Election '97: Dimbleby the consummate performer shows his hand

Television's grand inquisitor Jeremy Paxman appeared distinctly jumpy yesterday when the tables were turned on him by media pundits invited to marvel at the BBC's Election Night studio set.

Paxo had to be prodded out of his self-styled "pen" - an interviewing lair up in the gods of the studio - by the Corporation's press handlers who insisted that he should make a smiling appearance following a recent magazine interview in which he hinted at some dissatisfaction about being kept in David Dimbleby's shadow.

"Listen, I was not disappointed. It was what we call in the trade a joke. J.O.K.E," he told me when I did my best Paxman impression and raised this vexed topic.

Later, loosening up slightly, he described himself as "the fool to Dimbleby's King Lear" and said he would dread being asked to play the big serious anchorman role at a future election. "It seems to be rather complicated."

It sure does. The BBC is hailing its Election Night special as the biggest broadcasting event in its history. It will certainly be among the longest - running from 9.55pm to at least midday on 2 May.

It took 16 lorries to deliver and three days to erect the silver-hued tubular steel "theatre-in-the-round" set in studio 1 at BBC Television Centre, which will serve as the hub of the operation, housing 120 computer terminals, 200 monitors, 100 telephones, 30 miles of video cable and wiring and backed up by 80 outside broadcast units dotted throughout the British Isles.

Although the cameras will be trained on Dimbleby and his fellow presenters, plus the delighted and dejected politicians they lure into Paxman's lair, viewers will also see the camera crews, the results' team and computer back-up people.

"They will all be visible so that licence-payers can see their money is being well-spent," said Peter Horrocks, editor of Newsnight and Election '97, who was keen to point out that the cost of the coverage would be about pounds 2.5m, roughly the same as in 1992.

But there was no sign of skimping. The lavish set is a cross between the Starship Enterprise and a Roman amphitheatre. Dimbleby averred that it reminded him of the Cirque du Soleil, a famous Canadian circus troupe, at the Royal Albert Hall. "You expect acrobats in leotards to appear," he jested. He may be the circus-master, but he will also be performing, as ever, a double-act with Peter Snow, who was like a child in a toy shop yesterday demonstrating his new virtual swingometer, live 3-D graphics and zappy election night computer games.

One sequence - already tested on the Wirral South by-election result programme - will depict the parties' battle-buses either roaring ahead or disappearing into a watery ditch, depending on their performance at the poll. Another will show key target seats being smashed up on screen if the incumbent is unseated.

"Visually the graphics are the most exciting," Snow enthused. "They'll be able to tell the story as never before."

The story the BBC wants to tell on 2 May is that it has once gain triumphed on the ratings front. In its 1992 Election Night coverage the Beeb drew 8 million viewers, twice as many as ITV. By 2am its audience had fallen to 4.5 million, but this was three times as large as its commercial rival.

"I'd be disappointed if our coverage this time round wasn't as popular," said Mr Horrocks, issuing a further solemn pledge to licence-payers: "It's long, but it's not going to be boring."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright and Bianca Miller in the final of The Apprentice
tvMark Wright and Bianca Miller fight for Lord Sugar's investment
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
News
i100
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
The monkey made several attempts to revive his friend before he regained consciousness
video
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick