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Review of 2012: Television

21 December 2012

THERE has never been a year when we have felt more concern for Auntie - but we have not been hovering round the sickbed offering grapes and sympathy. We have been wondering how far our exasperation can stretch before we declare the relationship over for good.

The BBC is generally acknowledged as the world's favourite and best broadcasting organisation, and the Queen's Jubilee was the very subject-matter at which it most excels; but The Diamond Jubilee River Pageant was a broadcasting error of such a scale as to call into question the directors' basic commitment to the Corporation's core values.

These doubts were exacerbated by the unfolding horror of the Jimmy Savile revelations; the accusations that Panorama had been leant on to pull a programme about Savile's behaviour; the débâcle of Newsnight's broadcasting - in its eagerness to restore faith in the independence and fearlessness of BBC journalism - an accusation of child molestation against a politician who was immediately able to prove his innocence; and the appointment and hasty departure of a new Director-General.

The sight of a once-loved and respected national institution in meltdown should strike a chord of sympathy with all members of the Church of England, but we are clearly in no position to offer advice.

Despite this enveloping miasma, some very bright lights shone through the BBC's slough of despond. The year 2012 could be considered as the Year of Great Britain - the Jubilee attracting around it a galaxy of native-themed documentaries of the highest standard: Andrew Marr's The Diamond Queen, the Revd Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch's How God Made the English, Ian Hislop's Stiff Upper Lip, moving accounts of the work of Lucian Freud and David Hockney, a terrific account of The Dreams of William Golding. Add to these a slew of programmes about, and productions of, William Shakespeare, all attesting that our remarkable national creative heritage has no lack of worthy interpreters in the medium of TV.

And TV redemption of a kind enlightened the heart of the year: the BBC's coverage of the Olympic Games was magnificent, its explication of the marvels of human endeavour then, astonishingly, equalled, or even trumped, by Channel 4's devotion to the Paralympics. The opening and closing ceremonies of both sets of Games were amazing feats, conceived for a worldwide TV audience as much as for those in the stadium.

They presented glorious impressions of a nation comfortable with itself, for good or ill, happy to laugh at its most cherished institutions and to acknowledge the dark elements in our story, willing even to incorporate the odd hymn. I do not think it too far-fetched to see them as para-liturgies, summoning core virtues of inclusion, fellowship, endeavour, and commitment.

The viewer has to be open to such considerations, as explicit religion on TV was woefully missing. It was most movingly present in the Christian faith underlying the nuns' vocation in the BBC drama Call the Midwife. But my accolade for Most Promising New Actor of the Year is awarded - thanks to her starring role in the Olympic opening ceremony - to Her Majesty the Queen.

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