Good morning Lemmings and welcome to a very non-standard Questionable Time. Non-standard why? Well, I usually have a pretty set process for covering QT that involves settling down on the sofa at half-10 with a note pad in the hope of garnering enough material to cobble together something vaguely informative for the next day. This week though I have no such notes. And why don’t I have any notes? Well dear Lemmings, I have no notes because this time I was physically there. Yup, Operation-Blag-My-Way-Into-The Audience actually came good. Here’s what I learned:
The prospect of being on Question Time can seriously mess with your week.
Seeing how Operation-Blag-My-Way-Into-The-Audience has fallen flat on its face many-a-time in the past I decided to ditch the usual approach of going through the official channels and took it upon myself (with some able aiding and abetting from my brother) to get in touch with the production team itself. After a slightly nerve-wracking conversation with a producer I managed to secure a ticket and for a split second there I experienced the thrill of triumph. ‘Yes!’ thought I, ‘My hour has come! I’ve bloody won!’. However, that intoxicating whiff of victory was quickly dispelled as a new and ominous truth began to make itself known. ‘Oh Jesus, that means I’ve got to ask something’. That’s when things started going sideways.
The Question Time application process works like this: You apply and if you’re lucky enough to get through you will receive an invitation which states that you have to email the production team a question tout suite. The problem in this case was that despite being something of a news junkie, I could not think of a single issue in the last two weeks that has aroused even the faintest flicker of interest in me. I mean seriously, it was as if the news had simply decided not to bother turning up to work and editors across the nation were reduced to covering the sinking of the Titanic for the ten billionth time. Anyway, this complete and utter dearth of workable material combined with the fact that two years of covering QT has made me a little irrational about appearing on the show led me to get my knickers in a right old twist. I had to find something – anything – in the news that week (and the producers are quite insistent that your question must relate to an event that’s very fresh) that I had even a smidgen of an opinion on in order to have a shot at a question… Yet for the life of me I couldn’t find one.
So it was that my week was pretty much one of being glued to my phone and praying that the Spanish economy would collapse in the most spectacular of fashions, taking with it the entire Eurozone and plunging the world into a dark new epoch of chaos and woe. As it happens, that didn’t quite to come to pass and nor did my efforts to feign interest in the Abu Qatada (Qatada-Shmada!) case bear much fruit. I was stuck and for some reason being stuck really steamed my bean. Eventually Thursday arrived and I dejectedly handed in a question relating to something that happened three weeks ago. Defeat had been cruelly snatched from the jaws of victory. Loudribs had been vanquished by the news cycle. Irrelevance had become me. Or had it?
If the Question Time team had been manning the Titanic, the evacuation would have been slick as you like.
The upside of flunking the question test was that for the first time all day I stopped feeling nervous and could actually enjoy watching how an episode is put together. In many ways it’s like a well-heeled version of Gladiators as a room full of self-evidently confident and opinionated people are expertly herded through a logistical obstacle course. First there’s the security check, then the brief lull as everyone arrives before you have a warm up with Dimbers (who in real life comes across very much like an Uncle Bulgaria who’s developed a taste for brandy) and are corralled into the studio. Anthropologists would have a field day at that point as the spectacle of a mass of overly polite people all trying to scramble their way to the front of the line is truly something to behold. Yet somehow it all works and it’s to the production team’s credit that the whole process seems so effortless. That however is just a taster as the really bizarre bit is about to happen: The dummy panel.
In order to get the sound, lighting and cameras all sorted out they ask for members of the audience to volunteer to sit on the panel and to have a debate with the crowd. You thought politicians were odd on the show? Yeah, well audience members can out-odd them by a considerable margin, particularly if they have views on the fringes of the political spectrum as one gentlemen did. Another guy who wasn’t on the panel but put in his two-penneth worth anyway provoked some very sharp intakes of breath as he opined on “the gays” and “the things they get up to in the bedroom”. Anyhoo, that rather surreal turn of events went on for quite some time before a producer arrived and read out the names of the people who would be asking the questions. At that point my new-found aura of serenity evaporated in the blink of eye.
