One of my photos

Crawley Question Time:part two

January 24th, 2009 · Posted by Skuds in Life/Politics · 2 Comments · Life, Politics

Screen grab of QT with fat bloke prominent in the front row

Screen grab of QT with fat bloke prominent in the front row

This second installment is not about the issues discussed on the programme, but just what you might call the human interest angle, and some glimpses behind the scenes which may (or may not) put some aspects of the show in a different light. Be warned, this a long one: sorry for that.

Which reminds me: must remember to tell mum that this is still on iPlayer.


We were told to arrive at the Hawth between 6:00 and 6:30pm and that it would all be over by 9:30pm.  From this we had sort of assumed that filming might start by maybe 7:00 or 7:30, last 90 minutes or more with the results to be edited down to an hour for transmission, but we were wrong on that.

The actual filming is actually done as if it is live, for about 59 minutes, and the result is broadcast as it happened – so that would scupper any conspiracy theories about chopping out bits that support any particular view.

So with only about an hour taken up actually filming, what happens for the other two to two-and-a-half hours?

First of all there is security.  On entering the Hawth everybody was searched and gone over with a metal detector, they were then checked on the list of invited/vetted audience members and given some bits of paper.

Milling around

One bit of paper was a brief description of that night’s panel and the other was a form to write a question on.  Previously we had all submitted a question by e-mail, and on the night we handed in a second question, so some time was spent with tea, coffee and snacks while scribbling out questions and generally milling about.

I saw a few people there that I know, including Chris Oxlade, Darren from Crawley’s hospital radio, a girl from work, an ex-member of Broadfield Labour party who moved away a few years ago, and Arshad Khan…

Mr Khan turned up a bit late and created a small amount of anticipation amongst those who recognised him.  Was he going to be in the audience?   If so, should we have a friendly word in a BBC ear to warn them of his reputation – or just look forward to a more exciting than normal show?   While still mentally tossing a coin we sam him leave, so presumably he turned up without a ticket and failed to persuade anybody he should be let in.  We watched him depart with a mixture of relief and regret.

Some members of the public were a little disappointed to find that the bar, although open, was not serving alcohol.  Probably a good idea.  I don’t think that letting people have a couple of beers beforehand is a good recipe for having a sensible, reasoned political debate, despite what Crawley Labour party’s constituency meetings think.

Pep talk

Anyway, after some time for all this we were gathered together in the foyer for some words about how the evening would proceed, and this was surprising because this pep-talk was given by David Dimbleby himself., where you might have expected a member of the production team or other warm-up act.   It was very disconcerting seeing him standing there. My first thought was that he is taller than he looks on TV, then I realised that was because I had never seen him standing up.  In fact I previously had no firm evidence that his body even had a bottom half.

DD explained the way questions are chosen – that they sort them into piles for each topic, and choose from the most popular topics.  Interesting this because I had assumed there would be an element of choosing questions based partly on who the guests are.  For example, last week they would have taken advantage of having the BAA chief exec on the show and picked an airport question regardless and so this week there would be questions on America to take advantage of Christopher Meyer and Europe to take advantage of having the Minister for Europe there – but apparently not.

Of course, some of the guests will have been chosen because of their relevance to anticipted questions based on what is going on, and some of us will have chosen questions based on the areas of expertise of the panel  either in an attempt to make them more likely to get chosen or in the hope of getting a more informed answer.  Either way, circumstances mean that the producers probably do not get too surprised by which questions turn out to be most popular.

DD was at great pains to point out that the show belongs to the audience, and repeatedly offered encouragement to behave like fish-starved sea lions and clap at every possible opportunity.  He spoke very well,  telling some rather amusing anecdotes I will not repeat – it would spoil it for anyone going to a future show.  He also explained the order of events for the rest of the evening, after which a member of the production team went over some of the more mundane housekeeping issues.

One other thing: DD said he was very impressed by the nibbles, which included fresh fruit, nuts, crisps and biscuits, saying that normally there is only biscuits and that Crawley had been excessively hospitable., and he was not wrong: I particularly enjoyed the fruit.

Getting to the front by accident

We were told that the seats would be filled from the front, so anybody who was dead set on being in the front row should make sure they got to the front of the queue.   My work colleague said she wanted to be in the front so her family wouldn’t miss her and went off to join the queue immediately.  I said I would hang around and aim for the back, but it didn’t work out that way.

I joined the queue nearer the back, chatting to a (Lib Dem) friend, Darren,  who happens to be a wheelchair user, plus Chris Oxlade and his friend Nick.  One of the staff came along and told Darren they would make the necessary arrangements for him and asked if he wanted us to sit with him.  Darren didn’t really want to be on his own so my ambitions of being at the back were thwarted.  I made the best of it by making the requisite gestures to my co-worker as we breezed past her in the queue to go in first.

I wheeled Darren into the designated wheelchair space and took what cover I could behind him, letting Chris take the chair next to him right at the front, with Nick next to me.  At this point Nick decided he didn’t like being so exposed and said he would go to the main seating instead, and Chris went to keep him company.  I couldn’t then just sit behind Darren so I had to move forward and felt extremely exposed, being in one of the most prominent seats.

