Election Marathon: organising Election Marathon

Getting ready to get going

The date of the General Election was announced on September 8th. On September 16th, 12 days before the programme was due on the air, Granada sent this invitation to the agents for the 348 candidates contesting the 153 constituencies in Granada’s region:

Dear …,

You have probably read in the newspapers of Granada’s plan to offer all candidates in the North of England a chance to address their electors on television.

This is our invitation to your candidate to take part.

The programme is entitled “The Election Marathon”, and this is how it will work. The length of time on the air for a constituency with three candidates will not be less than six minutes. Candidates will ballot for the order of speaking. When their turn comes to appear on the air the chairman will introduce them — naming the constituency, each candidate and the party he represents. The candidates will then speak in the order of ballot for one minute each. Then the chairman will conduct a short debate in which each candidate will have a chance to deal with any points that the other speakers have raised. Each candidate will have an equal time on the air.

No constituency debate can be included in the programme unless all the nominated candidates agree to appear; it would be infringing the Television Act 1954 to present, say, only two out of three candidates.

We have taken leading legal opinion. We are assured that the Marathon programme does not infringe the terms of the Representation of the People Act.

We will arrange transport to and from the studio. For constituencies west of the Pennines the studio will be at the Granada Television Centre in Manchester. For constituencies east of the Pennines the studio will be in the Granada offices in Leeds.

There are details to be worked out as this is a complex television operation. We will be getting in touch with you again but in the meantime we would be grateful if you could let us know if your candidate will be able to take part. Would you please make a transfer charge telephone call to us at Granada, Manchester, Deansgate 7211, and ask for the Election Desk.

We would be grateful for a quick decision, because it will help us in making our plans.

Yours sincerely,


By next morning one thing was sure: candidates wanted to appear on Marathon. All that day the four telephone lines to Granada’s Election Desk were ringing continuously, with acceptances in principle. In the morning there was a queue of calls from Nantwich, Bolton, Knutsford, Oldham, Leeds, Keighley, Barrow.

But before Marathon could go on the air all the candidates in a constituency had to accept; all had to agree to the same time and date.

Each candidate accepting was given a provisional time and date for broadcasting. Acceptances were marked on a wall chart of constituencies.

At 10.30 a.m. the first direct refusal came by telephone from Yorkshire. Mr. Paul Bryan, the Conservative candidate for Howden, regretted he could not accept the invitation. This meant that the Labour candidate, who had already accepted, would not be able to appear. Howden was marked off the constituency list. The Labour candidate was informed that Granada could not televise him.

The second refusal came at 12.30 p.m. It was from Mrs. Bessie Braddock who said she was against television appearances. So Liverpool Exchange came off the list, too.

But by this time individual acceptances had built up a strong lead and slowly whole constituencies began to be lined up. The first complete constituency, oddly enough, was Rochdale, where eighteen months earlier Granada had televised the by-election: Mr. Jack McCann (Labour) accepted at noon, then Mr. Tom Normanton, the Conservative, and finally, later in the day, Mr. Ludovic Kennedy for the Liberals.

By 6 p.m. on September 22nd, six days after the invitations had gone out, the candidates in 100 constituencies out of 153 had provisionally accepted.

About half the candidates accepting were also able to agree to the provisional times and dates offered by Granada. For the others new times and dates had to be worked out, and agreed by all of them.

Granada’s operations sheet for a difficult constituency went like this:

10 a.m. The Labour candidate says he cannot accept a Tuesday evening broadcast: he has a meeting a long way off. He suggests Wednesday or Thursday evening.

10.12 a.m. Granada phones the Conservative and Liberal agents, who have already accepted Tuesday. They say they will consult their candidates and ring back in the afternoon. They do.

The Conservative can manage Thursday evening but not the afternoon: he is due at an old people’s tea party. The Liberal agent says the candidate can appear on Wednesday afternoon but he must be away by 4.45 p.m. for another meeting. Can Granada arrange that? Yes, but now the more important question is can the Liberal appear Thursday evening? The agent says he will see.

3.30 p.m. Granada re-checks the Marathon schedule. The constituency can be televised on the Thursday evening if they all agree. Granada rings the Labour candidate. He is out with a canvassing team. A message is left.

3.50 p.m. Now the Liberal candidate rings back. Yes, Thursday evening is all right for him, provided transport can be arranged both ways. It can; he agrees.

4.15 p.m. Granada tries the Labour committee rooms again, but the candidate is not back yet. Five minutes later he is on the telephone. He will be agreeable to re-arranging Thursday evening’s engagements, but he cannot be in the studio until 10.45 p.m.

4.45 p.m. Granada writes to all the parties. The local Granada news correspondent is asked to arrange transport for the Liberal.

So one more constituency is scheduled.

One candidate was unduly optimistic. He wrote: “I understand you pay your usual fee to those taking part in this broadcast”. Granada replied: “We feel we perform a public service in this broadcast and therefore we do not propose a fee”. The candidate then accepted graciously; but, because his opponent refused the invitation, he did not in fact appear.

