3am – 1pm

Ian Jones, Jack Kibble-White and Steve Williams on BBC1 and ITV’s 2001 Election Night

First published June 2001


Tony King declares, “I have a factoid for you.” He rather pompously tells us that the first hereditary peer has been elected to the Commons: the Earl of Thurso – a Lib Dem candidate – in Caithness. Tony has a lot of papers in front of him but it’s never clear what they’re for, apart from rustling at opportune moments.

Still the results come. A quick visit to Teignbridge brings news of a Liberal gain, and Simon Hughes is down the line to celebrate. He’s one of many politicos who both appear on screen and in the BBC studio tonight, a situation that sometimes lends proceedings a strange timeless quality. There’s plenty of recounts going on, and one up in Scotland promises another Tory gain. The few seats the Conservatives are picking up don’t come in for much analysis, though the Galloway And Upper Nithsdale result is deemed significant enough for a prolonged trip north of the border for a discussion impaired by noisy supporters and interference.

A milkfloat pulls up at 10 Downing Street. Talk of rural matters moves talk round to Foot & Mouth, something which David Dimbleby seems acutely concerned about. In the middle of another recitation on how times have been so hard for farmers of late, David notices Peter Snow “waving frantically from across the studio”. He’s got his Foot & Mouth Effect graphic cued up, another bar chart plotting changes in voting shares possibly down to a countryside Labour-backlash.

Then two big defeats come in – Edinburgh Pentlands (Malcolm Rifkind) and Brentwood and Ongar (Martin Bell). Both involve well-known figures and have been hyped up for most of the night, so understandably more time is taken to analyse the outcomes here than elsewhere. Bell’s declaration brings pictures of a vintage “silly” candidate – which we haven’t seen that much of overall, certainly compared to previous elections. It’s back to Jeremy Paxman again, who’s entertaining three Lords up in his balcony. Present is a hunched Roy Hattersley whose contributions prompt more of the now expected Paxman facial contortions.


There’s a very noisy interview with Rifkind down the line. The man seems genuinely upset about his defeat, and footage of real emotion as opposed to people putting on brave faces is in a small way quite affecting. Yet another great Peter Snow graphic appears, “How Many Heaves?”, with Peter pointedly illustrating the scale of the effort the Tories would need to win again by trying to push a computer generated boulder up a hill. He throws himself into this task, groaning and panting with exaggerated fatigue.

Hague’s future is discussed, and Andrew Marr thinks the man will go rather than be pushed. David Dimbleby spots the sight of giant Anne Widdecombe behind him – the huge screen they’re using in the studio for OB links seems to distort everybody’s features, but the picture fed us at home stays fine. The Tories reach 100 seats, and Widdecombe thinks “we’ve done the right thing.”

Huw’s now at Hague’s Richmond count, confiding how the man has already called Blair to concede defeat. Huw’s priding himself on chatting to the Tory leader’s inner circle “every few minutes”. He’s come across as one of the most calm, authoritative reporters tonight, and he seems to know this. Attention switches back to Labour when we join Martha Kearney, who’s been shut out of Millbank Tower along with fellow hacks, and who is complaining that those inside haven’t even thrown her “a few crumbs”.

It turns out she’s been shut out of a celebration the cameras aren’t supposed to see, but footage sneaks out of some pained revelry between Prescott and Janet Street Porter, shown in full. Film of Hague leaving his house, and Blair at Teeside Airport, shows that dawn is breaking. There’s the first proper roundup of clips from the night so far, then it’s back to Fiona with Steve and Martin and their cartoon mural.

Sadly it’s also time for more from the “comedians”, and we reach the lowest point of the whole night with Alastair Beaton and Steve Punt attempting to do some kind of comedy “routine”. Al feeds Steve the lines and Steve comes up with all the big cracks – “There’s been a lot of talk about apathy, but I can’t be bothered to talk about it.” This is more than enough to send viewers diving for their covers. And all the while there’s anonymous hired punters milling in the background – are they really drinking alcohol? Are those real barmen? Isn’t that Tim Rice still propped up over there? Before these and other questions can be answered, it’s off to Henley for Boris Johnson’s result.


Both Tony King and Andrew Marr eulogise over Boris – he’s “a genuine character”, though Andy admits he’s personally “too idle and greedy” to follow Johnson’s example and quit the media for politics. We’re treated to an extended flirt between Anna Ford and Boris which goes on for ages, while information appears on screen that Peter Wishart from Runrig is the new SNP member for Tayside North. Hague arrives at his count, and we see the Lib Dem’s gain Dorset South. He’s been searching for something fitting all night, but “The world’s first immobile landslide,” is the best Tony King can deliver.

