TRICKS OF THE TRADE 10: HOW TO SELECT A STUDIO AUDIENCE

CHRISTOPHER CAPRON Editor, Capron Productions. He has produced BBC1's 'Question Time' since 1993
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The Independent Culture
WE're contractually required by the BBC to provide an audience that is as representative as possible of the electorate. Broadly speaking, we base it on the popular vote at the last election. But we never reveal the percentage of support we have for one political party. There is no figure that will satisfy all the parties, and we'd only be creating trouble for ourselves.

We always advertise for audiences within our own programmes. People ring and leave their names and addresses and we send fairly detailed application forms, asking them their age, profession, gender and ethnic grouping, and, crucially, what their current voting intention would be. Two thirds of questioners are men. We do find a reluctance on the part of women to ask questions. But young people are getting keener.

We regard the programme as belonging to the public, and our choice of subjects is guided by the level of interest shown in specific topics, then by the need for variety and balance. You can't have every question pouring scorn on the government, but if they are raring to go on an issue, let them loose on it - it's not for me to say that something is a boring subject.

We record about an hour and a half before transmission, and when the audience arrives at 5.45pm, they are given forms to write their suggestions on - up to 30 words. I race through them and it's a terrific scramble. We select the best, most pointed questions. Usually, the first person knows they're first, so they don't die of nerves.

The funniest one ever was when the first volunteer had put her question in her handbag, and there was a terrific caboodle in getting it out. Sir Robin Day got a lot of laughs out of the whole thing. It was one of our golden moments.

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