If it had been any ordinary Friday, I would have called in sick. The weather, to a certain extent, beat my efforts to cycle to work last week. Reggie is currently locked up in the MFL office at Gillotts, stranded by the ice on the roads; he cycled valiantly through the snow on Tuesday but only managed half of his usual trips from Reading to Henley and back this week. For the other trips, I relied upon my back up plan; the SEN co-ordinator who happens to live in Reading and who also doesn’t leave school until late into the evening. The weather was also beating me down medically as I had picked up a sore throat that had migrated north by the end of Thursday and was developing into a nice little cold. I know sore throats and colds have nothing to do with the weather but if you are suffering from one, sub-zero temperatures outside do nothing for one’s motivation to get out of bed and go to work. But I did of course because of “Any Questions?”.
School finished at 2.30pm on a Friday and then we have a meeting for an hour so the place was deserted by 3.30pm. Not many teachers had actually got tickets to stay on for the evening’s broadcast (strange, no? How many times does a national radio station broadcast live from your place of work?) so it was a long wait until 6.30pm when I wandered over to the school hall to do my allocated job of ushering people to their seats (that wasn’t on the Assistant Head Teacher job description!). A big white van outside, a few cables taped to the floor and some tables on the stage with multicoloured microphones greeted me. And I then in turn helped to greet the great and good of Henley. Well, actually, it looked like the Henley Tory party conference once they had all taken their seats albeit a Tory conference with, thankfully, a smattering of rebellious left wingers and youths. The make up of the audience said as much about Henley as it did about the people who listen to “Any Questions?” (listen to the follow-up programme this afternoon – “Any Answers?” – and I guarantee in will be dominated by old duffers living in the 1950s).
After a “warm-up” from the editor who presumably reels out the same anecdotes every week to every audience (I did wonder if any of them were actually true or whether they were just good stories), the producer of the programme asked the people who had been chosen to ask questions to sit at the front and gave them instructions, then the chairman and panel appeared. Jonathan Dimbleby introduced us to Alain de Botton, Jack Straw (former Home Secretary), Theresa May (current Home Secretary) and David Jones (click here is you don’t know who they are). Theresa May’s face was underlit by a green light which made her look like a ghoulish pantomime villain. But she was the one panelist who exuded the aurora of power; she swept along the drive in a large black BMW only minutes before the programme started and had a couple of heavies open the door for her. They didn’t look like the kind of people you would pick a fight with.
Then we went live and well, it was just like listening at home. I occasionally shut my eyes and imagined I was slumped of the sofa on a Saturday afternoon. The only added element you don’t get on the radio are the frantic hand signals of the producer who sits next to Jonathan Dimbleby on the panel and mouths instructions to various people around the room, occasionally holding up fingers (always seeming to indicate the number 10, strange) or bits of paper. At one point she looked decidedly worried. I think it may have been Jack Straw who did tend to go on a bit…
And at 8.50, the programme ended. I had arranged a lift back to Reading with a parent of one of my Year 11 students who had earlier in the evening complimented me on my 7pm efforts of cycling back to Reading (she sees me regularly en route apparently). She had been in the audience as her son, my student, is one of the people at school who always know how to set up the sound system for concerts and the like. They were allowed to help out the technicians from the BBC and spent the broadcast itself sat inside the outside broadcast van sat outside the hall (which was probably a warmer option). So, as an Assistant Head Teacher and mother of budding technician, we went to the after show drinks in the school drama studio. And there they all were! Dimbleby, Straw, May (and the other two who, admit it, you’d never actually heard of) mingling with the select few of Gillotts School. They all seemed jovial and friendly. I didn’t actually get the chance to chat with any of them although I did shake Jack Straw’s hand just before he left. Theresa May’s heavies were observing proceedings from a distance ready to pounce if anyone got a bit too “friendly”. She survived in one piece but then again, this was Henley-on-Thames…
You can hear the programme on the i-Player.
I haven’t actually listened to Any Answers yet – I’ll try and catch it today
I think I will disappoint you on Wikileaks; when Mr Dimbleby asked the audience whether Wikileaks was good or bad for democracy, I put my hand up with the majority of the Henley set and voted for it being bad for democracy… We have to realise that we don’t need to know everything to smooth the path of international relations and diplomacy. I can live without knowing that Berlusconi holds wild parties or that Medvedev is “Robin” to Putin’s “Batman” according to American diplomats. Even the more serious stuff about what the Afghans think of our efforts in Helmund etc… should really remain in the diplomatic baggage and not on the pages of a website run by a sex offender….