The changing faces in politics

COMMON MARKET? Harold Macmillan, Prime Minister from 1957-63, addresses a packed meeting on Great Ya

COMMON MARKET? Harold Macmillan, Prime Minister from 1957-63, addresses a packed meeting on Great Yarmouth Market Place. - Credit: Archant

RETIREMENT from provincial journalism means not having to cover General Elections, a welcome bonus. In practical terms, it meant one reporter being detailed to cover a constituency campaign, leaving colleagues short-handed for a month.

ANY COMPLAINTS? Health Minister Dr David Owen chats to residents at Northgate Hospital in 1976.

ANY COMPLAINTS? Health Minister Dr David Owen chats to residents at Northgate Hospital in 1976. - Credit: Archant

One abiding General Election memory is of one evening in the North Norfolk constituency, possibly 1959 or 1964, when a “big gun” briefly paused in a tiny village near Holt on a whistle-stop tour. My photographer and I, plus no more than half a-dozen villagers, were there to hear Sir Elwyn Jones, a future Attorney General.

That village was still quite primitive, lacking many a mod-con... but Sir Elwyn inexplicably chose to tell us of the impending enormous advances in technology that would benefit the nation. His long-term prophecy was correct, of course, but that location was not the place to make it.

Before television dominated General Election coverage, local newspapers were at the forefront. Hereabouts we strove for strict impartiality, even counting each candidate’s printed lines in the paper to ensure no disparity.

Proceedings were enlivened when a political heavyweight arrived to support a candidate. Indoor meetings often lacked pulling power, but in Yarmouth the outdoor ones attracted hundreds of folk, usually thronging the Market Place, and heckling was inevitable... and enjoyable.

NO LAUGHING MATTER! Edward Heath, Prime Minister 1970-74, at a meeting in Yarmouth.

NO LAUGHING MATTER! Edward Heath, Prime Minister 1970-74, at a meeting in Yarmouth. - Credit: Archant


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A colleague who covered George Brown’s packed outdoor meeting recalled that surprisingly, the Labour deputy leader’s rhetoric and oratory were received in near silence, depriving him of the chance to get into an harangue.

The reporter told me: “Suddenly Brown stopped in mid-sentence, pointed at one section of the crowd and demanded angrily, ‘Who said that? Come on. Say it again! Out loud!’”

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There was still no reaction because the heckler was non-existent, and the bid to engage in a bit of verbal rough-and-tumble was in vain.

Yarmouth’s long-serving post-war Conservative MP, the late Sir Anthony Fell, could deliver a good speech, enjoyed by supporters if not by opponents, but that was probably in his genes because his grandfather, Sir Arthur Fell, had once held the seat.

TORY WET? No: Enoch Powell's umbrella keeps him dry as he arrives at the Town Hall.

TORY WET? No: Enoch Powell's umbrella keeps him dry as he arrives at the Town Hall. - Credit: Archant

Tony Fell was so outspoken and controversial that one national obituarist wrote: “His prominence was gained by the bellicosity of his utterances, which reflected the pugnacity of his character.”

There have been changes to constituency boundaries to simplify them. If memory serves me correctly, in my North Norfolk days its parliamentary area stretched from its Yarmouth counterpart right across to the west to embrace places near King’s Lynn.

Vaguely I recall trying to find Tattersett – which I had never heard of – at night in pre-satnav days to cover an election meeting, then driving miles in the dark along country lanes to find a working phone box so I could dictate my report to head office.

Beneficial new technology like mobile phones, presumably included in Sir Elwyn’s technology promise, did not arrive until after my retirement. Nowadays, what reporter needs urgently to find a phone box in deserted countryside at night?

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