Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Free audience tickets for TV recordings


If you fancy an evening of entertainment, for free, then one great way of doing this is by being in the audience for a TV recording. Many TV shows are recorded in front of a live audience and in the vast majority of cases the tickets for the audience members were given away free. Christine and I have been to a couple of recordings ourselves, and I have some knowledge to impart on the subject.

1. Find out where to get tickets

There are a number of different companies and organisations that offer tickets. Sometimes this is the broadcaster or the production company itself, but more often that not a third-party company will provide the audience and there are a number of such companies that operate in the UK.

They will list the shows that they are currently offering tickets for; you may also find that you can join a waiting list for tickets for their more popular shows, even if they are not due to be recorded for some time (remember that some shows are recorded as much as 6 months in advance of transmission).

The main ones to look at are:

  • BBC Shows – for TV and radio programmes made by the BBC themselves
  • Applause Store – for big shows like X-Factor, Big Brother, but also shows like QI as well.
  • TV Recordings – some smaller shows like Russell Howard’s Good News and Not Going Out
  • SRO Audiences – generally used for Channel 4 shows like 8 Out Of 10 Cats and 10 O’Clock Live
  • Lost in TV – game shows like Superstar, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire
  • Hat Trick Productions – Have I Got News For You, The Kumars and Room 101

Many of these let you sign up to an email list, so that you are notified when tickets become available for new shows.

2. Most shows are recorded in London

London has more TV studios than the rest of the UK so the majority of recordings take place there. This is great if you live near London but a bit of a pain for us Northerners. You will find some in Birmingham, Manchester and Salford from time to time though.

3. The tickets are not for resale (so don’t buy or sell them)

Because the tickets are free, some people try and sell them on sites like eBay for a quick buck. Don’t do this – if the company offering the tickets finds out, you’ll find the tickets cancelled and you may be barred from future recordings. And, if you buy tickets this way, don’t be surprised to find yourself turned away if the tickets were cancelled, leaving you out of pocket.

4. You need to get there early

By early, I mean at least an hour or more before the doors open. This may seem extreme but empty seats in an audience looks bad, so the audience companies offer more tickets than there are seats, to compensate for no-shows. Unfortunately, should everybody turn up, if you’re at the back of the queue you may be turned away if all of the seats are already full.

For this reason, I’d advise against making special trips to places just to be in the audience. It’s happened to me before.

On the plus side, if you do turn up but the recording is already full, generally you will be put on a ‘priority list’ for a future recording.

If you do get in, then be prepared to wait around for some time before the recording starts – so bring something to read if you’re easily bored.

5. If you can’t go, let the audience company know

When you book tickets in advance, there’s always a chance that, nearer the time, something crops up which means you can’t make it. In this case, contact the company that issued the tickets, tell them that you can’t make it and ask them to re-allocate the tickets. Whilst I mentioned earlier that these companies do compensate for no-shows, by surrendering your unused ticket, you may give somebody else on a waiting list a chance to go instead. Plus, it keeps you in good standing with the audience company – if you don’t show up, then they may decide that you’re an unreliable guest and you will be less likely to get tickets in future – especially for the more popular shows.

6. If you attend regular shows, you may get priority tickets

If you build up a good reputation with a particular company, by showing up on time regularly (and surrendering unused tickets), you may be issued with ‘priority tickets’. This means you’ll be let into the studio first and will probably get the best seats, and often allows you to jump the queue. However, it’s still not a guaranteed seat, and generally you will have to turn up even earlier.

7. Don’t expect to be treated like a paying customer

When you pay to attend an event, you will have some expectations, such as comfortable seats and being treated nicely by staff. The opposite applies here – by attending on a free ticket, you are doing the programme makers a favour. You may find that you’re sat on an uncomfortable wooden set, and you will be expected to follow the instructions given to you by staff at the event. In particular, this includes turning off your mobile phone during the recording (in case there’s interference with radio microphones), keeping quiet when you’re told and also laughing or applauding when required. Hopefully the show will be enjoyable, but if you’re at a comedy recording your role is to laugh at the jokes regardless of how funny (or otherwise) they are.

8. To get tickets to the big shows, you may need to go to smaller ones

The bigger sites like Applause Store are contracted to find audiences both for the big, popular shows, and for new, less-exciting-sounding shows. To encourage people to go to these new shows, you may be offered a deal – go to relatively unknown show X, and get priority tickets to big show Y. Whilst this could mean sitting through a rubbish game show to be broadcast during the daytime on a little-watched digital channel, you will be doing the audience company a favour and so they will be more likely to offer you the chance to see the bigger shows.

9. Tickets for the big shows go quickly

And by quickly I mean within hours. A show like Have I Got News For You will fill up all of its audience seats for a whole series in less than a day, so join Hat Trick’s email list to find out what time the tickets go on sale, and then get them as soon as you can.

10. It takes longer to record a show than it does to broadcast

A half hour TV show may take nearly two hours to record – what you see on TV is the edited highlights. Before the recording starts, there is usually a warm-up act, and at the end of the recording, any bits that didn’t tape properly or were missed out will be re-recorded. Live recordings will fill the allotted time, of course, but bearing in mind that most recordings are done in the evening, it’s probably best not to plan to do anything afterwards. Also, make sure you eat something before, or whilst you are queueing, if you would otherwise miss a mealtime or you’re concerned at the prospect of not eating something for three-to-four hours.

One Comment

  1. When I went to the Have I Got News For You recording in March 2010, we were there over 2 hours in advance in pouring rain, but managed to get in. People that arrived half an hour later (i.e. 1.5 hours in advance) didn’t. .

    I also went to the Penn and Teller Fool Us recording in Wembley, they had a system where early arrivals arrived, showed proof (i.e. the invitation email) and got a wristband and told to come back 20 minutes before the filming: giving you a chance to get a drink or something instead of standing (yep, no seating for the queues at either venue) for several hours.