I simply could not go to bunk on Diamond Jubilee River Pageant day without passing comment about the BBC coverage of what should have been a dignified, happy and glorious moment in British history. As you know, I was at the Savoy watching the ships pass by in the River Room with a glass of something convivial in my hand. However, I high tailed it back to Bloomsbury Towers to watch dispatches. One expects dignity, ceremony and gravitas from the BBC. One got outside broadcasting that would have put The Alan Partridge Show to shame.
Bearing in mind rain is not uncommon in the United Kingdom, you’d have thought the BBC would have had a crack team of experts such as Doctors David Starkey, Simon Shama and Simon Thurley waiting in the wings should the heavens open. Well Rowley, they didn’t even have the smarts to parachute in Jennie Bond or send an Addison Lee for Hugo Vickers when it became clear the main presenting team wasn’t fit for purpose. I stood surrounded by fellow members of the public at the Savoy and was inspired by the amount of knowledge and enthusiasm they had for the Pageant. One lady next to me was telling the crowd the carat-weight of the gold leaf used to decorate the Spirit of Chartwell. The best of the BBC? Anchor Matt Barker musing about the ‘toilet’ facilities on board the Royal Barge.
There are few phrases more depressing than ‘wet bunting’ and ‘damp flags’ unless you count ‘prognosis negative’ or ‘medley by Cliff Richard’. But the BBC managed to find one when anchor man Huw Edwards announced at the top of the show ‘over to Matt and Sophie in the studio’. We discovered the presenters Matt Barker and Sophie Rayworth in what appeared to be a suburban gazebo reminiscent of the Big Brother house. Mr Barker’s pocket square was as large as a wheel of brie and Miss Rayworth’s hair so foofed-up it was worthy of Lola Lasagne at the late show in the Two Brewers. They were both as overexcited as the Andrex puppy.
Matt ‘n Sophie are excellent broadcasters but David Dimbleby they ‘aint. And as for the spear carriers. The army of BBC outside broadcasters would have made the cast of Fraggle Rock look calm and well-adjusted. What possessed them to employ implausible, inane ‘slebs’ such as Tess Daly and Fearne Cotton to clown around with a bewildered public while the glorious spectacle on the Thames drifted by unnoticed? Even seasoned professionals such as John Sargent, Sandi Toksvig and Sian Lloyd were cast adrift.
As the flotilla took ship, it has to be said that the Royal Family were stoic in the face of adversity. All of the senior royals accepted the situation with characteristic grace despite the fact that they were under constant camera scrutiny and there were more than a few undesirables on board. Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh remained standing throughout though one is convinced they would have gladly forgone the privilege for a cup of tea and a warm blanket below deck.
As the rain poured, the editors of BBC News became more frantic in their cutaways to various presenters strategically placed along the route. We had John Barrowman (?!) on board the leading ship, Ben Fogle doing rowing practise (mercifully with his clothes on this time), Clare Balding lashed to the mast like Brown Owl making the best of it and the ubiquitous Alex Jones inexplicably presenting a floating cooking demonstration with Angela Hartnett. All that was missing was Max Mosley demonstrating sailor’s knots and Floella Benjamin teaching Big Ted how to tie a bow round his life jacket for Health & Safety.
As the rain intensified from spring showers to deluge, the royal party reached for shawls and set jaws to grim determination. Still, all the public really wants to see was the river and the royal party. And yet the BBC kept on cutting away to sodden crowds waving Union Flags as limp and listless as Nick Clegg. Possibly the nadir of the broadcast was when Spirit of Chartwell docked opposite the Tower of London and a floating band struck up patriotic tunes with a choir exposed to the elements on the roof warbling like sparrows on Dartmoor in a gale force wind.
When the band got to the Sailor’s Hornpipe the royal party bobbed dutifully and playfully; understanding the bathos of the situation and the dashed bad luck of it all. Then fireworks sputtered from Tower Bridge like an emphysema sufferer’s last gasp. God Save The Queen should have rung out from the Bow Bells to Battersea Bridge but the crowds were all so wet it was all they could muster to say ‘get your bag, Ethel’. I am profoundly sorry that the weather disappointed Her Majesty on a day that should have been happy, sunny and glorious. As it turned out, we were all longing for a roaring fire, a Labrador and a large one.
The broadcast concluded with Mr Edwards saying the highlight of the pageant was Tower Bridge opening to salute Her Majesty. With respect, if you live in London Tower Bridge opens as smoothly and as often as certain ladies who work in Shepherd’s Market. The highlight for me was not the Savoy street party. It was the stoicism of The Queen in the face of British weather that let her down. We must all say a prayer that tomorrow’s concert at Buck House is dry otherwise we’ll see Jessie J sheer off that stage under the Victoria Memorial like Bambi on stilts. Something to look forward to anyway. Here’s to the Royal Carriage Procession on Tuesday. Until then…