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Three bottles of whisky and ‘prices’

BBC Parliament has come up trumps again. On Saturday 28th March it’s devoting an entire evening to recounting the events of the same evening 30 years earlier, when the Labour government lost a confidence motion by one vote and were forced to hold a general election. Loads of shenanigans and skulduggery went on; as Tony Benn recalls in his diary:

“Roy Hattersley, it was said, tried to get a couple of Scottish Nationalists to support us by promising an inquiry into prices in Scotland and Wales, and had given Frank Maguire, the Independent Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, three bottles of whisky and offered an inquiry into food prices in Northern Ireland…”

Anyway, it was the night the government fell, and the evening of programmes is called, not uncoincidentally, The Night The Government Fell.

There’s a brand new documentary putting the whole thing in context, which is all to the good but the real gems follow on: an edition of Tonight from 28th March 1979, live from Westminster, with Robin Day and Donald MacCormick looking askance at the likes of Michael Foot, Francis Pym and John Pardoe; highlights from the actual motion of confidence debate, which given it was recorded in sound only implies there’ll be some newly-added, tantalisingly-basic illustrative montages/slideshows (caricatures, hopefully, or maybe cartoons from newspapers of the day); a message from Uncle Jim himself, transmitted the night the, erm, government fell; and “highlights of news coverage and other archive programmes from the time”.

This is the kind of thing BBC Parliament always does very well, and will surely be the perfect way to pass an otherwise imperfect Saturday evening. No mention of a linking host or presenter, though; surely Michael Cockerell is waiting for the call?



  1. David Boothroyd

    March 15, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    ‘The Night the Government Fell’ is presumably a repeat of the programme which BBC Parliament put on for the 25th anniversary.

    When BBC Parliament showed the emergency Falklands debate, which was also in sound only, they used contemporary pictures of the speakers. It wasn’t very visually entertaining but it was at least something.

  2. Glenn Aylett

    June 14, 2009 at 11:19 pm

    I watched their coverage of Maggie’s landslide in 1983 last year and saw a totally beaten looking Michael Foot outside Labour’s headquarters in Walworth Road, which looked like a tatty version of the Coronation St, with party workers who seemed to resemble something from a distant era: stereotype bearded intellectual with pipe, grizzled trade unionists and a few elderly party activists who probably fought in the First World War. Even his car looked decrepit and rusty- I think it was one of the first Rover 3500s- and one of the staff cars was an equally down at heel Chrysler Avenger. I bet if Blair was watching this he would have found it comical and I wonder if it inspired him to create New Labour.

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