Page last updated at 09:25 GMT, Thursday, 15 October 2009 10:25 UK

About the programme

David Dimbleby
David Dimbleby has hosted the programme since the mid 1990s

In the years since it was first broadcast on 25 September 1979, Question Time has become something of a national institution, offering British voters a unique opportunity to quiz top decision-makers on the events of the day.

David Dimbleby is the current host of the programme, building on the authority and approachability of his predecessors, Sir Robin Day and Peter Sissons.

Each year, some 30,000 members of the public apply to join the debate by being in the studio audience.

The panels are drawn from significant figures in politics as well as industry, the media and entertainment.

But at the heart of Question Time is the audience - both in the studio and at home.

Programme recording

All the questions are chosen from those suggested by the TV studio audience who each suggest a question when they arrive for the recording.

A handful are chosen and those selected get to ask the question to camera on the programme. The politicians are not told what questions to expect, but they know to be well prepared on the main political stories of the day and of the week.

The programme is recorded in front of a live audience from around 2030 each Thursday.

The reasons for not broadcasting live at 2235 are to limit inconvenience to spectators and guests - enabling them to appear on the programme at locations across the country and still return to their homes at a reasonable hour - and therefore maximise the number of leading politicians and political commentators willing to take part.

The recording is done in a single take, precisely as if it were broadcast live. Some exchanges occasionally have to be edited out for legal or taste/decency reasons.

Any text messages sent in when the programme goes out at 2235 are live responses to the guests' remarks as they are broadcast. The subsequent text exchanges on Ceefax and red button are also live. Guests are not warned in advance about questions to be asked.

The programme is also available for everyone on the internet in the UK. You can watch each programme by clicking on the Previous Episodes link on the top left-hand side of the page.

For the television audience, live subtitles are available. For analogue TV, these can be found on Ceefax page 888.

Subtitles are also available on all digital TV platforms. Use your remote control to make them appear: press the Subtitles button if there is one, or go to the set-up menu and select 'Subtitles' (usually found under 'Languages').

Text your comments to 83981
Read comments on Ceefax and red button page 155

Text debate

You can take part in the debate during the programme by sending us a text message. The number is 83981.

A selection of viewers' comments appear during the programme on Ceefax and red button page 155, which allows you to continue watching the programme while messages appear across the foot of your TV screen.

Also you can find out who is on the panel as well as the topic of the question under debate.

Each week, the programme receives up to 5,000 viewer comments.

A team of journalists at TV Centre sorts and selects messages as they arrive and publishes as many of them as possible.

Because of the time delay between sending a text message and it arriving on the BBC's computers, the programme is usually under way for a few minutes before the first text comments appear on screen.

Please note, the BBC reserves the right to edit your messages.

Twitter debate

Recently, another live debate has developed around the programme on Twitter, the micro-blogging site.

Twitterers exchange messages live during the programme by inserting the hashtag #bbcqt in their messages.

Unlike the texting platform, the Twitter debate is neither run nor moderated by the BBC.

You can also follow messages from the programme on its Twitter account: @bbcquestiontime.

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