3am – 1pm

Ian Jones, Jack Kibble-White and Steve Williams on BBC1 and ITV’s 2005 Election Night

First published May 2005


On BBC1, Tony King’s got the headline for this year’s ballot: it was “the election in which Andrew Marr was triumphantly vindicated”, harking back to his colleague’s prediction right at the start of the campaign that this was going to be a curious poll with a confused overall picture and massive, unrelated swings in the different regions. A few moments later, Andrew “returns the compliment” by suggesting Tony got it right about Lib Dems being replaced by Tories. The projected result is superimposed on the desk and is the cue for some time-honoured discussion over proportional representation and the failings of the electoral system – a grand election night tradition since Bob McKenzie’s heyday.

In between this, Adam Afriye’s on the line from Windsor to chat to Jeremy about being the Tories’ first black MP. Brilliantly he starts the interview with glass in hand (“Take your time!” chides Jeremy), and claims that while he may appear distinctly cool over the result, he is in fact “genuinely stunned”. The media training has clearly worked, though, as this is a rather bland interview where Afriye spends more time talking about local issues. Emily Maitlis is in Brent East witnessing the battle between “two great feisty women” and David breaks the news that Boris Johnson’s dad won’t be joining him in Parliament as he’s failed to win Teignbridge.

Peter Law is interrogated from his count by Jeremy, cutting to the quick by asking “What significance does your victory have?” There is much discussion over exactly what Law stands for, the MP saying his issue was over the imposition of an all-woman shortlist, and that “as a socialist”, he will probably be voting with the Labour government on most issues. David speaks to husband and wife MP duo Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper in Wakefield, but for much of this conversation they’re in split screen while we get to see Tony Blair on stage at the Trimdon Labour Club. Throughout, we hear the cheers and laughter from the assembled audience, but not the introductions which are causing the hilarity, until the microphones are turned up for his speech.

This is a rather more upbeat affair, leading Andrew to later comment how Blair is very good at “cheering himself up”. Lest we forget the situation, though, David points out the front page of the “inimitable Sun” – “A Kick in the Ballots”. Oliver Letwin’s victory speech in Dorset West is taken in full, but we’re unable to see the figures for Hammersmith and Fulham as, according to David, they’re “a bit stuck”. Eh?

Meanwhile, Jonathan Dimbleby is once again reiterating someone’s speech – this time it’s Tony Blair. He observes that the PM implies the success of the Labour Party was down to him. “It began in Sedgefield” or, as Jonathan says using tired political journalese, “it was me wot won it”. On a roll, he then describes Charles Kennedy as being “relaxed and at ease” and Colin Ralling’s latest punditry is unnecessarily cut short to bring us images of the Lib Dem leader and his baby.


Things shift up a gear as Jonathan begins an interview with Hague with the words: “It’s not quite good enough is it?” and puts it to the former Tory leader that they are still light years away from Labour – the result tonight is a disaster. Hague offers his support to Michael Howard, but his point is cut up by interruptions from the host, and then, just as he gets going, he is cut up again, as Jonathan’s apologises for his previous interjection.

Back to Scarfe, and here we have a cartoon of someone sticking his head in a trash can hunting for a new Tory leader. Nick Robinson claims there will be no rush to get rid of Howard and Portillo adds the Tories haven’t really improved their position – he feels they needed to get over 200 MPs.

Over on the Beeb, the gang are similarly concerned with the Tory figurehead’s fortunes. Jeremy Paxman asks Lord Strathclyde why the leader seemed to dominate the Conservatives’ campaign, to which he is offered a list of reasons, including the need to emphasise his position after 18 months in the job, and also “his energy”. Jeremy presumes this means the voters were agog that “gosh, this man can run!”

David then utters possibly the least appealing sentence anyone can hear at half past three in the morning: “Let’s go to Gateshead to see how the painting is getting on, then I’m going to speak to Nicholas Soames”. The artwork is certainly progressing, despite Robert Hall interviewing a rather clueless selection of student volunteers who bemoan the fact many of the constituencies have “strange names” and it’s been “quite hard” to put it together. David reckons it all looks a bit smudged. Then it’s off to Mark Mardell at “location number two” in London, the next stage in Tony Blair’s tour, which he’s apparently not allowed to divulge. However, he does reveal there’s no champagne because according to Labour it’s “not a party, it’s a results service”, although Mick Hucknall and Chris Evans have shown up in any case.