A rather pointless report from Michael Crick in Crosby on why traditional Labour supporters didn’t vote is followed by Hague’s result and the Tory leader’s rather cryptic speech. Andrew immediately thinks he’s going to go. Nick Robinson’s been sent over to wait outside Tory Central Office, where he’ll be for the next few hours, done up in a huge coat.

As early morning creeps in there’s more from Fiona in her cafĂ©, with a teacher, a yoof, and US writer Joe Klein – “Most political rallies over here seem like old age homes,” he states, which sends Fiona into yet another round of giggles. Back in Dorset South Fergus Walsh hooks up with none less than Billy Bragg – “The blue tide is going out, the red dawn is coming up,” Bragg smiles. David Dimbleby and his gang are at their most relaxed and enjoyable now – footage of the Follett family struggling, as in 1997, to open a huge bottle of bubbly prompts David to try out a few gags about “champagne socialism.” Everyone in the studio falls about.


Hague flies to London; the Romsey result is seen. Jeremy Paxman’s still playing the host, chatting with Oona King and the Tory education spokeswoman Theresa May who was once confused with a porn star. The sun rises over Big Ben and David’s moved to quote poetry; the doorsteps of Downing Street are scrubbed down with a mop and bucket. Martin Bell appears similarly elegiac – “There’s nothing wrong with a romantic failure,” he reflects.

It’s almost all over now, with most remaining results expected much later in the day. So there’s time for some rather eerie footage from inside Blair’s plane (the camera shooting the PM and wife in extreme close up), then a long sequence from Labour HQ with the party faithful cheering and Gordon Brown gossiping with Mick Hucknall and Ross Kemp. Just before David signs off at 6am there’s a last look at the finished masterpiece from cartoonists Martin and Steve; and another musical montage of the night’s highs and lows is the cue for the Breakfast pair Jeremy Bowen and Sophie Raworth to take over.

6am – 9.30am

Compared to the previous eight hours, Breakfast is much less frantic, probably helped by the presence of the uber-relaxed Bowen. Bowen and Raworth resist the temptation to crack any funnies (like David Dimbleby’s 1997 “In case you missed it, Labour won”) and instead concentrate on telling those early to bed last night what happened. Every half-hour, Moira Stuart rounds up the roundups.

They do however continually appeal for e-mails, that old Breakfast favourite. This is the viewer’s first chance to contribute to the coverage, which is odd; the Radio Times said that one of the main innovations in this year’s coverage would be the opportunity to e-mail your opinions to Fiona Bruce and have them read out on air. Throughout the whole election programme, though, not a single one was read out, nor was an e-mail address actually given. A further example of Breakfast‘s “interactivity” comes from awful Video Nation vox pop-style “thoughts” from, yes, “real people”. However the promised opportunity to get Andrew Marr to answer our questions doesn’t happen as he can’t make it.

Meanwhile over on GMTV, Penny Smith is reading the news. The General Election is quickly dispatched to afford more time for a story about a woman who found a large spider in her house. Back on the sofa, Fiona Phillips and Eamonn Holmes play host to Michael Brunson, who Eamonn mistakenly introduces as “Charles Bronson”.

The smooth running of the Breakfast package on BBC1 is then altered by the big news at 7.45am with Hague’s resignation speech, given a great build up by Nick Robinson who’s still loitering outside Central Office. It’s nice to watch something happening outside in full sunshine, after a night of gloomy counting rooms and murky skies. Within half an hour, Robinson is already reminding us of “the life and times of William Jefferson Hague” via what’s virtually an obituary. How far in advance was this compiled, we wonder?

As usual Breakfast attempts to sound like its got its finger on the pulse; and so we’ve got music from Fatboy Slim to introduce many of the items, and at 8.57am there’s a montage of images from the night backed by, of all things, Baby One More Time. Because Blair’s won a second term, see? This is followed in England by half an hour of regional analysis – but in the national regions, they seemingly can’t be bothered, so viewers in Scotland get The Beechgrove Garden, and in Wales, the Charlie Dimmock vehicle Girls on Top. Maybe the North West wish they hadn’t bothered, as with only two seats changing hands in this region, there isn’t a great deal to talk about. The main gimmick is Jim Hancock being joined by three MPs for “breakfast”; basically, an interview around a table with some croissants on it, which remain, of course, uneaten.

9.30am – 1pm

The “A”-team return to BBC1 suitably refreshed. Alas, Andrew Marr’s still wearing the same green tie. David Dimbleby promises a more relaxed programme this morning, which means lots of chat with Jeremy Paxman and Fiona Bruce. Oddly he refers constantly to “when we went off air at 6am”, as if Breakfast, which was almost completely devoted to election news, was something else entirely.