At this point the people whose questions were selected were called.  Each one was asked a few questions, mainly to give some time for the crew to note their positions and the best camera angles for them so that when the Dimbleby called them everything could be in place. After this, they were all taken away to be given their questions back.  They were away for some time so they may have got some sort of pep talk as well.

Warming up

Meanwhile, back in the auditorium, there were two dry-runs.  In the first five audience members took the place of panellists and the production manager stood in for Dimbleby.   Other audience members then asked some questions and the stunt-double panel answered them.  All this was to make sure all the micriphones were working and for the camera and sound operators to get used to the layout – and for the audience to get used to them so it wouldn’t be a total surprise when a camera appeared over their shoulder or a boom operator had to squeeze in front of them later.

This was all very interesting, and a great chance for the five ‘panellists’ to have some fun.  It went on for quite a while and was every bit as good as the real thing.  We were told that this could be watched by using the red button later on, but I couldn’t find it.

After this sort of rehearsal for the technicians, the panellists came on with David Dimbleby and there wasa practise question.  This was partly so the crew could make sure all the mics wer properly adjusted for the panellists before it started properly, but also to get everybody warmed up before the show started for real.

This was a bit like getting a real-life DVD extra: a question from the audience, plus replies that are not broadcast, which was good for us although a waste of a question really.  They find sometimes that the debate generated is so good they regret that it will not be in the show, but they do not re-ask the question later: that really would not work.

In our case the question asked was about the Jonathan Ross thing.  This was interesting because Christopher Meyer has some involvement in his capacity as chair of the PCC and gave a different perspective than I have seen in the many other discussions of the topic.  He made some amusing comments about ‘taste and decency’ which will explain to viewers of the broadcast show why there was more laughter than you would have expcted in response to his use of the phrase – it was a sort of in-joke with the audience.

Everybody said, as they are practically obliged to, that the Ross/Brand incident was wrong, but Caroline Flint also said something that is often not mentioned whenever the affair is discussed: that she enjoys watching the Jonathan Ross show and is entertained by it.  Strange how a show with such high ratings never has anybody say they watch it or enjoy it, so it was refreshing to hear.

The real thing

After that, the recording itself started and the rest was exactly as it appeared on the telly, as far as I saw anyway: I didn’t watch all of it because I had, after all, seen it already.  I left Jayne to watch out for appearances of the back of my head and Chrystal to look out for her schoolmates.


Talking of which…  Thomas Bennet runs a politics A level course, and they were given a bunch of tickets, about ten I think, so they were well-represented.  It must have been a great experience for them, and a wonderful help to their studies.  There were also quite a few politics students from Sussex Uni.  The students played a full part in the actual show, but contributed even more to the two dry runs, contributing a couple of members to the ersatz panel.

Let nobody say that youngsters are not interested in politics!  They may not be so keen on joining political parties as some previous generations were, but the ones at the Hawth were not only interested but informed, rational, and level-headed.  They were also amusing and, most importantly, real human beings.  When discussions about ‘youth’ take place there is so often a presumed dichotomy of youth and society as if youngsters are outside society and not part of it.

Of course many (or even most?) students and other youngsters are not interested in politics, but then most adults are not either.

I would love to see some of the students at the recording turn up to take part in, for example, the Broadfield Forum meetings and not for any condescending reasons of inclusion but because I think they would raise the quality of debates.  For similar reasons, I would love to see some of those A level students at Labout party meetings.

So anyway, the students got their chance to participate, they also chatted with some of the politicians afterwards and had a group photo taken afterwards with them.  Not only will it be an evening they will remember for some time, but it won’t do their studies any harm either – nor will their contrbution and behaviour do Thomas Bennet’s reputation any harm either: they were a credit to the town.


I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, despite my unfortunate seat placement.  I may have  my own opinions on the quality of the show these days, but it is still better than the rest, and the crew were remarkable.

I was impressed by their thoroughness but would expect nothing less; they are, after all, professionals experienced in their own fields doing something they have done many times before, so efficiency and competence should be assumed.  What cannot always be assumed is their treatment of the public.

I have been at TV recordings or live broadcasts where the public are treated as props and herded like cattle, and there was none of that at all – so sincere thanks to Mentorn for that.  I have never felt so respected or welcome in a TV studio before.   I can thoroughly recommend the experience to anybody and would say that if the show is ever coming near you try to get a ticket.

Jayne enjoyed pointing out my cameo appearance so much that I am considering getting another tattoo.  The suggestion is that I should have written across my belly, if they have enough ink, “as seen on TV“.

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2 Comments so far ↓

  • skud's sister

    When we were first setting up the Bradford Friends of the Earth group we were told that the local British Asian community wouldn’t get involved – they weren’t involved in any of the other local environmental/activist groups – and, of course, that young people aren’t interested in politics. We should be doubly grateful then that we have 4 or 5 very active members from the British Asian community and that most of them are under 20. Our only regret is that they will probably apply to Universities in other parts of the country and go on to energise their local groups! Also, we may have to take this as proof that the environment is not a party political issue. (Although we are hoping to convince our younger members to vote in the Euro elections since one of our members is a highly placed candidate…)

  • Gordon Seekings

    Glad you enjoyed it. I did when I went some years ago and I’m pleased that I did recognise you sitting next to Darren – as Linda was not convinced that it was you!