Women provide their share of answers

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The Independent Online
The long overdue feminisation of BBC Television's Question Time has quietly taken place, according to figures from its production company, writes Maggie Brown.

The programme, which places four panellists before a studio audience and is currently chaired by David Dimbleby, has since September regularly picked two female panellists.

Question Time had come under heavy attack for failing to seek out women. It was claimed that the forum was ill-suited to women because of the gladiatorial nature of the questioning.

The Independent led the attack in 1990 [when the programme was chaired by Peter Sissons] and even suggested 75 women who would do well on the programme.

Previously, when the programme was chaired by Robin Day, its producer, Barbara Maxwell, had always tried to make sure that at least one woman was on the panel.

Now, according to the independent production company Capron Productions, the programme always has two women unless there are unforeseen developments.

The company is also committed to searching out women and panellists who are new to television and is trying to find new voices from the under- forties.

Sue Ayling, the producer, said that of the 26 women who had been on so far, 13 were completely new to the programme and some were new to broadcasting.

"It's been quite a crusade for me. I've been prodding around and the BBC regions have been helpful and so have local radio stations."

She said she had turned to organisations such as Forum UK, a network of high-flying women, and asked other more experienced names, such as Baroness Denton, the Northern Ireland minister, for help.

She said that one new "find" was Anne-Marie Huby, the Belgian UK representative of Medecins sans Frontieres - "she brought a European perspective, was quite witty and a great success".

Others included Judith Donovan, a Bradford marketing executive who "stood up very well to Robin Cook"; Anne Kelleher, a philosopher who "we got very good correspondence about"; and Jude Kelly, the artistic director of the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

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