Question Time (television)

From Academic Kids

Question Time is a topical debate television programme in the United Kingdom, based on Any Questions?. It is currently shown on BBC One at 22:35 on Thursdays, and typically features politicians from the three major political parties and other public figures who answer questions put to them by the audience. It is sometimes referred to as BBC Television's flagship political programme.

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Current titles for Question Time


Question Time began on September 25, 1979, as a television version of the 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. After Day retired, Peter Sissons took over and continued until 1993. Since 1993, 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 presenter 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 filming begins, meaning the guests' answers are not prepared. 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.


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 in October 2004 when 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.

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 1983-87 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 many as a gaffe and Margaret Thatcher was reported to have been angry at Pym; after the election, she sacked him.

Alan Clark, while a junior government Minister, was openly critical of a government decision to buy a foreign-made missile system on Question Time in 1984, 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 edition on September 13, 2001 (immediately after the September 11, 2001 attacks) was devoted to their implications and featured many contributions from the audience which took the view that such attacks had been made inevitable by the course of United States foreign policy. This seemed to some people to be an insensitive opinion in the context, and caused much distress to the former US ambassador (Philip Lader), who was on the panel. The BBC received over 2,000 complaints about the edition and later apologised for causing offence.

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.

The programme celebrated its 25th anniversary on September 16, 2004 with a special programme featuring some of the most famous and memorable moments.


  • Robin Day's catchphrase on the show, when he had introduced the panel, was "There they are, and here we go."
  • Mass murderer Dennis Nilsen was a member of the audience for one of the early editions. He was primed to ask a question, although in the end he was not called.
  • There have been famous Freudian slips. David Dimbleby once referred to Robin Cook as "Robin Cock"; 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 ...". In the final edition of Question Time before the 2005 general election a questioner asked about the relationship between the Prime Minister and US President "George Blair".

Foreign versions

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 a similar format, Let's Talk, though this is only monthly and has greater audience interaction. BBC World produces an Indian version of the programme for its Indian viewers.

External links


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