When David Dimbleby announced at the end of BBC’s Question Time the other week that the long running political panel show would be coming to Colchester I was on the website requesting a ticket even before the end credits had finished rolling.
The online form asked for information such as which political party I support and how I voted in the Brexit referendum, and several days later on the Monday before the show I received an email telling me to phone a lady called Alison if I was still interested in attending. So I duly called the lovely Alison who asked me for two questions I would like to ask the panel, telling me that I would be asked again on the night as things can change dramatically in politics in only a few days. Once I’d done this she confirmed I’d been accepted to be in the studio audience and explained how the show is pre-recorded then broadcast later in the evening. Moments later my e-ticket appeared in my inbox with instructions to arrive at the Town Hall, where the show was being filmed, between 6pm and 6.30pm.
On the day I met up with some friends, who had also been lucky enough to get tickets, for a quick livener at Three Wise Monkeys before we made our way to the town hall where we were directed to the Jury Room on the first floor and given cards to write our name, occupation and our questions on. There was tea and coffee too, and with all 100 of us who would be in the audience gathered in the room we had quite an excited atmosphere going on.
We filled our cards in and handed them in to the Question Time team, then to our delight David Dimbleby entered the room to brief us about what to expect, running through the structure of the show and reminding us to applaud and to react anything said that we liked… or didn’t like.
Eventually we made our way up to the Moot Hall where the familiar Question Time set awaited us, which was a little surreal to see in a room I am very familiar with. A friend and I had become split up from our little group and were directed to seats in the second row. Once everyone was seated the names of those who had been chosen to ask their questions were read out one by one so they could stand up to identify themselves while the camera and sound teams ensured they would be able to get to them when their time came. They were then led away by a member of the crew for a briefing before returning a few minutes later.
I was delighted to see that one of those chosen was local actor Vince Rayner who made regular appearances in Hi-de-Hi and Allo Allo, and I had high hopes that when he was asked his question he would preface it with “Listen very carefully, I will say this only once…”
Finally the night swung into action and the floor manager invited five members of the audience to sit at the desk and form a mock panel which he then hosted. An audience member asked a question and we were off! I was actually surprised how heated the toing and froing between the panel and the audience became considering this was just to warm us up, but that was of course exactly what they wanted to get us all in the right mood for what was to come.
Once that was finished David Dimbleby and the panel finally appeared and we were really in business. The panel for our show was:
Greg Clark MP – Conservative Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Diane Abbott MP – Labour Shadow Home Secretary
Bernard Hogan Howe – former Metropolitan Police Commissioner
Sir Stuart Rose – former CEO of Marks and Spencer
Dreda Say Mitchell – crime writer
The first question, about capitalism, was asked by a lady a few rows behind me us, and we were off. I won’t bore you with the details of the ensuing debate, suffice to say it was fascinating to actually be part of it after having watched Question Time on Thursday nights for many years. My only beef was that where we were sitting my view of David Dimbleby was blocked by a camera. I could see the panellist on either side of him, just not the great man himself.
Unfortunately, about thirty minutes into the recording, out of the corner of my eye I saw someone falling from their seat in the front row, accompanied by a thud and a groan. The debate continued for several awkward seconds during which it wasn’t clear whether the panel didn’t realise what had happened or just didn’t know what to do until directed, but eventually the floor manager stepped towards the desk and told them something had happened to an audience member and to stop. People nearby rushed to the aid of the lady on the floor who I heard tell them she had a spinal injury and not to move her. David Dimbleby came over to find out what was going on for himself and spoke to us to keep us informed, 999 was dialled, and some minutes later paramedics arrived. Before long David was speaking to us again to tell us they had been informed that the lady couldn’t be moved for another hour so the recording was going to be abandoned and they would only be broadcasting what they had recorded up until the lady was taken sick.