There’s a couple of fairly high-profile Tory gains in Welwyn Hatfield and Dumfriesshire then, as promised, it’s Nicholas Soames on the line from Sussex Mid (“Why is it called Sussex Mid rather than Mid Sussex?” “It’s not, the only people who call it that are the BBC!”) for a lively interview which gets off to a sprightly start with some “Are you disappointed?” “Sorry?” “Are you disappointed?” “Sorry?” misunderstandings. David asks Soames for comment on Baroness Thatcher’s disappointment at the results, as expressed earlier on ITV1. The MP says he thinks she’s a bit out of touch as she’s in Venice, to laughter from the studio crew because, as David points out, “she’s on a boat in the middle of the Thames!”

More banter follows as Jeremy starts his interview with Oliver Letwin by asking: “Were you invisible during your campaign as you were so busy trying to keep your seat, or because your party were worried you’d make another boo-boo?” Letwin says he attended “eight or nine” press conferences during the campaign, and Jeremy should know as he was at some of them, a charge the interviewer forcefully denies. Next, over to Erewash where we get an enormous close-up of Robert Kilroy-Silk, just in time to watch him barely hold onto his deposit.

As ITV1 ready to cover the same count, there is much chat amongst the panel about Europe and how the relatively low profile of UKIP meant the Tories didn’t need to talk about the issue much during the campaign. Meanwhile Alastair Stewart is still obsessed with the Lib Dem’s decapitation strategy and in particular how it is going wrong. Jonathan claims that “we are certainly getting the most interesting results of any General Election you could imagine”.

Back to the ITV party, and Ian Hislop is talking to Katie Derham, but now he seems to be a little slurry and sweaty – too many drinks, perhaps? The chat is cut short by Jonathan announcing: “Now we’re going over to Erewash to see how little votes Robert Kilroy Silk and Veritas got.” Everyone seems to be pleased with the result – Hislop believing Kilroy has killed off both UKIP and Veritas, while Hattersley struggles through a tickly throat to describe the voters as “crackers”.

A huge “BREAKING NEWS” banner appears on the screen on BBC1 at 3.45am, though it’s a rather odd definition of the phrase as the story is Labour require another 20 seats to win, something we could surely have worked out for ourselves. Sitingbourne’s an intriguing seat, where after two recounts Labour hold it by 79 votes despite, as Rory Cellan-Jones reports, the first indications being the Tories had nabbed it and the sitting MP conceding defeat. Tony King reckons the Conservatives will be amazed they haven’t won.

Peter Snow gets his virtual Downing Street set out again to demonstrate how Labour have triumphed with the lowest ever share of the vote for a victorious party, breaking their own record from 2001. With 63% of the electorate having backed somebody else, Tony King refers to Labour as an “incredibly unpopular government”. Andrew Marr says the result is awkward for the Conservatives as, though only up 1% of last time, it is “just good enough” for Michael Howard to continue as leader. Right on cue, the man himself turns up at Folkestone for his count, and Kirsty Wark is the first to sign a note of caution. She claims Howard always said that he would have failed if he didn’t win, and as such she wouldn’t be surprised to see him go.


Back on the Thames, ITV1′s Mark Austin and Andrew Neil are reviewing the newspapers. Neil claims he is a “broadcaster and a newspaper man”, whilst in the studio Nick Robinson claims Tory MPs have been calling papers for the last few days saying they will speak out on Friday.

Meanwhile, BBC1 takes another quick trip north of the border for Sally Magnusson to summarise the Scottish results. This allows Tony King to ask her whether the SNP’s showing has been disappointing because people aren’t very keen on nationalism, or just aren’t that enthused by the party. At his count in Folkestone, Michael Howard finds himself standing next to Rodney Hylton-Potts, winner of, as David puts it, “the rather curious ITV programme” Vote For Me. He polls 150 votes to find himself behind the Loony candidate who upstages and annoys everyone present, including Howard during his speech, chiming in “how about that?” when the Tory leader comments that his party have their first black MP. We stick with the whole thing, despite sound and vision being completely out of sync throughout, and Andrew Marr find his promise to “support the Prime Minister if he delivers” a bizarre turn of phrase from the Leader of the Opposition.

