Press Gazette readers have overwhelmingly voted that Fiona Bruce “smashed” her first appearance as host of BBC Question Time last night.
Bruce became the first female host in the programme’s history, replacing David Dimbleby who stepped down after 26 years in the hotseat.
In a poll on Press Gazette’s Twitter, completed by more than 100 people, three-quarters said Bruce had “smashed it”, while 15 per cent said the programme seemed the same as before and 9 per cent did not like her presenting style (statistics correct at the time of writing).
What did you think of Fiona Bruce's debut as BBC Question Time host?
— Press Gazette (@pressgazette) January 11, 2019
She has been praised by critics for the “impressive debut” and described as “cool, informed, and in command”.
Bruce admitted in an interview with the Telegraph that she was feeling apprehensive about the programme, saying: “I have not felt this nervous in a long time, but I know that if I am nervous that isn’t helpful.
“If people think you are nervous then that isn’t a comfortable watch.”
But critics praised her “calmness and clarity” as she moderated a panel comprising deputy Conservative chairman James Cleverley, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry, deputy Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson, Times columnist Melanie Phillips and comedian Nish Kumar in Islington.
Brexit dominated Bruce’s first episode, which also featured a lively discussion of knife crime in the capital.
She had promised to show more of her “opinionated, feisty, argumentative” side than she does on Antiques Roadshow or presenting BBC News.
In last night’s programme, she memorably pressed Cleverly on the Government’s plan B if its Brexit deal is not passed, asking: “Does anybody have any idea what plan B is? Literally anybody?”
After deeming he had not answered the question, Bruce added: “I just asked you ‘what is your plan?’ You said ‘I’m going to tell you what plan B is’ but I don’t know”, she said, turning to the audience, “have I missed it?”
Fiona Bruce has been praised on social media for her first @bbcquestiontime
(no prizes for guessing which topic dominated the debate)
— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) January 11, 2019
Writing in the Guardian, Mark Lawson described Bruce as a “fresh face in a tired format”.
“The new presenter felt fresh and effective, but the BBC should have taken advantage of the succession to shake up the structure as well, and Bruce can only truly be judged when she has some non-Brexit subject matter,” he said.
The Telegraph gave the programme four stars out of five as TV writer Michael Hogan said Bruce “brought calmness, clarity and even some dry wit to her impressive debut”.
He wrote: “…this was a highly promising inaugural episode. Authoritative when she needed to be, sceptical of flim-flam, with a twinkle in her eye.
“At a time when political discourse is becoming hysterical and rather rabid, Bruce could be the beacon of reason that the programme needs.”
And in The Herald in Scotland, senior politics and features writer Alison Rowat described Bruce as “cool, informed, and in command” and “the Daily Mail where her predecessors had been the Telegraph”, although she added that the presenter has “yet to settle on a QT tone of her own”.
However Daily Mail columnist Jim Shelley was more critical, saying Bruce had “gamely tried” but “always looked like someone playing the part of a Question Time presenter – not the real thing”.
On social media, the tone was largely positive from many journalists and experienced TV presenters like Jonathan Ross and Dermot O’Leary. Below are some of the reactions shared on Twitter:
Fiona Bruce is doing an amazing job on #questiontime
— Jonathan Ross (@wossy) January 10, 2019
'If this is the Govt. being in control, what does out of control look like?' Great question from Fiona Bruce. She's certainly in control. #BBCQT
— Andrea Catherwood (@acatherwoodnews) January 10, 2019
Great Question Time debut by Fiona Bruce. Calm, controlled, authoritative.
— Martha Kelner (@marthakelner) January 10, 2019
Fiona Bruce is excellent. In control, forensic, asking the right number of questions herself. Brings a mature tone (only undermined by the comedian. Nice fellow I'm sure, but has used his 30 seconds to admit he doesn't understand what Brexit is – so why's he on the show?) #bbcqt
— Tim Stanley (@timothy_stanley) January 10, 2019
Fiona Bruce doing very well. In the right way I've not really noticed the chair has changed. She's interjecting just the right amount. Keeping the debate going – and a nice line in sharp sarcasm. #bbcqt
— Martin Lewis (@MartinSLewis) January 10, 2019
Very impressed by Fiona Bruce – she could save #bbcqt but pl, pl ditch the know-nothing “comedian”s
— Tim Montgomerie (@montie) January 10, 2019
Fiona Bruce bossed that edition of #bbcqt. Looked like she’d been doing it for years. Smooth as silk.
— Toby Young (@toadmeister) January 10, 2019
Fiona Bruce is bossing this #bbcqt
— Tina Daheley (@TinaDaheley) January 10, 2019
Great job by Fiona Bruce tonight @bbcquestiontime
— Dermot O'Leary (@radioleary) January 10, 2019
However one criticism was that Bruce spoke too quietly at times, with some Twitter users accusing her of whispering or mumbling.
#bbcqt I can't hear Fiona Bruce…… Tell her to stop whispering!
— Steve Biddle (@SBiddleplans) January 10, 2019
I found Fiona Bruce difficult to hear, she mumbled when talking. But to allow Emily Thornbury so much airtime shows a lack of respect to the others. I turned off after 20 minutes. The panel was not a true reflection of the populus! #bbcqt https://t.co/fOSZU5t7qE
— Ossie (@Ossieblue) January 11, 2019
— TheBevs (@elfinface) January 10, 2019
@bbcquestiontime good luck Fiona Bruce can you please just keep your voice louder, it’s difficult to hear the end if your sentences… sorry …
— gerri (@altwood2010) January 10, 2019