A nation in mourning (and if you weren't, you had to keep quiet)

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Even the sanest of people were affected by the Princess Diana hysteria. Humphrey Lyttelton, for instance, played a record on his Best of Jazz programme the other day, a terrific piece called "Shout for Joy" recorded in the 1930s by the boogie pianist Albert Ammons. He then said that he would have played it the week before, but it didn't seem quite the time.

For a moment, I was nonplussed. Then the penny dropped. The previous week was the first programme after the Princess's death, and I assume that someone, somewhere had decreed that a piano solo recorded in the 1930s entitled "Shout for Joy" might seem a little too cheerful for a period of national grief.

Other people may have their favourite moments of paradox from the recent period of Diana worship, but I think that will remain mine. Yes, I admit it. I was very sorry that the Princess was killed in a car crash. I am very sorry for anyone who is killed in a car crash, as I feel that cars have become the number one murder weapon, way ahead of guns. But I was one of that silent number who were not caught up in the mood of national grief for someone I had not previously loved, and I cannot in a million years see why a 1936 record called "Shout for Joy" could be thought tasteless after Diana's death, any more than it was bad taste to continue to sell packs of Happy Families in a gift shop.

I don't think I was the only one to feel, as the mood of national woe grew, that the whole thing was getting out of hand. Yet the national hand- wringing and wailing were such that you could not express your dissent without being thought unpatriotic, unfeeling or tasteless. Come to think of it, I didn't even trust myself to mention any thoughts about the Princess in this space, for fear of being thought a monster of stone. I am sure other writers and commentators have similarly kept quiet and written about more interesting things.

Which means, quite possibly, that when posterity comes to look back at this brief period of interesting hysteria it will conclude that the whole nation succumbed, because those who abstained said nothing. In which case, I would like to pay tribute to those brave souls who wrote in to Radio 4's Feedback programme to record that they thought it had all gone too far, especially on the BBC, whose all-channel, over-the-top coverage made its extravagant treatment of the Hong Kong hand-over look like nothing.

The BBC? Over the top? Perish the thought. Yet Will Wyatt, who bears the title Chief Executive, BBC Broadcast, and who came on Feedback to answer criticism, provided proof of how over-the-top the BBC can be. "I can't remember a news story like this," he said. "I can't see any other broadcasting organisation or newspaper that's reacted in any other way than that this is the biggest news story of modern time."

So much for the end of the Cold War, the collapse of Communism, Kennedy's assassination, and Vietnam. None of them as big as Diana's death, according to Will Wyatt. But the moment I want to remember came when Chris Dunkley read Will Wyatt a letter from a listener in Croydon who objected to Britain being described as a nation united in grief. He had talked to many people of all ages, he said, and not any of them were stricken by anything approaching grief. "Was it as universal as you think?" asked Chris Dunkley of Will Wyatt.

Here is what Will Wyatt said, transcribed faithfully by me. "Um ... Pause ... I hope we didn't ...we - we - It's very difficult to ... I haven't looked at all the tapes back ...I hope we didn't overly suggest that there was one simple uniform response

Next time you hear a member of the public discomfited by a media question, remember that Will Wyatt, Chief Executive, BBC Broadcast, can't always find words to answer a question either.

Comments