It was Mary Walsh and/or Cathy Jones I thought of last weekend as I tortured myself enough during channel changes to catch a minute here, a minute there, of England’s over-the-top, near-nauseating, self-indulgent celebration of the Queen’s 60th Diamond Jubilee, one of those opportunities the Brits exploit in order to ignore reality and try to convince the rest of the world that Britannia still matters.
Obviously, there are fans of the monarchy, here in Newfoundland and elsewhere, refusing to believe that the poor old Queen’s reign, especially in the last 20 years or so, has been not much more than a walking, talking soap-opera, a dream come true for not only the tabloid press, but the supposedly legitimate members of the Fourth Estate as well.
But I have a notion that the bulk of the non-British world shook its universal head in embarrassed amazement as the Queen and her family were escorted down the River Thames by hundreds of vessels, from canoes to yachts, like an event from the past when the monarchy really mattered, part of the celebration of just how long Elizabeth has been waving that little, white-gloved hand of hers like a metronome (those monotonous timers for pianos so many of us were forced to adhere to as the nuns tried desperately to beat us into a Newfoundland version of Liberace).
So, thus, the reference too many sentences ago to Mary Walsh and Cathy Jones: I can’t recall whether it was just one, or the two of them, who, in their Codco days, would do an outrageous and irreverent imitation of the Queen.
What I do remember specifically, though, was the caricature of Elizabeth slowly losing strength in her robotic-like hand as she waved to her subjects, and then grabbing hold of her wrist with the other hand, without missing a stroke, to continue her greeting to the delighted peasants.
And, so, as I watched with a container of Gravol nearby on the weekend, there was the actual Queen herself, not a Codco spoof at all, but the real thing, her wrist ready to fall off as she tried to let her subjects on the banks know she really cared about them, she really did.
“We love all of them, each and every one, do you not think so, Philip?” Something along those lines is what her loyal subjects may have wanted to believe Elizabeth was whispering to her near-comatose husband, the aging Phil barely able to stand with all those medals hanging off his uniform, enough to make you believe he won World War 11 single-handedly.
What she was probably saying, or at least thinking, was: “Philip, you know that derriere of mine, the same one the public apparently jokes that never emits an odour of any sort, under any circumstances? Well, that same derriere, or arse, as those quaint Newfoundland colonialists describe it, is freezing off in this damn blasted boat. Will you take me ashore, Philip, and bring me home to my warm dogs?” (No kidding, though, there was “breaking news” the next day that Philip was rushed to hospital with a bladder problem, perhaps a result of the poor old chap standing on a ship for hours, weighed down with medals, without getting a chance to tap a kidney).
While watching the celebration of the Queen’s 60 years of waving, I couldn’t help but think, as well, of the CBC, of all things.
I don’t know exactly how much air time the celebrations got on the CBC, but surely, for a corporation trying to remain a legitimate alternative to the other Canadian media, to continue to reflect Canadians to Canadians, as the mandate has it, the bridge-to-bridge coverage of boats bobbing in the Thames did not do their credibility any favours.
Yes, I was interested in the boat paddled by Canadian women who had survived breast cancer; it was a legitimate and continuing story of fortitude and resilience, a proud example for Canadians of how a group of their fellow citizens maintain hope and optimism in the face of a deadly illness.
But a journalistic crew of three CBC employees could have done justice to that story (or perhaps stories about the enormous costs of the event in a country smothered in financial cuts, or whether or not Canadians still want the monarchy in their lives, at least to this extent).
Instead, the CBC covered the entire extravaganza for hours upon hours, days upon days, led by the forever sedate Peter Mansbridge (honest to the gods of journalism, Peter could turn a dramatic hurricane story into a benign weather report), and a team of innumerable on-air journalistic “personalities,” most sounding near-orgasmic as they described the Queen’s wet trip down The Thames.
And behind the scenes, there were undoubtedly countless producers and technicians doing their best to help Mansbridge and the on-air talent deplete the CBC budget.
Ironically, during the weeks leading up to what I’m sure was a ridiculously expensive bill for coverage of the Diamond Jubilee, we were treated here in Newfoundland to examples of what public broadcasting is all about, or should be all about, as a nightly schedule of Land and Sea programs were aired during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, tremendous documentaries produced by a crew of three or four people, money well spent.
I’d say Mansbridge’s accommodations alone in London would have supplied money for an extra documentary or two produced by the local Newfoundland crew.
Regional CBC broadcasting has been cut to the bone, barely surviving, while the corporation bosses still see fit to pay a fortune to give us days and nights of the Queen doing her metronome thing.
Good show. Tally ho. Bang on. Hip hip.
Wave that hand, Queenie.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.