Tuesday, 4 November 2014


GRIMSBY MP Austin Mitchell has described his parliamentary career as “a long drawn-out failure”.

He attributes this to having been 44 when he was elected - “rather too old to be a rising meteor”.

What is more the onset of his parliamentary career coincided with 18 years of opposition, scuppering any chance of a governmental position.

Nor was there much chance of progress in opposition because the path to promotion was blocked by the likes of such "Labour greats" as Denis Healey, Roy Hattersley, Peter Shore, Barbara Castle and John Smith.

The MP, who has represented  the constituency since 1979, has written a book, Calendar Boy, which is about his colourful times as a presenter both on the regional TV news programme, Calendar, and its sister politic show Calendar Sunday.

But he switched from TV to politics after becoming “infatuated” by the latter.

He writes: “Politics is a minority sport with interest less than gardening or angling and certainly less than sport.

“But it is addictive and I became hooked. I discovered I wanted to play the game rather than just arrange the bouts and do the commentary.”

After the glamour of TV, life as an MP proved to be a different world - one often characterised, according to the MP, by “pushiness, plotting, sycophancy and self-promotion”.
He continues: "MPs are the dogsbodies and sewer cleaners of the constitution unless they are privately wealthy like Michael Heseltine.

“Parliamentary activity all too often consists of hanging around in the tea rooms gossiping, grumbling, sleeping and waiting for something to happen.

“Nothing is more destructive to good looks and mental balance than all-sight sittings.”

Never once in four decades was Mitchell offered a front-bench position. “I am not complaining though it would have nice to have been asked and offered a job - even as a lowly opposition spokesman.”he says.

But there has been a plus side which the MP, who will step down at next year’s General Election, describes as “serving the best constituency in the country, one of the few real communities left”.

He adds: “At the end of the day, you can help people, you can make minor changes to policy and you can plants seeds of thought which may grow,

“I am glad I jumped out of the TV studio and on to the Grimsby train.”


Much of the earlier content of the  book is industry related - about the development of Yorkshire TV and the colleagues, mostly men including Jonathan Aitken, Richard Whiteley and Alan Hardwick with whom he worked on Calendar.

Surprisingly, he has little  - and sometimes nothing - to say about his many interviews with celebrities.

For instance, there is a photograph of Roy Orbison but not a single word about the meeting or about the singer was like as a studio guest

He cites John Lennon and Yoko Ono, following the break-up of The Beatles, as “the most interesting" of his interviewees. They talked "fascinatingly and frankly about anything I asked”.

Yet Mitchell reveals nothing about the duo and their replies, and the tape has apparently been lost.

“Par for the course with The Beatles,”he says. “Granada wiped their first ever TV interview in an economy drive to re-use video tape.”

Mitchell describes another interviewee, the singer Joan Baez, as “a wonderful, serene, lovely lady, possibly an angel”, but he had difficulties in his meetings  with Spike Milligan, Frankie Howerd and Anita Harris.

Of the cricketer Fred Trueman, he says: “Once he realised he could not swear on air, Fred could always be relied on to entertain. “

Although Mitchell has next to no knowledge of football, he was asked to “referee” the famous studio confrontation between two top managers, Brian Clough and Don Revie.

“Contrary to rumour neither had been tricked into appearing,”he says. “Each received the same payment - £400 in cash.

“The interview was dead easy for me. Each disliked the other so much that there was no need for the interviewer to intervene at all.

“I just sat there and watched the argument unfurl – which it did brilliantly.

“I was fascinated by the interaction between the two great managers, though very much on Clough’s side as the more human of the two.”

* Calendar Boy (published at £19.99 by Pen & Sword Books) is available now from booksellers and online retailers.


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