‘Oh shit. They just called my name’.
I’d love to tell you what actually happened on the show but I was too busy clutching a piece of paper in a sweaty death grip to take any notice.
Once your name is called out you have to stand up for a minute so that the cameras can find you and then you are taken backstage for the briefest of briefings. The long and short of it is thus: The very first question will not be filmed but will serve to warm up the panel and the audience. After that it will go straight into recording and when Dimbers calls your name you read out your question in a prompt manner whilst preparing for him to come back to you at the end of the topic.
At that point you are returned to your seat, the panel arrive and things get under way. It is also the point at which your whole world becomes exclusively focused on the printout of your question.
‘Oh crap oh crap oh crap is the Bradford Spring an unseasonable OH MY GOD WHAT ARE THESE WORDS I DON’T EVEN!’
Yeah, that’s sort of what was going through my head and for all I know they could have been debating whether fish have the right to get married for the first 15 minutes. Happily though the words did manage to leave my mouth in reasonably good order when my name was called but that was by no means the end of my silent meltdown. Oh no, then you have another desperate 10 minutes of trying to figure out just what in the hell you’re going to say next. As it happens, Dimbers never did come back to me, the danger passed and I spent the next 40 minutes feeling like my jammies had been rustled in the most profound way – which led to another weird phenomenon…
It matters who you are sitting next to.
My immediate neighbour on the night was a very jaunty and engaging guy named Jonathan who had an absolutely infectious enthusiasm for what was occurring in front of us. Given my somewhat shell-shocked state and the fact that I was no longer capable of independent thought I found myself becoming nothing less than a human extension of Jonathan’s will. If he clapped, I clapped. If he grinned and nodded, I grinned and nodded. Whatever he said, I agreed with wholeheartedly. Luckily for me, Jonathan doesn’t appear to be a howling mad extremist and to the best of my knowledge I didn’t give my involuntary endorsement to bringing back the birch/sending Qatada to the Moon/replacing the Cabinet with a Facebook group.
If you think being on the show is weird watching it back an hour later AND following the #bbcqt feed will blow your head clean off.
So I survived the show and then scurried home in a somewhat agitated, hungry and dehydrated state (the dehydration was my fault. Fear of needing a wee in the middle of the show had led me to forgo fluids for a frankly ludicrous period of time). Given how late the recording had gone on I literally got through the door just as it was about to start and never really got a second to collect my thoughts. So there we were, myself and my better half, the show starts and there I am! My phone starts making all sorts of noises as friends start texting. Then I ask my question and the camera cuts back to me for a response shot and all I can think is ‘JESUS CHRIST WHY DO I KEEP LICKING MY LIPS SO MUCH? I LOOK LIKE A TONGUE PERVERT!’. Then my phone goes absolutely mental and I check Twitter to see what’s going on. People, it turns out, have opinions about my beard and quite diverse opinions at that. And then I realise what I’m doing: I’m sitting in my front room, watching me an hour ago whilst simultaneously watching what a bunch of strangers think about my beard. It was at that point that my brain gave in and conceded that I had in fact become stuck in the Matrix.
And the show itself?
It was bloody good. Tim Farron is now totally my favourite person in the whole wide world, the venom between Galloway and Aaronovitch was both very real and very visceral, Warsi wasn’t bad and I am now forced to admit that yes, I do have a weird and slightly uncomfortable crush on the Labour Party’s Appropriate Adult, Yvette Cooper (I think it’s her long neck. See Fig. 1). In some ways it was a shame that I was too distracted to really pick up on any of the real substance but if you were in the market for political theatre last night, you got it in spades.
So there you go, that’s how my little adventure into the real-life world of Question Time went and I must say that it was a pretty grand experience. No scores this week as my head’s just a little too mangled to spend half an hour searching an online rhyming dictionary but rest assured that no-one would have scored below 6, such was the calibre of the panel. Anyway, thanks for reading and normal service will resume next week.
Next week Lemmings, next week…