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1955: Eden takes to the airwaves
The Prime Minister, Sir Anthony Eden, has hosted a ground-breaking half-hour television election programme for the Conservative Party, pitting government ministers against newspaper editors in the first broadcast of its kind.

The style chosen by Sir Anthony evoked the first televised press conference, staged in the United States earlier this year by the American president, Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Sir Anthony was flanked by four ministers: the Chancellor, Rab Butler, the Foreign Secretary, Harold Macmillan, the Health Minister, Iain Macleod, and the Minister of Labour, Sir Walter Monckton.

Challenging questions

Facing them were the editors of 10 major national newspapers, armed with questions said to reflect the concerns of the country.

The questioning ranged from a challenge over petrol tax, to a grilling over Mr Butler's claim that he could double the standard of living.

The most challenging line of questioning came from the editor of the Daily Mirror, Hugh Cudlipp. At one point, he asked the prime minister to respond to what he called the common impression that Sir Anthony was "less well versed in home than in foreign affairs".

Sir Anthony, with a smile, admitted that it was "a perfectly fair criticism"; but reminded Mr Cudlipp that his post as foreign secretary had led him to sit on cabinets for 20 years - and the cabinet, he said, dealt with domestic as well as foreign affairs.

Indeed, he added, he had contributed "more than somewhat" on domestic affairs.

Lacklustre campaign

The programme was a welcome distraction in an election campaign which has been widely described as lacklustre, with one disenchanted journalist describing the early stages as "the lull before the lull".

It was the latest in a series of party political broadcasts by all the main parties, who have been using the new technology of television more than ever during this election.

Public meetings, once relied on by MPs to get their message across, are quickly dwindling away to nothing, and with the BBC estimating the television-viewing public as high as 12 million, politicians are keen to make the most of this new method of electioneering.

Three more television party political broadcasts are expected before the end of the week. Election broadcasts end in four days' time, before polls open on 26 May.

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Watch/Listen
Sir Anthony Eden giving the 1951 party political broadcast
Sir Anthony Eden is the first politician to fully exploit the power of television

First minutes of the historic broadcast



In Context
The 1955 general election is widely regarded as the first to be truly televised.

Anthony Eden had already made the first-ever Conservative Party political broadcast in 1951, and embraced the new medium wholeheartedly.

He was later to write, "I attached first importance to television as a medium". He is regarded as the first British politician to try to exploit the power of television.

His series of confident appearances throughout the 1955 election campaign was watched by a third of the population.

By contrast, the Labour Party's television appearances appeared shambolic and unexciting.

The Conservative Party was re-elected with a much-increased majority.

Ironically, however, the unstoppable rise of television was to play a part in the end of Sir Anthony Eden's political career.

By the time of the Suez crisis, in 1956, a new line of confrontational questioning by television interviewers such as Robin Day meant Sir Anthony no longer had the freedom of the airwaves to say what he wished unchallenged.

As the crisis turned against him, he withdrew from the cameras, appearing just twice in four months. After his resignation in 1957, he said he was convinced that television had contributed to his downfall.

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