leaves his entire fortune to whichever of his four family members is the last to say "word" after the executor stops reading the will... along with over six pages of post-script dedicated to gloating over which of them said it first, and irritating them into saying it. The ultimate beneficiary is his dog.
  • Smoky Gentlemen's Club: The Storyteller's club, of which he is (apparently officially) the Most Boring Member.
  • Snake Oil Salesman: One sketch has a supposed charity showing pictures of sad donkeys to depress and / or irritate people into giving them money (as a Take That! at all those charity adverts that make their case in the most depressing manner possible). Following is a disclaimer admitting that most animal charities are not trying to scam you with endless photos of sad donkeys.
  • Snipe Hunt: Apparently on Games Night, the Storyteller is given the important part of going to a different room from everyone else and not talking to anyone. For every five minutes, he scores a try, which he notes is odd given the game everyone else is playing doesn't work like that...
  • The Storyteller: Well, since you ask me for a story about The Storyteller...
  • Straight Man: There is a Running Gag that an interviewer character played by Carrie Quinlan (eventually given the name "Patsy Straightwoman") gets increasingly frustrated each time she shows up at having nothing but feed-lines in her script.
  • Straw Character:
    • Parodied and lampshaded in a sketch where Margaret criticises the previous sketch for making fun of Christianity. Finnemore explains his reasoning, and she eventually has to concede that he's won "this fictional argument [he] got to write both sides of."
    • The "Fahrenheit v Celsius" sketch has Fahrenheit quickly conceding the superiority of Celsius' scale in every respect. However, he gets the last laugh when he points out that Americans are never going to give up on a thing they've already learned just because it's better.
  • Stupid Crooks: The Storyteller's brief career as a clueless detective has him go up against a bunch of crooks who try committing a cover-up before they've even committed an actual crime, not to mention putting the Storyteller on the case for no reason.
  • Summation Gathering: The mystery story has the suspects "gather in the Dénouement parlour".
  • Super-Powered Robot Meter Maids: The Storyteller builds a robot body for Queen Victoria, adding all manner of deadly weaponry she doesn't really need, to further enhance her majesty and terrify foreigners.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: Done after a sketch about a man panicking that he's technically now older than most of the world's population. One of the cast adds the following:
    That sketch was written by a man who is 38 and a half, but he's fine with it. Honestly.
  • Swans A-Swimming: Zeus's attempt to seduce Leda as a swan falls a little flat when she tells him she's just not interested in swans, regardless of their godly attributes, especially when said gods wants to seduce her as a swan, rather than in a more practical human form.
  • Take That!:
    • The Archers sketches are pretty much nothing but jabs at it, depicting it as dull, confusing and repetitive, and the only reason anyone might listen to it is because they were already listening to BBC Radio 4 and didn't turn it off quickly enough.
    • The Zoo sketch has the Storyteller suggest using a fly trapped in amber to revive dinosaurs, only for his boss to shoot him down because it would lead to disasters. Four of them, in fact, each somehow worse than the last.
  • The Talk: Taken to bizarre places in one sketch, where a father calls two of his kids in for what they think is this... only for him to tell them they're soon going to grow legs. And eyes. And a tongue. Because, you see, they're tadpoles, and he's a frog. And their dad, not some passing frog who just adopted several thousand kids one day.
  • Thieving Magpie: Polly the Croco-pie combines this stereotype with the "mighty crocodilian jaws" inherited from her mother to make an animal that will happily bite your arm off if you wear a sparkly bracelet.
  • Threat Backfire: The Storyteller sketch for season 5 episode six has him get irritated with the audience, and tell them he might just not tell them his stories. He then has to hurriedly ask them to come back and that he'll behave.
  • Tragic Dream: A young girl named Charlotte is informed by her father that she can't be a police dog-handler like she wants to be, because she's got to be a princess.
  • Translation Convention:
    • Jesus' defence when an apostle points out his anachronistic use of the word "off-license"
      You know as well as I do that we're both speaking Aramaic, and the word I just used was the informal word for a wine merchant, which I can only assume in whatever language we're being translated into sounds like "off-license".
    • Similarly, Victor Hugo's defence when Quasimodo criticises him for naming his book The Hunchback of Notre Dame ("I am not defined by my disability!") is (eventually) to point out that he didn't, that's just the English title. With the argument having become hopelessly Meta, Quasimodo points out Hugo didn't base it on a real person either, and disappears in a Puff of Logic.
