Never has royalty looked better on the small screen – or the commentary sounded worse
Saturday 30 April 2011
"Pyjamas off... glad rags on" said the BBC's continuity announcer at 8am, blowing the starting whistle on five-and-a-half hours of monarchical delirium with a sartorial instruction to the people of Britain. I thought this considerably undersold the advantage of the television coverage, myself.
Some people had been camping out on The Mall for days to get an uninterrupted view. But those among us who'd barely been able to muster the energy to go downstairs and press the On button were about to get a far better one and if we wanted to do it in string vest and Y-fronts, nobody was going to be any the wiser.
Because, if there was a headline for the home viewer, as opposed to royalists or constitutional pundits or fashion mavens, it was that this was High Definition's day. Queen Elizabeth's Coronation famously gave a huge push to the take-up of television itself. The Firm's latest exercise in rebranding will surely have done something similar for a technology which placed you almost impertinently close to the principals. Not only did it brilliantly capture the lustre of privilege and the gleam of British pageantry, it gave you the exact texture of Kate's tulle veil, the red welt left across William's forehead by his military cap, the wiry extravagance of the Archbishop of Canterbury's eyebrows.
Never has a royal occasion looked better on the small screen. The soundtrack, on the other hand, followed previous tradition – an almost ceaseless burble of trumped-up momentousness which is the broadcasting equivalent of Styrofoam peanuts – maximum volume and minimal density.
The Royal Family can always be depended upon to induce a 20-point drop in the national IQ and our broadcasters – BBC and ITV alike – are no exception to the rule.
The only consolation for the benignly minded sceptic (who would wish any couple anything other than happiness on such a day?) was to take pleasure in the strange cocktail of absurdity and sincere emotion that resulted. Huw Edwards was the first broadcaster to come over all millennial, introducing Westminster Abbey to us as "this centre of Christian worship for a thousand years", but he didn't hold a monopoly on pomp for long. Even Simon Schama showed a generous willingness to gush about freshness and revival – stirred by the sight of the field maples lining the Abbey's nave. (They represented "modesty and humility" apparently, which is worth remembering next time you want to play things down at a family occasion – just crane eight fully- grown trees into the party venue).
The ceremony itself was like the eye of the storm – a merciful reprieve from commentary and cutaways as the familiar ritual played out to its own stately tempo. There was a little frisson when the bride's brother read a text from Romans – "Do not be haughty. Associate with the lowly" – but otherwise it was calmly and comfortingly predictable.
On either side, though, you got a hurricane of silliness as broadcasters tried to fill the yawning hours. A female astronaut offered good wishes from the International Space Station, charitably guaranteeing that no Earthbound woman was going to have a worse hair day. Boris Johnson gave a shout out to Pam from Moss Bros who'd helped to outfit him and shared his view of the true significance of the day: "In many ways it's a good dry run for the Olympics," he said movingly.
A cavalcade of minibuses trundled along the processional route, briefly wrongfooting republican viewers (do we really need four minibuses full, you thought, but since we've got them can't they at least travel in style?) Every now and then a camera would nerve itself up to risk another quick shot of Princess Anne, wearing a lens-shattering ensemble that appeared to have been tailored from the carpet of a Las Vegas casino. And the television equivalent of Beatrice's hat? Take a bow, Fearne Cotton, once again demonstrating her forensic ability with a follow-up question. "I can't believe I've got this close to the palace," an excitable flag-waver told her. "Can you believe you've got this close to the palace?" Fearne shot back.
Mind like a razor.
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