When Gary Barlow eventually goes down on his knees to accept the much-predicted knighthood, what will we remember of his big production in the Mall for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations?
I hope we will remember it as a generally good, uplifting show with a few masterstrokes of production. Sir Paul McCartney was always going to be a bullet proof finale even if Obla di Obla dah didn't quite have the desired finishing effect. It was other choices that proved more interesting. I groaned slightly when hearing Elton John say in advance he would be closing with Crocodile Rock; in fact, it proved to be spot on, once the audience got the point about singing the chorus for him. Similarly, Stevie Wonder was far from the obvious choice for a late slot, but provided a nice slice of diversity and quality, with lyrics affectionately tailored in the right direction.
Kylie provided just the right about 'fluff' in a timely way and Madness's roof top sound and light experience was nothing less than a tour de force. Perhaps the best example of production genius, however, was saying to Robbie Williams "actually, don't do Angels; what would really help the pacing at that point would be for you to go back to your swing act and do Mac the Knife". Much as we would all have enjoyed a predictable singalong with Robbie, the alternative worked brilliantly.
If only such careful thought had been given the use of comedians as presenters, because I fear they might provide the lingering memory of the big night. Just because comedy is the big thing at the moment doesn't mean you can simply unleash the biggest names in the middle of the Mall and have a success. Context is vital to making comedy work, particularly when you happen to be Miranda Hart - you really need to be in her own little world for the jokes to work. A live broadcast to the world with a huge, fast changing infrastructure back stage is all about split second timing. You need to do some basic things such as announce names and details correctly (and by the way, Winston was John's middle name, not Paul's), create some empathy with the audience and be prepared to chop and change immediately with no warning. So a professional presenter - as opposed to a comedian - will have pre-planned ways to fill if and when needed. What you don't do as a filler is start a Mexican Wave the whole way down the Mall or ask Rolf Harris to sing an entire song - you need much greater flexibility than such devices will ever allow. The presenter jobs should have been allocated to the likes of Jonathan Ross, Jeremy Vine and Stephen Fry who get paid a great deal of money for doing apparently very little but actually have rare skills that are unlikely to be found in your average comedian. I also know form direct experience that you simply cannot tell or even suggest to a comedian what they should say!
And that is why when I am asked which presenters I most admire, my answer is usually 'sports presenters'. In the 1980's I did a lot of work with Jim Rosenthal and I always marveled at the way he filled all the necessary space with generally well informed and illuminating chat, and did so while someone was passing him the relevant information through an earpeice. The final feat was to talk as the voice in the earpiece counted down from ten to zero, with Jim arriving at "Goodnight" just as the voice reached 'zero'. As someone who can't even keep talking on the phone if someone else is talking in my other ear, I found this mighty impressive; and apparently the great Des Lynam used to present with two earpieces and two different voices feeding him information as he spoke!
Presentation really is quite a serious business - it's not a laughing matter.