  • Translator Collar: In one sketch, a scientist invents a device that can translate whalesong. It turns out that this consists entirely of whales telling each other "Hey! I'm a whale! Hey! You're a whale! Hey! We're whales!"
  • Triangles Are the Worst Instrument: A sketch in Season 8 Episode 1 plays on the triangle's simplicity to make, rather than play. A young man wishes to be The Apprentice to the world's greatest triangle-maker, who he ranks as above Stradivarius. His training consisted of making four triangles ("bend, and bend, and string, and..." *ting!*), each of which was supposedly better than the last until his master claimed he had outdone him, and the apprentice insisted this was due to the careful training he'd been given over the past few minutes. Then they made a hundred more and stopped for lunch.
  • Truth in Television: One sketch in season eight revolves around the bizarre design of the Anglerfish, especially its Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism. Aside from the part about being designed by a celestial being who's been dumped by his girlfriend, it's all true.
  • Turn in Your Badge: In a sketch about a store detective. He made his own badge.
  • Unexplained Accent: Spoofed in season 2, episode 2, where a man's daughter speaks with a "Disney American" accent, while her parents are English.
  • Unfortunate Names:
    • A sketch based on A Christmas Carol has a main character called Chris Muscheer (get it, "Christmas cheer"?). The narrator informs us that Chris' wife "also had a name that was very funny when followed by Muscheer, but which I can't recall at the moment" and that his son Bernard "had a name that was not funny when followed by Muscheer, because his parents didn't want him to be bullied at school."
    • Another sketch features a couple at a speed dating event. The man asks to be called "K", and eventually admits with embarrassment that his name is Kermit. The woman sympathises, because her name is Lisa Simpson. He asks her to marry him which she considers, but she turns him down on hearing his surname is Minelli.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: The show's parody of the king and the wise old man points out that the king offered the wise old man anything, free of charge and with no strings, and instead of just picking something (or if he didn't want anything, simply declining) the wise old man goes through the whole nonsense with an inordinate amount of rice, with the king pointing out how pointless and rude this was.
    King: You see, Dave, this is why no-one likes you...
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: A Victorian man is completely unfazed by a time machine appearing in front of him, and dismisses the inventor's pride by pointing out that if it worked properly there'd be more around. He's far more interested in it being made out of a horse box.
  • Unwise Owl: Patsy Straightwoman finds herself interviewing an owl (voiced by Finnemore), who openly shows himself to be pretty stupid and comments that he doesn't know where they got associated with wisdom from, seeing as most of their skulls are taken by massive eyes that don't leave room for a brain. He does make one very clever-sounding comment at one point... only to admit he doesn't know what it means, it's just something he heard a crow say once.
  • Verbal Tic: One Storyteller sketch has him suffer an inability to pronounce "f" and "th" sounds, and this led to his leaving the army since he was in the Third and Fourth Fusiliers, and it was embarrassing. Then he gets a job which requires him to work with fingers and thumbs.
    Storyteller: Which you could say was "out of the frying pan and into the fire", but obviously I couldn't.
  • Wacky Marriage Proposal: Parodied. Two women are heard talking about the various irritating/publicly embarrassing proposals they've received from men (through a megaphone in Trafalgar Square, throwing an expensive ring into a gorge, etc.) when Finnemore's voice breaks in, Public Service Announcement-style:
    "MEN! DON'T TRY TO BE CLEVER! The men in these stories were hapless idiots, but SO ARE YOU! They all tried to be original! To think differently! DO NOT DO THIS! Be unoriginal! Think same-ily! The acceptable romantic gestures are in order: Flowers! Dinner! Presents of something she mentioned ages ago and then forgot about! A proposal should be somewhere nice, with a ring, private enough for her to say no if she wants to! Men only get away with any variation on these in Hollywood movies, and that's because the same person gets to write What He Does and What She Thinks About It! You don't get to do that! So stick to the stuff that works! AND ALWAYS KEEP THE RECEIPT!"
  • Waxing Lyrical: Often a source of jokes, such as the teddy bear conference sketch, or the man phoning a hotel to let them know a guest will be driving six white horses when she comes.
  • Weird Moon: The Storyteller sketch in the 2023 special turns on the idea that, when the moon is in its crescent phase, most of it isn't there, and it's physically a crescent. Or, if you hit it right, a half-pipe.