With 69% between them, it’s the poorest showing from the two major parties since the 1920s, a situation explained by Jeremy’s latest guest, Tony Banks, as being down to the lack of “big ideas” and major differences between them. Like Andrew, he reckons the battle has been fought on a regional level. Nevertheless, around 4.30am the BBC is able to declare Labour as the winners – something ITV1 announced at 4.25am by unleashing some graphics of the party ‘s banner on the side of the House of Commons. Sadly, the result that confirms this is not the one David Dimbleby was hoping for in Medway where Bob Marshall-Andrews is now, it seems, on course for victory, despite his earlier on-screen mea culpa. David says he recalls him trying the same trick in 2001, and impishly suggests he only does it so he can get on telly – “I’ve lost, I’ve lost, interview me!” Peter marks the triumph on his Downing Street set with a rejoicing CGI Tony Blair and a smiling Gordon Brown looking out of the window of number eleven, which amuses everyone. But is that now a different “policeman” standing around nonplussed?

With a notable sense of timing, virtually the first result we get after the victory announcement is George Galloway’s win over Oona King in Bethnal Green. He delivers an incredibly forceful speech, the likes of which Andrew has never heard before, although he does say that Galloway is “one of the greatest political speakers of our generation”. Shortly afterwards, he’s interviewed down the line by Jeremy, who starts the conversation by asking: “Do you feel proud of getting rid of one of the few black women MPs in Parliament?” – a question Galloway refuses to answer, and after a few more goes, says he’ll walk out if he’s asked it again. “Don’t start threatening me!” retorts Paxman.

It doesn’t get any less ill-tempered, as Galloway suggests that rather than his line of questioning, Jeremy should be commending him on “one of the most remarkable election results in our history”, and when the interviewer responds with surely the most cynical and sarcastic “congratulations” ever recorded, Galloway goes to take his microphone off and a hapless technician gets into shot and unplugs him. Impressively, though, Paxman is instantly able to take the opposite line when questioning Labour’s David Lammy on Galloway’s win.

Taking us up to the hour, the interviewer tells off Eric Pickles for using the word “churn”, which is apparently a technical term that the general public wouldn’t understand, but Pickles reckons only “anoraks” make up the audience at the moment. Meanwhile, David reports that the now victorious “Bob Marshall-Andrews has said ‘I’m Lazarus’!” which wonderfully cracks everyone up all round the studio.


“In a night of amazing results, this is one of the most amazing,” claims Tony King of a Labour victory in Dorset South, with a swing towards the governing party. The audio from Michael Howard’s speech has finally been reunited with the picture and Fiona Bruce shows it to us again, while David apologises for not bothering to go to Wales for a while and leaving Sian Lloyd waiting. When she does get on, she’s overshadowed by a long shot of Blair’s plane arriving at Luton Airport, a landing we get to witness from two different angles. On touchdown, everyone is amazed at the “Presidential-style motorcade” circling the plane, and we stick with it while Martha Kearny reports over the phone and the picture continually breaks up. Later we get to follow Blair’s car for virtually the entire journey down the motorway to London.

We’re now at what former Tory Head of Policy Danny Finklestein refers to as the “Pringles Moment”: the time when, apparently, all the Pringles have been eaten and the wine glasses are filled with cigarette butts. With only a few more results coming in – including the Lib Dems winning Falmouth with Julia Goldsworthy, “one of Glamour magazine’s ten hottest candidates” according to David – thoughts already turn to what’s going to happen next, with discussion of who’d go where in the impending cabinet reshuffle and what David Blunkett’s going to get.

After summing up the winners and losers of the night, there’s an enjoyable Nationwide-esque regional round-up featuring David whimsically bantering with reporters around the country, including Jim Hancock on the roof of BBC Manchester in the pouring rain. At 5.55am Jeremy’s final guests of the night are UKIP’s Piers Merchant and James Humphreys of the Green Party, who are basically asked to complete the sentence “My party did well because …” in less than 30 seconds. Andrew Marr gets the honour of summing up the entire night, and plumps for suggesting that “we know Labour have got a majority, but we don’t know what they have got a majority for”. After that, concludes an admirably perky-looking David following eight continuous hours on air, “Dermot and Natasha, take it away!”

