Entertainment & Arts

Mark Thompson: BBC has 'lessons to learn' from Jubilee

The Queen's launch makes its way down the river
Some 10.3m viewers watched BBC One's coverage of the Thames River Pageant

BBC Director General Mark Thompson has told MPs that the corporation has "lessons to learn" from its coverage of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

More than 4,000 people complained about the coverage, with most criticism focusing on the river pageant.

Mr Thompson acknowledged that there were "some inaccuracies in the commentary that we shouldn't have had".

However, he added that he thought it was "a really good piece of broadcasting" on the whole.

The broadcast from the Thames pageant was widely criticised in the press, with some commentators branding it "inane" and "tedious".

Mr Thompson told MPs that bad weather and technical difficulties had hampered the coverage.

"The weather had the specific effect of making communications between our cameras very difficult," he said.

"We lost most of our cameras for a period on the boats and some of our cameras on dry land as well, and that meant in the middle of the coverage we were spending a bit less time on the river covering the event and a bit more time away from the river than we would have liked.

"We also had one or two - not many but one or two - inaccuracies in the commentary which we shouldn't have had.

"So I would say, as with any programme, I'm sure the team can go away and learn some of the lessons."

Mr Thompson was making his final appearance before the House of Commons Culture Select Committee before stepping down as director general later this year.

Approval ratings

MPs asked him repeatedly about a segment from Tuesday, 5 June, in which Fearne Cotton and singer Paloma Faith discussed Jubilee memorabilia, including a sick bag.

However, Mr Thompson insisted he would not "talk about individual elements" of the coverage.

He pointed out that audience approval ratings had been high - remaining above "eight out of 10" across all four days of coverage.

And he addressed criticisms that the BBC had lost its reputation for authoritative coverage, drawing attention to Andrew Marr's documentary about the life of the Queen, and a programme in which Prince Charles paid tribute to his mother.

Mark Thompson
Mark Thompson succeeded Greg Dyke in the afterrmath of the Hutton Inquiry in 2004

"The idea that that wasn't full of history and archive and celebration of this remarkable story of one woman and her family… I thought we captured all of that," said Mr Thompson.

The session also saw Mr Thompson questioned about other aspects of his eight-year tenure at the head of the BBC.

He was quizzed about an interview he had given to the New Statesman in 2010, in which he said there was "massive left-wing bias at the BBC" when he joined in 1979.

"I said the BBC I joined in 1979 did have some issues," he told the committee. "Not on the air, but in the make up of the people who worked there. In the Current Affairs Department there were an awful lot of people who came from a left-wing perspective and not many from a Conservative perspective."

But he said things were very different now. "Four ministers in the present government are former BBC alumni. All Tories, chairman, by the way," said Mr Thompson.

The director general also said one of the hallmarks of his time in the post was the return of programmes the family could watch together.

"People said that wasn't possible, that that age was over," he said, "but Doctor Who and Merlin would be examples.

"I think the BBC's got a very interesting role to play in finding pieces which work for children and work for parents as well."

Asked when he expected to leave the BBC, Mr Thompson said "I would hope the handover would happen sooner rather than later," suggesting September would be the earliest possible date.

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