Sunday, August 12, 2007

Third party leader arrives by hovercraft to address voters on busy seaside beach

Yes, it did happen. Several times. In 1974. Jeremy Thorpe did a tour of seaside resorts to drum up support from voters in the run-up to the second general election of the year, which was held in October that year.

I witnessed one of these events at Bude, Cornwall. It was absolutely bizarre. Jeremy Thorpe's hovercraft arrived from the sea and landed on busy Summerleaze beach, on which hordes of tourists were sunbathing in their swimming trunks/bikinis. Thorpe then came out of the hovercraft and addressed the populace from the running board of his craft. He stood there in a three-piece suit and trilby hat, in the blazing sunshine. I remember that Angela Rippon, the broadcaster, was standing beside him with a film crew for Westward Television.

You couldn't make it up.

In order to prove that I am not dreaming, here below is a photo of said tour from the BBC archive (which I have reproduced in low resolution format for indicative purposes only on this non-profit-making site.) The photo seems to have been taken on a rather more inclement day than the one when I witnessed Thorpe's coming.

There is a BBC archive article on the October 1974 general election.

Footnote: Interestingly, Paul Tyler was actually an MP at the time of this tour - he was MP for Bodmin from the first 1974 general election in February until the second one in October, so that when he came back to the Commons in the 1990s to represent North Cornwall, he was treated well ahead of the queue of new MPs for coat/sword pegs etc (because the divvying-up is all done on the date of your first entrance to the Commons).


  1. I recall this hovercraft tour as well - for another reason. I saw the hovercraft wrecked on the south coast after it was caught by a rather nasty wave. There were suggestions at the time that it wasn't helped by the heavyweight Cyril Smith MP being on board at one stage - I couldn't possibly comment, but see for a photo.

  2. Please put ".stm" at the end to make my hovercraft link work - the system cut the end off.

  3. Memory lane indeed. To my enduring embarrassment I was reponsible for the original idea of a campaign tour around the traditional seaside resorts during th traditional off-season of August. We (correctly) anticipated an early autumn Election (familiar?). Thorpe planned the logistics (down to party colour gumboots) in characteristic detail, but failed to lead on the campaign message. When challenged by Pardoe he said "I leave that to you, John". The hovercraft was a huge media and campaign succcess in Cornwall, but was hit by a rogue wave when (without me) it returned to Devon/England.

  4. I wondered about something similar around the Scottish islands when I was planning the Electoral Reform Society's public education campaign for the last local government elections. would have been great fun, but I'm sure if it was as effective as all that, our island constituencies would have cottoned on already. Boats are just that bit more predictable.

  5. Thank you Pauls and Amy for your wonderful comments