Entertainment Television

Wednesday 21 August 2019

Attenborough rules, from Wimbledon to Glastonbury

  • Wimbledon (BBC1 & BBC2)
Sir David Attenborough making a surprise appearance on Glastonbury’s Pyramid stage (Aaron Chown/PA)
Sir David Attenborough making a surprise appearance on Glastonbury’s Pyramid stage (Aaron Chown/PA)
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Sir David Attenborough arrived on to the main stage at Glastonbury, hailed as a god, which of course he is.

He was there to make a statement about the state of the environment, but he might also have been there just for his roundabout contribution to the TV coverage of Glastonbury.

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It was Attenborough and his kind who used to run the BBC, who created these great triumphs of public service broadcasting, whereby some sporting or cultural event would be covered on television without ads or other interference, for as long as it took.

Glastonbury is a late arrival - perhaps the last of its kind - whereas Wimbledon is one of the originals. But they are related in that it is hard to imagine such events being covered in this way in the future.

One of them disappeared when the BBC let the British Open Golf go to Sky Sports - a symbolic act of vandalism against this most venerable tradition of our TV civilisation.

After that any form of delinquency was possible, yet Wimbledon remains where it always was, which is just about everywhere on the BBC for two weeks of the summer.

It's on BBC1 and BBC2 most of the day, even the highlights programme is where it always was in the evenings. Perhaps, unlike the Open, it is perceived as something that is enjoyed equally by men and women, and thus will be preserved until some executive comes up with a much worse idea.

Until then we must make the best of this miracle of public service broadcasting, bearing in mind that Wimbledon didn't just materialise on our screens in this fully-formed style. Fifty years ago, one David Attenborough oversaw the first colour broadcast of this essentially posh event, which in the normal run of things would not attract the interest of the multitudes. But which would in time become a permanent fixture in the public imagination, merely by dint of being put on the telly.

Indeed this is one of the hallmarks of events of this nature, that they exist in this space which is open for just a brief period of time, and which closes for most of us, the moment that the event is over.

Most of us will hardly think of tennis at all in the 50 weeks outside Wimbledon, yet its classical beauty on our TV screens has lodged it indelibly into our collective memory as a part of all our summers. We may be watching a match between players we've never heard of, but we are seeing something else, seeing ourselves a long time ago, remembering a lost world and how it looked - like how the perfectly green grass of the first day would slowly be worn away, until on the last day they were playing on what seemed like the surface of the moon.

Someone in television had to dream all that up, and make it happen. And someone - a chap called David Attenborough - even had to think of the fact that the white balls couldn't be seen clearly enough on TV, so they changed the colour of the balls to yellow.

Someone had to think of all that, the type of someone who is apparently no longer employed in great broadcasting organisations, where the top people now concern themselves with thinking of all the things they can't do, or things that they're going to stop doing, like the Open. And the Cricket is on Sky as well now.

It seems that their forbears were able to imagine things that would still be providing entertainment in 50 years time, now they're not imagining anything beyond the end of the fiscal year. And they think that's what they're supposed to be doing, as responsible managers.

In truth, the ones who showed a real sense of responsibility were the visionaries, who could turn a sport that hardly anyone cares about, into two solid weeks of television a year, endlessly recurring.

Attenborough, of course, took on the added responsibility of saving the world - but he seemed quite upbeat about that too, at Glastonbury.

All part of the service.

Sunday Independent

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