This Tuesday I got to be in the audience for the BBC’s Mock The Week, which is recorded at the ITV Studios – go figure! I’ve never been in a TV audience before, so I was looking forward to what I hoped would be an amazing experience. And it was! And it was great to watch it back on BBC2 this evening as well. So I thought I’d tell you a bit about it, without giving away any secrets or spoilers for those who also want to go to the show.
It should be obvious, but I will make it clear that this post isn’t sponsored in any way by anyone involved with the show. Nobody’s asked me to do this, I just wanted to relate my experience.
I got my tickets through SRO Audiences, who have been wonderful. Applying for tickets was easy, they’re completely free, and if you do get a ticket, they are happy for you to email them to say that you need assistance. So with their added reassurance of help being available, I was really looking forward to it.
As I say, the shows are filmed at the iconic ITV London Studios on a road called Upper Ground, by the South Bank of the River Thames. If you’re familiar with the opening title sequences of programmes like Saturday Night Takeaway (which I’d also love to be in the audience for) or Good Morning Britain, then you’ll have seen it there.
The closest station to the studios is Waterloo – and I went there the weekend before my proper visit to look around the area and figure out a route using the maps on my phone. It is a bit of a maze when you’ve never been there before, as the station is huge, and outside it’s a very busy and densely built area. The ticket did mention an underpass from the station, but I didn’t know where that was, so I walked via street level instead. Exploring the station and the nearby streets did throw up one or two interesting sights, so it was worth the walk.
It was only when I came out of Mock The Week on Tuesday night, in fact, and followed everyone else back to the station, that I then discovered the underpass route. That was very handy to know about, especially as it was raining! The trick is to come out of the right exit from the Underground into the main concourse of the railway station, and use the exit to the left of the M&S Simply Food store (mmm… M&S food…), but if you’re not familiar with the station that’s easier said than done. Waterloo’s massive!
An alternative route is to go to Blackfriars station, which I actually tried on Tuesday night on my way to Mock The Week, as I had left myself plenty of time (thanks to taking a half-day off work). You have to cross the bridge from the station to get to the other side of the Thames, then you just follow the South Bank along, admiring the views of the river on the way, and within a few minutes you’ll spot the ITV Studios on your left. Just keep heading down the South Bank in that direction, and you’ll see an opening on the left leading directly to it. In some ways, that feels easier to me, as it feels more direct, compared to underpasses or navigating lots of streets at Waterloo. Getting to Blackfriars on the Tube is also a bit easier as well, as I don’t have to change lines.
Anyway, enough of the travelling – what of the experience at the studios itself? Well, the key thing is to get there EARLY. And I mean ridiculously early, like at LEAST an hour before the time you’re told the security checks will start. Even better, 90 minutes or longer. Seriously. Otherwise you might not get in. I got to the studios an hour before the opening time for Mock The Week, and already there was a long snaking queue there.
The important thing to remember is that they oversubscribe the tickets quite heavily, because they have to make sure the studio is full, and they have to allow for the fact that some people won’t turn up for whatever reason. So over-allocating tickets ensures there are no empty seats. Hence people turn up as early as they can to improve their chances of getting in. So if you leave it until just half an hour before, your chances are slim.
Even if you’re lucky enough to get a named seat (like I was because of my accessibility needs), it’s still not a guarantee of any sort. You will still lose out if all other seats have gone and there are other people in the queue ahead of you. If they name a seat for you, it simply means it’s held back for you until the last possible moment. Once all other seats have gone, it’ll be given to someone else if you weren’t in the queue early enough. Tough, but fair. I don’t blame them.
If you don’t get in, then you are given a Priority Ticket that does guarantee you entry to another show, basically allowing you to jump the queue with other Priority Ticket holders. So all is not lost in that sense. But obviously it’s disappointing to go all that way and not get in the first time, and the Priority Ticket might be for a different show altogether depending on what’s available.
So when you get there, you join the end of the queue by the black gates on the West side of the building (the left side when you’re facing the building from the Upper Ground road). There is a sign pointing to the audience entrance there, so it’s pretty obvious – especially when there’s a queue of people present as well!
Once the security checks start, the queue moves forward very quickly. I think they started a bit earlier than the stated time this week, because it was raining a bit and they didn’t want us hanging around in it for too long. But sometimes it could be a bit later if they’re not quite ready to let people in. Make sure you have photo ID with you at this point, just in case. The staff are all very friendly, welcoming and efficient, so there were no problems.
Because I had explained that I was visually impaired, an usher pesonally guided me in to the studio via a step-free route, making sure I didn’t trip over any cables on the studio floor – and then sat me in the very front row, which was a wonderful surprise! I figured they would sit me somewhere near the front, but to be there next to the cameras facing the stage was great. I was in the first seat at floor level to the right of the central steps. There were a few seats further to my left on the row behind me, between me and the central staircase, but the gap to the left of me was being used for cameras instead of chairs. I was sitting next to the autocue camera that Dara uses, until the cameraman took it away to get it set up later on. I did have to be a bit careful of cables when they were moving cameras around, moving my feet out of the way when necessary, but that was fine.
I did also see a wheelchair user come in with their companion, who was placed further along to my right on the front row, so I wasn’t the only disabled person there. Also, I didn’t tell them I was disabled until I knew my application had been successful. That’s because, when you get your ticket email, the lengthy instructions include a paragraph about access needs, and how to get in touch with them about it. It’s worth reading all the ticket instructions by the way, they’re important and useful.
The studio itself isn’t very big, but then it doesn’t need to be for this show. It still held a fair number of people though. And the temperature was quite cool in there as well, almost bordering on chilly to begin with while the doors were open to let people in. It’s quite strange seeing the Mock The Week studio in person too – even though I’ve watched it on TV so many times, being there in person naturally makes you look at it differently. For instance, there are little blue and red lights all along the top edge of the set that I’ve never noticed before, but I always will when watching the TV show now. You also get a better sense of how big the Mock The Week earth logo behind Dara is when he’s presenting. Subtle details like that are quite interesting to spot.
