The Mystery of the Albert Hall

What is the Albert Hall up to?

Despite my best endeavours, damned if I know.

Summer is Prom season for many. At the Albert Hall, it is also queuing season, whether you’re a Prommer or have bought a seat. The Albert Hall ushers are now all armed with scanners. Your ticket is scanned on entry (slower than being merely checked by eye, but an acceptable bar to counterfeiting, if that is indeed a problem). And then, oddly, the ticket is scanned again on exiting the venue at the interval. This is slow, causes queues at each exit, and cuts down on the time one can meet friends, discuss the concert, stretch, smoke, walk – all of the other things one does in the break.

I have been trying, therefore, to find the rationale for this behaviour. No other venue I have attended, from small to large, has any such mechanism in place.The tickets are not scanned at the end of the performance, so it is not a measure to ensure that the venue has been emptied.

I asked four ushers; none could tell me. I emailed the press office; no response. Finally, I tweeted, asking if others know.

Among the many responses, the tweets prodded the RAH into life.

The answer was indeed ‘hard to condense’, because it made no sense at all.

I tried to make some sense out of it:

Their reply adds to the mystery:

Let’s dissect.

1. Their system ‘requires’ a double-scan for an ‘accurate’ attendance count. Why? Are we breeding in the hall, and more people going coming out than went in? (And if so, some people are having more fun than I am, certainly.) Or are some of the Proms fatal, and will fewer exit than entered? Short of births or deaths, why the double-counting? (We will ignore the fact that their ‘system’ doesn’t ‘require’, the people running the system do – unless HAL has taken over the RAH.)

2. ‘The need to monitor capacity is relevant to the standing areas of the Hall’. That would make sense, if it were just the standing areas that were being scanned in and out. The Prommers’ entrances, however, are separate from those for seated ticket-holders. So, are we to understand that up to 5,000 people are being scanned so that 1,000 (in an entirely different area) can be monitored?

Surely the tickets themselves, on entry, are doing precisely that job, as, historically, tickets have for over a century? One ticket, one seat (or standing place). How is scanning a ticket on exiting monitoring capacity?

Answer comes there none. The final paragraph in the RAH’s email above is a response to my suggestion on Twitter that the only reason I can think for this procedure is to monitor audience behaviour patterns, which can be sold on to third parties. The Albert Hall assures me this is not the case.

What, then, is the answer? Because as their two emails stand, we have behaviour that is annoying, intrusive, cumbersome. And that makes any sense at all.