The final figures were:

Total candidates invited: 348
Total accepting: 294 (of whom 65 did not appear two owing to illness the rest because their opponents could not appear)
Total refusing: 54 (34 Conservative, 17 Labour, 3 Liberal)
Total number of constituencies invited: 153
Total accepting: 100
Total not accepting: 54 (of which 1 prevented by illness)
Too busy (distance too far, commitments too great) 33
Unable to rearrange engagements 3
Time allotted too short 3
No useful purpose served 3
Refused to share common platform with opponent 2
Objected to appearing on television 1
Prevented through illness 1
Fringe area – number of viewers “too small” 1
Last minute nomination: scheduled time fell on Jewish New Year – too busy to accept alternative time 1
Reason not given 4

In the constituencies some strong things were being said about candidates unable to appear — and about television.

Mr. Geoffrey Hirst, Conservative candidate for Shipley, who declined the invitation, was reported in the Bradford Telegraph and Argus to have said that, the whole policy of televising the election had been grossly overdone. In any case, he thought that his own programme was far too busy for him to go careering about adding to the saturation. His Labour opponent retorted that he was “undemocratic”.

The newspapers had already reported the invitations (“350 can climb on the TV Soapbox” was the Daily Herald’s headline). Now the refusals made news.

The Daily Mirror, in a bold editorial headlined “This Gag is Not Funny”, said: “Any one candidate can gag his opponents. This smothering of election politics on TV is insane. TV goes into more than 9 million homes. It should play a vital part in getting everyone steamed up about the General Election…”

The Mirror concluded: “Granada is courageous but hampered by screen-shy candidates. One thing is clear. The winning parly on October 8th must make sure that TV is never gagged like this again”.

There was a rash of Marathon headlines in the local newspapers: “Colonel Refutes Debate Smear” (Manchester Evening Chronicle); “A Socialist Refuses One TV Minute” (Yorkshire Post); “Television Not Our Line, say Local Tories” (Crewe Chronicle); “TV Election Clash at Shipley” (Bradford Telegraph and Argus); “Candidate Sorry Opponent Won’t Join TV Debate” (Sheffield Star).

The Manchester Guardian said that in Bradford Marathon had become “the first issue to disturb a quiet contest”; and the Sunday Dispatch reported a crisp bit of cross-talk from Liverpool Exchange where, it said, Mrs. Braddock’s refusal to appear on Marathon with stockbroker Mr. Tom Beattie-Edwards (Conservative) had livened up a cold election.

The dialogue, said the Sunday Dispatch, went something like this:

Bessie: I have no objection to you going on TV. They can give you an hour for all I care.

Tom: Thanks, I’ll tell Granada.

Bessie: The longer you speak on TV, the less notice they’ll take of you.

Tom: You might get a big shock on October 8th.

Bessie: If we lose Exchange we might as well pack up altogether . . .

(Mr. Edwards did tell Granada about Mrs. Braddock’s willingness to let him appear — but under the law Granada could not screen only one candidate.)

Plain Ties Preferred

In Manchester and Leeds, meanwhile, preparations were pushed ahead for televising candidates who had accepted (now they included Mr. Gaitskell, Labour candidate for Leeds South, who had agreed to appear from Leeds on Marathon despite a full diary: he said he did not want to deprive his opponents of their chance).

At Leeds a Granada office had been converted into a studio and the Travelling Eye units had moved in. The broadcasting times had been confirmed with the candidates and advertisements prepared for the press in every constituency.

The RAC had signposted routes to the studios. Granada had sent every candidate a map and asked its news correspondents on the spot to help if they could.

Since most of the candidates were about to face television cameras for the first time, Granada sent them these hints:

These Notes May Help You

  1. What you wear is not of critical importance, but it would help your appearance on television if you wear a blue or light green shirt — which transmit best.
  2. Plain ties look better than striped.
  3. If you wish, wear your rosettes, but avoid things that shine. Badges and metal pen tops reflect light and do not help your picture.
  4. You will be called upon to speak, in the first instance, for one minute, and then, the second time round, you will be given a chance to reply to your rivals for another minute. You might care to work out the points you want to make in your first minute.
  5. After you have been speaking for 45 seconds a light, in front of you, will start to flash. This will continue until your minute is up. When this light starts to flash you should wind up your speech so that you are not cut off by the independent chairman. If you finish in under a minute, do not worry — the camera will cut back to the Chairman so that you are not left in mid-air. Your speech will go out as a finished piece, even if you are under the minute.
  6. If you are used to talking to large audiences remember that television is a very intimate medium. Big oratorical speeches and gestures are not successful. They often seem pompous. Experts say it is an advantage to try to project your talk to just one person — say a friend sitting at home.
  7. There will, as usual, be movement in the studio — technicians working and people moving into place. Ignore all this, for you are on the air. Concentrate on the camera in front of you and nothing else.
  8. Where should you train your eyes? Right on the lens at the bottom left of the camera — this is the one that counts . . . RELAX . . . and be yourself.

September 28th was Nomination Day — and Marathon Day. There was only one last-minute crisis: Bolton West and Bolton East were scheduled for Marathon’s first day and last-minute nominations looked likely (Granada’s news correspondents had been asked to advise of any). A Liberal announced his intention of standing in Bolton East against a Conservative, and a Conservative hastened from London to fight the Liberal in Bolton West. Granada stood by on Nomination Day to take them both into the scheduled programmes if they agreed to appear — and to cancel both Bolton constituencies altogether if they refused.

But the Liberal stayed at home all day, and the Conservative, un-nominated, went back to London.

At 4.47 p.m. in Leeds and at 4.52 p.m. in Manchester, Marathon was on the air.

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