an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me | Advertise | Follow me:

Here’s a list of the composers the BBC abandoned on the soaking Royal flotilla

Thirteen composers were commissioned to write works for the Royal flotilla down the Thames. Ten barges carried musicians to play the works. All concerned were interviewed beforehand for radio and television. As was the Mayor’s Jubilee Band, comprising 60 London children.

And not a note was heard on the BBC, not a word, not a single mention of the music that was meant to brighten the Queen’s day. Richard Harwood tells us: I was the unfortunate soaked cellist on (Gavin Greenaway’s) boat and, along with violinist Thomas Gould, the other two string players on board and a few others, can confirm that the BBC did interview us a month earlier and filmed us for much of the day during our recording sessions.’ All to no purpose.

We remarked before on the BBC’s amateurish and often infantile presentation of the flotilla. Kevin Marsh, a former BBC editor, zoned in on the elementary faults that were made in the outside broadcast.

Omitting the music was possibly the worst offence. Gavin Greenaway, one of the composers, has written a disappointed blog, listing his betrayed colleagues and providing a web link to some of the music.


Read Gavin here. And salute the roll of honour:

Anne Dudley

Carol Ann Duffy

Graham Fitkin

Orlando Gough

Gavin Greenaway

Christopher Gunning

Howard Goodall

Adrian Johnston

John Lunn

Julian Nott

Jocelyn Pook

Rachel Portman

Stephen Warbeck

Debbie Wiseman

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. Norma Procter says:

    We rely on you, Norman, to find this information. Having been bewildered by the lack of music, it is extremely interesting and frustrating to know that it was planned and got subsumed in the banter of the presenters. It puts the musician in a void. No wonder Gavin Greenaway is sore. Music would have lifted the day for those of us who found it lacking in almost every way.

  2. That is truly shameful by the BBC. During President Obama’s inauguration, all newschannels broadcast the piece specially written for the occassion in its entirety.

    Admittedly Yo Yo Ma, Itzak Perlman et. al. performed using playback due to the cold that day, but that is still better than nothing. I pity the musicians who got soaked by both the rain and the BBC.

  3. Michael B. Farber says:

    It looks like many of those composers were basically film/pop composers (Portman, Wiseman, et al.). Where was Peter Maxwell Davies, Master of the Queen’s Music? (I guess his dissonances do not fit the dumbed-down tastes being catered for in this expensive extravaganza.)

    • MissLondon says:

      Should this even matter?

    • richardb says:

      @Michael Max’s contribution to the Jubilee, his Ninth Symphony, is being premiered in Liverpool next week. But really, shame on you for taking so snobbish and reductive an attitude to some of the liveliest and most enjoyable composers working in the UK today – rather adds insult to injury over the way the BBC treated them.

    • Tim Burden says:

      Oh please, Michael B. Farber! Your train for the musical snob convention left years ago. Sorry you missed it.

      • I agree with Mr Burden. Britain has a very long history of distiguished composers in the genre of film music: Vaughan Williams, Gordon Jacob, Sir Malcolm Arnold, Arnold Bax, Sir Arthur Bliss, Brian Easdale, Elisabeth Lutyens, Roberto Gerhard, Georges Auric, Antony Hopkins, Clifton Parker, and many more.

    • It’s true they are mainly known as film/TV composers*, but that doesn’t matter. It’s something that we in the UK are very good at, so why not give them a platform. It’s a perfect one for that kind of music, as these composers’ skills are I assume primarily in creating soundtracks that add to an occasion, not in concert music that *is* the occasion (without wanting to be snobbish about it – it’s quite a different skill and I for example am hopeless at doing TV music! and not much better at concert music, but still, it’s where I think my strength lies…)

      *Apart from Carol Ann Duffy who I see in the list – was there poetry being boomed out across the waves as well as music?

    • Stephen Woolston says:

      Much as I admire Peter Maxwell Davies, I can think of nothing less congruent with the spirit of public celebration than something exclusive and dissonant. It’s not about dumbing down, it’s about matching the music with the event. The composers involved are very talented in their own right and don’t deserve snobbery just because they are also well known in the entertainment media. Many of these composers, notably Christopher Gunning, have established classical works outside the entertainment media.

      • @Stephen Woolston – clearly you don’t admire PMD that “much”, otherwise you wouldn’t crassly brand him with as “exclusive and dissonant”.

