Question Time (TV series)

Question Time (TV series)

Infobox Television
show_name = Question Time

caption =
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presenter = Robin Day (1979-89)
Peter Sissons (1989-93)
David Dimbleby (1994-present)
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country = UK
language = English
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first_aired = 25 September 1979
last_aired = present
related = "Any Questions?"
"The Big Questions"
"Question Time Extra"
website =
imdb_id = 0267212
tv_com_id =

"Question Time" is a topical debate television programme in the United Kingdom, based on "Any Questions?". The show typically features politicians from at least the three major political parties as well as other public figures who answer questions put to them by the audience.

It has not been broadcast live since September 2001, and is recorded earlier on the day of broadcast.

The current series began on 18 September 2008 and is currently being shown on BBC One at 22:35 on Thursdays (delayed by 30 mins in Wales). Viewers in the United Kingdom can also view the show again via the BBC IPlayer.


"Question Time" began on September 25, 1979, as a television version of the BBC Radio 4 question programme, "Any Questions?". It was originally intended to have only a short run, but the programme became very popular and was duly extended. Veteran newsman Sir Robin Day was the programme's first chairman, presenting it for nearly 10 years until June 1989. His famous catchphrase when he had introduced the panel was "There they are, and here we go." After Day retired, Peter Sissons took over and continued until 1993. Since 1994, David Dimbleby has been the programme's presenter.


"Question Time" began with a panel of four guests, usually one member from each of the three major parties (Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats) and another public figure, for example non-governmental organisation directors, newspaper columnists, or religious leaders. In 1999, the panel was enlarged to five, with two non-partisan members.

The Chairman sits in the middle and chairs the debate, deciding who can speak and selecting the questions for the panel to answer. Questions are taken from the audience before the programme goes on air, and the chairman picks some to put to the panel. The panel do not get to see the questions before recording begins; however, guests who have kept up with recent news stories should be able to anticipate most of the likely topics. During the programme, the presenter selects a member of the audience to put a question to the panel and gives each member an opportunity to answer the question and each others' points. Usually the first question deals with the major political or news event of the week, and the last with a humorous issue to be answered quickly.

For a brief period in the mid-1990s, the programme used voting keypads to take a poll of the audience, who were stated to have been selected to provide a balanced sample compared with the nation as a whole.

During general election campaigns, the programme has taken a different format, with the party leaders appearing as single guests and fielding questions from the audience.

The BBC commissioned a new programme called "The Big Questions" in 2007 which has a similar format to "Question Time" but focusses on ethical and religious issues. It is broadcast on BBC1 on Sunday mornings between 10am and 11am. Both programmes are produced by [ Mentorn Media] .

MS contributions

Viewers of the show can submit serious or lighthearted comments to the show via SMS and a selection of those comments are posted on Ceefax page 155 (not available in Wales). Comments are edited and put to air by a team of four journalists based on the seventh floor of Television Centre in London. The system displays one message at a time, and usually shows several tens of messages throughout each hour-long episode. The system is popular because its editors display both serious and lighthearted comments.

On average, around 3,500 texts are received during each hour-long programme, although 12,000 texts were once recorded in one frantic programme in 2004. Text quantity is directly related to the composition of the panel. The panellists who generate the most texts are: Tony Benn, Ann Widdecombe and Ken Livingstone, with messages of support and derision in broadly equal numbers.

Since March 2006, many episodes of "Question Time" have included lighthearted messages about the cult topic 'Peruvian earthworms'. That month, a viewer remarked that one particular episode of the programme was so dull that they were considering reading their book on Peruvian earthworms instead. Several viewers of that episode sent in further comical remarks about Peruvian earthworms, in a topical context. Since that episode, at least one comment on Peruvian earthworms has been displayed on the Ceefax-based service in most episodes. This has made 'Peruvian earthworms' an (albeit unlikely) cult topic.


Under Robin Day, "Question Time" was almost always made in London, at the Greenwood Theatre on the south side of London Bridge. After his departure the BBC decided to try to widen the programme's appeal by moving it around the country. Currently the programme is presented from a different location each week, usually in the UK, with a local studio audience each time. When the programme goes to locations in Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales, the make up of the panel is usually altered to reflect the country. For example, when in Scotland the programme may invite an Scottish National Party MP or MSP onto the panel.

Some editions of the programme have been made in locations outside the UK, such as Australia in November 1999, before the republic referendum. In October 2004 a U.S. election special was made in Miami, Florida, with an American studio audience and guests including Michael Moore on the panel. On 10 March 2005, another overseas edition of the programme was shown from Shanghai, China, and a programme from Paris, France was broadcast on the 26 May 2005, three days before the French referendum on the EU Constitution. On 7 July 2005, an edition was broadcast from Johannesburg in South Africa, coinciding with the G8 summit in Gleneagles. It just so happened that this edition was broadcast on the same day as the suicide bombings on the London Underground and the London bus in Tavistock Square, therefore diverting the original topic of this "QT" special somewhat.

