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Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Me and Mecca meet London's Mayor - Ken Livingstone!

What a fun evening. After much moaning at my friend Mecca Ibrahim for getting invited to the Ask Ken debate which (barring major wars, disasters and interest in Iain Duncan Smith - who?) will be broadcast on
ITV1 in the Carlton area at 7.30pm on Thursday 30th October, she managed to get an extra ticket to the recording for me.

Ticket Number 13

So we turned up at the South Bank Studios and signed into reception with other "special guests", which appeared to be a reasonable cross section of Londoners. Anoraks mixed with women in very smart suits and older women with copies of The Guardian plus some real inner city people talking about getting CCTV installed in their roads in an attempt to keep an eye on crime in their streets.

Mecca was shepherded in earlier than me as she had been primed to ask a question and then I joined in with the less privileged audience, but luckily managed to get a seat behind her.

Amazingly, there was a "warm up act" to warm us up. What a job! I've seen warm up acts for comedy shows but talking to the Mayor about transport, congestion charges and rising crime in London was not really a laughing matter, but nevertheless warm up man did a really good job.

Then Alastair Stewart, the host, came in and asked us to try to keep our questions short, and to try to say our names before we asked questions and to generally make a lot of noise of encouragement or dissent.

He recorded a promo for the programme with Ken Livingstone sitting in the background. Two versions were done, one mentioning Emmerdale (see us at 7.30 straight after Emmerdale) which somewhat belittled the seriousness of the debate, but this was ITV1 after all.

We then had the proper introduction and Ken walked in again with us having to pretend we'd never seen him before.

Ken Livingstone on the London Underground

Unfortunately, Mecca never got to ask her question. To be fair she kept putting her hand up lots of time and if you see an exasperated looking woman in a Mind the Gap T shirt in the studio audience - that's her.

However, some really interesting questions were asked. A woman sitting across the aisle from Mecca had been involved in the Chancery Lane accident in January and was asking questions about safety. An Asian lady told the awful story of her daughter who was gunned down and killed in London. People from various women's groups asked questions about rape and safety in London.

Others asked about compensation to small businesses due to loss of business caused by the congestion charging. The front row was full of older blokes and taxi driver asking awkward long winded questions and heckling ("Do you think we should bring back the birch?" asked one.) They seemed to be "professional audience debaters" as most of the crew at Carlton knew them by name.

The 45 minutes flew by and it came to the end of the show. It will be really interesting to see how much they use as the show will only be on for 25 minutes.

What time does it finish?

Mecca seemed a bit depressed that she wasn't able to ask her question, but never deterred, she started talking to the woman who had been involved in the Chancery Lane accident, dragged me over and asked if she'd mind being interviewed for GoingUnderground. The woman - Emma - was really happy to, so we all got talking as we left the studio.

"Are you coming up to the after show hospitality?", she asked. Me and Mecca, looked at each other (it was the first we had heard of it), "I don't see why not," Mecca replied so we trooped up with other privileged people to the 18th Floor of the South Bank studios to have beer, wine and sarnies and meet Ken Livingstone.

I spent time talking to Emma and her friend who is the chief reporter on the Guardian local newspaper group for Epping in Essex. He was really interested in goingunderground and this blog, so we had a good chat and he's going to send in some pictures of Emma plus some links to features she did for his papers.

In the meantime Mecca was talking to Ken Livingstone!

Could you resist this chest?

Publicity seeking hound that she is, she'd managed to catch Ken's eye by the massive "Mind The Gap" wording splashed across her chest and bold as brass she went over to him and asked him the question she was due to ask - which was basically:

"I've been on the tube and have heard drivers making announcements like "What part of Stand Clear of the Doors don't you understand" and "The Bakerloo line is running normally, so please expect delays to all destinations"." Then she told him that I'd been collecting these announcements for years and had he come across my website (he hadn't - D'OH) but true to form he came up with a funny announcement himself.

Ken's used to overcrowding and reading neighbour's paper

A driver had seen him getting on a tube and said "We'd all like to welcome Ken Livingstone to this train who is getting on carriage number five". Mecca then went on to say that it was frustrating that you sometimes got these really funny announcements but other times you heard nothing at all. So why was this?

According to Ken this is because the radio system from stations to driver's cabs is so rubbish and often takes such a long time to get through, that in most cases the drivers really don't know what is going on.

Not content with asking him that she told him about the book - One Stop Short of Barking she has just written and asked if he would be prepared to do a foreword for it. "Who's publishing it?" Ken asked. "New Holland a large general publisher who mainly publish travel books and have published loads of books on London" "When's it being published?", he continued. "Late summer/autumn next year" Mecca replied. "Mmm just when I'll be campaigning for my re-election". "Aah" Mecca said, "It's actually finished though and they will be going to proof in April 2004, so would you be able to do something by then?" Ken said yes, providing that Mecca or the publisher write something roughly for him and he will be able to personalise it and add his own touch.

So she got his business card and promised to send him something, gratefully said thanks, shook his hand and let him get mobbed by the next set of questioners.

We were truly amazed and spent the rest of the evening talking to the researchers from Carlton, the reporter from the Guardian series of local papers and other assorted people from the audience.

So although we didn't get to ask Ken a cutting question, we will shortly have an interview from someone who was on the Chancery Lane tube when it crashed. We'll be able to see there are real people behind all the stats and arguments about funding and safety and it should make an enlightening read.

; Posted by Unknown Tuesday, October 28, 2003 Permalink COMMENT HERE