Double Take on John Finnemore’s Double Acts

John Finnemore is the author of Double Acts, six half hour BBC 4  radio skits for two actors. He is a British writer and actor, introduced to this family through Cabin Pressure, a radio sitcom about the crew and adventures of MJN Air, a charter airline of one jet. Cabin Pressure focuses on the young inexperienced pilot who does everything by the book, the debonair and highly skilled copilot whose career is behind him, the jet’s owner who is a cynical former stewardess, and her daffy son who like a jester makes us laugh but speaks the inconvenient truth. We have listened to the episodes, one for each letter of the alphabet, over and over and it continues to deliver.

The characters develop in Cabin Pressure and several important secrets come to light through the zany plots, but in Double Acts plot is secondary to character. In 28 minutes we come to know our characters very well.  What they do is less important that who they are. What fascinates me is Finnemore’s way of showing they are not as they seem. He explores people who are not who they appear to be.

In each of them at least one character is transformed as we listen. Some begin by appearing foolish and later earn our respect; others turn out the be far worse than we took them to be. That skillful transformation attests to John Finnemore’s  genius. But one in particular caught my attention, for in it not only do the characters slowly reveal their secrets but also they are recast in entirely different roles. I can only say so much without revealing the O. Henry-like twists, but in this one a wise character recasts the life story of the other and redeems the character from self-shame. It is my favorite.

The story we tell of our lives is important, and most of us give our mistakes, sin, and shame far too much emphasis. We see them as accident scars that permanently disfigure us. The best writers, among whom Finnemore certainly is, accept humans as a fascinating mix of glory and shame, beauty and flaws, light and dark.

Author Ray Bradbury says,

Love. Fall in love and stay in love. Write only what you love, and love what you write. The key word is love. You have to get up in the morning and write something you love, something to live for.

Bradbury isn’t only speaking of a love for writing. He counsels young writers to view the world with a large love that nourishes and builds rather than a cynicism that stands aloof and criticizes. In Something Wicked This Way Comes, the frightening evil threatens young Will Halloway and his friend. Eventually his ordinary father stands between the boys and the evil incarnated in the carnival man, Mr. Dark. Charles Halloway comes against  powerful wickedness with only the certainty of his weak and flawed nature, but with great love for his son and for life itself. He overthrows evil with laughter. The janitor is the hero.

In the same way John Finnemore helps us feel compassion for his quirky characters.He illustrates the power of retelling a life story that seems to be about failure so the characters finish with an entirely new perspective. And when we embrace the complex nature of these characters as they cast out their shame and are recast as heroes,  we embrace the possibility for ourselves as well.

John Finnemore’s Double Acts is available on


About lettersfromheartscontent

Mother of six, wife to a forester and educator, former homeschool teacher and tutor with Classical Conversations. Now retired from teaching music at a small Christian school. In my retirement I am quilting, decluttering, and calling country dances--contra dances and more for people in my community who want to get out again.
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