After a week gawping at the wildlife of the island of Islay – boxing
hares, seals, deer and thousands of geese (the entire cast of a
mid-evening wildlife programme) – it was time to get back to work. A
sleeper train would get me into work for a 7am start – time to catch up
on my time away and start the final week of election campaign planning
and dealing with the complications of a parliament’s last gasp.
Didn’t quite work out that way. The sleeper train pulled out of
Glasgow station five minutes before my family trooped in, and I was
left explaining to two boys that the train wouldn’t come back for us,
however nicely we asked. Week’s lesson number one: after checking a
really important time with National Rail Enquiries, best go find the
driver and find out the real time.
So, seven hours later than
planned, I make my start to the week. What to do with BBC Parliament’s
schedules after the election? We decide to show the 1997 general
election night programme a week after the election, to point up the
differing mood between this election and New Labour’s coming to power.
An all-day showing to serve as a tribute to “third time around Tony”,
or savage irony? I don’t know which, but we get the rights cleared and
that’s what we’ll be serving up on 13 May. Radio Times deadlines mean
having to be right whatever the outcome, but you do need to have a
choice of rationales.
Then a dollop of compliance! There is more
and more of this with every month that passes and it is obviously a
very good thing, otherwise it would not be so popular. In this case I
was able to determine for the governors that BBC Parliament had shown
26 hours and 55 minutes of the Welsh Assembly in the last three months.
I’m sure they’ll be pleased.
To accompany the report for the
governors, I provide a shiny new logo for BBC Parliament. Marketing at
Television Centre then check with me if it has been through the correct
approvals procedure and I say, “Possibly not – I just thought it looked
nice.” This is a bit like getting clever with the traffic police, and I
shall blame it on the missed sleeper and the missed sleep.
The announcement of a General Election. Despite the total lack of
surprise, there’s something about having the skies over Westminster
filled with the sound of helicopters, and the security clampdown to get
the Prime Minister to and from the Palace, that brings with it a taste
of real political excitement.
Peter Hain’s Business Statement is eagerly awaited.
rotas stand or fall by what he has to say. There’s some threatening
stuff about “awaiting Lords messages”, meaning “we’ll muck around if
you muck around” and I put round a schedule change for Radio 4 to take
an extra Yesterday in Parliament on Saturday, in case they mean what
Threaded around the day’s Commons business, there’s a curious range of tasks.
In my role as gangmaster: has everyone from Today and Yesterday in Parliament been successfully redeployed to election output?
coverage: have we got the accommodation we need for Brighton and the
Labour Party Conference in September? (The usual answer: “no”, and
maybe some of our team will report again from Worthing. Or Gatwick.)n
Finally: planning for a submission for an award. A leading broadcasting
magazine – just not this one – has finally come up with a competition
that sounds like we might have a chance: Specialist Digital Channel of
the Year. Why not?
With a 30 per cent rise in audiences over the
last 12 months, I’m soon past the tedious business of working out how
to win the award and daydreaming instead about the acceptance speech.
Must remember not to thank anyone or my bosses will think the recent
cuts didn’t go far enough.
The last Prime Minister’s Questions. Michael Howard on top form and
Labour’s backbenchers put up their hands in a desultory way to show
who’s got Tony Blair on their campaign leaflets. Not many. Great
material for Yesterday in Parliament.
Then to parliamentary ping-pong and the agonising dullness of it
all. It’s heartbreaking to see your viewing figures disappear after
hitting quarter of a million on Budget Day, but who could possibly
stick it out all the way through this?
More like the clock
channel than the Parliament channel, as the only feed of pictures we
can get out of Parliament is that of the clocks in the chambers, and
the business bounces very slowly from one House back to the other.
Back on the train. This time a modest journey into work from
Brentford to Waterloo. But these brand-new and yet-to-bevandalised
trains have doors with minds of their own and we sit in a station for
more than half an hour, unable to move.
sitting close to me is a member of the Lords and she has all the latest
on how the day’s business is going to get through. Who needs Order
papers when you can listen in to your neighbour’s mobile? Time to take
Yesterday in Parliament back out of the Radio 4 Saturday schedule.
day, and the four-year-long Parliament, ends after 6pm with the strange
business of Prorogation. Anglo- Norman is spoken, hats are doffed (many
times) and retiring MPs are brought close to tears. But in case we
mistake it all for pantomime flummery, lightening flashes over the
Westminster skies and thunderclaps in the chamber bring the session to
The day starts with the Pope’s funeral but BBC Parliament has a
small part to play too. We make good use of the fabulous TV archives –
and in this case, we air the Pope’s visit to Britain in 1982. Just
ahead of the funeral we show the Pope at the height of his powers, as
he warns a football stadium crammed with young Scottish teens against
taking part in “fornication” and “orgies”. They love him and cheer him
but it was hard to be sure that the message had got through.
The day is spent with final checks that our campaign plans – to show
news conferences and events non-stop – are in good working order. But I
shall be in first thing Monday to see that all the planning has worked.
I’ll take the train, and get in very early.