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Any Questions at railway museum derailed by modern trains

Chris Jackson | 09:10 UK time, Saturday, 16 April 2011

The Mallard steam train

At least the Mallard had made it to Shildon.

It's not often the BBC has to pull out of a live broadcast. However last night there really was no choice.

As you'll see from my last posting on the blog I was all ready to meet an audience of eager Radio 4 listeners in the impressive surroundings of the National Railway Museum site at Shildon in County Durham.

I was to do the warm up for Any Questions. Even before I set off from the Pink Palace in Newcastle I had got wind that an incident on the East Coast Main Line at Sandy was causing delays.

"Hmm" I thought that might make the guests arrival a little close to the wire, but then they are supposed to be at the venue two hours before the actual broadcast. It would be fine.

When I arrived however a producer, who was exceptionally calm in the circumstances, was taking a call from three of the panel all stuck on the same train. They'd got past the earlier problem, but were now stranded at Grantham where signal failure had brought the line to another halt.

Being movers and shakers - among them a government minister - they had unilaterally decided to abandon the train and commandeer a taxi.

Their spirit was admirable, though their chances of making it in time were slim. 140 miles with 120 minutes to go.

It might have helped plan B: Abandon the Friday transmission but record the show late and play it out in its repeat slot on Saturday lunchtime. That way the follow-up programme Any Answers could also go ahead.

Sadly Friday rush hour and motorway roadworks all conspired to scupper even that.

Host Jonathan Dimbleby who ironically had managed to jet in to Shildon from La Paz of all places had to inform a disappointed audience that their chance to grill the panel would have to wait until another day.

Radio 4 listeners were treated to a rather fascinating substitute programme comparing 'Any Questions' with its US counterpart 'Town Meeting' in the 1950's - it's on the iPlayer if you fancy catching it.

Surrounded by glorious steam engines such as the Mallard one could only raise an ironic smile, that despite all the advances in public transport and technology, there will always be delays and cancellations.

The one panellist who made it took it all in good heart. I'm not sure about the other three who never made it to Shildon in the end. I think the Minister for Employment might be ringing the Minister for Transport on Monday morning.


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