To curtsey or not to curtsey?
A few weeks ago I got an invitation to the opening of New Broadcasting House: a reception and the Queen and Duke were promised. I felt flattered and curious in about equal measure, so I said yes with some alacrity. I also thought that it would make a nice break in marking scripts (one of those breaks that actually speeds you up in the long run, rather than slowing you down).
It wasn't until I actually got to BH and was greeted with more enthusiasm than I thought I quite deserved, and whisked off to the Green Room, that I realised that I was down for the line up actually to meet Her Maj (now now longer, for obvious reasons, with the Duke). "You did know you were being presented, didnt you?" asked someone nicely. "Yes", I lied -- as it seemed the safest option. In fact after a moment's reflection I was glad I hadn't known. For despite my vaguely Republican sympathies (on which more later) I would certainly have spent a lot more time choosing the outfit, and getting the iron out and washing the hair etc etc. I was pretty pleased that it was just by chance I had donned the radical red tights, and sparkly gold espadrilles. (The tights are actually redder than they look in this photo, by the way.)
When I got to the Green Room, it was clear that the line up had been chosen to represent the full gamut of BBC TV. I was at the pointy-headed end of the spectrum, which went through David Dimbleby, Fiona Bruce and Jenny Agutter, to the stars of Strictly (namely Tess Daly, Bruce Forsyth and Claudia Winkleman ). So far as I could tell most of us hadn't had a clue that we were to be on display.
The funny thing was, a team spirit quickly developed. It was all strangely democratising, a bit like being stuck in a lift. I mean, here were a load of people we would probably never otherwise have met, but -- like it or not -- we were all in it together. Happily too I was quickly joined by my mate Cassian Harrison,a one-time classicist, who had worked on the BBC end of Meet the Romans. I suspect that he had been steered in my direction by someone up the BBC foodchain who had wondered about quite how the sociality of this motley crew in the Green Room would work out. Would Brucie need rescuing from Beard (or vice versa)?
Until it was time for the line-up, we watched Her Maj touring the building on a large tv (whose channel setting proved a challenge even for the tv experts I was sharing with). Then, with what I infer must be the usual instructions ("Mam", not "Marm" etc), and the less usual one ("probably no need to commiserate on the health of the Duke"), we were led out to do our stuff. Our group (the "green group" -- with its slight whiff of the fun of the school trip) were placed in front of two large glossy photos of Eric and Ernie, and underneath a rather youthful David Attenborough. When she came by, I dont think I curtsied, but we shook hands. And Jenny and Claudia and I together talked to her about the building, about what Lord Reith would have made of it all -- and about the marvellous installation in the forecourt (World by Mark Pimlott) which plays a babel of BBC radio at you, in a variety of languages, as you walk over it, as well as displaying place names, subtly arranged, from the world over.
Then we all went off to the party, HM included, where a good time seemed to be had by all -- where I explored the tardis (above), and where I met (among others) Mark Pimlott himself.. And I captured his very foot next to "Pompeii" in World.
So did I enjoy it all? You bet I did and I still feel so pleased to have been asked. (Make the most of it, while you can Beard; a time is bound to come when people will say.. oh no, not her enthusing about the bloody Romans again -- yes, I know, some already do!) But how does all this fit with those "vaguely Republican sympathies"? If you claim to deplore hereditary privilege, how can you spend a great morning, all arranged around a minute's chat with an 87 year old monarch? Is it just hypocrisy?
Of course it might be; and I am probably the worst judge of that. But I don't think that it is quite so simple. In part, whatever your intellectual position, it's hard after nearly 60 years of watching this kind of thing on the telly, not to get a buzz from actually being there. To put that another way, when there's someone who's been part of your public world forever, it's hard not to be intrigued by actually pressing the flesh (or rather, the glove). But I suspect that there's quite a lot of the "stuck in the lift" phenomenon going on here. Part of what is so memorable is that "time out of time" feeling... of sharing something that you might never have planned, with people you haven't chosen, and would never expect to have met... and all getting along.
So thanks to all at the BBC for asking me and for hosting a damn good party. (And in case you're wondering about the exam scripts, it slowed them down rather than speeding them up. You dont play god with young peoples' futures after a morning, and party, like that.)