After the flags, the mud-slinging

How was your weekend? For me, it was the high-point of the year; but for all the flag-waving, the singing, and excitement, there’s a predictable conclusion. With all those resources and talent, there should be a golden outcome – but instead complacency, some horribly laboured contributions and a worship of brittle celebrity over subtle teamwork meant disappointment and bemusement.

Yep, the BBC’s TV coverage of Glastonbury was a bit rubbish again this year, eh? I’m always amazed as to how live coverage of such a fabulous, fascinating event should always consistently underwhelm. Maybe it’s the effect of watching it in combination with the World Cup and Wimbledon, and expecting the same live coverage. But this year’s contribution seemed all over the place – no real signposting of where to go to watch (or listen) to who, too much old guff in the middle, and too much Florence and the bloody Machine.

I declare an interest here – I had a non-festival-going bit part in the BBC News website‘s coverage of Glastonbury for many years. Their coverage is still brilliant. And so was 6 Music‘s. Perhaps this reflects my journalism background – and there’s some horrible clashes between journalists/other creative types in that organisation – but what made 6 Music’s coverage work for me was treating it as a mixture of massive live event and massive news story.

Whenever I switched on, reporter Matt Everitt was painting a far more vivid picture of the atmosphere and the mood at Worthy Farm than his colleagues with television cameras managed to, whether it be morning banter with Shaun Keaveney or evening conversations with Gideon Coe. All coming out of answering the simple question: “What’s happening?” Mix that with uninterrupted live coverage from the stages, plus a wider selection of live sets to draw upon, and you have a weekend 6 Music’s team can be really proud of. And remember, this is the station the BBC wants to bin.

But on TV, the coverage was more about entertaining people than informing them. So there was no real sense of what was going on beyond the BBC’s compound, other than the usual fall-back habit of digging out that old footage from the Points West archive of the 1970 festival (with the long-haired bloke in a white smock swaying around and all that). The TV Glastonbury coverage even managed to scoop the Peter O’Hanra-Hanrahan Prize For Missing The News, ignoring the surprise appearance by Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead at the Park stage, presumably because there were no cameras to record the event. Yet 6 Music had microphones there, and as I type on Monday lunchtime, are revelling in playing excellent sets from that stage.

The TV coverage’s other mistake was believing its presenters were more important than the acts – low points being when the awful Reggie Yates started talking about suffering from wind, and when Zane Lowe disclosed to a rapt nation that he’d watched the England match. (You can see an element of this on Radio 1’s Glastonbury page, where its picture gallery is stuffed full of photos of Jo Whiley.)

Obviously TV is more difficult and labour-intensive than radio – anyone who tells you television is a quick medium is a fool – and this weekend suffered from capacity constraints with the World Cup and Wimbledon being on. Plus there’s the technical challenges of broadcasting from a field in Somerset and contractual issues with covering artists.

But with BBC2, BBC3, BBC4, BBC HD and a red button stream all being available (five separate channels!), it’s hard to see why the schedules on all those networks were not just simply cleared for a weekend-long revel of live music (sport notwithstanding). A particularly teeth-gnashing moment came on Friday night, when Gorillaz were fawned over for what felt like hours (although it wasn’t even live coverage), but second stage headliners The Flaming Lips were only covered with a single song.

Here’s a few ideas I’d like to put forward to make the BBC’s TV Glastonbury sing, rather than stink:

  • Try to broadcast as much of the event live as you can. Especially after watching live sport all day, it jars to be spoon-fed recorded dollops in place of uninterrupted, as-it-happens coverage. Highlights, interviews and bespoke live sets can be shown in the dead time between bands.
  • Use the full range of channels intelligently – repeats of Family Guy on BBC3 can wait a week, can’t they? Maybe base BBC3 around the Pyramid Stage, BBC4 for the Other Stage and stick smaller stage highlights on the red button instead of yet more bloody Florence. And when BBC2’s picking up live coverage from one of the main stages, let BBC3 and BBC4 show other stages too. Don’t be afraid to ask viewers to change channels if this happens – we survive when watching Wimbledon, after all.
  • BBC3 – a great big pink logo over the top of the Pet Shop Boys? Don’t patronise us, we’re not thick.
  • Cut back on “celebrity” presenters. What the hell was Craig Charles doing in a cardboard TV? Did someone tell Reggie Yates he wasn’t at T4 on the Beach? Lauren Laverne and Mark Radcliffe can get away with quips and banter because they use them intelligently and don’t hog the limelight. The others were leaden.
  • I know it was 40 years since the first festival (although it didn’t actually run for most of the 1970s) – but the old clips of old stuff (which usually ignore the 1980s and early 1990s, when there was no TV coverage at all) and reminiscence stuff has been done to death. Tell us what’s happening now. Get a reporter out there in the field to show us things. Like… who cleans the toilets?
  • Film some more stages. Even if you don’t do them live. I’d love to see what the Park stage is like, it’s where it’s all happening but it’s rarely seen on TV.
  • Use high-definition coverage intelligently – and don’t have it blindly following BBC2’s coverage. Let it use the best of BBC3 and BBC4’s coverage too. Glastonbury looks amazing in HD, with the twinkly lights at night… but HD seemed an afterthought in the BBC’s line-up.
  • How about promoting what the rest of the BBC is doing there? How many people were swearing at the TV for showing Gorillaz, but were unaware that 6 Music were broadcasting the Flaming Lips? And what about the BBC’s Glasto website? The lack of signposting – even between TV channels – made watching Glastonbury from home a confusing experience.
  • Relax. Please, don’t try to be the coolest kid at school. We’ve turned our TVs on to see bands, not you. Please remember this.

Finally – remember when Channel 4 showed Glastonbury in 1994 and 1995? The BBC woke up to festivals in the late 1990s, and now holds the rights to Glastonbury, T In The Park, and Reading/Leeds. So how about Channel 4 picking up the rights to another UK festival? Channel 4 at Latitude, perhaps? (Or even a European one? My own favourite, Primavera Sound, is covered by TV3 Catalunya – how about splitting the costs with a host broadcaster and going abroad?) Because it looks like the BBC needs a bit of creative competition in covering festivals. And it’d be a wonderful to have a reminder that just like there’s more to the World Cup than England games, there’s more to festivals than just Glastonbury.


  1. Hi, I agree about the ‘too cool’ presenters. Channel 4 have the rights to V Festival so let’s see how that goes.

  2. It often feels with the Beeb that coverage is the last thing to be considered. Like you, I agree that more could have been made of BBC3,the home of repeats nowadays, and BBC4 for those of us who would have liked to see some of it live. I didn’t know how much 6 Music covered, so it seems I’ve missed some gems. *sigh*

    As always, they think that people tune in for their favourite presenter, whem most couldn’t care less.

    Although the coverage was weak as usual, I am rather happy that the Beeb showed MUSE who were rather fantastic.

  3. As a fairly non-discerning, non expert viewer I thought Mark Radcliffe and Lauren Laverne did a good job and I enjoyed it, but agree there is too much fluff and chit chat and not enough of the music sometimes!

  4. I wholeheartedly agree. It’s also notable that 6Music are still using the footage (soundage?) throughout their shows, whereas the Beeb just rustled up a pretty poor 2 hour ‘best of’.

    From watching the TV, I got no feeling of Glastonbury, aside from 2 big stages.

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