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Not reviewing in any official capacity on this occasion, just relaying my experience of being an audience member at a large scale event, the event being the annual BBC Food and Farming award ceremony which forms part of the BBC Good Food Show Winter in Birmingham.

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the colourful stage set prior to the start of the BBC Food and Farming Awards 2012

I registered, sometime ago, with BBC Audience – this is a BBC show marketing outlet which, after one registers, automatically provides notification (via email) of opportunities coming up to ‘be in an audience’. Anyone can register, tickets are requested and names enter a random draw. One can attend, by chance admittedly, BBC shows that are happening nationwide, though most are recorded in London. Events such as quiz and comedy shows, musical tours and concerts, and live shows like Strictly Come Dancing and award ceremonies like this one, recorded on Wednesday 28th November in the Super Theatre at the NEC.

Firstly, this is the first BBC Audience show I have attended – ever, but not my first time at the NEC. I have never attended anything at the NEC when the weather has been warm, so, rightly or wrongly, I decide to walk to my destination after parking up, rather than ride on a shuttle bus. I choose to use the time spent tripping down the subway and walking around the edge of vast car parks, to focus the mind. Nevertheless, I invariably arrive at the ‘Halls’ windswept, red nosed and watery eyed, and slightly confused as to procedural matters. So I was bemused when the attendant took my ticket and asked how I managed to get in! Apparently I should have entered the building ‘along-a-bit.’ All seemed rather a big deal!

Anyway, I was in the exhibition hall of BBC Good Food Show, approaching the stalls on the perimeter, yet maintaining a non-participating distance. Immediately familiar with the format and the buzz, thinking how exhausting it can be, not just for those involved but for those visiting too. Resisting the urge to forget the reason that I’d come along in favour of sampling a few niceties.

So I made my way to the Super Theatre, which is cloaked in black curtains and cordoned off so no-one gets a free view. Young volunteers were a little unsure about giving out directions, whilst the chief organiser shouted out bossy requests. Large and long barriers marked out the route to the entrance doors of the auditorium – closed to us, at this moment in time, with staff busying themselves with last minute preparations within. I was pleased I had arrived in good time as information I’d received indicated it is the best course of action, as a seat is not necessarily guaranteed. A short queue had already formed; so I tagged on, but then so did many, many more, that after 20 minutes or so of waiting around another official ordered that we fill up the gap at the top end rather than continuing to stand in an orderly line, so to allow others at the back to move forward. He said we’d all get in.

The people who had been at the front of the queue almost ran forward in a surge, to be the first through the door, but from a new position. It was unbelievably important to them. A few were very irate, others started moaning and groaning. The original organiser returned and looked puzzled as to why we had all repositioned. While addressing us, he appeared to lack patience and sincerity in his crowd management, as if the behavioural responses of the public in these kinds of circumstances were all too familiar and tediously predictable.

That’s life, and it is never easy managing the public, but the organiser, his team and the NEC staff should never deem the herding of people in this way, on these types of occasions, acceptable. As, when the doors were eventually opened, I found I had to literally shuffle forward (not walk) as we were all squashed together and I was thinking that I wished I’d not come. Even worse, once we had entered the auditorium one of the ushers was booming out the message that those with ‘free tickets’ were to make their way to the very back and to take seats up there. Well in defence of those with so called free tickets, we had made our way to the event from far and wide (was a 50 mile round trip for me for instance) and took time out of their day to do so, each and every one of us present by invitation of the BBC, and, whichever way you look at it, all had a hefty car parking charge to pay on our departure. I think it was a bit rich to try to create a two-tiered seating arrangement that favoured those holders of Good Food Show tickets. .

I hasten to add the ceremony itself was enjoyable viewing, was interesting and inspirational, and, visually and technically speaking, extremely masterful.

I invite comment and feedback about all that which I write here.

A note about the Show
The Food Programme is BBC Radio 4’s long running series which celebrates the best of British food from farm to table. The annual BBC Food and Farming Awards is advocated by the show. This year the ceremony was hosted, professionally and engagingly, by the radio show’s broadcasters’ Sheila Dillon and Valentine Warner. The award’s event was aired yesterday Friday 30th November at 12pm. The recording remains accessible on the website, along with many topical features and stories, both personal and professional of the finalists and the winners of the nine categories. Categories: Best Food Producer, Best Street Food or Takeaway, Best Food Market, Best Public Caterer, Big Food Idea, Best Drinks Producer, ‘You and Yours’ Best Local Food Retailer, The Derek Cooper Award, BBC Farmer of the Year.

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