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Question Time set, Oxford 2008
Question Time is a topical debate television programme in the United Kingdommarker, 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 is usually recorded about 2 hours prior to transmission, but has been broadcast live as recently as May 2009 when the broadcast came from Salisbury at the earlier time of 9pm BST.

The current series began on 24 September 2009 and is currently being shown on BBC One at 22:35 on Thursdays (and slightly later in Walesmarker). BBC One Northern Ireland usually does not show Question Time at least once a month, as they show their own local debate show Let's Talk hosted by Mark Carruthers. Viewers in the United Kingdom can also view the show via the BBC iPlayer.


Question Time began on 25 September 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. The guests on the very first show were Edna O'Brien, Teddy Taylor, Michael Foot and Derek Worlock, Archbishop of Liverpool. 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. Any Questions? is still broadcast and is chaired by Dimbleby's brother Jonathan Dimbleby.


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 another non-partisan member or leading member of a fourth political party joining the panel.

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.

SMS 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.

As well as Ceefax, the programme is also popular on micro-blogging website Twitter, and comments are regularly made under the #bbcqt hashtag when the programme is on air.

BBC Three broadcasts schools edition

On 9 July 2009, the BBC channel BBC Three broadcast a programme for young people. One of the panellists was an eighteen year old student. Other panellists included Andy Burnham, Jeremy Hunt, Sarah Teather and Shami Chakrabarti, director of the pressure group, Liberty. Questions discussed included whether journalists are right to tap into mobile telephone conversations and the problems surrounding alcohol abuse.


Under Robin Day, Question Time was almost always made in Londonmarker, at the Greenwood Theatre on the south side of London Bridgemarker. 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 Miamimarker, Floridamarker, 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, Chinamarker, and a programme from Parismarker, Francemarker 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 Johannesburgmarker in South Africa, coinciding with the G8 summit in Gleneaglesmarker. It just so happened that this edition was broadcast on the same day as the suicide bombings on the London Underground and the Londonmarker bus in Tavistock Squaremarker, therefore diverting the original topic of this QT special somewhat.

In time for the G8 conference in Moscowmarker, there was a special programme from the city on 30 March 2006. Another U.S. election special was held in Washington D.C.marker on 30 October 2008.


The show is currently recorded at different venues throughout the UK. Although, as part of plans to relocate BBC production around the UK, the main office of the programme will move to BBC Scotland in Glasgow, the peripatetic nature of the programme will continue.

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 Foreign Secretary 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 (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 13 September, 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.

In 2002, the editor of Private Eyemarker, 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 Cheltenhammarker 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 3 July 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?'.

The 12 November 2009 edition was the first time in over 15 years that David Dimbleby did not host the show, having been hospitalised as a precaution after being briefly knocked out by a rearing bullock at his farm in Sussex. The show was instead hosted by John Humphrys.

BNP protests

After a change in BBC policy, Nick Griffin the leader of the far-right British National Party was invited onto Question Time for the first time, and appeared on the 22 October 2009 edition. The decision led to political debate and protests by hundreds of people outside BBC Television Centremarker as the edition was filmed. Six people were arrested after a breach of security which saw around 25 "anti-fascist" protesters enter the main reception. The edition attracted eight million viewers, twice the programme's usual audience. However, the programme also drew a large number of complaints as a result of its content, and Griffin himself said that he would make a formal complaint to the BBC for the way he believed he was treated by the audience, who he described as a "lynch mob" and the show's other guests.


There have been famous Freudian slips and slips of the tongue. David Dimbleby once referred to Robin Cook as "Robin Cock" (Cook responded 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 ...", a few 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". Dimbleby has, on more than one occasion, accidentally referred to playwright Bonnie Greer as "Germaine Greer", prompting the response of "yes, Jonathan Dimbleby." In the 22 October 2009 edition, one audience member referred to British National Party (BNP) leader Nick Griffin as "Dick Griffin... sorry Nick", although it seemed as if this was deliberate in order to insult Griffin.

Audience figures

The 14 May 2009 edition of Question Time, filmed in Grimsbymarker, saw it record its highest viewing figures in its 30 year run, of 3.8 million, over the MPs' expenses row, with audience members heckling guest panellists Menzies Campbell and Margaret Beckett. This figure was a million more than usual, and surpassed the figure of 3.4 million recorded in 2003 for the declaration of the war on Iraq. The following week's edition on 21 May was brought forward for an hour long special edition broadcast at 9pm BST.On 22nd October it further surpassed the 3.8 million figure seen early in 2009 with a figure more than double that at 7.9 million when Nick Griffin from the BNP appeared.

Similar programmes

  • BBC Northern Ireland has Let's Talk, though this is broadcast monthly (replacing Question Time for that week) and has greater audience interaction
  • BBC World produces an Indianmarker version of the programme for such viewers
  • has developed its own version of Question Time
  • has a similar program, called Q&A. It is broadcast live every week, airing on the national public broadcaster ABC1

Episode list

On 12th November 2009 David missed his first Question Time in 15 years due to a minor farming injury. John Humphrys replaced him whilst he was recovering.


  5. Question Time in your area
  7. BBC chief apologises for terror debate, BBC News, 15 September 2001
  8. BNP on Question Time The Guardian
  10. Millions see Beckett heckled The Sun, 16 May 2009
  11. MPs' expenses: Question Time boos for Margaret Becket as she insists, 'I won't pay it back', Daily Mail, 15 May 2009


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