Without giving away what was said – as I don’t want to spoil things for people wanting to get tickets themselves – we were spoken to by the floor manager, then the warmup comedian, then the executive producer, all of whom were very nice and keen for us to enjoy ourselves. And then we got the great man himself, Dara Ó Briain. He was standing just a few steps in front of me at this point, which was really cool. It all helped to get the audience ready for the show, we were all keen to enjoy themselves by this point.
Dara then introduced the guests, and this week is definitely one of their best lineups. Some episodes can be a mixed bag where the guests are concerned, as is inevitable when you have different people each week, but this was a great selection as far as I’m concerned. Hugh Dennis was joined by Angela Barnes and Nish Kumar (I had a clear view of them directly ahead of me), while opposite were Romesh Ranganathan, Ed Byrne and Milton Jones (blocked from my view by a camera, but that didn’t matter, I could still hear them). Out of all of them, Ed Byrne is my favourite – with him and Dara being close friends, you’re always guaranteed good banter between them. And Angela Barnes was the one I’m least familiar with, having only seen her on this show a few times and nowhere else, but she is very good here.
During the rounds where they were all seated, I could partly see the stand-up Performance Area and the screen behind it where pictures are shown, but that bit of the stage was completely hidden by cameras when the comics were using it. Again though, that didn’t matter, as it’s all speech in those rounds. And even if I couldn’t clearly see the photos or video footage on the screen at other times, it quickly became obvious what it was as the panel discussed it.
So what I couldn’t see didn’t detract from the comedy at all, and watching it on TV on Thursday will help to fill in the gaps of course. There was a monitor not far away to the right of me, which was showing all the close-up shots, but I didn’t bother looking at that apart from a couple of quick glances out of curiosity. I was perfectly happy facing the stage directly. After all, I was facing the comedians, remember. Looking away from them would have seemed a bit unsociable from their perspective, and I was enjoying it.
I’m not going to describe the recording itself in detail, because it’s a special experience that you only get by being there, and I don’t want to spoil any behind the scenes secrets. Suffice to say, it lasted for a good couple of hours at least, and it absolutely flew by, it was brilliant. By my reckoning, no more than 10 minutes of that time was taken up by brief pauses to change camera positions or do retakes. And even in those short gaps the comedians are still keeping us entertained anyway. You can tell the production team are used to doing this too, as everything is very quick and efficient.
So they do record a lot of material, at least 3 or 4 times more than you see in the final edit. Every round is much longer than on TV, one or two rounds don’t get shown at all, and there are many topics covered that the audience at home won’t get to see. Some of the deleted scenes and outtakes may end up in the end of series compilation, but a lot of it was exclusive to us. And that’s why it’s so great seeing it live.
They record so much, of course, so they have plenty to choose from when editing the show down to half an hour. One of the criticisms I see for shows like this online is that the audience are laughing so much, and even applauding so many of the jokes, as if being forced or prompted to do so every time. That’s not true. The reason you hear the audience laughing and clapping so often on TV is simply because the editors have chosen a selection of the jokes that got the best reactions, simple as that.
The level of laughter does actually vary during the recording session, and that’s to be expected. A few jokes don’t get a laugh at all (although the comedian’s response to the silence often does), while a few others may only get a murmur or a ripple, or groans when they’re really corny, or a slow-build of laughter when a joke takes a moment for everyone to think about. And some jokes can get a bit repetitive if they’re covering similar ground, but then they naturally reduce that for the edit anyway. If anything, having repetitive jokes in the recording is good, as again they can pick the best ones.
But the overwhelming majority of the time, the jokes do hit the mark and get a big laugh – because they are professional comedians after all, it’s what they do. And it is only the very best jokes that get applause, an opinion purely decided by the audience in the spur of the moment. Our reactions inform the production team what stays and what goes.
So what you see on BBC2 is basically a ‘Best Of’ compilation of what happens on the night of the recording, which is as it should be. Indeed, having now watched the episode on TV, that’s definitely the case, it was a great show tonight. It’s really interesting to see how they’ve edited it together now that I’ve seen the show in it’s raw, uncut form. There are one or two jokes I predicted wouldn’t get in, and some that I’m disappointed didn’t make the final cut. There are also topics covered that have been dropped from the show in their entirety due to lack of time – and that in turn has meant that one or two running gags have also had to be cut, or trimmed down to a single standalone joke, which works just fine.
It does make you appreciate what the editors have to think about when chopping it down to just half an hour, there are some hard decisions I bet. It’s a shame they don’t do an extended version like Have I Got News For You does, as they could easily do a 45 minute edit. Still, some of the material will probably end up in the end of series compilation, or I certainly hope it does. There were some good jokes cut out!
And being able to see everything close-up from the camera’s point of view on TV has now enhanced my experience even further of course, filling in the gaps that I didn’t see clearly on the night. So it’s added to my already wonderful recollections of a wonderful evening. It’s a great episode, giving me great memories of a great night.
So it was well worth going, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. And if you’re a fan of the show, I highly recommend applying for tickets. Again, go to SRO Audiences for the details – here’s the direct link to their Mock The Week page. It may take a few attempts, or a lot – some people have to try for months or even years before they finally get in, while for others it’s instant, like it was for me. It’s completely random as far as I can tell. So don’t give up, it really is worth the effort!
And actually, that’s not the only show I have tickets for, amazingly. I’ve been extremely lucky to have two successful applications in my first attempt! So here’s hoping I get into the next show as well. I’m really looking forward to this one even more! 🙂