        Here’s an example of just how brilliant (and non-exclusive and non-dissonant) he can be – “An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise” – – listen to that to find out how you are wrong about “dissonant”, and then google up the programme note to find out why you are wrong about “exclusive”.

        …the piece is a good illustration of how we currently have perhaps about the best Master of the King/Queen’s Musick in the present monarch’s reign, maybe even for centuries.

        • Stephen Woolston says:

          I wasn’t branding him. I was commenting on Michael Farber’s post which seemed to be calling for dissonances.

    • Ian Lawson says:

      Associating lack of dissonance with dumbing down. How dumbed down is that?

  4. Gavin Greenaway is quite right to complain as hotly as he does. The BBC’s coverage of the Pageant was awful, in just about every way, as has already been noted by many commentators. But the lack of music was particularly noticeable, and difficult to understand when the BBC had gone to so much trouble filming interviews with composers and musicians, and indeed paid for the use of our music. Apart from anything else, what a stupid waste of money!

    For the record, and for those who didn’t hear anything, the choirs I heard on the day were absolutely terrific, and included performers who had travelled halfway round the world to be there. Likewise the orchestras and ensembles. Our own – the H2O Ensemble – consisted of wonderful players such as Thomas Gould, Martin Robertson, Richard Harwood, Marije Ploemacher, Frank Ricotti, Paul Clarvis, and Andy Pask. They battled with the elements without complaint, yet all were frozen stiff and periodically soaked. Amazingly, the adverse conditions didn’t affect their performances one little bit. They were heroes!
    We need to know why the BBC chose to ignore the music and by whom the decision was made to do so. Or was it rank incompetence? Either way, the producer, who has already defended the programme, should never be allowed near a similar event ever again.

  5. MissLondon says:

    I was utterly appalled at the lack of airtime given to the music barges at the pageant, particularly those that had been playing in the rain for two hours or more. More airtime was given to shockingly bad pop performances at the concert last night, some of which were truly awful. Shame on the BBC.

  6. It has taken me two days to get over the disappointment of the Mayor’s Jubilee Band being completely ignored throughout the Pageant. I witnessed 60 children aged 10-21 get totally soaked through in the freezing cold playing uncomplainingly for over 2.5 hours as we slowly made our way down river, so far towards the tail end of the flotilla that we barely felt part of it. But still, at least we had been assured coverage by the BBC. We had been filmed by This Morning on Friday, BBC Newsround on Saturday and ‘A Celebration’ the piece we commissioned from Rachel Portman, had been broadcast on Radio 3 at 8:30on Sunday morning. It was a great story. Children from all four music colleges and from borough music services coming together to honour the Queen. The children had told all their families, friends, teachers and various social networks to look out for us and what happend. Nothing, zero, not a glimpse, and worse still, not a note. God bless Her Majestry, who waved and smiled at us as we sailed past, and shame on the BBC.

  7. I forgot to say, a huge thank you to Rachel for her wonderful piece of music, and congratulations to our conductor Spencer Down for keeping everyones spirits up. Ever seen 60 brass players keep warm by doing a Mexican wave with their instrument? worth filming in and of itself.

  8. Julia Lloyd says:

    It was especially disappointing, and puzzling, as the trailers for the event had all talked about how it was going to be full of music – one announcer even talked over a wonderful big choir who were singing their hearts out as they passed by the camera, without even mentioning who they were…

  9. Ginny, I’d LOVE to have heard Rachel’s piece, and it was a wonderful idea for the children to perform it. So much thought had gone into the planning of the event, and so much good music was performed in almost impossible circumstances, it is truly shameful of the BBC to have ignored it. It must have been the Editor’s decision to omit nearly all the music, and that person is a man named Ben Weston. To make matters worse, he has strenuously defended the BBC’s coverage. Heads should roll!
    By the way, the Queen waved to us and smiled a broad smile, even though she must have been absolutely frozen! I have submitted a complaint to the BBC (it’s easy to do it online) and I suggest you do too. The more the better.