  • Weirdness Censor: A duchess disguises herself as an inspector, and has her dogs disguised as her. She figured if anyone noticed anything, such as how much she looked like a dog all of a sudden, or picked fights with her lower half, they'd just be too polite to notice.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: Season 7 episode 2 has a man with an accent that starts off as an insane mix of cod-Italian and cod-Swedish, and just gets more incomprehensible from there.
  • Who Writes This Crap?!: After a lengthy argument from Simon Kane about the backstage sketches, he asks John to end the sketch, but John doesn't know how. Suddenly, Carrie Quinlan comes in and says some nonsense. In the silence, Simon asks John if that was the best he could come up with. John sheepishly admits he hadn't written that, and Carrie explains that she was just bored.
  • Witch Hunt: "When he couldn't find any witches to burn, the duke widened the definition to any ugly woman who owned a cat. When he couldn't even find any of those, he made the women of the village hold a beauty contest. First prize was a night with the duke, last prize was a cat."
  • Would Hurt a Child: The Storyteller once arranged the theft of a child's nose just to replace his own. The alternative was to steal one from a Japanese official, and in his defense... he was feeling lazy.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: The first two little pigs in the series' take on The Three Little Pigs seem to know they're in a fairytale, but don't realise what kind. The first little pig thinks it's the kind where the seemingly weakest version turns out to be the best in some ironic way, and the second thinks it's the kind where the middle ground between two extremes is the best path. (The third pig just thinks houses are best made from bricks.)
  • Yet Another Christmas Carol: The Storyteller sketch for season 2, episode 2, where a man called Chris Muscheer is shown what life will be like if he remains a workaholic who neglects his family. Unfortunately, his takeaway is he'll be CEO of the company he works at, and he's totally fine with the trade-off of his family despising him since being CEO was the goal all along. So the ghost of his friend, who is a lion, bites his head off.
  • You Answered Your Own Question: A sketch in which John's character is distracted from his conversation with Carrie by what Simon and Margaret are saying, which leads to a conversation with Simon, which he excuses himself from to find out what Carrie and Margaret are talking about, which leads to a conversation with Margaret while Simon and Carrie are laughing uproariously. Eventually he asks them why, no matter how they split up, the conversation he's involved in is always the boring one. After an awkward Beat he says "Right, yeah. Got it."

    Series 9 Only 
  • Adaptation Name Change: The Storyteller is usually named John Finnemore when he's named at all, but his reinvention here is Oswald "Newt" Nightingale.
  • Anachronic Order: Each episode goes backward in time, although the episodes themselves overlap somewhat. Until the final episode which goes all over the place to fill in loose ends.
  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: Implied with the person hiring Russ's band for a funeral. Russ has to say that they won't perform "Ding-Dong the Witch is Dead", they will only perform "Wicked Anabella" if the deceased's name isn't Anabella, and while they're happy to sing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life", they're going to stick to the original lyrics, and not the ones the organiser wrote.
  • Bait-and-Switch: While Newt manages to say "Since you ask me..." at least once an episode, the first two are the only ones where this leads into a conventional Storyteller sketch.
  • Brick Joke: Many of the eccentricities of the family are left unexplained when they first appear, only to finally make sense (sort of...) several episodes later.
  • Book Ends: The beginning of episode 1 and end of episode 5 feature family Christmases in which the patriarch tells a cracker joke badly, a child gets a kazoo, and everyone rips up their paper hats. In the first, a child called Toby is told to let out a dog called Oswald, and in the second a child called Oswald is told to let out a dog called Toby.
  • Call-Forward: Inevitable given the structure. For instance, episode 5 opens with a conversation between Jerry and Newt at Vanessa's funeral, in which Jerry raises the possibility of reciting a poem at Newt's funeral, which we heard in episode 3.
  • Chosen Conception Partner: Uncle Newt, for Gally and Susannah.
  • Coming-Out Story: Russ comes out to his mother in the first episode. He tries to play it off as no big deal, until he realises that the reason she keeps saying how surprised she is is that she really isn't.
  • Confirmed Bachelor: No love interest is ever mentioned for Newt, and when wondering about how he'll explain his contribution to the war it's his former students he imagines asking him, rather than the more usual hypothetical children. A conversation with Gally in the last episode, while couched in period-appropriate euphemisms, more-or-less confirms that he's asexual.
  • Cool Teacher: Newt as a physics teacher uses funny little rhymes to present his lessons, is sarcastic with students who don't pay attention but — even back when corporal punishment was routine — never loses his temper with them, and smuggles a television into the common room so they can watch the Moon landing at three in the morning.
