Any Questions -- and Roman omens
When I was about 12, I asked a question on “Any Questions” when it visited Telford New Town. It was one of those “What should the government do. . . “ type questions. In this case, what should the government about a group of merchant seamen who (as I recall ) had been arrested by the Chinese. One of the said seamen came from Market Drayton in Shropshire, and was indeed the brother of one of my school friends.
I remember two things about this occasion. The first was that I was a bit disappointed with the panel’s answers (one of them, I remember, called me “Madam” -- a form of address I didn’t feel particularly applied to me, aged 12). The second was that it seemed wonderfully exciting to be sitting up there on the stage saying what you thought about all these questions that people threw at you. And there, I suppose, a little ambition was born.
An ambition fulfilled on Friday night, when I did appear on “Any Questions” – broadcast from Ashtead in Surrey.
It meant for a fun week beforehand – largely because there was a perfect alibi for spending every evening reading the newspapers, on the grounds that one was prepping for the questions.
“Any Questions” is quite unlike any other live radio programme I’ve ever been on (OK, no boasting here – not all that many). Usually you have lots of pre-prep…you talk to the producer or his/her assistant, they tell you what they are going to ask and you say what you are going to say in reply. On “Any Questions” the questions really are a surprise: they’re “sight unseen”. That gives it the kind of adrenaline rush that you remember from going into an exam.
The first question was about the near-plane crash at Heathrow. I’d been reading a lot about this, and hoping that it wasn’t going to become one of those nasty incidents in which our pilot heroes who saved the day would turn -- after we’d looked at the black-box etc -- into sadly negligent characters who had (eg) failed to pull the throttle, or whatever, at the right moment. Pilot error in other words. (No sign of that so far, thank heavens.)
It did strike me, though, that there was a terribly ominous quality here (“ominous” in the Roman sense, that is). One plane nearly crashes as Mr Brown waits to take off en route to China. Even better is the story reported by the Evening Standard (but nowhere else so far as I can see – so I didn’t use it on the show), that Brown had been prevented from using the VIP suite at Heathrow because it was already occupied by the Qatari royal family.
It doesn’t take much of a classicist to see what Tacitus would have made of this. “There were those that said that a new world order was being foretold, when they saw that the Prime Minister was kept out of the VIP suite by eastern royalty and prevented from taking off by a crashing British jet….”.
But my verdict on “Any Questions”? Well it’s been my week snuggling up to the BBC. But I give it 10 out of 10 on a lot of scores. .. and a “well worth the licence fee” vote. We are always going on about people not turning up at election meetings and hustings. In Ashtead there were more than 300 people turning out on a rainy January night to hear three politicians and me (and, however much they enjoyed me, it was the politicians not Beard who had attracted them) chatting about Kenya, organ donation and party funding.
You can listen again for the next 7 days, here, and see what you think.