Tim gets aboard a hovercraft. What could possibly go wrong?

This (above) is a slide show courtesy of Getty Images. Click on the arrows to see all five photos of Tim’s glorious descension into Burnham-on-Sea yesterday

Well, you have to admire the pluck of Tim Farron. As a keen student of Liberal History, I am sure he is aware of the intimate details of Jeremy Thorpe’s 1974 hovercraft adventure. That was the year of two elections – one in February and one in October. In fact, if you ask the great Paul Tyler, he will tell you all about this, because he was MP for Bodmin (but, crucially, not actually “Going Bodmin”) from February to October and then had to wait until 1992 before returning to the Commons as MP for North Cornwall. Jeremy Thorpe was the charismatic leader of the Liberal Party at the time. He hit upon a marvellous idea to campaign to the populace during the summer hiatus before the October election, which was long anticipated.

Jeremy Thorpe decided to go where the people go in the summer – to the beaches of Britain. So he hired a hovercraft, gathered his lieutenants and the media about him, and took to the beaches of the South-West, via the oceans.

It was a masterstroke. As a youngster, I witnessed the arrival of Jeremy Thorpe on his contraption at Bude in Cornwall. We heard it coming, saw the spray being thrown up by it. It made the tricky crossing of the bar and then came up close to the lifeboat house. Hordes of people in swimming trunks and bikinis stood up and moved across the beach to get a glimpse of Mr Thorpe, who emerged from the gliding vessel alongside Angela Rippon (reporting the event for Westward Television). Jeremy Thorpe was dressed in three piece suit with trilby – creating something of a juxtaposition with the throngs of sun-tanned swim-suited holiday makers.

Jeremy Thorpe then made an eloquent and passionate speech.

The tour of the West Country was all very successful.

Until that is, there came the mother of all storms somewhere about Somerset as the hovercraft made its way northward. Jeremy Thorpe wasn’t beaten though. He donned a complete set of yellow Sou’ Westers and gamely forged on. You can see a wonderful photo of him in this garb on the BBC website here.

But even Jeremy Thorpe’s bright yellow Sou’ Westers could not stop the great British weather. Finally, the weather won. It was a wonder that Jeremy Thorpe, his lieutenants and the media did not end up visiting voters in Atlantis.

But, of course, Tim Farron knows all this. And still he bravely launched himself, via hovercraft, at Burnham-on-Sea yesterday.

In fact, I don’t think Burnham-on-Sea is very far from the site of the inauspicious end of Jeremy Thorpe’s hovercraft tour in 1974…we’d have to check that with the Lord Tyler.

Anyway, like I say, you have to admire Tim’s pluck.

In closing, I should mention a serious point. The hovercraft that Tim travelled on yesterday is part of BARB, formed as the Burnham Area Rescue Boat in 1992, which is a registered charity that operates two life-saving rescue hovercrafts and an inshore rescue boat in the Bridgwater Bay area. Please visit BARB’s website here. Well done to the BARB team and thank you for all you do!

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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10 Comments

  • David Evershed 10th May '17 - 9:28am

    A topical story with good historical background and lighthearted. Just what is needed.

    Excellent reporting Paul.

  • Just put a bet on the result. In my mind balanced everything out and came up with between 3 & 6 seats only. Hoping I lose but…………..

  • Yeovil Yokel 10th May '17 - 12:41pm

    Who’s the lady with the white hair next to Tim?

  • Mike German 10th May '17 - 1:21pm

    And don’t forget the Thorpe tour came across the Bristol Channel to Penarth- where I met it on the beach- pebbles and all! It was a fantastic visible event and showed momentum, speed and innovation in one go. Nothing changes!

  • Bernard Aris 11th May '17 - 3:42am

    Beside the live testimony of Paul Tyler MP, there is, of course, the passage about the hovervcraft stunt written by Thorpe himself in his 1999 memoirs “In My Own Time” (Politico’s Publishing; London, p. 117-9). He tells the tour was canceled after a freak wave busted a window (which was loosened by the hovercraft having been used in a desert previous to the Thorpe coast-hugging campaign). There isn’t such a window on Tims hovervraft…
    But that wan’t the only innovation of that campaign. Just a couple of pages previously (p. 106-7), het tells that in the February and October 1974 campaigns, Thorpe decided not to give the morning press briefing (and interviews) from the Liberal Club in London, but from an improvised studio in his constituency; an American way of doing things. From the Cornwall studio a live feed went to the Liberal Club in London where the journalists were; this forced them to ask questions one by one.
    Thorpe also emphasized the “televisioning” of his campaign (and the Liberals being up to date) by using an election poster where he is sitting behind an anchormans desk in an TV studio setting (p. 106)

  • Martin Roche 11th May '17 - 4:29pm

    Shame about the Search & Rescue sign on the boat. All PR people are taught to watch out for such signs but you simply can’t catch them all. That pic would be my Private Eye cover, though the Mays on the One Show sofa will surely win the prize.

    The Neil Kinnock moment came, if I recall, during the filming of a PPB, which I think Alan Parker may have directed. The making of the film was itself being filmed when Neil, holding Glenys’ hand, stumbled on the shingle, almost fell into the surf and at which point the waves suddenly got bigger and “The Prime Minister-in-waiting on foreshore of destiny” piece became a farce.

  • Phil Beesley 11th May '17 - 5:12pm

    In 1974, how far from the landing beach would you need to live in order to avoid the noise of our leader’s arrival? Hovercraft are wonderful devices but they excel at noise pollution.

    @Paul Walter: Thanks for noting that BARB is an independent rescue organisation. The RNLI are not the only ones at sea in peril.

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