In time of the G8 conference in Moscow, there was a special programme from the city on 30 March 2006 [] . Another U.S. election special will be held in Washington D.C. on 30 October 2008. [ [ Question Time in your area] ]

Famous editions

In early 1981, David Steel declared his support in principle for "a marriage" between the Liberal Party and any party which might be formed by the Gang of Four; David Owen, who was also on the programme, said he could see advantages in an "electoral alliance" between them. This prefigured the period 1983–1987 when Owen and Steel were Leaders of the SDP/Liberal Alliance and tension grew over whether their deal was a prelude to a merger of the parties or merely a temporary electoral pact.

During the 1983 election campaign, Conservative cabinet minister Francis Pym was asked by an A-level student named Andy Davis about the implications of the Conservatives winning the election with a landslide victory. He began by casting doubt on the likelihood of this happening and then observed "I think landslides on the whole don't produce successful governments". This remark was regarded by manyFact|date=February 2007 as a gaffe and Margaret Thatcher was reported to have been angry at Pym. After the election (won by the Conservatives on a landslide) she sacked him as Foreign Secretary.

In a 1984 edition, Alan Clark, a junior government Minister at the time, was openly critical of a government decision to buy a foreign-made missile system, prompting guest host Sue Lawley to ask the audience, "Is there anyone here who wishes to defend the government on this, because its Minister doesn't?"

The programme broadcast on September 13, 2001, which was devoted to the political implications of the 9/11 attacks featured many contributions from members of the audience who were anti-American, expressing the view that 'the United States had it coming'. The programme struck many British people as particularly insensitive given the recent nature of tragedy, leading to questions about the wisdom of screening a live edition at such a time. The BBC received more than 2,000 complaints and later apologised to viewers for causing offence, stating that the edition should not have been broadcast live, but rather should have been recorded and edited. [ [ BBC chief apologises for terror debate] , BBC News, 15 September 2001]

In 2002, the editor of "Private Eye", Ian Hislop, made an open attack on Jeffrey Archer, who had been imprisoned for perjury, when his wife Mary Archer was a fellow panellist. Mary Archer was noticeably angry that the issue had been raised and criticised Hislop after the recording had finished.

On 11 October 2007, former editor of "The Sun" newspaper Kelvin MacKenzie appeared on the programme in Cheltenham and launched an attack on Scotland. During a debate about tax, MacKenzie claimed that "Scotland believes not in entrepreneurialism like London and the south east... Scots enjoy spending it (money) but they don't enjoy creating it, which is the opposite to down south." The comments came as part of an attack on Prime Minister Gordon Brown whom MacKenzie said could not be trusted to manage the British economy because he was "a Scot" and a "socialist", and insisting that this was relevant to the debate. Fellow panellist Chuka Umunna from the think tank Compass called his comments "absolutely disgraceful", and booing and jeering were heard from the Cheltenham studio audience. The BBC received 350 complaints and MacKenzie's comments drew widespread criticism in both Scotland and England. On July 3, 2008, it was reported that the BBC Trust's editorial complaints unit had cleared the programme of any wrongdoing. Question Time then proceeded to broadcast the following question from Nick Hartley as part of the programme on the same evening: 'After the media coverage of Murray's rise and fall, are we now to infer that the English resent the Scots more than the Scots resent the English?'.

On 10 July 2008, Question Time recorded its largest ever audience for a special Schools Question Time edition at Central Hall, Westminster. Nearly 1,400 teenagers took part the afternoon conference the Young Citizens' Action Agenda and then stayed on for the special broadcast organised by the BBC, the Institute for citizenship and BT Group. [ [ Young Citizens' Action Agenda ] ]


There have been famous Freudian slips and slips of the tongue. David Dimbleby once referred to Robin Cook as "Robin Cock" (Cook responded elegantly by calling the chairman "Mr Bumblebee"); Cecil Parkinson referred to a particular feat having been accomplished "without liars" as opposed to without wires, and Harriet Harman confidently started one answer "Since Gordon Brown became Prime Minister ...", several years before he succeeded Tony Blair. In the final edition before the 2005 general election, a questioner asked about the relationship between the Prime Minister and US President "George Blair".

imilar programmes

In the Republic of Ireland, "Questions and Answers" is an RTÉ programme which follows an almost identical format to "Question Time". BBC Northern Ireland likewise has "Let's Talk", though this is broadcast monthly (replacing "Question Time" for that week) and has greater audience interaction. BBC World produces an Indian version of the programme for such viewers. Pakistan has also developed its own version of Question Time. Australia's ABC now has the similar Q and A.



* Bailey, Ric (January 26, 2005). [ "NewsWatch: Question Time for Question Time."] "BBC News". Retrieved Jul. 9, 2005.
* [ "The Best of "Question Time"."] "BBC News". Retrieved Jul. 9, 2005.
* Guyon, Janet (November 29, 2001). [ "Fortune: The New Future — The American Way."] "Mutual of America". Retrieved Jul. 9, 2005.
* Shawcross, William (September 17, 2001). [,3858,4258353-108926,00.html "Stop This Racism."] "The Guardian". Retrieved Jul. 9, 2005.
* Wendling, Mike (September 17, 2001). [ "Foreign Bureaus: BBC Apologizes for Anti-American Views Voiced on Program."] "Cybercast News Service". Retrieved Jul. 9, 2005.

External links

*|id=questiontime|title="Question Time"

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