The other day the BBC Parliament channel showed a repeat of the general election coverage from February 1974. This is precisely the kind of thing I can watch, avidly, for hours. I rarely essay political topics here at Hooting Yard, but when not engaged in high level research into matters Dobsonian or limning the contours of Bodger’s Spinney or whatever else I prattle on about, I can be a terrible political pointyhead. There is a special fascination with old archive footage – the haircuts, the fruity pronunciation, the clunking technology, the on-screen fug of tobacco smoke, the impossibly youthful appearance of people still in the public eye, the phantoms of those who are dead and gone…
Of many treasurable moments, one in particular stood out for me. Jeremy Thorpe was down in his Devon constituency, on camera yet speaking to the London studio via a large green telephone receiver clutched tight against his ear, and as he signed off he said he was planning to spend the weekend doing lots of gardening before returning to the fray on Monday. Back in the studio, Alastair Burnet said, very casually, “Jeremy Thorpe there, very Voltairean… now, some more results…”
I cannot imagine any presenter today making that comment, either because they wouldn’t be capable of doing so, or, if they were, it would be considered too obscure a reference for the viewers, who need to be treated like slow-witted infants.
I will, of course, be glued to the screen for hours come the forthcoming election, and will enjoy every minute of the coverage. But if any reference at all is made to anything outside the hermetically-sealed world o’ Westminster, it will be to an airhead “celebrity” rather than to an Enlightenment philosophe.