It’ll Be Alright on Election Night

Thursday, June 7, 2001 by

It used to be that when the voting closed on election night, not only would you get exit polls and swingometers into action, but also satirists coming on screen to glory in the freedom that no government for a night brings. Indeed, in 1997, BBC2 devoted almost four hours to comedy-related programming, including the mammoth Election Night Armistice offering instant piss-taking on the night’s events. In 1987, ITV didn’t even start their coverage until 10.30pm to make way for Spitting Image. But what of 2001? Amazingly, the only person to provide election night comedy was Denis Norden, on It’ll Be Alright on Election Night.

Looking at the schedules for 7 June, this looked like being one of the highlights of the evening; a programme looking at some of the classic Election TV moments would have made for great entertainment. Alas, perhaps as it went out while the polls were still open, the vast majority of the programme was devoted to foreign material, and of the UK material, much involved former politicians (like Denis Healy) doing fairly ordinary things (falling over, mostly). Disappointingly, the section devoted to election night television was made up entirely of imported material.

Every few links, the programme flashed up on screen the legend “Voting ends 10pm” – presumably to remind the lethargic that they still had the chance. So it seemed unusual to screen almost the whole of a Labour party political broadcast featuring Fry and Laurie, including the slogan “Labour will close the loophole”. Data probably doesn’t exist to show who voted Labour as a result of this, but it still seemed odd – we didn’t get similar screenings of Tory and Lib Dem broadcasts. A further odd moment came from a screening of a segment from a UK Independence Party broadcast – sure, it was very wooden and poorly scripted, but they probably wouldn’t have been happy with the audience’s shrieks of laughter at this; especially as the party’s name was clearly visible.

Another Party Political Broadcast shown was that of the Natural Law Party, which rather predictably was displayed for a bit of a chuckle about yogic flying; a pretty easy target, given that the party’s fondness for this has been fairly common knowledge for a decade or so. A lot of the material did seem a bit musty, Denis using this as an opportunity to recycle all the political-based material from previous editions of the programme, so we got such regulars as the bewildered American bloke being asked what a strike was about and replying “I don’t even know!”, and the long clip of a reporter cocking up the word “facilitate”.

That said, some old clips were worth seeing again, like Robert Harris getting in Thatcher’s way, or a hapless ’60s BBC reporter trying to elicit vox-pops from a Leeds street that ignored him en masse. But on the whole this seemed a real wasted opportunity, and the final montage of fights breaking out in parliaments around the world summed up the hackneyed, tired nature of the clips. But there was something interesting about this programme – Denis made lots of references to the election being “tonight” and to “Blair” and “Hague”, thus seemingly rendering the programme unrepeatable. And given that every other episode of this series has received anything up to a dozen screenings, Norden seems to be following a new, radical analysis. But no doubt they’ll find a Third Way to put it out again.


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