Stuff & Nonsense product and website design

I was in the audience for BBC Question Time

A few weeks ago, BBC Question Time’s Fiona Bruce announced the programme was coming to nearby Chester, so I filled in the online form and applied to be in the audience. I completely forgot about applying until a researcher phoned me the day before the show and asked if I were still available. I was.

Me in the BBC Question Time audience
Where’s (the) Wally?

When the researcher called, she asked me a few questions. Had I been on the show before? (Nope.) On TV? (Yes.) Was I a member of a political party? (No.) Who had I voted for in previous elections? (Labour and Plaid Cymru) What were my intentions this time? (Labour.) She also asked for my social media account names, presumably to back up what I’d told her. I got my ticket in an email a few hours later, which asked me to submit two questions I’d like to ask. I was told not to bring a bag or wear badges or anything with a slogan.

As instructed, I turned up at The Hammond School, a performing arts school near Chester Zoo, at 6pm. After my ticket and ID were inspected, I was shown to the school’s cafe, where the audience was already gathering. We were given extra question cards, biscuits, (terrible) coffee, and a chance to talk to each other. I don’t enjoy these situations, but I tried for a few minutes before finding a quiet corner.

Fiona Bruce popped in to introduce herself, tell a few stories, and encourage everyone to contribute. Then, at 7pm—after being warned we wouldn’t be able to leave the set, so we should nip to the loo—we were ushered in.

Question Time chooses the audience questions based on the number of similar topics submitted and whether they have been answered recently on the show. They choose six questions, one of which will be used for an unfilmed warm-up, and then four or five more. My Brexit and Welsh independence questions weren’t chosen, which wasn’t all that surprising. The politicians on the panel don’t know the questions in advance.

A chirpy Scottish floor manager went through the house rules and warmed up the audience before Fiona Bruce came in to film different versions of adverts for upcoming shows, including one with all the party leaders. I don’t know why, but I was amazed just how professional and slick Fiona Bruce is.

At 7:45pm Fiona Bruce and the panel came on set and used the warm-up question to test the sound equipment again. She recorded the pre-show introduction, and at 8pm, the title music played, and the show was live.

On the panel in Chester was: Mark Harper, the current Secretary of State for Transport and an identikit Tory politician. I despised him. Shabana Mahmood, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Justice. She’s small and asked for a cushion, but this didn’t endear her to me. Carla Denyer is the co-leader of the Green Party and also needed a cushion. Sadly, the BBC budget didn’t run to two cushions, so she had to sit on a folded rug. I liked her a lot. Finally, there was Elizabeth Saville Roberts, Leader of Plaid Cymru in the House of Commons. I liked her answers best of all.

The hour flew by, which was good because the seats in the auditorium were making my bum numb. I put my hand up to contribute to the question about where the benefits of Brexit are, but despite my rusty orange shirt and a fresh haircut, Fiona Bruce didn’t come to me. Then, the show wrapped up with the second of only two orchestrated applauses. I was hoping for casual interaction with the panel, but they were whisked away before we could leave our seats.

Overall, I enjoyed being part of the Question Time audience, and I’m glad I applied.

  • The set looks different in real life than it does on TV
  • Only three cameras are used (one fixed on the audience, one on a dolly, and one steadycam)
  • Fiona Bruce is funny and has a voice like melted chocolate
  • I told my wife I’d applied for us to go on Pointless. She was not impressed.

You can watch the show on BBC iPlayer and play Where’s (the) Wally?


Written by Andy Clarke who tagged this with news, personal


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