British summertime institutions wouldn’t be British summertime institutions without the pesky rain (Latin. Precipitatum Irritatus) having its say in proceedings. The annual Wimbledon showers, Glastonbury mud baths and general raining on of any parade of note are as British as jam on toast, so it was with a warm, fuzzy sense of familiarity that the nation tuned into the Queen’s Jubilee to witness an absolute shower, in more than one sense of the term. I must make clear that I’m not a republican or anti-monarchist in any way; I’m more or less on the fence, if anything leaning slightly towards a pro-royal stance. That’s a topic for another time, however.
So it wasn’t with a sense of shadenfreude that I watched the BBC’s coverage of the Jubilee River Pageant Soaking – well, no more than as if the celebrations had been in aid of anyone, literally anyone. More a sense of cosy nostalgia from seeing possibly the most shambolic live televised event since the nation bathed in Samantha Fox and Mick Fleetwood’s embarrassment at the chaotic Brit Awards in 1989. Look it up younglings. It was the sort of charming shambles that Britain used to excel at. Onc
e upon a time, awkward interviews, clunking links and overall shoddiness were a weekly feature on game shows, live news programs and the like. Now with television’s typically slick professionalism and the general public’s increased sense of media savvy-ness, howling TV moments are a rare commodity. Like an ageing boxer, there are occasionally flashes of our brilliance at this sort of thing, but the glimpses are increasingly rare these days. Continuing the ageing boxer analogy (indulge me), the Right Royal Shambles was akin to George Foreman coming out of retirement to win the world heavyweight title at the grand old age of 45, a defiant middle finger aimed at time’s winged chariot. In the case of the Jubilee River Pageant, a vintage display of quintessential English rubbishness.
“With the rain lashing them and matted, soaked hair stuck to their dripping faces, it was a tiny bit very funny, and I for one was hoping the Queen would lose composure and break out in hysterical laughter”
I’m less interested than most commentators were in the BBC’s misjudged decision to feature reports by Tess Daly and Fearne Cotton on such inane gimmickery as Jubilee sickbags. That element of the awful coverage was totally avoidable, down to the BBC underestimating the intellectual capacity of its viewers, and therefore, just boring. What made the six-hour long live program such an absolute belter of a watch for me were the inescapable bloopers that were nigh-on possible to predict. It was so from the off, when the cameras cut from the studio to a village hall party in Norfolk, during which the reporter asked a four year-old girl, “So, how are you enjoying the Jubilee celebrations?”
Her response, with all the candour of a toddler untrained in diplomatic niceties, and all the enthusiasm of someone asked to bathe in hot tar:
“I’ve been here for HOURS.”
And it continued, in this vein, for hours. Other highlights were the display of a ‘special Jubilee buffet’ aboard one of the flotilla of boats on the Thames, complete with waterlogged vol-au-vents and rain sandwiches. Oh, and let’s not forget the BBC-commissioned attempts to recreate Canaletto’s famous 1747 painting of the Lord Mayor’s river procession. By the time the downpour was done with the artists’ attempts, they looked more like Cornetto’s.
Of course, who can forget the line of drowned rats regaling the Queen with the national anthem at the end? It would be impossible not to sympathise with the choir, for whom this clearly should have been a proud moment. But, with the rain lashing them and matted, soaked hair stuck to their dripping faces, it was a tiny bit very funny, and I for one was hoping the Queen would lose composure and break out in hysterical laughter. The final piece de resistance came with the commentator’s attempts to look on the bright side by noting that, “the wow moment is due any minute now, a fly past of nine naval helicopters in diamond formation, which will hopefully make the wait in the rain worthwhile for these spectators.” Followed, a heartbeat later, by “I’m getting news that due to the conditions, that wow moment has been cancelled.” It was perfectly farcical, and farcically perfect.
But hey, this is what being a Brit is all about right? Leave the slick stuff to the Americans I say. A good old washout gives us the chance to exercise those classic British traits of turning the other cheek, taking it on the chin, stiff upper lip, all of which, if attempted simultaneously, result in sort of a gurn, as demonstrated by the Duke of Edinburgh as he braved the weather aboard the Good Ship Hopeless. Here’s to another ten years and another Jubilee for dear old Queenie. If the next one’s sunny though, tune in to something else.