The Daily Telegraph
Radio painted a thousand pictures with a few words
We expect excellence from the BBC when covering great state occasions. Nothing less will do – on radio as much as television. Monday’s coverage of the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II and all the extraordinary ceremony surrounding it certainly delivered on that expectation. For the best part of 12 hours, from the pips teeing up the Today programme at 6am to royal correspondent Jonny Dymond’s admirably succinct 10-minute audioprécis of the day’s key events on PM at 5pm, the BBC (sharing coverage, for much of the day, across Radios 3, 4, 5 Live and the World Service) brought us an atmospheric, richly detailed account of the most significant state event in decades.
Detail was the key. In an imagedriven age radio can’t compete with television in respect of the shimmering visual splendour of such a day. Depth, context and clarity are what radio brings to the fore. Allan Little’s reports from Westminster Abbey were a case in point, delivered from his vantage point high up in the triforium (“the uppermost gallery at the east end of the part of the Abbey known as the Choir”). His avuncular, respectful tone was perfect for the occasion – drip-feeding enough information to conjure the scene in words yet,
crucially, silent (apart from the occasional judicious murmur of explanation) during the service itself.
Eleanor Oldroyd’s reporting, later, from the committal service at St George’s Chapel, Windsor, was equally spot on. Then again, at every stage the BBC seemed to have a big-gun radio-voice to hand (Mishal Husain in Parliament Square, Emma Barnett on Horse Guards Parade, James Naughtie at the Wellington Arch, Julian Worricker at Windsor – with Martha Kearney seamlessly anchoring) keen to give their utmost to the occasion. Still, there were oddities. Ken Bruce reporting from the Mall struck a bizarre note in a sea of heavyweight news voices, the ears unable to shake off the suspicion that he was about to cue up a round of Popmaster.
Sometimes the need to say something of significance tilted us into the absurd. Naughtie, early on, caught sight of Joe Biden’s car, “the Beast”, speeding past and he switched into prophetic mode, blurting out with stentorian fervour: “I can confirm to you that Joe Biden will be at Westminster Abbey.” A phrase involving the words “No” and “Sherlock” sprang, unkindly, to mind. Nerves were understandably jangling, even for the most experienced.
However high the standards we set the BBC, we simply don’t expect the same level of public service from commercial radio operators. So, it was gratifying to discover how much effort some put in. LBC, in particular, did a heroic job covering the entire proceedings – and broadcasting across the stable of Global radio stations – with Nick Ferrari and Shelagh Fogarty doing most of the heavy lifting.
Reporters were, in Ferrari’s words, “everywhere we need them to be” and good use was made of expertise from elsewhere in the Global empire – such as Alexander Armstrong’s (from Classic FM) guide to the music that listeners would hear during the services. Andrew Marr’s contributions on the relationship between the monarchy and the British people, and its future, carried the kind of authority that is absolutely essential on such occasions.
In the Talkradio family, Times Radio gave a fair whack at covering events in its own studio-based, interview-oriented way. Although I must confess, I gave up on the Talkradio stations fairly quickly – every time I asked my smartspeaker to switch over to Talk I was served up an advert for Pizza Hut. It is hard to politely express just how wrong that felt on such a deeply solemn occasion.
At least the BBC is still – for the moment at least – a long way from that funding model. And it’s worth saying that the coverage over the past week has been for the most part impeccable. Even The News Quiz (Radio 4, Friday) managed to walk the line between funny and respectful, Andy Zaltzman choosing a safe line-up of Lucy Porter, Steve Punt, Ayesha Hazarika and Zoe Lyons. And no one who listened to Michael Morpurgo’s Reflections on Majesty (Radio 4, Friday) could fail to have been moved by his evocative, insightful account of the impact royalty can have on a young life – and beyond.
Morpurgo’s opening child’s-eye perspective brilliantly evoked how the institution itself is absorbed into the very bones from the earliest age, and evolved into a deeply felt account of how the late Queen’s unique brand of soft power could affect individuals as well as nations. In a week of glittering tributes, the elegant simplicity of this one stood out.