I can’t remember how many times I’ve recommended applying for tickets to be part of a TV or radio audience as the way to the ultimate free night out. I started doing it as a student in the first flush of enthusiasm for life in the big city and vaguely remember lining up outside the BBC to watch some particularly lame comedy shows being recorded for Radio 4.
Since then I’ve included a mention of them in every “How to save money and still have a life” piece I’ve ever written – watch out for yet another mention in this year’s Christmas issue.
But it wasn’t until last night, thanks to my daughter, Cleo, who actually applied for the tickets online, that I managed to be part of a real-life TV studio audience. Yes, if you look very very carefully you may catch sight of us near the back row of tonight’s Graham Norton Show on BBC 1. Yes, we were there, oohing and ahhing and cheering for his guests Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson and (not so well known that he doesn’t require a proper introduction) Luke Evans, the star of Dracula Untold.
The show itself was wonderful – as was Graham Norton who was his usual intimate conspiratorial razor-sharp self, but this time it felt as if we were really being allowed in to share the joke as he bounced round the stage welcoming us into the cavernous glossy studio as if we were close friends who had just dropped by his office for lunch. The interviews were far more natural and fluent than I had expected – with no obvious fluffs or breaks. It was a bit like eavesdropping at a particularly great party without the grief of dressing up and attempting to sparkle yourself, albeit with cameras swooping above, below and around them like benevolent alien spaceships.
It was all the more fun because we so nearly didn’t get in. One thing I had completely forgotten was the series of hoops you have to jump through to actually get a seat. Firstly there is the lottery of applying online for a ticket. Once you’ve cleared that particular hurdle you have to turn up early enough to be in with a chance of getting a seat (they always give out far too many to be assured of a full house). In my case I got there at 4.30pm, plenty of time until the doors opened at 6.15pm. Cleo couldn’t leave work till 5pm and still had to make the half hour journey across town but I was confident I was early enough to ensure our places. But we reckoned without the cherubic but unmovable steward on the door, or the mysterious separate queue next to us, where everyone was looking particularly relaxed – not stressed out and constantly on the phone like our queue.
I soon found out why as our angel with a clipboard came down our line ticking off names on his list as his colleague dispensed numbered wristbands. “Can I have one for my daughter,” I asked. “She’s on her way.” “No, she’ll have to join the back of the queue when she gets here,” he said firmly, moving swiftly on. The queue disappeared as everyone was given a wristband but was almost immediately replaced with a new one as more people arrived. Again the wristbands came out and the queue disappeared as they were handed out. Soon I was back at the front of the queue again waiting hopefully, without Cleo who was still on the bus, to be given an extra wristband. “She’ll still have to go to the back of the queue,” he said, recognising me. Ten minutes later, I was back at the front, feeling about as welcome as Wile E Koyote. The cherub gave me a look that said, ”You again?” before I was rescued by a young man who was in exactly the same position as me – gnawing his nails to the quick waiting for his husband to get there from work. “If he doesn’t get in she can have my wristband,” he said, “Come on – let’s start our own queue!” And so we did – where we spent half an hour of nail-biting tension as the queue opposite was allowed in first and then we were let in ten by ten wondering whether my Cleo and his husband, with ticket numbers of 544 and 600 odd would get into the “500-600 seat” venue.
We needn’t have worried – like all good comedy dramas involving Hugh Grant it all worked out in the end and all four of us ended up beaming and sighing at the man himself from the back. Enjoy the show!
Posted by Amanda Blinkhorn