Charles Moore: Harold Wilson Night: The PM Who Lived and Died by Television

Roundup: Talking About History

Charles Moore covers politics with the wisdom and insight that come from having edited The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and The Spectator.

No one but the BBC would have dreamt up a “Harold Wilson Night”. It is hard to think of any other politician who was at the top for so long (he won four general elections) with so little to show for it. But it is fitting that the BBC should have commemorated the 50th anniversary of Wilson’s capture of the Labour leadership because, at the time, it loved him.

In the general election of 1964, Wilson spotted that the BBC comedy Steptoe and Son would be broadcast on polling day. Believing that the programme (about father-and-son rag-and-bone men) was particularly popular with Labour voters, and would therefore keep them away from the polling stations, Wilson went to see Hugh Greene, the director-general, to persuade him to reschedule. Greene, who craved a Labour victory, obliged. Since Wilson’s overall majority was only four seats, it is possible that it was the Beeb wot won it.

The Parliament Channel put out “Harold Wilson Night”. Presumably, it has a very small budget. This had the delightful effect of excluding virtually all clever televisual tricks, apart from annoying music played over the clips from the 1966 election night. There was a rather touching new interview with Wilson’s mathematician son, Robin (sunny and genial, apart from his hatred of the “gutter press”), and decent linkage by Peter Snow, but otherwise the channel simply ran old programmes and interviews....

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