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The BBC vs The Jubilee

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Now that the dust has settled and the rain has stopped, let's look at the past few days that have been such a boon to the Far Eastern makers of red, blue and white cheap plastic fluttering tat. There must have been container ships full of the stuff, advancing across the high seas since the turn of the year.

The events of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee seemed to go very well. The television coverage did not. It was beset with the malaise that grips modern television - a lack of confidence that the audience is willing to sit through anything that lasts longer than two minutes without background music or swooping camera shots or the intervention of celebrities and ordinary people. And by "ordinary people", I mean "nutters". The sort of people who camp for three days in the rain to catch a glimpse of a waving Queen as she goes by in three seconds flat. The type of people who email the television to pass on their thought on the issue of the day. Who is madder, the ones that are sending them in to the news, or the ones that are reading them on the news?

The BBC have a history of excellence in their coverage of large scale events. This was won in an era before everything resembled an MTV video. The new guard are lucky they have this CV to hide behind. If, as in most of show business, they were to be judged on their last performance, we might question their ability to handle such an occasion as, for instance, The Olympics.

Some of the assembled experts and commentators did quite well. Claire Balding seems to be faultless no matter what she is covering or what might be happening unexpectedly while she is doing it. By contrast, Matt Baker, a regionally representative and inclusive northerner with a boxer's face, and bursting out at the shoulder of his best shiny disco suit, looked repeatedly as though his brain had been disengaged, like the wire connecting him to the power socket had been accidentally pulled out. He was there to young the proceedings up a bit, as though his presence might affect the ratings with a youthful demographic. What was needed was the reassuring presence of someone who does industrial strength, laid back, oleaginous smarm for a living. Where was Alan Titchmarsh when we needed him most? Matt's female counterpart, Sophie Raworth grinned for England in a dress almost exactly the same as the one Will's Kate had shown up in. One of them should have left.

The river pageant lasted four hours on TV. In all that time, no-one explained what the various boats were, who was at the tiller or why they were there. There was no sense of where everyone was on the river, no idea of the scale of it. What we got instead was a lot of what seemed to be a female impersonator with a gold nest on her head in a park shouting at members of the public selected for their forced quirkiness.

We were told at length before hand, there was to be an orchestra, one of the world's greatest, which would play different pieces as they passed various landmarks. Of that we heard not a movement, not a bar, not one note. We knew they would play the James Bond theme when they passed the spooks' building because the commentators kept telling us so but we were not allowed to hear it because some roaming presenter had spotted a group of old ladies by a crash barrier who had brought their own Primus stove for the making of tea, so they covered that instead. There were bells that led the procession. They were the biggest ever afloat, or so they said. Not one chime was heard by the vast numbers watching at home for the whole afternoon.

It was expected that the best seat would be on your own sofa. This had to have been the only big show of its kind that only made sense if you watched it in person. Indeed, the commentators kept saying that "you really have to be here to appreciate how great this all is". Not the best thing to say to an audience that, by definition, was relying on the TV to transport them there. It was the greatest spectacle the Thames has ever seen, they said. However, this extravaganza was deemed not sufficiently exciting for the viewers at home, so the Beeb did what they refer to in the business as "adding value", that is jazzing up the coverage with a lot of inanities, goof-balls and celebs. Well, here is the news: it's not adding value, it's subtracting it.

Of the event itself, Her Majesty arrived in a car the size of the Isle of Man and heaved herself out of it while giant strapping men in uniform watched transfixed. Their every fibre must have itched to give her a hand but presumably it's not the done thing. She went on board the craft that ferried her to the golden barge to a fanfare that was completely drowned out by the rude tooting of a tremendous steam train on a bridge above. The driver must have been so excited, he couldn't contain himself. Kate looked like a million dollars (at least) and Harry mooched on with a Rastafarian swagger. The men of the party were festooned with enough braids and regalia to start a shop. They must give those medals out for giving out medals.

Meanwhile, on another boat, a Princess (Eugenie, or the other Mad Hatter) was taking pictures of the day on her huge mobile phone - not regal, a bit tacky and quite cheap. It suited her perfectly.

From the point of view of the people on the boats, there was not much effort made on the banks. Through the whole of London, only the National Gallery put on a display. It was one of the few times that the Queen actually perked up. The presenters were, throughout, explaining what the Queen was thinking and how much she was so obviously enjoying the day, as though they had intimate knowledge of the workings of her mind. They would say how much she was loving it over a picture of her looking as glum as you have ever seen anyone outside of a funeral. Maybe that's just the way her face hangs. Mind you, if we had to stand there in that weather, for that long, at her age, after knee surgery, we'd look glum too. I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

The Queen would employ her familiar wave, Prince Philip would randomly point something out to no-one in particular and Wills shook his gloved hand at the distant throng like a Tiggerish schoolboy. They stood on a grand boat, bedecked with exquisite flowers and garnished with gilded carvings and fine drapery. It must have taken years to put together. The finest crafts people of their respective disciplines had laboured over every fine detail with a care that was worthy of celebrating. The BBC told us not one word about any of it. Instead, there was endless coverage of other telly presenters in boats telling us how nice it was to be dry as the rain fell all about. They told us what a magnificent spectacle it all was, as we watched pictures of a damp procession on a grey river under grey skies in the rain. A Canaletto it was not.