The team are very pleased with their exit poll, which David reckons was “pretty accurate” – there’s been a 0.8% swing to the Conservatives. For most of the morning, there’s a feeling of a “job done”, as David rounds up the night in terms of “winners” (Richard Taylor) and “losers” (Martin Bell), and Peter Snow gets out his virtual House of Commons again. Peter loses points by showing us all the Labour MPs and saying “Will they cross the winning post of 330? Well, yes, we all know they will”, which is rather subdued for him.

Fiona gets a bigger share of the airtime than she got last night. Her role in the proceedings was always going to be slightly superfluous when things were actually happening. This morning she’s helped by the policy that Jeremy gets everyone who’s a politician or a former politician, and Fiona gets everyone else. So within the first half hour, she’s had a long debate with the Sun’s political editor Trevor Kavanagh and Janet Street-Porter; but here she doesn’t mention what Janet was seen doing last night.

Huw Edwards, after following William Hague around, is now stationed in Conservative Central Office, where he suggests, presumably thanks to his close contact with Hague’s team over the last 24 hours, that there’s “an amazing story to be told”. The fate of the Conservatives is probably the major story of the day, less so than the as-expected Labour victory. David interviews Telegraph editor Charles Moore and Michael Dobbs down the line from an ugly studio in Westminster, and Jeremy gets to speak to Michael Heseltine from his house. Heseltine says he’d like Kenneth Clarke to be the next leader, which is enough of a scoop to get this bit repeated several more times through the day. Later Marr refers to the “Hezza analysis” of their decline.

We get our first report from Jeremy Vine in Downing Street at 10.15am, who reckons that it’s very much “business as usual this morning, and points out that, unlike last time, there aren’t crowds of people in the street. David promises that we’ll get to see Tony Blair come out and go to visit the Queen, which Blair will be doing even though he doesn’t actually have to. In the meantime we join Anne MacKenzie in Edinburgh, who’s with a panel of Scottish political figures including SNP leader John Swinney. There’s something approaching an argument between the guests when Swinney’s questioned on the SNP’s poor showing, but this ends very quickly and returns to a series of one-to-one interviews.

At 10.30am there are some new guests joining David and Jeremy. Andrew Marr and Alison Park have been temporarily replaced by Neil Kinnock and Baroness Castle, while alongside Jeremy is Baroness Symons and a returning Shirley Williams, who Jeremy introduces as once being up “for Elizabeth Taylor’s part in National Velvet, interestingly”. While this goes on, the other news of the day scrolls along the screen, including a report of some children shot dead in Japan. There’s no follow-up to this until after 1pm. Instead we cross to Denis Murray standing in the same spot in Belfast he was at 11pm last night, indicating that the counting in Northern Ireland won’t begin until about lunchtime; some justification perhaps for the BBC not continuing into the afternoon.

We’re still waiting for Tony Blair to come out of Downing Street, much to the annoyance of ITV, who are also trying to cram in This Morning. This goes on past This Morning‘s start time of 10.30am, so Jonathan Dimbleby and John Sergeant have to wait it out along with Fern Britton and Nick Knowles. We see a shot of the front door of Number 10, and Fern comments on how it remains so black and well-painted. There’s some discussion about this, which at least allows John the opportunity to wax a little wry. It’s becoming obvious the PM won’t be leaving for a few minutes yet, so Fern and Nick turn to another Blair – Lionel, who’s in the studio to talk about health issues. Eventually Tony Blair surfaces at 10.55am, at the exact moment ITV are on an ad break. They return and Fern hastily hands over to ITN, at the precise point Blair gets in the car and goes out of sight.

The BBC follow Blair’s car all the way to Buckingham Palace, and as this bit involves a member of the Royal Family, David links up with Jennie Bond, who comments on what we’re seeing. It’s uncertain where Jennie is, as she never actually appears on camera. David’s obsessed with the car Blair’s in – it’s a Vauxhall, which for some reason David is amused by. There’s some pontificating over what happens here, with Jennie pointing out that the Queen’s getting this over with quickly as she’s going to the races at Epsom this afternoon. Neil Kinnock, who’s only asked “Do you ever wish this was you?” about half a dozen times, joins in by wondering if she’s got a tip for the Oaks.

When Blair’s car arrives, ITV also has pictures, but they seem to come from a helicopter, whereas the BBC are on the ground. Perhaps for this reason, the third channel soon stop covering this moment and get Jaci Stephen to preview the weekend’s TV instead. The BBC stick around, and later David Dimbleby gets confused when Blair pops into a portakabin that’s in the courtyard of Buckingham Palace. Jennie explains that this is staffed by school kids cooking a birthday breakfast for the Duke of Edinburgh. There’s some amusement when Blair gets his picture taken with the kids, David commenting “He’s won now, he doesn’t have to do this.”

