Today in Parliament: 70 years on

Right to left: Sean Curran, producers Peter Mulligan and Susan Hulme. A ringside seat on history: Susan Hulme, far right, with, left, fellow presenter Sean Curran and, centre, Producer Peter Mulligan

No one who has sat in the Commons press gallery, just feet above the raw drama, passion and emotion of a big debate would ever say Parliament was dry and dull.

And as one of the BBC's Parliamentary Correspondents, I've had the good fortune to have a ringside seat on history.

Decisions that change - or reflect - the way we live every aspect of our lives unfold there. Think of same-sex marriage. Tony Blair's speech persuading MPs to back the Iraq War. The MPs who stood up and revealed their own struggles with mental illness. To say nothing of all those Budgets which from tax rates to pasties, affect the money in our own pockets.

And for seventy years, Today in Parliament, has reported on it all.

It seems remarkable now, but it was once against the law for journalists to report Parliament at all. In the 18th Century, newspaper journalists were allowed, begrudgingly, to report the Commons. Famous parliamentary correspondents included Charles Dickens and Samuel Johnson.

The business of broadcasting

Parliament was suspicious of the new-fangled business of broadcasting when it arrived in the 1920s. Until World War Two, the BBC had no reporter working in the Palace of Westminster. When it wanted to send an observer to the Commons, the Director General had to send a written request to the Speaker - a request that was not always granted.

Even so, during the war, events in parliament dominated news bulletins. The 18:00 bulletin on 10 June 1941 included a detailed report on the debate on the fall of Crete, which ran to four pages of closely-typed foolscap, quoting 10 speakers with a page and a half devoted to Mr Churchill alone - all to be read out in a single chunk by some plucky newsreader.

Radio Times front page for 7 October 1945 The cover of the Radio Times which carried details of the first broadcast

But the BBC was still keen to improve its reporting of parliament and finally, on 9 October 1945, the first edition of Today in Parliament was broadcast, at 22:45.

It was compiled in Broadcasting House, on the basis of news agency reports backed up by a daily phone call to the BBC's first ever parliamentary correspondent, E.R. Thompson, at Westminster who advised on "the mood of the House".

Half-a-million listeners

Today in Parliament is still the only programme the BBC is required to make under the terms of its charter. But of course, the style of the programme has evolved over the years - especially since 1978 when Parliament agreed to sound broadcasting, allowing the audience to hear MPs and peers' own voices.

Today, around half-a-million people listen each night, as a team of dedicated parliamentary journalists report on the day's events - whether it's the custard pie heading for Rupert Murdoch at a select committee, a rank-and-file MP's plea for his local steel industry, or a late-night vote on cuts to tax credits. Today in Parliament guides the listener past the complexities of Parliamentary procedure, to the heart of the issue.

We provide the context, the parliamentary colour and the atmosphere. This is still the place where voters can hear what is being done in their name - and make up their own minds.

Today in Parliament returns to Radio 4 on Monday 12, October at 23:30. A special feature to celebrate the Today in Parliament 70th Anniversary can be heard on the programme on Friday 16, October.


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