BBC Coverage of Jubilee Pageant slammed by National Historic Boats UK

Due to the number of calls we have had regarding the coverage from the BBC of the Pageant, Martyn Heighton, Director of National Historic Ships UK, has sent this letter to the Telegraph (Friday 8 June):

The BBC’s coverage of the Diamond Jubilee Pageant and Parade of Sail

I write as Head of the organisation charged by government with overseeing the National Registers of Historic Vessels and promoting public understanding of and interest in historic vessels in the UK.

Clare Balding’s statement in today’s Daily Telegraph (8th June) that executives decided “looking at boats for how ever many hours might be dull” exposes the bankruptcy of imagination, intelligence, and lack of appreciation of heritage, coupled with a patronising attitude to the general public, which so palpably besets the BBC’s senior management. Surely even they could work out that over a million people do not stand in the driving rain for hours to be bored by what they have come to see, nor do 10 million viewers cling to an outside broadcast in the ever-diminishing hope that they might be told something they really want to hear, if the subject matter before them is of no interest.

I have no grounds for doubting Ms. Balding’s declaration that “facts are my friends”, but do wonder if she is aware that the BBC appears to have been intent on not allowing her or any of her colleagues anywhere near any information with which they might strike even a passing relationship. At the behest of the BBC’s Pageant team, this organisation supplied the BBC with a full list of all the vessels on the National Registers in both the Pageant and Parade of sail; short, broadcast-friendly histories of vessels across the spectrum of types attending; links to our website so that the BBC could delve further if it so wished, and a standing invitation to contact me or my staff with any further queries they might have. Furthermore, and again at the request of the Trust, we acted as go-between bringing together the BBC with the owner of Amazon, the remarkable screw schooner which attended the Spithead Review celebrating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897, and which, after crossing the Atlantic and over-wintering in Ireland, made passage to the Thames to take part of the Parade of Sail.

We might just as well not have bothered. I saw no evidence of my staff’s hard work in the meanderings of the commentators on the day, whilst as the BBC had no cameras covering the Parade of Sail, nothing was shown of Amazon nor indeed any of the other stunning large vessels lining the river (such as Kathleen & May, the last surviving sailing topsail schooner from the thousands which once traded the UK coasts; the Thames barge Edith May, which is National Historic Ships UK Flagship for 2012; the superb French 3-masted ship Belem, or the stunning replica medieval ship Matthew).

In addition to the histories of the vessels and those who sailed in them (the ignorance demonstrated over the heroism of the Dunkirk Little Ships was truly shocking) the present-day stories of the boats and ships on the Thames that day are also fascinating. These vessels came from all over the UK and further afield at their own (often considerable) expense, and thanks to herculean efforts over many months by their crews and the volunteers who maintain them (many of whom did not enjoy the opportunity to be on board). They are now returning to their home ports in foul weather having received no recognition through our national broadcasting body of the nature of their contribution to the day

I am left wondering what the BBC holds to be” interesting”. I am minded to take my recording of the broadcast and overlay it with the commentary which we believe should have been the one on the day, inviting as part of this exercise the excellent Tom Cunliffe, who was utterly side-lined during the broadcast and prevented from sharing in his inimitably enthusiastic style, the extensive knowledge he holds on the subject. It would be instructive to see the difference. Perhaps I should send the resultant programme to the Director General with my compliments as a training video.

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