IT’S not every day that Petersfield takes centre stage on national television.

But that’s exactly what happened last week when the BBC brought Question Time to the Festival Hall.

The venue’s acting manager, Phil Swan, spoke to the Post this week about how the flagship production came to Petersfield and what happened behind the scenes.

He was the only town council worker allowed in the filming area with Cllr Chris Paige, Michelle Snow and Angela Tull, manning the Rose Room tea and coffee bar.

He said: “The BBC were over the moon with the facilities.

“On the day it was great. There was a great buzz in Festival Hall and it was such an honour and privilege to have it here.

“They brought in their own security team and I did my checks and all the hall management stuff. We also had three tiers of seating taken out but everything was done so efficiently.

“I went into the hall about half-way through the show through the side. I would say it’s one of the biggest events we’ve held, certainly one of the most prestigious, and judging by what the BBC said they would use us again in the future if needs be.”

BBC QT Petersfield Pic2
Fiona Bruce and guests get ready for the show (Phil Swan)

The ball started rolling early this year when the BBC called the town council saying they were looking for a venue in the Petersfield area. Once Festival Hall was identified, Phil and Michael Finch from the Green A-Team held talks with producers.

The crew brought their own rigging, lighting and production team on Wednesday morning and had everything in place a good day before it went live.

At 8pm on Thursday it was showtime, and by 11.10pm the BBC were on their way, with little indication the hall had hosted a major televisual event.

Around 150 people were lucky enough to get free tickets after passing the vetting process. Just four got the chance to ask a BBC-approved question, with the panel of Johnny Mercer, Annaliese Dodds, Peter Hitchens and George Monbiot obliging last Thursday.

And in the middle was Fiona Bruce with the presenter billing the “Hampshire market town of Petersfield” as a “Conservative stronghold” close to Hambledon. 

It’s safe to say the audience was not purely from Petersfield as Tilly Cromwell – who asked ‘Will the Rwanda bill cost the Conservatives the next general election?’ – is an Alton College student from the Bordon area.

Phil Swan in the Question Time hot sear (Phil Swan)

The askers of the second and final questions concerning Sir Keir Starmer and Covid were from outside the district, while Lisa Walker, who asked ‘What one single outcome would the panel like to see from COP28?’ is from Rowlands Castle.

But there were some familiar faces with a PeCAN member and current and former Shine Radio presenters in the mixed audience. Lisa didn’t really get the answer she was seeking, but called the experience “really intriguing and well organised”.

She added: “The Question Time team were extremely well co-ordinated and Fiona Bruce was extremely personable.

“She gave the audience a pep talk and threatened a backhand too as someone’s phone went off four times at the end.”