Stunning 1964 General Election programme on BBC Parliament

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I didn’t think I’d ever say this, but I have had great fun this week watching the 1964 General Election results programmeon BBC Parliament.

It was a real nail-biter. In the end it came down to two seats, or a majority of four for Labour. In fact, just an hour into the programme, with only a few seats declared, a huge caption came right across the screen saying “LIKELY MAJ LAB 40”. Such a prediction was completely out of whack with the swings being announced at the time. But no comment was made and the programme sailed on. Weird. Random, indeed.

Richard Dimbleby, anchoring the whole show, came across as rather bumbling and pompous. At one point, David Butler and Ian Trethowen were most excited about a recount at Hornsey but Dimbleby told them (who he called “Mr Butler” and “Mr Trethowen”) to calm down and no mention was ever made again about of the recount at Hornsey as far as I heard.

The whole thing was hideously male-dominated. In the first two hours of the programme only one woman spoke and that was when an interviewer said: “And what about a lady verdict?”. But there were hordes of women running round in the background doing chores for the men!

There was loads of smoking – cigars for Tories and pipes for Labour men.

It was extraordinary to see so many men who were either big names at the time or went on to be big BBC names involved in the programme: Bob McKenzie, Robin Day, Raymond Baxter, Geoffrey Wheeler, Alan Whicker, Michael Barratt, Magnus Magnusson, John Tidmarsh, Kenneth Allsop.

One of the bizarre sights was seeing Peter Crampton (of whom I have memories from BBC Spotlight South-West) interviewing Mark Bonham-Carter hanging out of a window in Torrington. It was interesting that David Owen was the Labour candidate in that battle, which was won by the local Tory, Peter Mills.

Smethwick was an appalling result, caused by a disgracefully racist campaign by the Tory involved. The name “Smethwick” is, I think, still synonymous, for some people, with that campaign. Harold Wilson defied the result and appointed Patrick Gordon-Walker (the Labour man who was defeated by the Tory at Smethwick) as Foreign Secretary. However, Gordon-Walker then lost a by-election a few months later and stood down from office. He won another seat later and returned to government.

Jo Grimond appeared quite a lot on the programme from Liberal HQ. Interestingly, he mentioned that Liberal party policy at the time was to have AV in rural areas and PR in urban seats.

It was great to see Barbara Castle and various other Labour figures appearing. James Callaghan seemed so cheerful. Tony Benn was very Tony Benn. And George Brown! My goodness! Stand by your beds! Talk about an attack dog!

Sir Tufton Beamish won Lewes for the Tories. I hadn’t heard his name before, but he was obviously the inspiration for “Sir Tufton Bufton” in Private Eye.

I noticed that the cameras at the counts focused in on the ballot papers quite closely, and on the supervisors carrying round ballots etc, while the commentators discussed exactly what the bundles were and where they were going. I don’t think that would be allowed these days.

Ted Dexter was the Conservative candidate in Cardiff South East (Defeated by Jim Callaghan). Yes, Ted Dexter the cricketer, who took time off from a test match to do it.

Peter Tapsell lost!

Bill Deedes was elected in Ashford. (Shurely shome mishtake?-Ed)

Jimmy Edwards, the comedian, stood for the Tories in London Paddington and lost.

A young John Juno, the sometime/long time Express editor appeared quite reasonable when interviewed. Anthony Howard was obviously a rising star as a commentator.

But the over-riding impression I had was of how lovely Harold Wilson was. As an example, you hear politicians perfunctionarily thanking the returning officer at counts. But Harold Wilson made a long and effusive speech singing the praises of the returning officer and his staff. It really was quite something.


2 thoughts on “Stunning 1964 General Election programme on BBC Parliament

  1. Top review Paul. My dad became very exercised about that election (I was 7) fearing a Labour win, and just after the election, one Sunday was a Goon Show with various skits about the preceding election. Very funny too.

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