6am – 9.30am

The arrival of the BBC’s Breakfast team may signal a change in tone, but not so much in pace. Things happen with just as much speed and drama over the next few hours, chiefly thanks to the motoring movements of the Prime Minister, but they’re reported in a predictably more relaxed and reflective style as befits the time of day. Dermot Murnaghan anchors proceedings from his red sofa together with a washed-out looking Natasha Kaplinsky. Clearly spending the night with Jon Culshaw has taken its toll, and at various points during the programme she refers to Peter Snow as Jon, announces 8.30am as being “the top of the hour” (after which you could clearly see Dermot whispering in her ear and pointing at his watch) and gets in a bit of trouble during the paper review when confronted with two identical copies of the Daily Mail.

Still it’s an informed and bustling service, blessed with a few live declarations, a healthy spattering of guests in the studio and down the line from Westminster (including the Dimbleby-baiting Alan Milburn), and regular round-ups of election news (introduced with the rather joyless caption “THE STORY”). The duo narrate these packages themselves; Moira Stuart seems to have been given the morning off, for there are no other news summaries to be seen. Regional updates arrive every half-hour – the first time we’ve been able to catch up with local results since the polls closed.

Having continued to track the Prime Minister’s car all the way from Luton airport, cameras follow him into the National Portrait Gallery where a party is in progress attended by Mark Mardell. We see the PM’s speech in full, which takes up a good 20 minutes, though there only seems to be one camera operating in the very crowded and badly lit room. Shaun Ley is in the studio to stand in for Andrew Marr by way of political commentary, though Andy’s back looking as fresh and rosy as ever by 8.30am. Natasha interviews George Galloway very gingerly, making sure that virtually the first thing she says is “congratulations”. Meanwhile, once Tony Blair is back home, James Landale takes up position outside 10 Downing Street and proceeds to turn up every 20 minutes or so to report nothing has been going on except the PM has had “an hour or two of sleep – he probably needs it like the rest of us”.

It’s all a far cry from GMTV, who besides having an on-screen tally of seats and Ben Shepherd in a dark suit, don’t really address the election at all. There’s certainly not much by way of whimsy of the kind the Beeb deploy in the shape of Bill Turnbull down in Eastbourne checking out the patrons at – ho ho – Bill’s Café. Besides interrupting the locals eating breakfast, he finds a talking owl that allows him to do a neat gag about whether anyone gives a hoot regarding the result. Later on Breakfast there’s the inevitable attempt at “interactivity” in the shape of some boring mobile phone video messages from viewers, reproduced on screen in predictably appalling quality. Then, at 9am, as it was in 2001, it’s over to the regions for a full half-hour round-up of news and results, but unlike that year, there’s plenty for everyone to talk about.

9.30am – 1pm

Both channels wheel their first 11 back out after their respective breakfast programmes are through, but for ITV1 it’s only for a measly hour – and about a third of that is devoted to commercial breaks. “There won’t be much happening,” begins Jonathan, almost encouraging us to switch over. Indeed it’s hard to see why they’ve bothered: the broadcast isn’t long enough for serious analysis and discussion, nor is it short enough to masquerade as a straightforward news summary. Instead the programme makes no attempt to revisit any events of the night, preferring to alternate between short interviews with politicians and further demonstrations of onscreen visuals which Jonathan continues to profess to be dazzled by. “The most sensational graphics … our extraordinary virtual House of Commons,” he drools, protesting a little too much. “If you don’t know how it’s done,” he teases, “join the club – I don’t either!”

The one event of the previous night which is replayed is, inevitably, the party on the boat. “I bet some of you saw it,” Jonathan hazards rather half-heartedly. It was, he pleads, “the hottest ticket in town.” Some clips follow of the celebrities hobnobbing on the Thames. “We didn’t even get half a thimble full of champagne,” moans the host afterwards. Both Nick Robinson (with ELVIS) and Colin Rallings (“crunching numbers”) are still in the studio and are given a couple of minutes to shine, but no more. Frank Dobson turning up to label Tony Blair as “our major liability” and refer to “city academies run by second hand car salesman” is a bit of a coup, but there’s no time to ponder on this further. This Morning is waiting to tell us the story of a man who lost 20 stone, so just before 10.30am everyone shuffles off without saying goodbye. A short montage of clips set to Keane’s Everybody’s Changing brings the curtain down.

