The BBC’s flagship Ten O’clock News had nine hours yesterday to prepare a tribute to the ‘voice of the century’ and disgraced itself on every count.
The report was fronted by the Beeb’s geek-spectacled arts/news editor, Will Gompertz, a former Tate staffer whose lack of interest in the performing arts has been evident from day one. Gompertz apparently spent most of his day preparing a report on the new Ai Wei Wei installation at – guess where? – the Tate. Old loyalties die hard.
The report Gompertz cobbled together for the Ten O’Clock was perfunctory. It showed the Sydney house where Joan Sutherland was born, her mum, an interview clip and curt comments from director John Copley and the English soprano Leslie Garrett, whose foot has never trodden on the world stages commanded by Dame Joan. Credit for the diva’s success was given only to her husband, Richard Bonynge.
No mention was made of Covent Garden’s David Webster, who nurtured her for eight years, of Franco Zeffirelli who directed her breakthrough production, of Rafael Kubelik who cast her as Lucia or of Luciano Pavarotti, who stood mute and unidentified beside her in a closing clip and who was her careerlong stage partner. Gompertz wound up his report with the assessment that she was ’a remarkable human being’.
She was, of course, nothing of the sort. Joan was a very ordinary woman of no great intellect or genral interests whose single soaring attribute was a voice to die for, the most powerful coloratura we are ever likely to hear.
When a journalist writes off a subject as ‘a remarkable human being’, any editor will know that the hack has failed to research the subject and lacks the verbal agility to disguise that ignorance. Will Gompertz shamed the dead diva and the BBC by his deficiency.
The fault was not his alone. The editor of the Ten, knowing the Gomp was busy and bored by opera, should have assigned another reporter – perhaps the deposed Razia Iqbal, who is floating around the department without a defined role. Or called in an expert from Radio 3. Or done something to make sure that the news had authority.
Gomp’s appointment last year was an institutional failure of nerve. Now the BBC is cutting executive costs, sacking its deputy DG, this might be a good time to drop the imported Gomp and reinforce core values.
Dame Joan Sutherland was a universal legend, born in Australia, made in England and adored the world over. BBC News marked her passing shabbily, skimpily, ignorantly and with wanton lack of imagination.