Magazine article The Spectator

Missing Humour

Magazine article The Spectator

Missing Humour

Article excerpt

After listening to an advance copy of tonight's Archive on 4 I'm almost beginning to look forward to the general election of 2010. A Night to Remember looks back over 60 years of Election Night Specials, guided by the curiously comforting voice of Anthony Howard, whose reflections and rummaging through the archives make dusty, devious politics begin to sound quite exciting. His programme is a useful reminder that what happens on the night of 6 May might actually make a difference. And, even if it doesn't, the ebb and flow of events in those brief hours of darkness will ensure that some at least of the 646 MPs who at present populate Westminster will appear for a moment more human, more like us.

On this night, for one night only, 'You see the faces of the politicians when they can't hide. They've got no excuses.' Reality forces its way in as the seats are declared, and there's no time to put on that ubiquitous and infuriating mask. 'You're forced to be candid, ' reflects Michael Portillo, thinking back to his dramatic defeat in 1997.

Howard also exposes, inadvertently, what's now missing not just from the political machine but also from the coverage on the BBC and ITV: a sense of humour, an ability to poke fun at oneself. A very junior David Dimbleby is heard reporting from Exeter on the night of the 1964 election.

His father Richard was serving as anchorman back at TV Centre and he cuts off the despatch, 'Thank you, son.' David is not amused.

This is a programme all about TV and the way that its cameras dramatised the general election. In 1950, for instance, the majority of seats were counted on the day after the election. Very soon, though, returning officers up and down the country were battling it out to become the first to declare.

Billericay, Salford, Cheltenham and Exeter became the top runners, Billericay achieving a three-minute finish with the first box arriving to be counted at three minutes past nine (polling ended at nine o'clock in those days). …

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