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Conservative Party Election Broadcast (18 March 1992)

Courtesy of the Conservative Party

Main image of Conservative Party Election Broadcast (18 March 1992)
Tx. 18/3/1992, 9 mins, colour
DirectorJohn Schlesinger
SponsorThe Conservative Party

With: John Major

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Prime Minister John Major is driven around Brixton in south-east London, and reminisces about growing up there.

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Known to many as 'John Major: The Movie', this Party Election Broadcast focused on John Major's life, from Brixton's Coldharbour Lane to Downing Street, and is interspersed with clips of him talking about his political philosophy. Directed by John Schlesinger, celebrated director of Billy Liar (1963) and Midnight Cowboy (US, 1969), it mirrored Labour's use of Hugh Hudson five years earlier and is probably the only PEB ever to have been launched at the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.

Part of Major's appeal during the contest to replace Margaret Thatcher in 1990 was his 'classless' background - provoking his rival, Douglas Hurd, to protest, "I thought I was running for the leadership of the Conservative Party, not some demented Marxist sect". Although Major was reluctant to be packaged, his similar appeal to the public - his approval ratings were consistently above those of the party - was something that the Conservatives were very keen to exploit.

Major himself, though, was no fan of the project. His political secretary Jonathan Hill has said that he "hated making it, absolutely hated it. He couldn't bear to look at it", and in his autobiography Major claimed still to be embarrassed by it. It cost about £250,000 to make, not helped by the fact that its star insisted on repeated cuts to remove references to his wife and children.

Its most remembered sequences are those of the prime minister being driven around Brixton, revisiting old haunts (the church where he and Norma were married has since become a nightclub), buying kippers, and expressing surprise that his old house still stood: "Now, is it still there? It is! It is! It's still there! It's hardly changed!" There was widespread cynicism that this was genuine, and audience research revealed that those bits of the broadcast were less favourably received than the bits where he talked about his personal credo. The most frequent complaint to Conservative Central Office, however, was that the prime minister was not wearing his seatbelt in the car.

The Conservatives not only upset the polls, but won over 14 million votes in the 1992 election, a figure never achieved before or since. The electoral system, however, was not especially kind to Major, and he began the 1992 parliament with a Commons majority of just 21, something which was to prove his downfall over the next five years of his journey.

Philip Cowley

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Video Clips
1. John Major's old house (0:52)
Complete broadcast (9:10)
Schlesinger, John (1926-2003)
Party Election Broadcasts