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I was surfing around the BBC web site when I came across their audience ticket section. I had never been to see a television programme being recorded and I thought this would be a very interesting experience for us as a family to go and see. There was a choice of about half a dozen different shows that tickets were available for and these could be ordered on-line or by post. (All of the tickets are free). Web site: http://www.bbc.co.uk/whatson/tickets/index.shtml The web page showed details of the dates, times and locations that the programmes were being recorded, plus any limitations, such as minimum age etc. There is also a comprehensive description of what the programme is all about. After a family discussion we decided to apply for a programme called “Best Inventions”. This is a show where three inventors compete against each other for a prize, which will help them to get their invention into the shops. At the end of the show the audience vote for a winner. This show is broadcast on BBC 1 on Wednesday evenings at 7.30pm. It is presented by Katy Hill (my children tell me she used to present Blue Peter) and Trevor Baylis (the inventor of the clockwork radio.) The web page also stated that for this show the audience stand throughout the recording of the programme and that this would be on metal mesh floors, so warm clothing and low-heeled rubber soled shoes had to be worn. The recordings are on Saturday and Sunday evenings, with two shows being recorded on each date. We applied for four tickets for a 4.00pm recording on a Saturday evening. We then waited in anticipation to see if our application would be successful. The show is recorded at a restored Edwardian water pumping station in Twickenham, Middlesex. This is called the Triple Expansion Engine House and it has been painstakingly restored by a group of volunteers over a four year period. The trust that runs it, rents it out to television and
film companies and the plan is that the working Engine House will eventually be opened to the public on selected weekends of the year. Three days after ordering our tickets they arrived, with a few more details about the recording of the programme along with very detailed directions of how to get to the pumping station and where to park our car. We were also given a telephone number to ring before setting out on our journey to confirm that filming was actually going to take place at the time on the tickets. On the tickets it stated that the doors would open 45 minutes before the filming started, but also stated that admission was on a first-come, first-served basis. It was explained that not everybody who receives the tickets uses them. So to achieve a full house they have to distribute more tickets than there are places for. This did concern us a little bit, but also made us determined to arrive in plenty of time. On the day of the recording we rang the telephone message service, where a recorded message told us that the programme was going to be recorded on time. We then set off on our journey down the M1 motorway to Twickenham. The directions were excellent and after a three hour journey we found the pumping station easily. On our arrival the first impression we got was just how big the organisation for this programme really was. There were BBC lorries all over the place and so many people around. A member of the crew directed us to a marquee (The Green Room) where there were free soft drinks for anyone who wanted them. There were plenty of chairs to sit down, plus there were a number of monitors playing recordings about the three inventions that we were going to see in the show. These pieces obviously had been recorded previously and edited into extracts that were going to be used during the show. Members of the production crew were talking to members of the audience and we soon realised that they were priming these people to
ask questions as part of the show. As we did not want to do this, we quietly sat and waited, but it was obvious that they had a set list of the correct “mix” of people for these questions and we did not fit the criteria. In fairness, we were later told that anybody could ask a question, but they did need to make the production team aware of this beforehand. After a while the family and friends of the inventors were ushered away to the pumping station and soon after the people who had been chosen to ask questions were also led off for a briefing, and to be positioned in the right place. The Producer of the show then came to talk to us about the show and our role in the recording. We were made to feel very welcome and I was very pleasantly surprised at how much effort was made to explain everything to us and how we ended up feeling very much a part of the whole process and not just a decoration in the background. We were then taken to the pumping station, which is a very impressive building with most of the huge pumping equipment still in place, which obviously makes an excellent back drop for the recording of the show. Our earlier fears of maybe not getting into the show were unfounded as everybody got in to see the recording. The audience are all around the building and everybody has a good view of what is going on. We stood on the upper balcony where there was an excellent view of everything. On entering the building we had each been given a handset which looked like a television remote control unit. This was going to be used when it came to the time to vote at the end of the show. Some of the later people to come in did not get a voting unit, and the family and friends of the inventors were not allowed to vote. We were introduced to the Floor Manager who explained everything that was going to happen, and again made us feel very much an important part of the whole show. There was then about ten minutes when a “
warm-up” man entertained us and we practised applauding etc. Before going to the show I had not been very keen on the idea of being told when to applaud, but very quickly it seemed the right thing to do, and during the show it always came when you wanted to applaud anyway. We had some practice voting sessions with the remote units so that they could test that everything was working properly. During all of this warm-up session we were told that the cameras would be recording so that they had some general shots of the audience. The warm-up guy was very good and entertaining and soon we were ready for the recording. When you watch a television programme you can never be sure what the presenters are really like in “real” life, so were intrigued to see what Katy Hill and Trevor Baylis were like. Katy Hill was absolutely brilliant. She is obviously a natural presenter and seemed genuinely very enthusiastic about the inventors and their inventions. She was quite happy to talk to the audience and was just as pleasant and funny when not recording as when the cameras were on her. She was also a perfectionist and was quite happy to re-record anything to make sure it was right. I am sure that Trevor Baylis is a very good inventor, but I am afraid that he did not impress us as a television presenter. We did not see him talk to anyone “off camera” and his enthusiasm for the inventions did not seem very genuine at all. However, we had thought this when we had previously watched the programmes and being at the recording reinforced this for us. The three inventions that we saw were: 1) A rotary washing line that was attached to a motor so that the washing would dry even when there was no wind. 2) A toaster that had a built in sensor to detect when the toast was ready, to ensure that never again would anybody get burnt toast. 3) A camera system that fits into the rear view mirror of a car to record events in the cas
e of an accident. Each inventor was introduced to us and then a pre-recorded was film was shown with all the details and history of the invention. At this point you realise that an awful lot of work has already been done on the production of this show, probably over quite a long time period of time prior to the recording of the programme. After the film the audience then ask questions to the inventors and these are introduced by Katy Hill. During the show there is also a film shown about a famous inventor and for us it was about the inventor of Meccano, Horny trains and Dinky toys, Frank Hornby. This was shown on a couple of large screens for everybody to see. After seeing all three inventions we were asked to vote on our choice for a winner. My wife and I voted for the toaster, but both of our sons voted for the in-car camera. I shall not tell you which one was the winner, that is for you to find out if you watch the programme. Unfortunately they did not tell us when the programme will be broadcast, so we shall have to make sure we watch every programme (and record them, of course!) If you happen to see the programme I described, then do look out for me (you may have seen my photo on my profile). We are standing on the upper level, in the middle above the large screen. The whole event was very interesting and entertaining. We have been “bitten by the bug” now and already we are talking about which programme we are going to apply to watch next. I don’t know if our experience is typical of television show recordings, but certainly for us we had a great time and are very pleased we went. Although this is only a small show we were amazed by the shear volume of equipment involved and the huge number of people that it takes to put together one 30 minute television programme. This is an experience we shall remember for quite some time.