  • Cool Old Guy: Newt, again, who is 99 in his first/last appearance and is still telling stories to entertain the newest generation of his family.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Each episode except the last focuses on the life of one family member, going back a generation each time: Russ, then Deborah, Jerry, Vanessa, and Newt.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Hilla. "No, Solomon Goldfarb is not sorry Germany lost the war."
  • Derailed Fairy Tale: A young Vanessa tells Uncle Newt the story of Cinderella. He has a few questions...
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Susanna is in love with her male impersonator vaudeville partner, Gally. In one sketch Gally asks her brother a "colossal favour" that horrifies him - to stand in for her in their double act, for one night only. Later in life Susanna has a daughter who people comment looks a lot like Gally, after Gally asks Newt for another colossal favor...
  • Drag King: Gally, the "fellow with a cello", whose costume is noted to include a top hat.
  • Dramatic Irony: As lampshaded in the last episode, Jerry was disappointed that his family and friends found him predictable and knew what he was going to say, he then develops aphasia in later life (presumably after a stroke) and no-one now knows what he's going to say.
  • Ear Worm: Newt's poems are designed to be this, since they're written as keys to codes that British field agents will need to memorise perfectly.
  • Embarrassing Tattoo: Russ has one of a crocodile's lower jaw. He has a deeply philosophical explanation for this, but it's actually because that was as far as the tattooist got before he backed out.
  • Epunymous Title: In universe, Gally and Susanna call their act Midnight and Noone.
  • Exact Words: Vanessa suspects Newt of this when his reply to "Was my mother really my mother?" is a simple "Yes." When she clarifies that she meant "Was Susanna Noone my mother, because I look like Gally?" he says he knew that, and that was the question he answered because he's not that devious. However, when she wonders if maybe she took after her father, he replies that he never met Captain Noone.
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: Gally and Newt's father was humourless and strict, though not entirely averse to silliness as the Christmas hat fight manages to overcome his propriety.
  • Forgotten First Meeting: Russ doesn't know Newt when they meet at Vanessa's funeral. This is unsurprising, since in the final sketch of the series, the only one that features all five main characters, he's very young, and unwell, and Newt is in the front seat of the car while he's in the back.
  • Generational Saga: in reverse order.
  • Girlfriend in Canada: Susanna's "husband", Captain Noone, is an Invented Individual serving in the Coldstream Guards. She and Gally hope that his military service will be sufficient excuse for nobody ever meeting him, and he is eventually killed off, leaving her a respectable widow.
    Newt: Unusual name, 'Noone'. Does he spell it with an e?
    Gally: Yes, as a matter of fact, he does!
    Newt: I thought he might. And a hyphen?
    Gally: [tense pause] ...You little beast. I suppose you think you're awfully clever?
    Newt: Not really. I'm not sure it's as subtle as you think it is...
  • Historical Domain Character: Newt appears to have learned his storytelling technique from his father's friend Monty James.
  • Hide Your Lesbians: Justified by the time period; Susanna and Gally are "companions" with a touring music hall act that they try to give a veneer of respectability by inventing an absent husband for Susanna. Later in life Susanna has a child who's noted to have a family resemblance to Gally, suggesting that "uncle" Newt may have left more to the family than his stories. This is confirmed in the final episode.
  • Honorary Uncle: "Uncle" Newt and "Aunt" Gally, sort of. Newt is Vanessa's biological father, and Gally is Susannah's partner and functionally Vanessa's second mother, but to conceal Gally and Susannah's relationship, the public story is that Vanessa is the daughter of Captain Noone and Gally and Newt are just family friends.
  • Insistent Terminology: People frequently point out that Uncle Newt isn't "really an uncle". At first it seems like they mean he's some generation of great-uncle, then it's vaguely explained that he's an Honorary Uncle of some description, before it's gradually revealed that he was the Chosen Conception Partner for Susanna and Gally, and thus secretly the biological patriarch of the whole family.
  • Jews Love to Argue: Hilla.
  • Magpies as Portents: Toby knows the first few lines of the rhyme. Alex knows a comedy routine in which the rhyme goes up to a thousand, which he insists on telling Toby despite Russ trying to stop him, because "This is why I had kids".
    • In Alex's routine, the magpies start a revolution and an empire that lasts a thousand years. Alex is Australian, and the Australian magpie is a completely different species, noted for its aggression...
  • Mistaken for Gay: Newt, both by the Army who exclude him from serving as a result, and by Gally who assumed they "shared a family failing". He's actually asexual.
