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Conservative Party Election Broadcast (23 April 1979)

Courtesy of the Conservative Party

Main image of Conservative Party Election Broadcast (23 April 1979)
Tx. 23/4/1979, 10 mins, colour
Production CompanySaatchi & Saatchi
SponsorThe Conservative Party

The Winter of Discontent and the complacency of James Callaghan's Labour government.

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'Crisis, what crisis?' is one of the stupidest things never said by a politician. Flying back from the four nation summit in Guadeloupe, James Callaghan was asked by reporters at Heathrow what he thought of 'the mounting chaos in the country at the moment'. He replied: "I don't think that other people in the world would share the view that there is mounting chaos". Despite the fact that the word 'crisis' doesn't feature in either the question or the answer, it did in the Sun's famous headline the following day, and 'crisis, what crisis?' has stuck ever since.

Listening to Callaghan's 1979 airport press conference now, it is astonishingly complacent in tone, a complacency brilliantly summed up by the headline, which was then used for the opening of this, the Conservatives' second election broadcast. The opening alternates between shots of industrial unrest and the Sun's headline, read out in an increasingly hysterical tone.

The broadcast is presented by Humphrey Atkins, the relatively unknown Conservative chief whip, who was chosen by the Conservatives' advertising agency, Saatchi and Saatchi, because he was a good television performer (despite the fact that to today's eyes he seems like a Fast Show caricature of a politician).

But Atkins is only on screen for a small segment of the broadcast; the rest features actors and images, with a voice-over. The subject of some criticism at the time for what was seen as its gimmicky approach - watch out for the coughing planet, the money frozen in ice, the man under the union-jack bedspread, as well as some of the most glorious national stereotypes ever to feature in British election publicity - the broadcast was groundbreaking. The court scenes ("Did you or did you not make a profit last year?") are especially powerful at hammering home core Conservative messages.

Although much glossier than previous broadcasts - the difference between the production quality of this and most of those in the preceding ten years is noticeable - it didn't rate especially highly with the public. Indeed, the Labour PEBs - knocked together in haste at half the price, and looking distinctly amateurish - received better audience ratings, even if no one can remember them today.

Philip Cowley

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Video Clips
Complete broadcast (10:02)
Party Election Broadcasts