Tucked away at the very end of last night’s epic excursion through the 1967 devaluation crisis on BBC Parliament was an edition of 24 Hours hailing from the night of Labour’s 1968 Budget. And it was fantastic.
Bubbling away infectiously was Michael Barratt. Chuckling blithely was Cliff Michelmore. Both sat at different desks with different coloured backdrops, Cliff’s all black to denote superiority, while Mike’s was a bland grey.
Cigarette smoke drifted in front of the camera. Two union bosses grumbled and grunted about incomes policies. An indecently young looking Peter Jay droned on in precisely the same way he would proceed to do for the next 30 years. Mike did a round up of other news, including a press cutting from the Evening Standard containing a humorous misprint about the Archbishop of Canterbury – itself a correction of a misprint the previous day. Cliff tried to get in touch with Jamaica where England were about to win the test match.
Plus there was that staple of 1960s current affairs programmes, a topical skit. Hastily written and rehearsed in a matter of hours, it brought us “the Chancellor’s other television budget address, his dummy run”. Cue Nigel Hawthorne done up to look like Roy Jenkins, speech impediment and gigantic glasses present and correct, doing a tour de force to camera complete with ringing phones, giant calculating machines, an abacus and a collapsing briefcase.
Then it was back to Cliff for a sympathetic farewell consolation about all the new taxes on beer, tobacco and petrol, and into the jaunty end credits.
Why isn’t there anything like this on TV anymore? Why is Newsnight something you feel compelled to watch not out of interest or fondness but duty? Or even boredom? Why can’t current affairs be both heavyweight and light-hearted and not sacrifice a bit of charm in the process? And why, when it’s attempted, is topical humour so clumsy and obvious?
There’s still nothing, even after all these years, that comes close to rivalling the whole Tonight/24 Hours/Midweek small screen lineage of sending you to bed with the definitive full stop on the day.