ONE of the proudest scoops of political journalist Michael Crick’s career has nothing to do with politics. A fan of the Jennings and Darbishire books as a child, Crick later got to know the author, Anthony Buckeridge. Buckeridge told Crick that the inspiration for the books had been a fellow student, Dairmaid Jennings, who he’d been to school with in the 1920s.

Using all the investigative skills that has made him one of our pre-eminent correspondents, Crick managed to track down Buckeridge’s inspiration to a nursing home in New Zealand. The real-life Jennings had emigrated in the 1940s and with no children of his own, had no idea that the books existed. Copies were sent out, and the nursing home staff read the books to him, to Jennings’ delight.

Last week, I was lucky enough to catch up with Michael Crick, when he was in town to speak at Salisbury’s Literary Political Dining Club. Crick was in Salisbury to talk about latest book, Sultan of Swing, a biography of the political scientist Sir David Butler. David Butler is one of those individuals whose influence looms quietly large over politics through his founding role in the subject of psephology, the study of elections. From 1950 to 1979, he was the go-to expert on BBC TV’s election coverage, analysing and making sense of the results as they came.

As a young university student in the mid 1940s, Butler was the first person on either side of the Atlantic to turn election results into percentages. In the 1950s, he created the first ‘Swingometer’ to help explain the results, a device subsequently developed by the likes of Peter Snow and Jeremy Vine. He also helped dragged election coverage into the television age – previously, from the moment a general election was called until the close of polls, there was a complete ban on politics in both TV and radio coverage. Crick’s affection for his subject is clear, but never gets in the way of a rigorous telling that richly captures the politics and academia of the time, with glorious cameos from everyone from Churchill to Tony Benn, Isaiah Berlin to CS Lewis.

As for Westminster today, I asked Crick if he agreed with the suggestion of the newly formed Independent Group that politics is broken. ‘In flux’ was his response. Brexit is obviously part of that, but Crick cited the role of social media as well as longer-term trends: across Europe, many historic parties have gone to the wall – it is only through first past the post elections that Labour and the Conservatives have survived as well as they have.

Interesting times: if only we had a next-generation David Butler to help explain it all.