BBC’s Question Time on Thursday 17 October saw UKIP’s Diane James on the panel and around ten UKIP members in the audience. Here we get the inside track on attending Question Time both from Diane and Brian Otridge, who was in the audience.
They ask audience members to arrive between 6pm and 6.30pm. To even get this far you must go through vetting of your application form (which asks for the any party you belong to or vote for), and a phone interview to make sure you’re articulate with some strong views. You have to submit one question by email, and another on arrival, focusing on the day’s news.
As we mingled and chatted with people we knew, David Dimbleby appeared and gave the audience a briefing, very impressive in itself. He is a very personable man, and I don’t think anyone could dislike him. He stressed the need to get involved, to argue and debate with the panel and with each other, telling us it is “our show”. He also ran through the format. A key point is that it is pre-recorded, “in the can” about an hour before it is broadcast. Dimbleby said they generally did not edit out anything, but that there were exceptions…
The BBC may also invite local people into the audience with a particular angle on current affairs, locally or nationally. UKIP’s Tony Hooke was one such invited, as a Hampshire County Councillor, and he had to arrive even earlier to personally meet David Dimbleby so the producers could work out how to ensure he had an input on a point about Hampshire cutting front-line services.
Once inside the auditorium the producer appeared – another very personable chap, Mark Roberts. He called for five volunteers to be ‘mock panellists’ and picked out some of the audience’s questions to be used in the warm up. As this exercise progressed, it became patently obvious that a secondary purpose of this was to identify attention seekers. There was an awful woman in a red blouse and jacket, festooned with badges, who tried to take the whole thing over. She had briefing notes prepared for herself, and at one point the audience shouted her down. There was no doubting the party she supported! She was now a marked woman!
And then the real panel came onto
the stage for another mini briefing from David Dimbleby, while they dished out the questions to be asked. Six in all, one to warm up the panel, and five to be broadcast. I shot my bolt by getting Dimbleby’s attention on the warm-up question, so didn’t get to speak during the show – you live and learn.
It was then on with the show, which you can watch this week on iPlayer .
All I need tell you is that there were two parts edited out of what we experienced. A short one was Dimbleby having a coughing fit, but the awful woman in red who rambled on with a point about her forbears coming from The Potteries (Tristram Hunt’s constituency, one of the panellists), and then vociferously launching into her party political broadcast. We in the audience had to endure about a minute of her, but the home audience only saw two seconds of her rant!
I’ll now hand over the pen to Diane to give us the inside track on being a panel member:
No matter how many times one does Question Time, the nerves never desert you and for one major reason – you have no absolutely idea what to expect! Preparation and familiarisation regarding the ‘stories of the day’ though are the keys.
Although one can have a best guess at what the topics could be – the selection of panelists is a first clue – there is never any certainty and always the chance that something will come out of the blue, leaving you to field the question as best as possible.
Two of the panelists were Mark Harper, Minister for Immigration, and Tristram Hunt, Shadow Education Minister, so immigration and education were likely to be dead certs. Charlie Kennedy pulled out at the last minute to be replaced by Bonnie Greer; there was no way of judging what her favourite topic or interest might be. The last panelist was Peter Oborne the Telegraph columnist, so on this occasion we had two Conservatives, one Labour and one unknown. Not bad odds for a change!
Clive Page, UKIP’s chief press officer, spent the day with me. We had both spent the previous week combing the main broadsheets and the Daily Mail for their perspectives. Thursday though proved a nightmare in that it was clear there were 11 major stories in circulation leaving us with no choice but to take a calculated risk and select four to focus on, with one back-up.
Transport arrived at 5.30pm to take Clive and I to Basingstoke – a 90 minute journey from my home in rush hour traffic. The taxi driver seemed highly entertained with us running through the topics with him to gauge his views. On arrival straight into make-up for me. The studio lights are extremely harsh and every panelist, and David for that matter, receive a good coating and colour enhancement to stop us looking pale and pasty! Then it is a case of a short wait in the Green Room with the other panelists, whilst David does his audience warm-up session.
Both MPs arrived with their ‘minder’ researchers, and promptly greeted David and Peter Obourne like long lost friends. As Clive remarked: “All from the same schools, universities and social circle”. No wonder they live in a ‘bubble’.
8.15pm arrives and we are shepherded into the studio for the ‘fun’ to begin. One warm-up question from the audience and then the announcement that we are about to go live! David has it all planned in advance, and is in contact via an earpiece with the moving cameramen. The key for the panelists is to stay involved, hence the ‘gurning’ even while another panelist is talking – it is all about attracting attention and getting to speak!
Bear in mind none of us has advance notice of the selected topics, the questions to be asked or how the questions will be phrased. It is all about speed of thought process and quick- witted response. As David remarked to me after my first Question Time experience, “Remember Diane this is not about politics etc this about entertainment”.
It is an enjoyable experience once it is over, and I hope to see many more UKIP people on Question Time in the future. Both Clive and I provided a long list last Thursday!