Farnborough Hill, a Catholic school in Hampshire, hosted the BBC Radio 4 programme Any Questions? on March 9.
The live radio show, which debates current news stories, was chaired by Jonathan Dimbleby and included a prestigious group of panellists, among them high-profile Catholic journalist and writer Cristina Odone.
The school hall was filled to capacity. After a warm-up by the show’s producer Victoria Wakely, a former Farnborough Hill pupil, those in the audience whose questions had been selected were called forward. The atmosphere was electric as the 8.02pm broadcast time approached and Jonathan Dimbleby introduced the show, describing Farnborough Hill and its stunning 65-acre school site.
During the evening Communities Secretary,
Eric Pickles MP, Shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry, Cristina Odone and Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland answered questions posed by the audience of over 400 people from the local community. The panellists debated the continuing loss of life and war in Afghanistan. Following
a heated debate which explored whether Britain sees itself as the world’s policeman or the world’s ambassador and role model, Jonathan Dimbleby asked the audience for a show of hands to judge opinion as to whether Britain and America should accelerate their withdrawal from Afghanistan, the overwhelming majority believing that it should.
Another question asked during the evening led to a debate on the panel’s response to the Government’s proposal to allow same-sex marriage, a topic on which Cristina Odone, a previous editor of The Catholic Herald, holds strong views. She defended the Church’s position but, it has to be said, received no support from her fellow panellists.
The live broadcast was not the only forum for political debate at Farnborough Hill on Friday. In a similar format to the popular radio show, the sixth form quizzed local County Councillor John Wall (Con), and Rushmoor Borough Councillors Keith Dibble (Lab) and Crispin Allard (Lib Dem) on a range of topics with questions ranging from “where do you draw the line between unpaid work experience and slave labour”? to “who, other than the English government, will benefit from Scottish independence”? After a thoroughly entertaining and educational afternoon, the scene had been set for Jonathan Dimbleby to introduce his show from the school hall.
Sarah Buckle, headmistress of Farnborough Hill, said: “We were delighted to be able to host the Radio 4 team and it was exciting to hear Jonathan Dimbleby mention the school in his introduction.
It was fascinating for the students and staff to see the preparation that surrounds such an event and for those lucky enough to have tickets, it was an excellent opportunity to experience fiery, informed debate. The fact we could welcome Cristina Odone to the school was an added bonus.”