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From the bunker to the firing line in seven days

Chris Jackson | 12:00 UK time, Thursday, 26 August 2010

RAF Sea King helicopterIt's certainly been a varied seven days.

Last Friday I was the guest of the military at RAF Boulmer in Northumberland. The base is home to the famous yellow air-sea rescue helicopters of 202 squadron.

Perhaps less well known is the role it plays in our air defences. Deep underground is a bunker. Peering at screens are airmen and women watching not only over our aerial borders, but skies as far afield as Iceland and Scandinavia.

Originally it was built to spot and react to Russian incursions or attacks during the Cold War. Since 9/11 the observers keep an ever closer eye on aircraft movements within the UK.

This year we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

Spitfire taking offThe crews stationed at their high-tech screens beneath the Northumberland countryside are a 21st Century echo of the servicewomen pushing model aircraft around on 1940's maps while moustached officer types scramble spitfires to intercept.

The role is the same, only now you'll find women are barking the orders as well as the men.

Seven days later I'm out of the bunker and about to witness four individuals being put squarely in the firing line.

Radio 4's Any Questions is being broadcast from Newcastle's Assembly Rooms on Friday 27 August 2010.

I've been asked to do the warm-up. Not so much a comedy routine to break the ice, it's more of a practice session where the audience can fire questions at me.

I hope to offer a robust defence of the BBC should the need arise, but I will be wearing Kevlar underwear just in case. Although I've not been told this by the show's producers, I fear my job is to leave the audience scenting blood so they are hungry for the main course.

The assembled crowd will be feeding on a choice panel.

Of course it's normally pretty polite and with Eddie Mair in the chair I'm sure any probing will be done with the utmost courtesy.

You can hear the results on Radio 4 at 8pm or the repeat followed by Any Answers on Saturday 28 August 2010. Depending on how I did in the warm-up, I may be listening from a hospital bed.


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