Sunday, 11 October 2009

The 1959 show

BBC Parliament has been running programmes from the 1950s over the weekend. On Friday night they presented a (somewhat edited) version of the 1959 election results coverage with a young looking David Butler and a chain smoking Bob Mackenzie. They were assisted by a clunky looking computer and a team of stattos with slide rules among whom was spotted Richard Rose (who doesn't look very different today).

Despite some rather quirky results from Lancashire, Butler was able to call the result earlier. Mackenzie was somewhat obsessed with the Liberal performance which in part resulted from the fact that they were contesting seats they had not fought before.

The perils of outside broadcasting were demonstrated by one from a pub in Wrexham. First there was a long statement by a Welsh Nationalist, a rare breed in those days, who declared that he wouldn't be interested in the results until the one from Merioneth which might showed that the Welsh were prepared to be a nation again (it didn't). The interviewer then attempted to talk to someone who was clearly half cut and the slot finished with a woman jostling the interviewer and shouting 'Let the woman speak!' (She wasn't allowed to).

It was particularly poignant for me to see the first declaration from Billericay where I was in what was described as 'a rather youthful crowd' outside the Archer Hall that day. I saw the returning officer Alma Hatt, who was a good friend and died relatively young, as well as Joyce Norris from the council.

The suave Conservative MP Edward Gardner (later MP for Fylde, but never to hold ministerial office) was elected with a reduced majority, a good result given the growth of Basildon New Town. He later invited me to the House of Commons for tea and my first chance to see a live debate. The Labour candidate Rita Smythe was described by the commentator Raymond Baxter as 'a socialist', a term used throughout the night. She was defeated again in 1964 and Eric Moonman finally won the seat for Labour in 1966. The Liberal candidate was Sheldon Williams, their spokesman on the arts, and a denizen of Chelsea.

On Saturday night there was a press conference in which the equable Jo Grimond was questioned intensively by three leading political journalists. It was rather like facing three Jeremy Paxmans at once.

'Who Goes Home?' was a kind of early question time featuring Conservative Julian Amery and Barbara Castle. As Anthony Howard noted introducing the programme, the audience was anything but passive and deferential as we had been led to believe.


Anonymous said...


Do you think Gordon Brown will still be PM by the end of this year. There's been mention of a revolt in the last few weeks and months - do you think it will materialise?


Wyn Grant said...

These rumours bubble up from time to time. One should never say never, but I think it unlikely at this late stage of the Parliament.