Stephen Kelly remembering the Granada 500

Granada 500 was a major general election programme, which I think started with the ‘74 general election. Anyhow, I was there in ‘79 for the general election, and did some work on the Granada 500. It’s a really interesting idea and is, like many TV programmes, deserving of some very serious consideration and reflection. What it was about was, every general election from the year dot had always gone the way of Bolton West. Bolton West was a key marginal. There were two seats in Bolton, Bolton West and Bolton East, and Bolton West was the most marginal. And if Bolton West went conservative, the government went conservative. If it went Labour, the government went Labour. It was always a winning seat. And as such, deserved some serious looking at. So what Granada did was to set up the Bolton 500. We went to the constituency, and with the help of the opinion pollsters MORI, identified 500 key people who were an accurate reflection of the voters in Bolton. So the idea was, if you could plot the way they were thinking about different issues, you could see which way the electron was going to go. 

So we identified our 500 people. We then polled them about the 10 most important issues of the general election – defence, common market, economy, whatever. And what we then did was to educate these 500 in the various issues. So for the two weeks running up to the election, two and a half weeks, every day, we brought these 500 people into the town hall in Bolton, or wherever we were doing it, and then we, the researchers, would have worked on a paper. So let’s say we were doing defence, defence was the subject we were going to talk about that particular day. So in the afternoon, we would have prepared a paper, 4-6 sheets of paper, about what the issues were to do with defence. Defence expenditure, nuclear expenditure, Polaris submarines, etc.. We would give every one of these 500 a little booklet of all this information. And in the afternoon, an expert would come in, two or three experts, to talk to the audience about the various issues to do with defence. And the audience could talk to them. That wasn’t televised. That was all internal. You can begin to see what a massive operation this was. It was huge. You probably about 8-10 researchers working on it. Two or three producers, big OB crew. It was a huge commitment, cost a lot of money. Plus, also, if these people couldn’t get the time off work we wrote to the companies and said, “Can they have the time off?” And if the company said , “Yes, they can have the time off, but we’re not going to pay them,” then Granada paid them. I mean, it was huge. It cost a fortune. So after they’d had their afternoon of being “educated”, as it were, and then fed, we would bring the politicians in. The politicians would arrive, one from each party. The Secretary of State for defence, the opposition spokesman for defence Labour, and the Liberal. And an hour-long television programme would be done live, in which the audience could speak to the politicians and ask questions of the politicians. And that was presented by Gordon Burns, who did a terrific job in presenting that. And so for 10 days, whatever it was, every night it went out live at nine o’clock on network television. That would never happen today! But it was a great way of educating people in the issues, and spending some time thinking about the issues instead of the sort of rush over the issues that you get these days. 

Then at the very end of it, the operation gets even bigger. Because we took the 500 down to London, to a theatre that was at the back of the London School of Economics. And in this theatre, the 500 met the three party leaders. So Margaret Thatcher was rolled in, James Callaghan, and David Steel. They came in, and then the audience asked their questions. And by this stage, you kind of knew who the good people were for asking questions, the ones who were articulate and asked interesting questions, so we were always trying to identify all those people. And I remember the one I did in 1979, Jim Callaghan was Prime Minister. It was kind of felt that Callaghan lost the election on his performance. There had been the summer of discontent, a lot of strikes, a lot of demands for more money, bins, litter and rubbish in the streets and so on. And the nurses had been demanding more money. And there’s a nurse sitting in the front row. And she asks Callaghan, “When are you going to give us nurses more money?” And Callaghan had a go at her. He was quite, not bullying, but he didn’t do it very gently. The one thing you don’t do is try to bully or shout down a young female nurse. And it was felt very much that he really lost it with her. It was unlike Callaghan really, because he was a nice old man. I met him many times, and he was he was a very gentle, decent person. But he lost it a bit there. And then, of course, when Margaret Thatcher came in, she just wooed them all. “Nurses are so important,” you know, “You do a wonderful job.” And she won the general election. We had a huge train to take these people down to London from Piccadilly, which had on the front of it ‘The Granada 500’ as it rattled its way through the Midlands to London. What an operation it was! We did the ‘83 general election, and we did one in Warrington, there was a very important by-election in Warrington when Roy Jenkins stood against Doug Hoyle. And that was the Warrington 500. That was when the Social Democratic Party had just been formed. I think it was the first seat that they fought was in Warrington, the SDP, and Roy Jenkins lost it. But yes, we did one there as well.

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