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Monday, 21 April 2014

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All those complaints... but we still kept watching!

We Brits have an intriguing approach to national occasions of historic importance – particularly the royal ones.

We want to watch them on TV. We’d prefer to see them on the BBC. And then we enjoy having a high old time indignantly hammering the Beeb for what a rotten job was done.

The Diamond Jubilee Thames Pageant (BBC1) was a case in point. The biggest case in point of the Jubilee weekend, if truth be told.

A huge audience of nearly 11 million turned on for the much-maligned pageant coverage on Sunday afternoon. If the complaints that followed could be taken as a simple, truthful snap of how many turned off, BBC bosses should be worried.

They weren’t turning off. British Beeb-bashers aren’t ever that straightforward. But corporation bosses should still be worried. They got it wrong.

The BBC served up Fearne Cotton’s jive steps; John Sargent’s embarrassed clown act; a bizarre and unfunny episode with Sandy Toksvig, Griff Rhys Jones and other payrolled friends on their own (borrowed) boat; Ben Fogle rowing a boat – and then rowing it some more.

Huw Edwards opened the proceedings with a monologue that repeated the word “nice” at least a dozen times in 15 minutes.

Goodness only knows how many times over four hours “iconic buildings” and “Canaletto moments” were referred to. There appeared to have been scant attention paid to scripting interesting narrative and less still to rehearsing presentation.

In pole commentary position were the pretty but stammering ones – Matt Baker and Sophie Raworth.

Missing cues, uncertainly stumbling into their pregnant pauses and then shuffling back out of them with inane chatter, they were a long way from what we’ve learned to expect from commentaries on great national events.

It seemed the stance had been that the sillier the coverage could become, the more exciting it would be for everyone. And if celebrities could be coerced (as if!) into showing a face or a fake-tanned leg in the process, so much the better.

Defence, since those thousands of complaints hit the decks, has been that the BBC had been trying to be inclusive, upbeat, contemporary. The aim had been to avoid appearing stuffy and overly formal.

You can see their point. Expectations have moved on since the Coronation. But that tends to suggest they have risen, not fallen.

In pandering to celebrity culture and populist presentation, the BBC got it wrong. Or, to be a touch more generous, they failed to get it right.

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