The BBC, meanwhile, has been back in business with fine style. David promises to spend the morning reflecting on “the causes and the consequences,” before revealing how tickled he was by a newspaper cartoon he saw yesterday showing a voter asking: “But what if I vote tactically for the Liberal Democrats and get the Liberal Democrats?” Tony emphasises how there’s been “no election like this since the 1920s”, while Andrew contents himself with doing an impression of John Prescott. Everybody is a bit more freewheeling and willing to indulge in loose language, though at the same time conscious it’s been a more dramatic night than they expected, and there are still results to come.

Indeed, Northern Ireland has only just begun counting, and David goes over to Maxine Mawhinney in Belfast who astutely marks David Trimble’s card as one to watch. Sadly no results from Ulster will come in until the afternoon, once David and co are off air. It’s then round to the various party HQs to find out when the respective leaders will be speaking, although Charles Kennedy is late thanks to, as Tony quips, “England being cut off” by fog. Jeremy’s back with new guests in his salon, asking three new MPs to discuss some of Peter Snow’s “preposterous graphics”. He also wants Liam Fox to divulge what’s going to happen next in the Tory party, but he’s told to work it out for himself – “The rest of you get paid a lot more than me, Jeremy!” cracks Fox.

Just after 10am, David rejoins Sian up in Gateshead wondering if the giant map has been completed. Of course it hasn’t, and it won’t be until all the results are in – which is now looking like Saturday, given the tellers at Harlow have gone home because they’re too tired. “In the harsh sunlight some of it’s looking a bit scrappy,” concedes a chipper Sian, “we’ll have to go over the edges.” Bill Turnbull’s still at his café in Eastbourne, although “it’s clouding over – could that be symptomatic?” Of what, he fails to say. Long four-way debates between panels of MPs in Cardiff and Edinburgh sap a bit of life out of proceedings, though when we’re back in London it’s time to say a temporary goodbye to Andrew who’s “itching” to get to Downing Street. Jeremy catches up with two veterans, Tony Benn and Norman Tebbit, the latter of whom sums up the Tory campaign by quoting Winston Churchill: “This pudding hasn’t got a theme”.

Things pick up again at 10.40am when a declaration comes in from, according to David, “beautiful Hexham”. As if to bear him out, a cardboard sign comes into shot proclaiming it to be “Hadrian’s Wall Country”. We’re now approaching the point when Tony Blair makes his ritual visit to Buckingham Palace, though as both David and Nicholas Witchell – joining us live from the Palace – point out he doesn’t need to visit the monarch at all. “A journey that’s not strictly constitutionally necessary,” presses David, before adding, “I don’t know if you’ve been watching television, your Majesty.” There’ll be “no kissing of hands or any of that sort of thing,” Nick muses, his main worry being the PM’s arrival will clash with the daily Changing of the Guard. Sure enough the ubiquitous helicopter tracks Blair out of Downing Street and up to the Palace, reaching crowds who have no interest in his plight and are only there for the flummery.

David next decides to have some fun at Nick’s expense, first wondering whether “you’re certain that she’ll invite him to form a Government?” before repeatedly hassling him as to whether he can doorstep the PM. “Can you get to him?” David shouts. Nick refuses to rise to the bait, informing us Blair’s audience should last “20 to 22 minutes – time for a cup of coffee”. “Stop winding Nicholas Witchell up in this way,” castigates Jeremy from his salon, and there’s a respite from the regal shenanigans for a not very successful debate between Paxman and 25 members of the public sitting in a semi circle resembling a school reading class. One unleashes a long, incoherent rant about sugar sales to “the socialist republic of Cuba”, prompting Jeremy to yell, “What is your point?” his blood clearly still up from last night. A “man of the cloth” in Dover lowers the temperature by speaking with a bad cold.

While waiting for the PM to emerge from the Palace, David treats Tony King to “a test question”. “Is this a sort of pub quiz?” wonders the pundit uneasily, but it’s actually an e-mailed query from a viewer asking about electoral landslides. In fact, at long last some of those much-rumoured e-mails and text messages begin scrolling along the bottom of the screen, albeit garnering no comment from David or anybody else. We then see a bit of the Liberal Democrat press call, although it’s a one-sided affair. “I’m sorry you can’t hear the questions,” reflects David, “you’ll have to make up your own.”

