General Election night TV: the broadcasters’ plans

David Dimbleby introduces his final General Election night for the BBC, but ITV, Sky News and Channel 4 will all be looking to swing viewers to their side. Find out more about the biggest TV night in British politics

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“I won’t pretend it’s been easy, but we’ve enjoyed it, and I hope in some way that you’ve enjoyed it too.” So said Richard Dimbleby at the end of the very first marathon general election night broadcast in 1955.

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This year there will be not just one needle but four separate swingometers, each superimposed onto a virtual Big Ben clock face. Dials will track the swing of support from Conservative to Labour, Tories to Lib Dems, Labour to Lib Dem and Labour to SNP.

Vine and the BBC’s recent cartoon-style election graphics are not to everyone’s taste, however. “I think Jeremy Vine’s cod Texan accent and shoot-out [to illustrate the Lib Dems’ performance in the 2008 local elections] was probably a low point,” says Sky News’s Adam Boulton. 

“Ours is a bit less vaudeville,” he continued. “And I have to say that if we tried those sophisticated graphics, it would probably bust anyway.”

Not that Sky News isn’t averse to a bit of cartoon foolery to help crunch the numbers, as this clip from the 2007 local elections proves.

ITV hosted as close as we came to a full televised leaders’ debate this year with the seven-way broadcast early in the campaign, and the debate’s moderator Julie Etchingham will be responsible for ITV’s graphics, including the ‘Commons Calculator’, designed to work out if any party can win a majority or secure enough support from other parties to form a government.

Political analysts from Twitter and Facebook will also be in the studio’s ‘Opinion Room’ tracking in real-time how the election is unfolding on social media.

Channel 4’s ‘alternative’ election night coverage will rely less on graphics and more on the added political heft granted this year by the addition of former Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman. As well as comedy sketches from the likes of David Mitchell and Richard Osman, Paxman says he has plans of his own.

“I’m not preparing any sketches, but there are some monologues about voting, about Scotland, what’s wrong with politics. And one or two bits of telly on the night that will involve the three of us,” he says.

Special editions of Gogglebox and The Last Leg with Adam Hills will also feature as part of Channel 4’s night of programming.

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So whether swing viewer or dedicated Dimblet, you certainly won’t be short of choice come General Election 2015 night this Thursday.

Read more: General Election night – how and who to watch

General Election night – your hour by hour guide