Who is favourite to be the new host of Question Time?

Ben Dowell takes a look at the runners and riders for the coveted post which becomes vacant when David Dimbleby steps down in December

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 05:  Emily Maitlis addresses students at the Cambridge Union Society on October 5, 2015 in Cambridge, England.  (Photo by Chris Williamson/Getty Images)

The new host of Question Time is to be decided in unusual fashion – with an open audition.

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James Allen’s Girls School, a private educational establishment in Dulwich, south London is understood to be the venue for the contest on Sunday 7th October and Monday 8th October.

There the hopefuls aiming to succeed David Dimbleby will be tried out in front of a real audience. Real politicians will also be on the panel and the exercise will be filmed but not broadcast, sources have indicated.

As RadioTimes.com revealed in July, the BBC has already drawn up a shortlist of mainly female candidates with Kirsty Wark and Emily Maitlis thought to be leading the race for the coveted post. Other contenders are believed to be Emma Barnett and the sole man thought to be in with a shout – Today presenter Nick Robinson.

Who is likely to take the hot seat? Our insiders guide looks at the hot favourites – and what they may have to offer.


Emily Maitlis

Emily Maitlis

The 48-year-old BBC presenter works across a range programmes and has presented a number of editions of Newsnight lately. 

What are her advantages?

The BBC regard Maitlis very highly and are keen to give her more work, say sources, especially after she became embroiled in the row over BBC pay last year when it was revealed that she was not on the list of people earning £150,000 or more.

Even before the pay scandal broke, it’s believed that BBC bosses floated the possibility of an hour-long 10pm news bulletin – with Maitlis sharing presenting duties with Huw Edwards. However, this idea, which was mooted 18 months ago, was quietly dropped. The BBC declined to comment when asked about this. But such moves are a sign of the esteem in which she is held at the Corporation.

What are her disadvantages?

How to solve a problem like Emily? The BBC has always rated Maitlis but never really known quite what do with her. Now it may have hit upon the answer with the departure of Evan Davis as lead presenter on Newsnight. Maitlis is seen as a very strong candidate to become his successor – something that would almost certainly rule her out of fronting Question Time. But one source said that the “Question Time job is hers if she wants it”.


Kirsty Wark

CANNES, FRANCE - JUNE 19: Kirsty Wark speaks onstage during the Edelman session at the Cannes Lions Festival 2018 on June 19, 2018 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Richard Bord/Getty Images for Cannes Lions)

The Scottish-based presenter started working on Newnsight in 1993 and is widely-respected in the industry

What are her advantages?

As well as her obvious skills as a seasoned broadcaster, 63-year-old Wark lives in Glasgow, where production on Question Time is based.

“It’s not a big factor but it’s a factor – she definitely has the skills and gravitas for a role like this,” said an informed source close to the recruitment process. “Emily Maitlis getting Newsnight and Kirsty getting Question Time looks like a pretty good bet to me at this stage.”

What are her disadvantages?

There aren’t many – and Wark is thought to have a very good chance at landing the role. She is the oldest candidate in the running – but with her predecessor retiring aged 79, that doesn’t seem to be much of a factor.


Julie Etchingham

The General Election on ITV ITV LEADERS DEBATE Thursday May 18th 2017 on ITV PICTURED: JULIE ETCHIGHAM Tom Bradby, Julie Etchingham and Robert Peston will lead ITV's General Election coverage in a series of programmes in the run up to election day, throughout the night after the polls close, and into June 9th. Anchored by Tom Bradby or Julie Etchingham, ITV News at Ten will be extended by 10 minutes each weekday from May 8th and ITVÕs Peston on Sunday will have a series extension, with programmes through to June 25th. Presented by Julie Etchingham, ITV will broadcast primetime half-hour Tonight programmes ahead of the election. These Tonight Election Specials - starting with Tim Farron on May 8th, followed by further films featuring interviews with Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, Paul Nuttall, as well as Nicola Sturgeon, Leanne Wood and Caroline Lucas - will focus on the leaders covering their lives, interests, policies and their vision for the future. ITV has broadcast major LeadersÕ Debate programmes during the past two General Elections, making broadcasting history in 2010 with the first TV debate, and airing the only seven party LeadersÕ Debate in 2015. Both debates were respectively the highest rating current affairs programmes in the years they were broadcast. The 2015 ITV LeadersÕ Debate attracted a peak audience of 7.4 million (a 33% share of viewing), and averaged 7 million viewers (a 31% share of viewing) across the programme. The largest academic study on the 2015 debates* found that they had reached sections of the population least likely to be touched by the rest of the campaign - including younger and first time voters. ITV will again broadcast a major debate programme in 2017, inviting the leaders of the seven parties that were represented in the 2015 ITV LeadersÕ Debate Ð the Conservatives, Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrats, UKIP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens. The ITV LeadersÕ Debate will air on Thursday May 18th at 8pm, and will be moderated by ITV News anchor Julie Etchingham. As in the previous two General Election debates, leaders will have the opportunity to make short opening statements at the beginning of the programme and closing statements at the conclusion of the debate. During the live debate, the leaders will have the opportunity to each in turn answer questions that are asked direct by members of the studio audience, before the floor is opened up to a period of free flowing debate. © ITN Photographer Guy Levy For further information please contact Peter Gray 0207 157 3046 peter.gray@itv.com This photograph is © ITN and can only be reproduced for editorial purposes directly in connection with the programme or ITV. Once made available by the ITV Picture Desk, this photograph can be reproduced once only up until the Transmission date and no reproduction fee will be charged. Any subsequent usage may incur a fee. This photograph must not be syndicated to any other publication or website, or permanently archived, without the express written permission of ITV Picture Desk. Full Terms and conditions are available on the website www.itvpictures.com

An ITV newscaster since 2008, Etchingham also presents Tonight, replacing Trevor McDonald in 2010.

What are her advantages?

She impressed BBC bosses with her handling of the ITV Election Debates in 2015 and is seen as a good candidate. According to sources, the BBC has already approached her.

What are her disadvantages?

As RadioTimes.com reported in July she was on the shortlist and is still thought to be a candidate. However, interest is understood to have tailed away, sources say, as Maitlis and Wark have emerged as the frontrunners.


Emma Barnett

emma barnett

Barnett works as a BBC 5 Live presenter and occasional presenter of Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 as well as a newspaper columnist.

What are her advantages?

In her early 30s, Barnett is the coming person with youth on her side and it would be hoped that she might attract a younger audience to Question Time. Skilled and accomplished she has a steady nerve under fire, an agile mind and excellent presenting skills.

What are her disadvantages?

BBC sources say she may lack the experience for a bear pit show like Question Time. “Her day will come but maybe not just now,” said our source.


Nick Robinson

CHELTENHAM, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 10: Nick Robinson, BBC Political Editor, at the Cheltenham Literature Festival on October 10, 2015 in Cheltenham, England. (Photo by David Levenson/Getty Images)

The BBC’s former political editor, Robinson, who turns 55 in October, is one of the presenters on Radio 4’s Today programme

What are his advantages?

A smart and savvy operator with a commanding knowledge of British politics, he has reached grandee status at the BBC.

What are his disadvantages?

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In the current climate, it seems unlikely that the BBC will plump for a man, especially one in his mid-50s. “It would look like a backward step,” says our source.