    • Carolyn says:

      Mr. Gunning, I am so happy to be able to express how much I, and my husband , also, a composer/arranger of note, have enjoyed and admired your music for years. As a matter of fact, the BBC presentations for which you wrote we often watched solely to hear your music, and what you did, and how you used it. What an opportunity was missed to hear your music and that of the other composers in works that stand alone. So often, in listening to your underscoring of BBC dramas, one wondered what you could create for the concert hall.
      One suspects these works composed for this occasion may be representative expressions of Britain and the Queen. ( Am I correct? ) Thus,I am so very, very sorry, the music you composed for this event was not heard. It’s the world’s misfortune. Rachel Portman is, also, a very good writer as is Anne Dudley and many others on the list. ( By the way, what happened to Carl Davis? Or did one have to be born in England to qualify? )

      The BBC is only as good as the minds behind it. It no longer cares about facts in its news reports, so what should we have expected, I guess. The lack of Classical Music
      created a noticeable void. It is part of the British celebratory tradition, and expected. Knowing what must have gone into all of your works, and the children’s participation, and, of course, the musicians, it’s truly heartrending about which to even think. There was no reason earlier music could not have, also, been performed to present a form of continuity through the Queen’s reign.
      As an American I do not know, the ins and outs of the BBC, but would it be possible to make a recording of works specially commissioned for the Queen’s 60th Jubilee? There must be some individual who can demand it be done..The BBC, the voice that kept so much hope alive as we fought for Western Civilization,
      has plummeted. However, there must be one mind with two functioning braincells ,who can understand and insure such an album is realized. If writing emails, calling and writing letters for a grassroots initiative would be helpful, possibly, we could do it. To whom should we address it? Are the interviews available online anywhere?
      Excuse me, but what a complete waste of money, talent, and effort. It seems to accompany the decision-makers, who are cutting funding for the orchestras and the Arts Education, and the Libraries.

      Again, thank you, Mr. Gunning. for all the many years of enjoyment you provided us. No one should denigrate any of the work of these composers. Let’s remember, Prokofiev , Shostakovich, Walton, Britten, and Korngold among many others wrote for films, for whatever reason. Those with whom we are familiar are masters of their craft and elevated the overall productions for which they wrote.
      An ” Etude ” magazine issue in the Forties, I believe, has the Queen on the cover, because she was awarded a degree in piano. Prince Charles acquitted himself very well on the cello he played for a friend of mine, who was one of the 20th century’s greatest violinists. One wonders, why this is not known. Or am I mistaken?

  10. Peter Klatzow says:

    t probably comes down to money, since airing this music internationally would have cost the BBC a fortune. Maybe it was never the intention to let it go out over the world’s airwaves. A little more transparency from the BBC would be appreciated, and I am sorry to learn that we in distant South Africa didn’t hear this great idea come to full fruition.

  11. David Maxwell Anderson says:

    I waited and waited and waited. Slowly my incredulity turned into rage. The directors of the BBC coverage of the flotilla should be fired – end of story.

  12. Among many many many other things, a perfect small example of how dumbed-down the BBC coverage was – John Barrowman (why he ?) was on the barge carrying the bells and bellringers.. for the short time he was there he talked about them being about to ‘play tunes.’ Bell ringers of this kind do NOT ‘play tunes.’ But hey, that’ll do, the plebs out there understand ‘tunes’… it was the LCD of everything, and it was patronising. And given that we have some of the finest musicians, singers and orchestras in the world, why no huge classical music concert ? An all-British programme, including celebratory new music would have been terrific – Purcell onwards, including Vaughan Williams, Elgar, Britten, Holst et al right down to now. But no, that would have been elitist. Grrrr.

    • Well, Susan, it could be argued that we have the Proms for that. And that’s another place where the BBC can demonstrate its new-found penchant for dumbing-down and incompetent camera work among other skills…

      • Sue Brady says:

        Oh how true Dave. I am heartily sick of having to put up with changing coloured lights and odd moving designs thrown over the organ while listening to Proms. No other reputable concert hall allows this intrusion.
        Why do we have to tolerate coloured neon lights onstage behind the orchestra and why paint the floor of the stage blue.

        • Lisa Whistlecroft says:

          @ Dave and Sue Brady: The visuals are MUCH better on Radio 3! That said – the announcers still chatter endlessly over the hall sounds and audience applause that I’d rather listen to…

          • True, Lisa, but some of us poor so-and-sos have to put up with these intrusions while performing. And when that blasted boom camera obscures the sightline with the conductor I’d like to stick it up a less accessible part of the TV director’s anatomy…

  13. Robert K says:

    This is truly horrid.