At 11.30am we go back to the Palace where Nick’s concern about “a tangle” with the Changing of the Guard is now rampant. The fact Blair has taken so long with the Queen is also perplexing; “perhaps he’s having a job interview – or second thoughts!” The mood becomes even more uproarious when the PM finally emerges and his car has to take a very tortuous roundabout route out of the Palace grounds to avoid mowing down some soldiers. “Tony Blair’s first U-turn of this new parliament!” cracks David, to hoots of laughter. But he’s not done yet, as he returns to the subject of whether Nick managed to ask the PM a question. With immaculate timing the correspondent replies: “You can get yourself into terrible trouble doing that!” leading David to speculate whether the PM might have been muttering :”That bloody man Witchell – what’s he doing here?!”

A break from all the knockabout banter comes in the shape of Blair’s speech outside 10 Downing Street, which is carried in full. It goes on for so long, in fact, that David ends up absent-mindedly wondering whether we’ll “end up in one of Peter Snow’s graphics.” There hasn’t been much in the way of proper analysis for some time, so it’s a welcome change to discover Jeff Randall, the Beeb’s business editor, standing on top of a tower block like a weathercock, chatting to the head of the CBI Digby Jones. “I’d like to say there’s rip-roaring action in the City,” Jeff teases, “but there isn’t.” Instead Jones talks confusingly about “Brussels marching towards 1970,” and this segment sort of fizzles into nothing.

Word that “French tourists on Jack the Ripper tours” have got caught up in George Galloway’s victory parade through Bethnal Green takes us past midday and into the final hour. Time’s running out for Michael Howard to make his press call in Putney, though “getting out of London on a Friday is not always that easy,” commiserates David. The waiting around means there’s time to go back to Downing Street, where Andrew has now arrived, and also to quiz Tony King on a few more bits of election trivia.

When Howard does begin to speak, he rustles up the last surprise of the coverage, and one of the biggest. His decision to stand down catches everyone off guard, not least Andrew who’s reeling from the news. The Tories “can’t carry on like this,” he concludes, before mimicking Alan Sugar: “Never, ever, ever underestimate Kenneth Clarke!” “Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander,” sighs David mysteriously, his mind perhaps already planning what he’s having for lunch. He hasn’t got long to wait, for it’s almost 1pm and time for a few last words from Peter, Tony, Andrew and, up in Gateshead, Sian where her map was “rained on about half an hour ago … we need a bit of Tipp-Ex around the edges!”

David sums it all up by pointing out how the exit poll forecast the precise majority Labour has ended up with – 66. He echoes his very first words: “I hoped we would be fast and accurate and that we’d have some fun, and I hope we’ve achieved that and been of some use to you.” With appropriate gravity and pride he then signs off this marathon coverage, maybe his last General Election on BBC TV, by saying “on behalf of all of us, not just those in front of the camera but everybody around this studio who’ve been helping us, I hope you’ve enjoyed it and goodbye.” But the old wizard has one last ace up his sleeve: a big long list of credits, scrolling up the screen for several minutes, arranged in columns like at the end of a film and set to an extended version of Rick Wakeman’s timeless theme. As in 2001, it provides the perfect full stop to a dazzlingly ambitious and consistently entertaining 14 hours of television.

This has been the third election in a row contested on TV by the Dimbleby brothers. Last time around, OTT wondered which son’s performance Old Ma Dimbleby would favour, speculating that Jonathan had it in 1997, and David in 2001. This therefore makes 2005 the decider, particularly with hopes of further rematches looking increasingly unlikely. David, then, must be chuckling heartily, as – once again – the BBC outflanked ITV1 with its superior band of pundits and dazzling display of graphical gee-whizzery. While Jonathan was saddled with throwing over to a dopey party boat and live cartooning, David’s only real liability took the form of a hastily jettisoned Jon Culshaw and the shocking meanderings of Sally Magnusson. Alternately good-natured and grizzly, the Corporation captured the excitement of election night, the bustle and the humour, while ITV instead tried to dazzle us with early results and Alastair Stewart. By any definition, the Beeb were first across the line, and this time with an increased majority.

<Midnight – 3am