Margaret Thatcher – my part in her uprise! The night a woman became Prime Minister…
The BBC's 1979 election broadcast, when Margaret Thatcher shot to power, is being rescreened by BBC Parliament on Saturday 13 April from 9am-12.05am.
It is so appropriate that David Dimbleby is to commentate on her funeral, because "Decision 79", also marked the young, brown-haired journalist's debut as the BBC's now much loved election anchor, and featured many other TV favourites, such as a cigar-puffing Sir Robin Day.
The epic rerun of the 1979 show was announced on Twitter by Robbie Gibb, editor of the BBC's Daily & Sunday Politics shows.
I remember the astonishing night Britain voted in its first female Prime Minister perhaps more vividly than most, as I was at the hub of the election excitement at BBC Television Centre.
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More vividly except, perhaps, for David Dimbleby, whom I cheerily reminisced with last year, when Question Time came to Tunbridge Wells in February. "Oh yes," he laughed. "Wonderful. That was my first election!
On 4 May 1979, I was working on the Radio Times, and the BBC sent out an urgent internal call for extra 'runners' because it looked like this election was going to be a close one, and a very long night.
I pleaded with my boss to let me go, and bless him he did, launching me into one of the most exciting experiences of my life. Wearing silent trainers I did indeed end up 'running' over an alarming mass of cables and wires and around cameras - to deliver the latest scripts and reports to my hero, David Dimbleby.
On the way I would pass the irreplaceable Robin Day, who was cheerily puffing on a cigar in the vast studio as he prepared to interview "victors and vanquished"
We also had Angela Rippon reading out the results, and Robert McKenzie in charge of the famous Swingometer.
Through the night, I also became good friends with reporter Brian Hanrahan, who later shot to greater fame for his brilliant "I counted them all out, and I counted them all back" coverage of the Falklands War. A fabulous man.
The scoreboard behind Dimbleby had LAB at the top and CON second as the far more famous Jim Callaghan, who had a Sussex farm, took on the untried Margaret Thatcher, who had a series of hideaways in Lamberhurst, Kent.
The Liberals, in third place, had been through their own traumas with former leader Jeremy Thorpe, awaiting trial at the Old Bailey for conspiracy and incitement to murder, and David Steel – one of the youngest party leaders ever – facing his first general election without much hope after his famous Lib-Lab pact had broken down the summer before.
In addition, Britain had been through a rough time with the Winter of Discontent. Callaghan hadn't helped himself by being in denial of the growing unrest, leading to the famous
headline: "Crisis? What Crisis?" Earlier in the 70s I remember the lights going out and working in the office by candlelight. During that decade, the nation was indeed in a state.
At 11pm, the BBC's prediction after the polls closed was Lab 273-297, Con 311-335 and Lib a paltry 5-13. Dimbleby reported that Mrs Thatcher had said: "I will only be given one chance to win or lose."
So it was wide open between the old hand and the newbie with a handbag – anything could happen, and the nation trembled in nervous anticipation. With the polls surprisingly looking to be in Mrs Thatcher's favour, it seemed as if everyone sensed we were on the brink of something big.
Her agent at her Finchley constituency promised to deliver her a landslide victory with the biggest majority she had ever had, around 10,000 votes. "Well, we'll see about
that," said BBC reporter Michael Charlton.
Adrenalin flowed through the BBC studio with everyone eagerly devouring every result as it came in. The amazement grew by the hour as it became clear that Thatcher was the winner by just 43 seats – our first woman PM. The final result was: LAB 268, CON 339 and LIB 11. This was history in the making, and whatever anyone's politics, it was
The young Dimbleby hosted his first election with aplomb, with only one amusing hiccup – when he was caught on camera munching a quick sandwich. He later parodied the blooper
in The Goodies comedy show by pretending to carve and eat a whole turkey during an election broadcast.
We all stayed up all night, and I memorably celebrated a triumphant evening of live coverage – the creme de la creme of broadcasting – quaffing champagne with Dimbleby, Day, Hanrahan and the rest of the "Decision 79" production team the green room at 8am.
We were all grinning from ear to ear as we chinked our glasses – a gripping night's TV under our belts AND Britain winning its first female Prime Minister!
The rest, as they say, is history…