What was most impressive was the organisation, the discipline, the effort that must have been involved. We may never know. The television executives thought knowledge of all that unnecessary to our enjoyment of the day. Besides, how would they have been able to find time to tell us, what with all that infantile questioning of the borderline unstable members of the crowd that seems to be the order of the day for events like this.

Highlights? Well, the singers on the rain lashed deck. We all loved them. The one time we actually got to hear the orchestra, in what should have been an afternoon of music, was the best part of the day. As they played the Sailor's Hornpipe, Charles' hand started to twitch on his ceremonial sword, Camilla began an involuntary, open-mouthed head shake, Philip started to move as though being lightly electrocuted and the Queen looked round with a grin and the whole royal party jigged along like no-one was watching. Hilarious. It looked like the most fun they had all day.

The next day, a concert in her honour was put on. It can't have been what she would have wanted to see but the Queen must be well used to enduring shows like this. Robbie Williams demonstrated that he is clearly the luckiest man in the history of show business. When he is on, it looks like your most embarrassing drunk mate has slipped on stage and is showing off like he hasn't done since he was five. He must know how bad he is. You can almost see it in his eyes. The mike stand had more charisma.

Comics popped up in the gaps between acts to demonstrate how unfunny a funny man can be under pressure. Grace Jones was Grace Jones and Shirley Bassey did Shirley Bassey, and you really can't beat that. Tom Jones laughed and led the crowd swaying through a song about a man who saw his woman with another man and stabbed her to death. How inappropriate was that? Elton seemed to have difficulty moving his face, Stevie Wonder did a few of his worst songs, which other, lesser performers could only dream of having in their back catalogues and Paul McC spared us Hey Jude.

The BBC must have been itching to get out of this transmission. They normally have an insouciance about time keeping, as though watching the clock is beneath them. Not on that day though. They felt the need to shave a minute off the coverage of an event they knew was always going to end whenever. It was presumably running late for Celebrity Dog Dancing or maybe The News, which would repeat to us what we had just seen. In any case, it decided that it had had enough and ended the show before the big finale.

The entire day had led up the the moment when orchestra and fireworks would build to a crescendo to cap off the proceedings. A grand salute to Her Majesty. It must have been magnificent. We will never know. They talked over the end and ran the credits over the fireworks which they then cut off before they had finished. On that performance, they will cut away from the 100m Olympics final as the gun goes off. That wasn't just lazy, it was ignorant of the event and dismissive of their audience. Inexcusable.

On Tuesday, the crowds in The Mall went flag waving crazy as a huge car with a crown on the top cruised past, only to swallow their delight when they saw it contained Prince Andrew and his daughters. They had really toned it down in the millinery department this time. They won't find those hats Photoshopped onto cats on the internet.

At St Paul's, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who had come as a bewhiskered Christmas cracker, droned through a sibilant speech about something. I suspect many tuned out. The bleary younger royals slumped a bit. Harry slumped a lot - if his uniform hadn't been so starched, he might have been horizontal. A still perky head of the household perched on her seat, her back never touching that of the chair. Doesn't she ever get tired?

After the razzmatazz of the preceding days, it ended with what the world must think of when they imagine a royal occasion: shiny breast plates and plumed headdresses, horses, carriages and a fly past.

What must the millions watching in other countries have made of it all? I would think that they would have been mightily impressed. Despite the cack-handed coverage, our capital looked great. The Cavalry, the bands, the pomp, the stage outside BP, the iconic backdrops - it all worked seamlessly and safely and it looked like we really know what we are doing. The organisation of almost every little bit of it was faultless. So much that could have gone wrong didn't. London looked solid, grand and dependable. It looked like a place to dream of visiting, to be confident of doing business with and safe to keep your money in. The value of those messages in this current crisis is immeasurable.

Whatever brickbats we have thrown at the Royal family, however poorly some of them have acted, however much a few have appeared to take advantage of our generosity, the one thing that really came out of these few days was what a valuable commodity the Queen has been. Even some anti-royalists were made to concede that there is worth in being the only country on earth that still manages such pageantry and has the focus of a head of state that few can have antipathy towards.

As for the undecided, like myself, it's hard to deny that The Firm played a blinder. May the bunting last forever.