Craig Oliver - Executive producer, ITV News Election 2005

14.04.05

My two-year-old decides to join us in bed at 5am. She says, “Hello
Daddy,” climbs over my face and falls straight back to sleep. I am now
wide awake and my mind is fizzing.

At this time in the morning each part of the election night
programme seems just like a toddler – all with different needs, all
wanting constant love and attention, all liable to throw tantrums at
the most inappropriate moments. I tell myself that the other thing
about toddlers is that they are incredibly rewarding, and that I have a
great team of nannies looking after each wayward child.

I get to
work early and learn that a major star who had promised to perform at
our election night party has pulled out. The first letters of his
surname are the same as a certain swear word and a member of the team
is using it to describe him. For 30 seconds I have a hollow feeling in
the pit of my stomach. Then I remember that we already have some really
big names confirmed – the party was described in The Times as “the
hottest ticket in town”. It’s to be held on a riverboat, moored next to
the London Eye – to which we have exclusive access on the night. It’ll
add a little glamour, light relief and comment to the main programme.

The
idea for it came to me when my wife Joanna was giving birth to our
second daughter in St Thomas’s Hospital, which has the most incredible
views of Parliament and the Eye. She was mid-contraction at the time
and wasn’t too amused when I asked her what she thought of it.

15.04.05

Typical day – a constant round of work to make sure the rehearsals,
exit poll, virtual reality graphics, dozens of outside broadcasts,
party, presenters and scripts work. I keep getting messages saying my
email inbox is full. I seem to clear hundreds every day, but the
warnings still come.

When I took on the job, I knew the election night programme was the
biggest thing we do. I am discovering the difference between
intellectually grasping that and living it.

My technique is to
write “to do” lists and to scratch out each job with a pink marker when
it is done – sad, I know, but somehow it helps.

Another newspaper
wants to know how many people are directly involved in making our
programme. We calculate it at 346 – and that is a conservative
estimate, not taking in the scores of people in each of the ITV
regions. Each one of them needs to be briefed to make sure their
individual area works as a part of the whole.

16.04.05

I spend the weekend working from home. My Blackberry is spot-welded
to my hands as I write emails and make more lists. I now have a
technique where I can push a double buggy and be on my mobile at the
same time.

Most of the time I feel confident, but occasionally I fall into
“what if…” mode, where I torture myself with scenarios in which the
whole programme comes crashing down around my ears.

I prepare a presentation for the ITN board.

17.04.05

I go to the Baftas – we are nominated for our coverage of the
Tsunami disaster. It’s fun, but even here my thoughts are dominated by
how many of these celebrities we can get to our election night party.
At a pre-awards champagne reception, Mark Austin and I hijack Harry
Hill and his agent. We are seated very close to the stage. Rory Bremner
is in the row behind me; Gordon Ramsay is just to my left. The news
award finally comes around and a camera is stuck in our faces.

I feel a bit self-conscious. We don’t win.

When I go outside, I email our party producer from my Blackberry, listing all the people we have forgotten to invite.

18.04.05

There is more in the papers about Kevin Spacey coming to our party.
I hope he turns up… A journalist from The Times is in to talk to our
chief executive, Mark Wood, and me. We have a long chat before I show
him our secret weapon, our extraordinary virtual reality graphics,
designed, in part, by Gerald Scarfe. His photographer turns out to be a
friend of a friend who died of cancer not so long ago. It’s good to
spend some time remembering her.

19.04.05

I do a presentation for the ITN board. It goes well, but a paranoid
voice at the back of my mind is anticipating the question, “At what
precise point did you think it would be a ‘good’ idea to use cartoons
to represent the party leaders?” In fact they appreciate everything the
team has done and are keen to know that “such a good programme will be
properly promoted”.

When I return to the “election unit” – a windowless pit in the
bowels of ITN – it is alive with people preparing for tomorrow’s
rehearsal. The stand-ins entertain themselves by thinking up stupid
names for declaring officers. Some make it a matter of pride to get the
visual and verbal tics of politicians just right.

20.04.05

We get everyone in to rehearse the programme – although some people need a lot of persuasion.

It is very early. I am constantly aware that we are stretching staff
at what is already an extremely busy time. The runup to 05/05/05 comes
just after one of the busiest periods I can remember – the launch of
the campaign, the death of the Pope, the royal wedding and a brand-new,
hour-long lunchtime news have all come within the space of a week.

Each
required a vast amount of work and most of the people who are working
on the election programme have also played major roles in making these
things come together.

Rehearsals are incredibly laborious – there
is a great deal to be done before we even start at 8am. It is worse for
the technical team, who seem to have been here half the night and are
the unsung heroes of television. Sound is the killer – making sure
everyone can hear and talk to the people they need to on a programme
where there are scores of sources requires incredible patience.

Everyone
seems to get what they need, but at one point it is contrived that we
have to deal with calling the election, Oliver Letwin losing his seat
and another major declaration all at the same time.

I pray that doesn’t happen on the night.

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