Saturday, 1 May 2010

A nearly gaffe - Exclusive

As the media extracted maximum value, and then some, from Gordon Brown's "Bigotgate" moment, I recalled a moment, long, long ago, when another senior politician came very close to illuminating the airwaves with his innermost thoughts....
(fx: shimmering vision + assorted harp glisses)

It's 1979, and the General Election campaign is in full swing. (This is the election that'll see Jim Callaghan humping his belongings into the removal van and departing Downing Street to make way for Britain's first female Prime Minister.)

BBC Radio Scotland is broadcasting one of a series of election phone-in shows, with various party representatives facing questions from the public. The programme is being presented in Edinburgh, but one of its guests, the renowned Conservative MP Teddy Taylor, is joining the proceedings from Glasgow. For technical reasons, he's sitting with me in the station's main continuity studio.

The calls come thick and fast and, it would be fair to say, Mr Taylor is given a pretty thorough interrogation by a largely hostile electorate.

Being every bit the experienced media veteran, he displays a neat routine for lighting his cigarettes (yes, you could smoke in a workplace back then!) with a match struck underneath the acoustic table, so that the microphone does not pick-up the sound. As the hostile calls come thick and fast, the rate of fag lighting increases, and I'm sure I detect a slight nervous tremor beginning to show in his hands.

Eventually, the programme draws to a close and Taylor emits a sigh of relief, turning to me and opining: "J*sus Chr*st, not a f*cking Conservative among them".

I hastily make the international sign for "Shhh .... not now, matey!" as I open the mic and embark on the live end-of-programme continuity announcement. Just one second earlier on the mic fader and the listening public would have been able to share his observation. Sadly, only Teddy and I had the pleasure. In fact, this blog is undoubtedly the first published record of this event! I probably shouldn't divulge this studio secret, but I'm unofficially invoking the 30 Year Rule.

Although that election swept the Conservatives to power, it also swept Teddy Taylor out of his Glasgow Cathcart seat, as Labour reasserted itself in working-class central Scotland.

Incidentally, 1979's was a May election, and the Labour campaign focused on the damage they predicted the Conservatives would do to the country. James Callaghan cautioned that a Conservative government would "just allow firms to go bankrupt and jobs to be lost in the middle of a world recession". The Tories were, he said "too big a gamble to take. The question ... is whether we risk tearing everything up by the roots".

1 comment:

Paul F said...

Hi Charles,

Interesting story, thank you for sharing it. Its always amusing to see how many of these supposedly media savvy politicians (and other public figures) forget to remember that all microphones are best treated as open.

This was nicely captured in the final episode of Yes, Prime Minister series 2, broadcast barely 9 years after your experience. Although in this case it was Sir Humphrey, rather than the Minister, caught making unguarded comments within ear shot of an open microphone.


PS I'm still looking out for the big prize promised for me spotting the error^H^H^H^H^H sorry deliberate test in the 21 Feb blog. Perhaps it got lost in the post?? ;)