It should have been very simple. Huw Edwards in the studio, a camera crew at Battersea Bridge, a camera crew on the Spirit of Chartwell, a camera crew at Tower Bridge, Clare Balding on the Gloriana, Chris Hollins on a roving craft, and that should have been it basically. But, no. The B.B.C. had to have John Sergeant, Anneka Rice, Matt Baker, Sophie Raworth, Tess Daly, Richard E. Grant, Dan Cruickshank, Sian Williams, Horrible Histories, Sandi Toksvig, and others, who all appeared less well briefed about what was happening on the river than an average member of the public who had spent only half an hour on the pageant organiser’s website that morning. (I should know. I was that member of the public.)
If I had been a participant who had spent months and hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds to get my craft to the Thames from the far flung parts of the British Isles and the Commonwealth, I would have felt justly aggrieved by the B.B.C.’s lack of coverage of the actual boats. The Dunkirk and historic boats were barely featured and, for many, they would have been the highlight of the pageant. Forgive me, but weren’t they, more than any other participants, rather the point? The flow of the river through a historic city and the flow of a historic pageant to mark a historic reign, and all that?
The coverage started well with commentary on the arrival of the Royal party, and the manpowered vessels passing the Queen and heading the parade. Clare Balding was well placed on the Gloriana, and her commentary was researched and informative. At the point at which the Spirit of Chartwell headed out into the stream, the B.B.C. had a potential problem – to stay at Battersea and cover the boats behind the Queen’s vessel, or continue upstream with the Queen. Kindly, the organisers solved this problem for them as the boats following the Queen all had to pass her at Tower Bridge. The solution therefore was to follow the Queen to Tower Bridge and then switch to a crew there. However, the B.B.C. thought they could do better and decided to flick all over the place, with the result that large sections of the pageant were missed in favour of the inane, unrehearsed, poorly informed chatter of celebs on a mission to “entertain” us, which must have cost a small fortune to set up all around the Thames and, judging by the way things kept cutting out, difficult to maintain technically.
Chris Hollins on a nippy craft that could move at will through the pageant also seemed like a good idea, but he wasn’t used. The two occasions on which he was used, he was moored by the bank looking on. Why didn’t he get in amongst the boats and interview some of the participants? Matt Allwright’s interview with the owners of a Dutch barge was the best of the vox pops of the afternoon.
The two chaps in the box – Paul and Tom, I think, but we were never introduced to them, or given any indication as to their qualifications for the job – had read their notes and knew about boats clearly. However, they were only allowed to come into their own when the rain had driven the celebs indoors and the working barges (the tail end of the pageant) were passing the Queen. They should have been given the entire commentary and instructions to tell the stories of the crafts as they passed.
The B.B.C. are capable of this kind of coverage. They do it every year in November at the Cenotaph. So, why was it so difficult yesterday to produce a programme that showcased the Queen and the boats on the river? If they were worried that it might have been a bit “boring” (because we must be entertained at all costs these days!), half an hour with the sailors and boat owners would have convinced them otherwise. Sailors love telling stories. Even though many craft are fitted with televisions these days, they still tell a good tale.
Although, after yesterday, I wonder how many boat owners won’t be bothering to renew their T.V. licence?