  • Not So Above It All:
    • In the second episode, Deborah's mother Hilla is largely portrayed as a Germanically Efficient contrast to her genially eccentric husband Jerry, with her main scenes being disapproving of Deborah's fiancé and "liking table manners" when Deborah was younger. The third episode shows she contributes to Jerry's funny songs, is prepared to join in with the bizarre pancake ritual most of the time, and was amused by his nonsense in their Meet Cute.
    • In the fifth episode, Newt and Gally's father is portrayed as very stern and proper, even when pulling a cracker, until his reaction to James ripping his hat lets him demonstrate that he is not averse to "fun in its proper place." Later, despite making the presenter of Desert Island Discs tear his hair out with his lack of interest in music, he reveals that his favourite book is The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: By the second sketch of episode 3, Jerry has been firmly established as easy-going and conflict-averse, so hearing him shout "You COCKERS!" at his family is hugely shocking, especially since it's very likely he meant to say something else that sounded a bit like "cockers". (He apologises for swearing at them when he calms down, and they have to assure him that he really didn't.) note 
  • Painful Rhyme: The second verse of 'Fellow on the Cello' rhymes Susannah and Piano by mangling the second word.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis Failure:
    • In Episode 1, Newt makes a valiant effort at telling Russ a story about Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, despite having no idea what they are.
    • In Episode 3, when the elderly Jerry is getting his COVID vaccination, he compares his instinct to shake hands (which is forbidden due to infection control) to Doctor Strangelove. The young nurse 'corrects' him that the film is just called Doctor Strange (2016). Jerry is about to correct her, then decides not to spoil the good mood and says she's right.
    • In Episode 4, Newt claims to have never heard of Cinderella, although it's possible he's just teasing Vanessa.
    • In Episode 6, the family attempts a sing-song, but can't do 'Yellow Submarine' because Newt doesn't know it, and can't do 'Knees Up Mother Brown' because Deborah doesn't know it. They end up singing the wolfhound song, which nobody outside the family knows.
  • Rewatch Bonus: The structure of the programme - with the episodes going back in time and overlapping - mean that many aspects of the early episodes are clarified with information from later ones.
  • Secret-Keeper: Newt, for Susanna and Gally's Secret Relationship.
  • Shaped Like Itself: Patrick Nightingale's Desert Island Discs record choices include 'Strangers on the Shore', a compilation of "island atmosphere" sound effects, and the Desert Island Discs theme music.
  • Sherlock Scan:
    • Vanessa is good at this, making a game of it with her husband on their honeymoon, and her granddaughter Deborah much later. Deborah similarly shows a talent for it.
    • Subverted when Vanessa's husband wins their bet by simply going up to the target and having a brief conversation with him.
    • Later on, Vanessa's talent at the Sherlock Scan and attention to detail comes in handy when she covers for Walter's blindness.
  • Somebody Named "Nobody": Captain "Noone", who doesn't exist. Newt points out that it's not very subtle.
  • Tangled Family Tree: The tree itself is fairly straightforward from Vanessa onwards, although having to piece it together from anecdotes told in Anachronic Order is a challenge. Susanna, Gally and Newt's generation is more mysterious, but it's eventually revealed that Newt is the biological father of Susanna's daughter, since her husband is fictional and she and Gally are secretly in a relationship.
  • Their First Time: Newt and Susannah awkwardly discuss this; she describes it as "breaking his duck" (quite a straightforward sporting metaphor rather than the Unusual Euphemism it might sound), and when he awkwardly extends the metaphor to ask if it's her first time with a man, she says it isn't.
  • Tomboyish Name: Russ & Alex's daughter Toby.
  • Unfortunate Name: Cliff is a perfectly ordinary name, unless you work on the Dover-Calais ferry...
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: "...oh dear. Poor Russ."
  • We Named the Monkey "Jack": Russ' dog Oswald is named after Uncle Newt, while Newt's dog Monty is named after a friend of his father's. Conversely, Russ' daughter Toby shares a name with Newt's father's dog, though this may be a coincidence.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: Spetwith is Somewhere In Yorkshire, according to John Finnemore.
    “Yorkshire accents are so minutely specific – even more so in 1939 – that I knew if I picked any particular village, a procession of Yorkshiremen would appear, on Twitter and quite possibly in my street, to tell me that, ’Folk never sound their Us like that in Allerton Mauleverer: that’s a Nidderdale U, is that’.”