From 1945 to 1997: General elections on newsreel and TV

From 1945 to 1997: General elections on newsreel and TV

Researching constituency profiles, as On London has been doing during the past few weeks, means stumbling across a wealth of newsreel and TV coverage of past general elections, all of it engaging and revealing of its time. I’ve pulled a few examples together here, with London and Londoners particularly in mind.

A Labour landslide is widely expected today. If it happens, it won’t be the first. In 1945, as the country clambered from the wreckage of WWII, the party won a majority of 145 seats, securing nearly 50 per cent of the popular vote and sending war leader Winston Churchill’s Conservatives to defeat.

The Pathé News report below shows Churchill in his Woodford constituency – an area of today’s Greater London that has never had a Labour MP, though that could change today if Shama Tatler prevails in Chingford & Woodford Green.

Also featured is Herbert Morrison, elected in Lewisham East at the expense of a Tory, who pledged to “rebuild London”. He went on to become, not Chancellor as the newsreel anticipates, but leader of the Commons and deputy of Prime Minister Clement Attlee (pictured). Morrison had already led the London County Council.

My next choice is Pathé’s coverage of the 1955, chosen largely because of its opening scene of a rain-soaked crowd in Piccadilly Circus cheering or booing results as they come in on a Daily Telegraph display board. We again see Attlee, still Labour’s leader, in his seat of Walthamstow West, and Morrison.

Churchill had regained the premiership in 1951, but stepped down in favour of Anthony Eden four years later. Eden had called an election straight away. Churchill still won in Woodford, though. There’s also footage of a drenched crowd in Trafalgar Square.

The Tories won again in 1959, this time under Harold Macmillan. The film below is particularly notable for the bits about “coloured voters” and Oswald Mosley finishing last. This time, the Trafalgar Square crowd enjoyed better weather.

Labour didn’t win again until 1964, under Harold Wilson. Pathé’s coverage of this close-run campaign includes visits to Labour’s Eric Fletcher in Islington East as was, and the Tories’ Woodford successor to Churchill, for whom Britain’s reverence was undimmed. The reference to Tokyo, by the way, is an Olympics one.

We also meet the “attractive” 27 year-old female contesting Chigwell, comedian Jimmy Edwards fighting North Paddington, Screaming Lord Sutch, the Binface of his day, leafleting in Charing Cross Road, and Tory Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home facing a crowd in St Pancras.

Let’s leap forward to 1979, by which time Pathé was in the past, and the, by today’s standards, extraordinary fact that London and the wider south east embraced the advent of Margaret Thatcher even more enthusiastically than the rest of the country – the region saw a 6.6 per cent swing towards the Tories compared with a national average of 4.9 per cent.

From Thames TV, we learn of a string of Labour in London seats turning blue, stretching from Paddington to Ilford.

Finally, to 1997, and the “New Labour” landslide under Tony Blair. There’s no special London interest in the BBC results coverage below – except for a background glimpse of Piccadilly Circus – but watch the first few minutes for the exit poll announcement and analysis. We could be in for a repeat from 10 o’clock tonight. provides unique coverage of the capital’s politics, development and culture. Support it for just £5 a month or £50 a year and get things for your money too. Details HERE. Threads: DaveHillOnLondon. X/Twitter: On London and Dave Hill.


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