With that out of the way, it’s back to the analysis, and over to Guto Hari in Cardiff with his panel of pundits and politicians to analyse last night’s Welsh results. They haven’t got much to talk about, and there’s a danger that they’ll be overshadowed by the backdrop – they’re seemingly in a hotel lobby overlooking a busy road junction, so cars are constantly going past. Guto points out that the Welsh Mirror haven’t even put the election on their front page this morning, instead there’s a story about Welsh Assembly members getting big pay rises. One of the assembled pundits shows us the Matt cartoon from today’s Daily Telegraph. Glenys Kinnock is also there, but alas there isn’t a live linkup with her husband, as we’d perhaps hoped.

At 11.15am it’s back to Peter Snow, who reckons that “it’s been an odd election”. He’s got his Tide Gauge out again, to mark another record that Blair’s broken – he’s been elected Prime Minister with the lowest share of the electorate ever. After this it’s over to Sian Williams, who’s in Newcastle University with a panel of first-time voters, who discuss who they voted for, if anyone. One mouthy student who didn’t vote (“I just wrote ‘nobody’ and then put a cross next to it”) seems to be getting the lion’s share of the airtime. He goes on to refer to the BNP as “disgusting”, which Sian immediately responds to by saying “a lot of people voted for them”, perhaps out of obligation to be impartial.

At 11.30am, we get a declaration live, from St Ives. We hang around for long enough to hear the returning officer explaining all the reasons why some ballot papers were rejected, which David points out is another bit of information for us. Tony King then announces that he thinks it’s time to take a look at how the smaller parties have done, although there’s some confusion between him and David as to what he’s referring to by the term “minority parties”. Both agree on the BNP, which David refers to as “a racist party”.

At 11.45am David’s got the Tory leadership odds, although he asks for some help from the panel as he doesn’t really understand these things. He thinks that David Davis’ name is misspelt on the graphic, but it isn’t, and thus apologises to “the people who make our graphics” for embarrassing them. After this Blair returns to Downing Street, again expertly timed as ITV are showing adverts. This Morning returns with Fern promising Midday Money in a moment, but first they’ve got to go over to ITN. We see Blair arrive, but unlike the BBC they don’t take his speech as they need to do the quiz.

After midday, ITV return to Jonathan Dimbleby and John Sergeant in the studio for another hour. As almost every result’s in, and perhaps to sum up what’s happened over the last 90 minutes while they’ve offered an unusual mix of politics and lifestyle features, most of this is taken up with pre-recorded reports. This makes the programme seem like basically an extended news bulletin, as the items now all finish with the reporter’s by-line. The only differences between this and the usual lunchtime news programme seem to be the set and John commenting on each item after it’s happened.

Perhaps this is better than the BBC, who, having been on continuously for 14 hours, are running out of things to say. Their final hour includes a bit more analysis, a live report – with a lot of picture disturbance – from Belfast, and some more from Peter Snow, including the welcome return of the “How Many Heaves?” graphic, which again he plunges into with gusto. God knows how much caffeine he’s had over the course of the programme. So the BBC winds down, with only one seat left to declare in England (the Isle of Wight, which is announced at 2.30pm, just in time for ITV to feature it in their final chunk of programming) and the Northern Ireland seats nowhere near declaring (nor would they have caught them if the programme had run on until CBBC as usual; there’s a four hour programme on BBC Northern Ireland for those results later in the day). They conclude with a montage of the most memorable moments of the night, with captions summing up the salient points, which considers the Follett’s capers with a champagne bottle one of the most “significant” images.

But after David signs off, the BBC have one last trick up their sleeve, which is a real treat for all lovers of election night television – a glossy closing montage accompanied by one of the longest lists of credits ever seen on television, detailing every single person involved in the programme. It even appears on the screen in three columns, as if it was a film, which makes it even more appropriate – an epic ending to an epic night of incredible programming.

This was the second time the Dimbleby brothers have been pitted against each other on election night. It’s said that Mrs Dimbleby, mother of David and Jonathan (widow of Richard – lest we forget), follows the coverage on two television sets simultaneously in her front parlour. The following day she gathers her boys together to break open a bottle and toast the passing of another election. At this point she’ll also declare which of the two she thinks was the most successful. Jonathan won in ’97. This year, surely David will have secured his mother’s approval with an altogether more-rounded and affable effort, flanked by a superior team of pundits and journalists.

One wonders how long, however, Hollyoaks‘ Max and OB stayed with the coverage, after having “their say”. Well, at the end of the day, it’s just a bit of fun.

<Midnight – 3am