Charlie Swinbourne: How I wrote The Fingerspellers!

Posted on December 2, 2013

The Fingerspellers, which is showing this week on the BSL Zone, is a comedy about a family of deaf gangsters, who protect themselves with their signing hands (instead of bullets!).

By fingerspelling from A-Z, they can ‘shoot’ their enemies! And when another family called the Operas threaten to take over their patch, a war ensues…

So where did the idea for the programme come from? Here, scriptwriter Charlie Swinbourne (who edits this site) tells us.


One day in 2009, I had a meeting with Remark’s Chief Executive, Mark Nelson. At the time they were making the BSL Zone series Wicked, and they wanted a short series that would appear in each episode.

I think in that meeting, we talked about a drama involving a caravan, with Deaf people living in it – but I went away and came up with something completely different – a comedy about a family of Deaf gangsters!

So, what inspired the idea?

Well, I’m a big fan of mafia films like The Godfather trilogy, Goodfellas, and Donnie Brasco. And I was watching the entire box set of TV series The Sopranos at the time!

I also love madcap comedies like AirplaneHot Shots and The Naked Gun trilogy.

So The Fingerspellers was an attempt to combine these serious, dark mafia films with some very silly, very random movies, while adding a Deaf element – the fact that this family of gangsters is Deaf.

But what could make the Deaf element of it interesting? And how could I solve the problem of writing a series that could have characters being ‘killed off’ yet still be shown in the daytime?

Well here, perhaps I drew a bit of inspiration from Bugsy Malone. Just as Bugsy Malone showed characters being killed by cream cakes and ‘splurge’ guns, we would show the family using their signing hands as weapons.

Thus, The Fingerspellers were born!

Once the idea was approved, I wrote 8 short scripts, and approached the director, William Mager, who loved the idea. We went on to film over a series of weekends.

To be honest, the comedy is more than silly – it’s ridiculous, but it was the most fun set I’ve worked on (I even made a cameo appearance early on in the film – spot me if you can!).

It features some of the best Deaf acting talent the UK has to offer – including Matt Kirby, Ilan Dwek, Rebecca Withey, Stephen Collins, Diana Martin, and David Hirshman.

There’s also a fantastic opening credit sequence (thanks to animator James Merry) and over-dramatic music.

Once we’d shown all 8 episodes, we cut them together into the half-hour version which is showing this week. (click here to see it!).

I hope if you haven’t already seen the film, that you enjoy it.

Charlie Swinbourne is the editor of Limping Chicken, as well as being a journalist and award-winning scriptwriter. He writes for the Guardian and BBC Online, and as a scriptwriter, penned the films My SongComing Out and Four Deaf Yorkshiremen.

The Limping Chicken is the UK’s independent deaf news and deaf blogs website, posting the very latest in deaf opinion, commentary and news, every weekday! Don’t forget to follow the site on Twitter and Facebook, and check out our supporters on the right-hand side of this site or click here.

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