Terence Blacker: Halcyon days of election madness and mayhem

Several old dears mistook Enoch Powell for the grim reaper and passed clean away
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The Independent Online

Amid the fury and excitement of the political scene, it is often forgotten that general elections are not simply an opportunity for politicians to talk a lot, for journalists to escape their families, and members of the public to spout half-baked opinions on TV. They are also a time of fun, laughter and nostalgia.

Amid the fury and excitement of the political scene, it is often forgotten that general elections are not simply an opportunity for politicians to talk a lot, for journalists to escape their families, and members of the public to spout half-baked opinions on TV. They are also a time of fun, laughter and nostalgia.

Many of the most piquant moments are to be included in a hilarious ITV special called It'll Be Alright on Election Night, in which veteran observers of the political scene will share their wacky memories with the inimitable Denis Norden. I'm sure the great king of TV bloopers will forgive us if we offer an early exit poll of some of its contributions.

Mrs Jenny Winstone, former researcher from Conservative Central Office:

It's hard to credit these days, but there was a time when it was bad form to mention immigration or race during an election. Enoch Powell had recently made his "rivers of blood" speech, and we young Turks at HQ were given the task of setting up a charm offensive to restore his image.

We came up with the idea of sending our man into an old people's home with a camera crew to capture his caring side. Unfortunately, when Enoch flung open the doors to the TV lounge and, with a vulpine grin, cried, "I've come to talk to you!", several old dears mistook him for the grim reaper and passed clean away. Enoch retired soon afterwards.

Bibi Bradstreet, former model, member of Pan's People and revolutionary:

The Summer of Love was but a hazy memory, but a spirit of anarchic zaniness lingered in the air like a stale joss-stick. We'd done sit-ins, be-ins and love-ins. Now a group of wilder radicals - Mad Jack Straw, Poison Pete Hain, Chaz "The Enforcer" Clarke - decided we could avoid mainstream politics no longer.

Their plan was to capture a visiting Labour grandee, Ray Gunter, on his way to a meeting in Cambridge. All went swimmingly at first. The three picked up Gunter at the station, pretending to be party workers. They took him to a flat in Jesus Lane where a young star called Germaine Greer would make sure he stayed. Meanwhile their mate Terry Jones would appear in drag at the Labour meeting, pretending to be Lady Olga Maitland.

Talk about a cock-up. Terry was so good in skirt that he won several converts to the Tory party. Germaine and Ray hit it off so well that they were last seen floating down the Cam together in a punt. Humiliated, Straw, Hain and Clarke promised never to try anything amusing again. They have been as good as their word.

Deirdre McCall, loyal wife and mother:

Not many people realise the Reverend Ian Paisley is blessed with an impish sense of humour. When the SDLP, or "the rancid spawn of Satan" as he called them, were doing well in the polls, Ian wanted to prove that the DUP had support where it mattered. We built a secret jetty just below the water on Lough Erne and, in the middle of a speech, he set off, with Ian Paisley Jnr in his arms, to walk on water. He was about to declaim, "This is my son in whom I am well proud" when their combined weight proved too much and they began to sink. Luckily a passing Catholic fisherman was able to rescue them.

Joe Mason, aspiring actor (retired):

I'll never forget Glenda Jackson's first rally after she had abandoned acting for politics. It was a stirring occasion with the great actress roaring, rolling her eyes, yodelling and clutching at her hair so movingly that the crowd assumed she was putting on a reprise of the madwoman scene in Ken Russell's The Devils. We applauded, and there were cries of "Encore!" Only when she boomed "I'm talking about Thatcher, you bloody fools!" did we realise how tactless we had been.

Serena Humphreys, BBC producer:

My old friend Martin Bell was something of a dandy in his young days as a political correspondent, favouring a maroon velvet suit and natty aquamarine cravat. All that changed when he attended a press conference by the voracious MP Tom Driberg. Recognising the vision of loveliness in the front row, Driberg said, "Just look at Martina today. D'you fancy an exclusive later, love?" Mortified, Martin fled the room and took a vow of sartorial self-denial. He has worn white ever since.

Miles Kington is away

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