Monday, June 04, 2012

Britain celebrates Queen’s reign in the rain

It was far from the bright and sunny day that many had wished for, but the cool temperatures and, at times, torrential rain failed to dampen the spirits of more than a million Londoners who lined the banks of the River Thames to watch the Jubilee pageant.

More than a thousand boats took part in the pageant which set sail at around 2pm travelling from Putney bridge towards the city. Along the banks of the river thousands of patriotic Britons, and tourists from many commonwealth countries, cheered as the flotilla of boats passed by.

Street party

The festivities weren't entirely confined to the banks of the river. In central London's Piccadilly Circus there was a huge gathering of people celebrating at what was arguably the largest street party in Britain. All the way from Piccadilly Circus to the top of St James's Street, the road was closed to traffic. Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall made a surprise visit to the street party to kick-start the official Jubilee celebrations. Charles and Camilla even sat down and chatted to some of the several hundred revellers who had braved the weather before making their way to the Royal Barge [The Sun / Telegraph].

Cheers greet Queen

There were cheers of excitement as the Queen, dressed in white, stepped from her Bentley and made her way to the Royal launch which would take her to the Royal Barge, The Spirit of Chartwell which was decked out with nearly 10,000 flowers and 600 plants. Joining her were her husband Prince Philip, Prince Charles, his wife the Duchess of Cornwall, Prince Harry, Prince William and his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton who wowed the crowds with her striking red dress.

It may have been the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, but Kate Middleton stole the style show as she attended the monarch's celebratory River Thames pageant in the stunning scarlet Alexander McQueen dress. Standing aside her husband William and brother in law Harry she delighted in being a part of the spectacle, waving enthusiastically to the huge crowds.

Topped off with a matching and securely attached Lock and Co. hat, Kate Middleton may have wished she'd brought a pair of suitable gloves. Throughout the day she could be occasionally seen rubbing her hands to keep them warm and seemed to be discussing the effects of the weather as she gestured to her husband Prince William.

Cold and wet

The cold also seemed to take its toll on the Queen who at around 3pm went below decks, emerging some 30 minutes later draped with a white cashmere scarf.

No-one could criticise her stamina as she stood throughout the next two hours, braving not only the cold but also the heavy rain which threatened to wash out the entire day's proceedings.

However spirits were not dampened, and in true British style the crowds of sightseers merely erected a sea of umbrellas. As the weather conditions worsened visibility dropped to such an extent that even the 330 metre tall Shard was obscured by low cloud and the expected flypast, of nine Royal Navy helicopters which were to have flown by in a diamond formation, was cancelled.

BBC coverage criticised

For anyone that could remember the Queen's coronation the weather was little different. The television coverage was of course more extensive than seen sixty years ago when only the BBC broadcast pictures which were only in black and white.

But while the BBC once again broadcast extensive coverage, the organisation faced a barrage of  criticism. Its on-air commentary was described as "lamentable" and one MP accused the BBC of indulging in "low grade, celebrity driven drivel".

Camera angles and sound quality were described as poor while a mistaken description of the Queen as "HRH", rather than "Her Majesty", also drew flak. Comedian Stephen Fry, host of the BBC panel show QI, led a chorus of disgruntlement on Twitter, branding the coverage as "mind-numbingly tedious".

Sky News and CNN International also aired extensive coverage of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee river pageant and drew general praise from viewers. CNN did cut away to commercials on occasion, and their coverage was punctuated with slots from Piccadilly Circus where presenter Becky Anderson mixed with revellers partaking in jelly and icecream.

While CNN might cut away from the action on the Thames, the news channel did at least show a split screen. Meanwhile many BBC viewers were left wondering what was going on as cameras constantly turned to studio presenters or to interviews with revellers on the bridges crossing the river.

"Am I being over-critical or is the BBC commentary lamentable?" Kevin Marsh, a former editor of the Today programme and The World at One, tweeted. "Why cut away from Queenie's River Pageant to watch that mindless Tess Daly nonsense... scarcely credible." [Telegraph]

Presenters Jonathan Mann, himself a Canadian national, Richard Quest and Piers Morgan provided commentary on CNN, though their flow seemed stunted and their knowledge rather poor at times. Sky News won the day with its coverage, bringing viewers some of the best pictures of the Royal pageant and followed the event until the end while other broadcasters dropped away.

The papers went to town with many headlines focusing on the rain. The Guardian focused on the "Royal washout", while the i observed that "rain fails to dampen Jubilee celebrations". The Sun came up with the quip, "Drip, Drip, Hooray" as the Daily Mail insisted the Queen still ruled the waves.

For some the coverage may have seemed overkill, especially those not exactly enthused by the Jubilee celebrations. There was but a small anti-monarchy protest near to Tower Bridge, but their protestations were drowned out by the throng of patriotic royalists in attendance.

Patriotism in a time of austerity

There has not been the same sense of anti-Jubilee protests seen in 1977 when the Sex Pistols released God Save the Queen. Their anthem which was re-released this year, amid criticism even by the group's original line-up [Channel 4 News], was certainly drowned out by Land of Hope and Glory. The irony is that in a time of austerity, the echoes of "no future" are more true than the vision of "hope" and "glory" that were sung as fireworks launched from Tower Bridge.

An unscientific poll conducted by the Guardian seemed to indicate that Johnny Rotten's screams of a "fascist regime" and a proclamation that Britain faced a bleak future was more likely to bring out patriotic feelings amongst its readers with some 76.1% voting for the Sex Pistols over the Queen.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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