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Ian Burrell

Ian Burrell edits the Media Weekly pages of The Independent.

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The BBC's Glastonbury army

Posted by Ian Burrell
  • Monday, 29 June 2009 at 05:57 pm
Waiting on the platform at the tiny Castle Cary station amid hordes of mud-caked, back-packing Glastonbury festival goers, I was astonished to see, as the London train finally pulled in, a senior BBC executive – last seen in wellies in the festival’s backstage area - already ensconced in first-class, having been delivered by corporation driver to the previous stop.

We struggled on board, before standing outside the carriage toilet all the way to London, alongside Tony Benn who had perched himself on some form of shooting stick. That was two years ago, and this year’s Glastonbury saw the attendance of a slimmed down team of eight senior BBC executives, including deputy director general and festival addict Mark Byford, chairman of the BBC Trust Sir Michael Lyons and BBC creative chief Alan Yentob. The BBC head of radio Tim Davie was also there, alongside Radio 1 boss Andy Parfitt, Radio 2’s Bob Shennan, BBC3’s Jackie Barrett and multimedia supremo Simon Nelson.

This top brass was in addition to 407 BBC working personnel on site. There were a total of seven television presenters (including Mark Radcliffe, Jo Whiley, Edith Bowman, Zane Lowe and Lauren Laverne) and 20 radio presenters. Annie Mac and her BBC Switch sidekick Nick Grimshaw reported online on the "backstage celebrity madness" and via her Twitter stream she told followers she was "v happy and rolling with [fellow BBC presenter] Sara Cox".

But at home not all licence fee payers were impressed. "There is far too much coverage of BBC presenters," came one post on the BBC website. "Does the BBC have to pay extra to show more of the actual festival performers?" There was much consternation that, after putting Bruce Springsteen on the cover of Radio Times, the BBC had failed to live up to that pre-publicity by showing only limited amounts of The Boss’s performance and of the similarly hyped Neil Young.

Although Glastonbury as a news story has remained much the same for several years (mud, more corporate, rain, more middle class), the BBC felt the need to despatch a vast editorial team to Worthy Farm (20 television staff, 16 from Radio 1, 17 from 6 Music, five from Radio 5 Live).

The BBC points out that producing 111 hours of TV coverage, 60 hours of radio and 57 hours of online video, from muddy fields in Somerset, is a huge logistical task that requires 160 technical staff, plus a further 130 short-term contractors, including security guards to watch over the expensive broadcasting kit that produces output for a TV audience of 16m, up 2m on last year. "They work incredibly hard in difficult conditions," says a spokesperson. "At the end of the weekend they’re exhausted."

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