The BBC was on Friday bracing itself for a long night as anti-fascist groups from across Britain prepared to picket its television headquarters in west London in what was billed as the “mother of all protests” against the corporation’s decision to invite Nick Griffin, leader of the far-right British National Party (BNP), to appear on its flagship current affairs programme Question Time scheduled for telecast on BBC One later in the evening.

Hosted by the veteran broadcaster David Dimbleby and regarded as one of BBC’s most prestigious shows, Question Time features prominent politicians and other public figures who answer questions on a range of current topics from an invited audience.

Security was stepped up amid fears of clashes between protesters and BNP supporters who threatened to stage a counter-demonstration. Ugly scenes were also feared during the programme after it emerged that “hundreds” of BNP activists had applied to be part of the audience. Anti-racist campaigners were also expected to be present in full strength to confront Mr. Griffin.

Rather dramatically, Mr. Griffin said he was expecting a “political bloodsport”. He also expressed fear for his life saying that there would be people “hell-bent on doing me serious damage”.

“I don’t know how they are going to get me in. It may be quite tricky,” he said.

One newspaper reported that the BNP was so “concerned” about its leader’s safety that it had wanted to charter a helicopter to get him to the BBC studios but was apparently told that there was no place for it to land.

Police said they had a plan to get Mr. Griffin into the studio “safely” and in a “timely manner”.

The BBC’s decision to invite Mr. Griffin, a convicted racist and an admirer of Hitler, has caused outrage across the political establishment and it has been accused of giving “legitimacy” to a fascist party. Initially, the Labour Party was reluctant to nominate anyone to appear alongside him on the programme but eventually Justice Secretary Jack Straw, who has a long track of tackling racist politics, agreed to “take on” Mr. Griffin.

The Tories will be represented by Sayeeda Warsi, the first Muslim shadow minister; and the Liberal Democrats by their home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne. Also on the platform will be the well-known African-American playwright residing in Britain, Bonnie Greer.

The BBC has defended its decision arguing that Mr. Griffin was an elected member of the European Parliament and his party had demonstrated a level of public support in regional elections. It said its invitation to Mr. Griffin was consistent with its principle of impartiality and the “case against inviting the BNP” was a “case for censorship”.

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