Any Questions comes to Hill House
When Hill House School Head of Politics, Peter Shipston, made a tentative enquiry to the BBC about hosting Radio 4’s Any Questions, little did he know that Special Branch officers would invade the school.
On 27 March, the BBC duly arrived at midday with trucks, technicians and miles of cables. The school’s Network Manager then spent the next nine hours in a permanent sweat about whether the school’s internet would cope with the broadcast (in other words, a normal day for a school’s Network Manager...)
At two o’clock, to the delight of pupils and the consternation of staff, the car park at the front of school was suddenly filled with expensive black cars as Special Branch and the South Yorkshire Protection Team descended. Steely eyed men with bulges under jackets proceeded to explore the public areas of the school in honour of the presence on the panel of the Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon MP.
With the audience of 300 arriving at 6.00pm and giving their questions to Sixth Form runners, and the production team taking over the school’s Art Gallery to fine tune proceedings, the panel began to arrive. The Headmaster, who has had some unusual groups in his study in recent years, gave it up to the panel of Bradford MP George Galloway, Michael Fallon, Leeds MP Rachel Reeves and UKIP MEP Patrick O’Flynn. All seemed good natured as the panel were prepped by their teams, although the Deputy Head was less than impressed to be told that her study had been designated as the panic room in case of terrorist attack. Apparently the price of having no windows…
With the audience warmed up in the Main Hall, including a lesson on how to clap politely, vigorously, laugh and boo as appropriate, and the chosen questioners ensconced within reach of a microphone, the panel appeared, the 8.00 news was heard in silence, and we were off.
Time flew; Dimbleby was magnificent in his control of such an eclectic bunch. Labour’s Rachel Reeves coped heroically with maintaining the party line while sitting next to George Galloway, Michael Fallon was avuncular gravitas personified. Patrick O’Flynn was an acceptable face of UKIP who could reference the Fonz and Happy Days, and George Galloway was 100% charisma and had the audience in the palm of his hand.
The final question came from the Headmaster himself – ‘should we at Hill House be proud of our old boy Jeremy Clarkson?’ Something we have wrestled with for years, and I’m still none the wiser, despite the panel’s advice. And to be put on the spot by Dimbleby for the school’s view was an experience to be neither forgotten nor repeated. Still, at least it got the school’s name out to a million listeners another couple of times…
And then to drinks with the panel, Dimbleby enjoying talking to the Sixth Form and the politicians steeling themselves for Doncaster Station on a Friday night.
Sadly Galloway left early, but his was the most interesting story of the day: that a revolutionary socialist could be taken to the heart of an audience whose majority were the fee paying parents of an English independent school says a huge amount for his straight talking (always appreciated in Yorkshire) and his extraordinary charisma. Equally, and against well-worn stereotype, it says a lot for our parents’ wide-ranging demographic and their capacity for respect, tolerance and inclusivity.