  14. mark winn says:

    Where do I locate the contact details of Ben Weston?

    Come on everyone, lets make his inbox, and those of his superiors, reek of righteous anger!!

    • Curb the rage. Nothing at the BBC is the fault (or credit) of any individual. He was doing what was collegially expected of him. Let’s not join the Mail and Telegraph hate mobs.

  15. Norman is right in that there is little point in complaining other than by using the BBC’s own complaints procedure. You can use their dedicated complaints website: and if you are not happy with the response there are further procedures to follow.

    However, I think in this case, Norman, that the Editor of the programme (in effect the producer) would have been the person responsible for the programme’s content. I doubt very much that an edict would have been issued by any higher authority to not feature the music. So I don’t think “he was doing what was collegially expected of him.”

  16. I thought it was wonderful coverage, the music was not what the flotilla was about, those on the banks [including the Queen] heard some of the music, as did the T.V. audience. The Flotilla was about boats, ships and barges.
    The concert was brilliantly covered too. I must state the obvious that “Classical Music” is a such a minority interest, that was why they chose to do a “popular Music” concert which was of interest to the majority of people, I met nobody on the night in the Mall who was unhappy. I taped the events on both channels, and to be honest gave up on the ITV version after the 3rd set of adverts. The interviews within the crowds are what made it for me. But I must confess the BBC broadcast from St Pauls was the best part of their coverage. Why not give praise where it is due, and stop complaining!

    • Charliegirl says:

      Classical music ‘a minority interest’?! Have you ever been to or seen a Proms concert?!

      As the flotilla was part of Her Majesty’s Diamond Jubilee celebration, it showcases British heritage, of which maritime activities were part. British music is also part of that heritage; in fact, many composers past and present have been inspired by the sea. If the pageant involved music and musicians, it was only right that they were given due attention and coverage.

      I agree with you that the BBC’s broadcast of the thanksgiving service was its best offering, but only because it gave the presenters very few opportunities to speak. However, there is no justification for chatter during the organ voluntary; the service had not ended at that point.

  17. Max Hodges says:

    The BBC no longer has the staff of sufficient quality, in sufficient quantity in ANY department, to manage an event of this magnitude…. if you think this was crap, you wait till you see the olympics. peoples image of the abilities of the beeb stem from 20+ years ago…. they simply cannot produce such quality , technically or artistically any more. blame the bean counters……

  18. David Harley says:

    Not quite such a disaster as the Music for the Royal Fireworks, when the wooden building for the musicians collapsed and caught fire.

  19. Elizabeth says:

    I was so proud that my daughter was selected to be part of the Mayor’s Jubilee Band and was given the opportunity to be part of such an historical event. Like many others we stood and waited patiently for hours and watched with joy as the Westminster went by playing such wonderful and potent music fit for such a prestigious occasion. School staff, parents, families and friends watched diligently for a glimpse on TV. We couldn’t wait to catch up and relentlessly replay the moment once we got home. We quite literally could have cried when we realised that the hard work of everyone involved, not to mention the music written by Rachel Portman was not captured. Shame on the BBC for letting these kids down and failing to highlight the wonderful music that we witnessed on the Thames that day.

  20. The Beebs coverage of the Thanksgiving Service might have been their highlight of the weekend, but it was still inane in my view.

    Apart from talking over and cutting off the closing organ voluntary, the presenters continually interrupted the service with unnecessary and inept comments. As an example, the instant the final beat of Cwm Rhondda had been played, in those golden seconds whilst the sound from the 32′ reeds was still reverberating around St Paul’s, the announcer cut over the glorious soundtrack sound to tell us that “that was Guide me o Thou Great Redeemer” – as if we didn’t know. :(

    I accept that no broadcaster can cover everything, but there is no justification for spoiling any kind of broadcast music by interrupting it with inane comments from lightweight presenters who feel they need to justify their overpaid and overrated existences. In these days of digital television is should be possible to press the red button, and select “Enjoy the Music Without Commentary”.

    Given the number of broadcasters who were covering this event, could they not have pooled their resources so that viewers of all channels were given a broader view of the proceedings?

  21. Norman – Kevin Marsh was a former editor, not a presenter at the BBC.

  22. Richard Ineson says:

    And what happened to Vanessa Feltz?

an ArtsJournal blog