Last night I had the pleasure of being in the audience on BBC Question Time with the man who is probably the nation’s favourite fantasy granddad, David Dimbleby. He appeared in his organic form, as Bio-Dimbleby, rather than his alter-ego The Dimblebot.
The program was being filmed at Portsmouth Grammar School, and in order to apply to be in the audience, I had to fill in a form with my political affiliations and opinions. When asked what political party I support, I listed the not-quite-yet-formed NHS Party, and when I received a call from one of the production team, we had a fairly long conversation about it.
Arriving at Portsmouth Grammar School, we had our bags and selves searched, and were ushered through to the canteen where tea and biscuits were being served. There were two large TVs in the room, showing the news, BBC at 6, ITV at 6.30, and Channel 4 at 7pm. I had emailed my first question the night before:
What do the panel think of these recent judgements made in relation to Twitter? Why are certain people being picked out to be made examples of, and does the panel think that it is fair for someone’s life to be ripped apart because of a tweet that should have probably just been ignored? I’ve received abuse based on my gender and appearance, but it hasn’t been taken seriously, is that because I’m not a celebrity or an airport, or is it more because the threats were obviously not serious?
Along with our tea and biscuits, we were also given a card to write a second question on, so I asked why the NHS reforms had been ignored by the BBC and other media, even though I knew it was hopeless.
Just as Channel 4 was showing footage of an elephant on the rampage in Ireland (!) Bio-Dimbleby appeared and a hush descended on the crowd.
He explained what to expect from the evening and the general format of the evening; while he was speaking, a noise which sounded like barking came from somewhere behind me. Dimbleby asked if there was a dog present, and then told us that he used to have an old Nokia which had a frog ringtone, and he then delighted us all with his frog impression! He also explained the editing process, saying that the show is streamed to Glasgow (I think) where the lawyers cut any potentially libellous content prior to broadcast. He said that they used to edit out any comments about the IRA being murderers, but they eventually stopped because the IRA don’t tend to sue for libel! He’s really funny, and it was almost like a stand-up set.
At about 7.15 we were taken through to the studio, where five people were picked from the audience to be the “panel” for the warm up debate. The purpose of this is to test the mics and the sound quality, as well as getting the audience fired up. So the subject was “Who is to blame for the obesity crisis?” and plenty of questions and comments were fired backwards and forwards. Most people were respectful and waited their turn to speak, but there was one guy in particular who apparently missed out on manners as a child, and kept dominating the conversation; he even interrupted the panel during the recording, which was a hugely prickish thing to do.
Anyway, after the fake debate, the people whose questions had been chosen for the broadcast were briefed, and then the real panel came out and took their places. Whilst they were being set up with mics, myself and the girl to my left decided to do a spot of Dimbledancing, just for lols. Dimbleby then went over some ground rules etc, and made a comment about bad language, the monitoring of which he referred to as Countdown Tourrettes. His mic was a bit crackly so that was dealt with, but then even when it had been fixed, interrupting bald man still had to make a comment…
There was another fake debate, this time with the real panel, about whether national service could have stopped the riots. Alexei Sayle commented that national service should be compulsory, but that he thought he’d turned into a reactionary since arriving in Portsmouth. Some people seemed a bit miffed by that, which made it even funnier.
So then the recording started; I won’t go into detail because it was broadcast pretty much in its entirety (with the exception of a naughty word from Alexei) so if you’ve seen it, you know what happened. I wanted to ask questions on two of the points: I was hoping to ask my Twitter Trials question, and also when the subject of Kent Council building a new grammar school came up, I wanted to ask the panel whether they would prefer a new grammar school, or a new Steiner school. I know which I’d go for.
My favourite part of the whole evening was towards the end, when a student pastor (of all people) asked a question about the tax on pasties (I cannot believe that people view this as a more serious matter than the privatisation of the NHS). The panel talked shit about it for a while and then Dimbleby asked Alexei for his opinion, to which he replied that he really couldn’t care less; a reaction which was met with rapturous applause from those of us who can’t see what all the sodding fuss is about.
The camera was aimed in my direction quite a few times, on one occasion I was trying quite hard to not make elbow contact with either of my neighbours- very awkward.
But all in all a very enjoyable evening.