By Jacquie Rogers, freelance events/venue manager
On a Sunday afternoon at 2pm. I join two million other like minded souls basking in post prandial bliss of the Sunday roast to enjoy another great British institution.
It’s time for Radio 4’s Gardeners Question Time or GQT as the programme is known to its followers.
Hang on? A radio programme on a subject matter that is to all intents and purposes should be visual? How does that work? Questions and discussions around flowers, vegetables, shrubs and trees are more suited to the medium of television surely?
Despite the competition from numerous gardening programmes on our screens, GQT retains a devoted following.
Early March and the conference hall at Stoneleigh Park is hosting The Edible Food and Good Life Show, offering everything and anything for the gardener or small holder, from irrigation systems to stacking tiers for potato growers. A livestock area with pigs, goats and chickens bemused by their surroundings sits next to a demonstration area designed educate us if we should wish, on pig handling or how to milk your goat.
It is also the venue for GQT and with 45 minutes to go before recording starts, the conference hall is already full. For this particular show, tickets are allocated on a lottery basis although the host venue can opt to charge.
The radio programme itself comes literally out the back of a (BBC) van requiring only a platform and 200 seats from the venue. Two branded GQT drapes for the top tables, a solitary pop-up and a sound system accompany two sound engineers and a BBC admin assistant.
The panel today is James Wong, Christine Walkden and Pippa Greenwood.
For those unaccustomed to the format, the panel is literally put on the spot and responds to questions submitted by the audience.
In a world of rehearsals and repeat preparation, where practice, in our eyes, makes perfect, it’s astonishing to discover that questions from the audience are submitted only minutes before the show is recorded.
GQT keeps it simple. The panel literally have to think on their seats and Christine Walkden endorsed the fact, telling me that ‘No, we don’t have a clue what’s coming at us’.
Now there is the magic! In my second year of studying horticulture, I know only too well how much there is to know and how much more there is to learn. Horticulture is a vast subject alongside being a great leveller, appealing to all walks of life whether you have acres of land or just a window box.
As a seasoned events professional I am amazed by the simplicity of the set up, the low costs involved, the enormous coverage that hosting the event affords. The presenter repeatedly name checks the venue and the event, not something you usually benefit from when hosting large scale events in my experience.
Suddenly an air of anticipation is tangible. The show is about to start and my question, submitted only 15 minutes ago, has been chosen. More than accustomed to public speaking I am suddenly nervous as a kitten.
Attendees have arrived with diseased plants and phallic veg that would make the old That’s Life team squeal with delight.
An hour later, it’s a wrap and the show draws to a close.
The GQT event arrived with minimal ceremony, and low maintenance requirements; there are no egos here. GQT is an events person’s dream, self contained requiring little input. An event that could really capitalise on its success but appears to choose not to?
GQT is an event ripe for television yet the medium of radio seems to suit it well. It seems to take the attitude that if something works and you get great results, whether that’s growing plants or imparting horticultural knowledge, why try harder?