Tuesday 5 June 2012

The decline and fall of the BBC: from Richard Dimbleby to Alan Partridge

I remember when the BBC could move me to tears with its coverage of great national events. Yet so far this Jubilee it has provoked only derisive laughter and occasional spluttering rage.

I was born a year and a day after the Coronation, so the first state occasion that really gripped me was the funeral of Sir Winston Churchill in 1965. The impeccably researched and perfectly delivered commentary by Richard Dimbleby sticks in my mind to this day.

For me, the most poignant moment was when all the cranes in the Pool of London dipped in salute as the barge carrying the great man’s coffin passed by.

That very barge reappeared in the spotlight on Sunday, as one of the thousand or so vessels taking part in the Thames pageant. I could imagine no happier way to spend my birthday afternoon than watching coverage of this once in several lifetimes event, but reckoned without the utter uselessness to which our national broadcaster has been reduced.

Never in the field of outside broadcasting can so many inanities and inaccuracies have been spouted by so many to so little purpose.

One should have known how it would develop when they referred to the Queen, early on, as “HRH” rather than “Her Majesty”. The principal commentator, who sounded like Alan Partridge on an off day, burbled on with a constant stream of cringe-making clichĂ©s, interspersed with such insights as that a view embraced “so many iconic landmarks that litter London”. I am not making that up.

An “expert” informed us that the Duchess of Cambridge’s headgear came from Lock’s, who also made “the hat that Nelson wore at the battle of Waterloo”. As he might have done, had he been a soldier rather than a sailor, and not died at Trafalgar ten years earlier.

The depth of research into matters maritime was further underlined by the introduction of HMS Belfast as a “90,000 ton” cruiser, an overestimate of approximately 800%.

Perhaps it was consciousness of this almost unbelievable ignorance that prevented anyone from the BBC attempting to tell us a single useful thing about any of the vessels in the pageant, or the people aboard them, except when a camera lighted upon some minor celebrity and they could point out that it was Pippa Middleton or Boris Johnson. As we could see for ourselves anyway.

They informed us that each section of ships in the pageant was preceded by a group of musicians, but could they let us listen to any of them? No. Far better to keep up an endless stream of mind-numbing prattle, losing no opportunity to cut away from the Thames for irrelevant interviews with the parents of “Jubilee babies” or random observers by the riverside.

Note to producers: anyone who has stood in the pouring rain for several hours to watch the Queen pass by is going to tell you that she is absolutely marvellous, so there is no need to ask them the question.

As the afternoon wore on, I noted that many people on Twitter shared my anger and frustration at the BBC’s unremitting drivel. Most felt that Sky was making a vastly better job of it, which seemed ironic given that it is owned by one of the world’s most committed republicans and staunch enemies of hereditary privilege, except when it comes to the management of his own media empire.

When I was small, people still talked about the BBC’s coverage of the Spithead naval review of 1937, when the commentator was so spectacularly drunk that he could only repeatedly slur “The fleet’s lit up!”

But compared with most of the stuff I heard on Sunday, the man was a towering genius. I don’t own a Sky dish, and I do want to see the rest of the Jubilee events, but in the interests of my blood pressure I shall be doing so with my finger poised over a “mute” button at all times.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

1 comment:

CC said...


Sad to know the BBC coverage was as bad as what we get here.
I still remember the solemnity and grandeur
of the Queen's coronation on our newly purchased small black and white TV.
As I write this, the Westminster Hall lunch has just ended with "our" reporters continuing their babbling mispronounced inanities and inaccuracies. So I shudder while enjoying the images. Always happy to be in London (even by ignorant proxy).