General elections are big events for broadcasters. Huge efforts go into mounting the overnight programmes – reporters and crews need to be on hand at as many counts as possible and be placed close to party leaders and other major figures.
The scale of election coverage has grown but, ironically, in scheduling terms they are less disruptive than they used to be. Basically BBC One’s normal daytime schedule is simply shifted over to BBC Two and a few ITV programmes have a day off. The end.
In the olden days though, general elections led to something of a TV treat for young pres fans who weren’t caught up in the great affairs of the state. Elections up to 1979 were among the few occasions when there was breakfast television in the UK. Even putting on the TV before school was something of a novelty.
In 1979 and 1983, for example, BBC One ran continuous coverage from the early morning until children’s programmes began at their normal time of 3.55pm. There was no normal lunchtime news. The 1979 breakfast coverage featured an unusually amended BBC One clock for timechecks.
Over on BBC Two there was even more fun to be had for pres enthusiasts. The treats began early on with in-vision displays of constituency results kicking in around 7am after the Open University. In the 1974 and 1979 elections, these rolling captions, accompanied by the test card music, were something of a prototype for Pages from Ceefax.
But the biggest fun came during schools programmes – transferred to BBC Two for the morning. The normal BBC One schools sequence had to be amended to work on BBC Two. In 1979, apparently, a still of the dots was used – there was no way of animating them. The Noddy machine was firmly linked to the BBC One ‘broom cupboard’. But just what was used to replace the BBC One logo? By then the stripy ‘2’ was familiar on slides and trails, and was just weeks away from featuring in the new, electronically generated channel ident. It seems very likely that the stripy ‘2’ was used – perhaps something similar to the BBC Two countdown example above, thought to date from November 1978.
By 1983 the dots were electronically generated: a ‘=2=’ logo was placed over the ‘BBC1’ lettering and the dots animated in the usual manner. By then it was not unusual to move schools to BBC Two. But, depending on who was on duty, the caption could look better or worse. Sometimes the bottom fifth of the BBC Two clock was wiped on, creating a pleasing composite image; sometimes a crude white version of the “=2=” logo was used. There was also the fun of seeing, or rather hearing, which interval tracks made it along from NC1 to NC2.
By 1987 of course schools had moved permanently to BBC Two. But, while there was nothing special for BBC fans, ITV Schools tried out its new home on Channel 4 a few months early. The normal captions and woeful music were used – there was to be no sneak preview of the spectacular sequence created for the official move in September. But a different type was used for the programme name underneath the clock, suggesting unusual transmission arrangements.
By 1992 both main channels had full daytime services and elections simply meant a changed Friday schedule. The fun has gone but perhaps the people who’d enjoyed the slightly Heath Robinson arrangements in earlier elections now had much more important things on their minds.
PICTURED: BBC One Schools and Colleges countdown clock (1981). SUPPLIED BY: Dave Baldwin. COPYRIGHT: BBC.