Election Night viewing has the warm familiarity of an old pair of slippers. The rolling coverage of the EU Referendum was always going to be different.
It was perhaps no surprise then that the usual unflappable David Dimbleby looked at little out of sorts as he was robbed of his first moment of drama. At 10pm, Big Ben chimed, voting stopped, but this time there was no exit poll. In its place, as footballing rivals Newcastle and Sunderland raced to be the first to deliver a result, there was speculation, a few awkward silences and endless analysis of the polls. Ah yes, the polls. Given the last General Election, no-one was trusting those, with even Paddy Ashdown sensibly refusing to eat his hat.
“Patience,” said Dimbleby. “Is our watchword.” They proved to be wise words.
The first big question was whether the big turnout would help the Remain vote or whether it was sign that the Leave campaign had mobilised its troops. No-one really knew, but with a swathe of academics intently staring at computer screens the Beeb did a good job of appearing to know what was going on. Best of all was John Curtice who warned early on that the experts, who had been confident that the Remain camp would just edge it, might be left with egg on their face. Curtice, a professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde, is one of those breed of academics who almost certainly has dried egg on his jacket, but there was something endearing about his rather bookish analysis.
When all else failed, Dimbleby cut to Jeremy Vine who appeared to have been trapped in the world’s dullest computer game. Sometimes he was wandering up and down a virtual Downing Street, sometimes he was inside the Big Ben clock tower repurposed as an EU swingometer. Wherever he was, Vine had the irrepressible energy of a child fuelled by cheap sweets.
Over at ITV, it was a much more sombre affair. Tom Bradby was at the helm, but the various pundits looked like they were ready for bed before the clock had even struck midnight. In an effort to spice things up, they had reporters stationed at Manchester Airport and Plymouth Docks. No-one seemed to know why and the poor old Plymouth correspondent looked liked he might chuck himself into the freezing waters rather than wait for any of those loading fish to deliver their verdict on Brexit.
Things perked up a little as it became clear Britain was heading out of the EU. There were shots of the sun rising over Dover and despite mistakenly tweeting that ITV had called victory for Remain, new political editor Robert Peston at least injected some much-needed energy into proceedings.
Sky had decided to leave the often combative Adam Boulton alone in the studio. In the first couple of hours, when it seemed that there had been a vote for the status quo, he looked visibly disappointed, but as the real picture became clear the old bruiser of broadcasting did the rounds with a succession of MPs and economists. Subtle he’s not, but it was at times entertaining stuff.
Less entertaining was Sky’s apparent fixation on front doors. After 4.40am when all channels had called a victory for Leave, there was almost continuous footage of the door to number 10.
When no-one came or went, they cut to the home of Michael Gove and sent Kay Burley to stand outside Boris Johnson’s London pad. He was apparently having a couple of hours sleep, but that didn’t deter Burley, who was intent on crowning him the country’s next PM while he was still in his pyjamas.
At exactly 6am when Leave officially crossed the line with 374 of 382 counts declared, there were dozens of unanswered questions. Only two things were certain. Britain was out of the EU and when it comes to presiding over some of the biggest moments in the country’s political history, we all need a David Dimbleby. He might have looked occasionally shell-shocked, but he’s the kind of safe pair of hands we all need right now.