Sunday, 26 May 2013

Any Questions for a Friday Evening

St John's Church, West Byfleet where
Any Questions was recorded 24/5/13

I had an enjoyable Friday evening as an audience member for Any Questions.  For those unfamiliar with the programme it is a Radio 4 current affairs panel discussion, similar to Question Time on television.  

The Location

This week's edition was recorded at St John's Church in West Byfleet.  I've driven past St John's church many times on my way through West Byfleet.  It is located just past Waitrose, at the traffic light intersection, an area I learnt that was once known as Byfleet corner.

I am not a church goer but I am always interested in, and appreciative of the architecture of ecclesiastical buildings.  St John's is a large church, and we were told in the introduction to the evening that it has a growing congregation.  The church has a huge wooden vaulted barrel roof and walls of Doulting stone. Unusually there is just one stained glass window in the church.  The church celebrated its centenary last year, having been designed by Caroe, a leading light in the Arts and Crafts movement and built by local builders Tarrant in 1912 at a cost of £9,908.  The organ came a year later and cost a massive £1,000.

I digress, but we did spend quite a while sitting around waiting for the recording to start so I had time to take all this in and read the helpfully provided leaflet about St John's.

Any Questions

The evening proper began with a 'warm-up' from a BBC producer, currently with Newsnight but about to move to the Today programme.  He regaled us with some amusing stories and there was an opportunity to ask questions about BBC news.

We had all been invited to submit questions and I put in a few before taking my seat for the evening.  It was to no avail.  Ten questions were selected and the questioners were invited to take seats on the front row - no roving microphone at this recording.  The last question chosen was told it was to be asked first, for the dry run, to check out microphones and sound levels.

Finally to the guests.  

Trevor Kavanagh, former political editor and now Associate Editor of the Sun - I didn't agree with him once all evening.  

Maria Miller, Conservative MP for Basingstoke and Minister for Culture - totally disagree with her on her recent pronouncements on arts making an economic case (typical Tory who knows price of everything and value of nothing) but she was good in defence of government policy on equal marriage.  Less good on taxation where she seemed a little lost.

Sadiq Khan, Labour MP Tooting for and Shadow Lord Chancellor was the only Muslim to have attended Cabinet meetings when he did so in the latter days of the last government.  I had heard him before on television and found him an atypical Labour minister but he is an engaging speaker with a sense of humour and came across well.

Brendan O'Neill is rather an enigma.  He edits a magazine called spiked, writes for the Big Issue and blogs for The Telegraph.  He had some pretty off the wall views on most issues discussed in the evening but I did agree with him when he called Maria Miller a philistine for her view on funding the arts.

I was of course disappointed that there was no Liberal Democrat on the panel.

And the questions.  Predictably we started with the dreadful events in Woolwich on Wednesday.  One questioner asked if the Muslim community could do more to prevent terrorism and another whether governmnet had over-reacted to the incident.  We covered tax avoidance by successful businesses, equal marriage, funding of the arts and "swivel-eyed" loons.

It was an interesting evening and good to be part of something live, with real people in front of you answering questions rather than a television picture or a voice on the radio.

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