For a unique and interesting experience in London, consider applying to be in the audience of a television show. It requires a spare afternoon or evening and a bit of patience.
If you’re not British, some of the shows can offer a real first-hand insight into some of the local culture. Best of all though, it is completely free!
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Quite Interesting – QI
Though I’ve now lived in Canada for 3.5 years, there are a couple of British TV shows I stream over the internet from time to time. Q.I is one of them.
Short for Quite Interesting, it is a BBC comedy panel show hosted by actor/writer/comedian Stephen Fry (most recently in the Hobbit amongst other things).
As explained on the QI website, the show’s objective is “to provide interesting information in a clear and cheerful manner so that people learn something without noticing it and feel a bit better about life afterwards.”
When we found out that the newest series of Q.I was being filmed in May, the month we happened to be visiting the UK, we were both pretty excited.
Yes, JR is also a fan of the series, though I have to say that probably around 10% of the British humour and references go over his head. Thinking about it, the longer I live away from the UK, the more I don’t completely understand either!
The day we had booked to see Q.I also happened to be the day that the UK Parliament opened in London. Deciding to skip the Tube and walk direct to the South Bank via the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben ended up to be quite an experience on its own.
Seemingly hundreds of armed police and helicopters were swarming the area as we passed through; I think we must have been missed the Queen by about 30 minutes.
A free comedy show in London
The show itself was fantastic! The filming lasted around 1h 45 and it felt like we were at a small, private comedy show. The episode was filmed in just one take – something we both found pretty impressive.
There were a number of pauses and sections that I can imagine being edited out without much thought, but all in all, it was pretty seamless. They only needed to one short re-take at the end, which I think was pretty unusual.
As was the organisation for the whole experience. Seeing behind the scenes, before, after and during the show was especially fascinating.
The number of people involved in the production was staggering for one thing; ushers, camera people, lighting crew, director, runners etc. I’ll never watch Q.I in the same way again for sure.
The amount of free places to see and things to do in London is extraordinary, and we managed to find yet another one!
The details: QI filming
The most important thing to know is that for most TV shows with audiences, you aren’t guaranteed entry. Being that these shows need a full audience, the organisers always oversubscribe tickets to make sure there are no empty seats.
Based on advice I found online, we arrived at The London Studios around two and a half hours before showtime. My research seemed to indicate that most people turn up two hours early; we found this to be correct. Shortly after we joined the queue, the line grew very quickly.
Around an hour into our wait, we were given numbered paper tickets by a staff member. At this stage, we knew we were in – our numbers were #85 and 86. The Q.I studio holds approximately 300-350 people.
It may sound funny to wait longer for the experience than for the actual experience itself, but the time went relatively quickly. We brought snacks and entertainment with us, and the weather was good. The studios allow audience members to use the toilets while waiting, so there are no problems on that front either.
The London Studios are conveniently located on the South Bank, very close to the London Eye and just across the Thames from the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. The recording started at 4pm and was finished by 6pm – perfect timing for finding a place for dinner or heading out of the city as we did!
Tickets for Q.I can be booked through Applause Store, along with many other television shows. We applied for two filmings of Q.I and were offered tickets for both. Not a bad success rate!
Looking to stay near the QI studios in London?
Premier Inn London County Hall – Great value
Park Plaza Westminster Bridge London – Highly rated on Booking.com
Point A Hotel London Westminster – Modern and well located
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