A view backstage at Beverley Minster

A Jewel in the Crown

For once Neil Pickford takes a few steps outside Beverley Minster – and he’s not impressed with what he finds.

Recovering after the recent explosion of tinsel and mince pies in the Minster I walked the snow-crusted streets of Beverley to clear my head. The last few days had been an almost constant flow of preparations for one event after another, culminating last Friday in the multi-media production that was the Beverley High School Christmas Carol Service – due to finish at 3.15pm and then be followed by an evening concert with the Melsa Consort.

The former event was a huge success with over 1,000 pupils and guests sitting in the main body of the church and an uncounted extra group standing at the back and sides.

It sounded great, as you will be able to tell if you listen to Radio Humberside at 9pm on Christmas Eve or 6am on Christmas Morning, because the BBC was there to record it.

On a purely personal note I found this process absolutely fascinating, partly because I first encountered a BBC Outside Broadcast in a church some 48 years ago. It was interesting to compare the changes and similarities over half a century.

Each of the engineers involved required just one desk and a few hours to set up and, with the benefit of declining eyesight I couldn’t detect too much difference in basic equipment. Granted the modern mixing desk had more channels and a lot more green and red lights, but otherwise it was essentially the same.

However, back in 1961 we were producing a live recording for the Light Programme so the microphones in front of the minister rested on a battered old plank, into which was screwed an ordinary domestic light fitting with yellow bulb. When it lit up we were off (or on)– broadcasting to the nation.

Ah, such glamour.

A friend of mine was so excited by the whole process that his entire life changed from that day onwards. He became fascinated by electronics and broadcasting and subsequently had a successful career with the BBC, rising to become number two in the Outside Broadcast Unit before a bureaucrat with a soul of silicon and a spreadsheet fetish (see previous blogs) destroyed the whole structure.

What a Birt.

Sorry, slight diversion there. I promise it won’t happen again.

Anyway, one big difference between the 20th and 21st century churches involved is that the BBC was able to piggyback its recording process through our own sound system this week. That wasn’t an option in my youth.

Back in my day if you wanted to be heard clearly at the back you had to PROJECT YOUR VOICE.

Now we rely on a digitised program to amplify everything correctly. But, at this time of year and with damp getting into the system, this has the inevitable hilarious consequences for virgers and congregations/audiences alike as the output randomly wanders off the different ends of the volume spectrum.

So far this year it’s not been too unreliable although we’ve had complaints about sound in the quire. Sadly there’s not a lot we can do about it as the whole system is self-adjusting as well, just to add a new level of incompetence and complexity to our ignorance. About the only thing we can do is advise people to speak up.

Which is exactly what we used to do 50 years ago.

Anyway, John and I disassembled the large staging we’d assembled to hold the High School choir of 88 members, Savilles took down their screens and cameras while the BBC stripped down their equipment, then we virgers quickly laid out 120 chairs for the later concert as well as clearing out the inevitable rubbish left after a huge service.

Imagine our surprise to find one of the lost items was a double bass. I’ve been thinking about the conversation when the family realised it was missing.

“Now where did I put it? I know I had it just a while back. Did I put it in my jacket? Have you looked in the pockets?”

Anyway, if someone rings up ask if anyone has handed in a huge wooden stringed instrument I shall of course have to do the normal checks.

“What colour is it?” etcetera, etcetera.

Oh dear, I’ve wandered again. Never mind, not far to go now.

While the entire High School was nice and warm inside the Minster during the afternoon, the weather had taken a turn for the worse. Thanks to Global Warming Beverley was covered in snow and the roads were gridlocked. So the evening concert was cancelled and we virgers had wasted our time with the setting up, but never mind..

Luckily I don’t live far from the Minster so I was able to walk home and, somewhat light-headedly I found myself wandering (aha, have you spotted one of the recurrent themes in this blog dear listener? I hope so. I don’t just throw them together you know.)

Anyway, as I came past the Treasure House I was struck again by an old thought – what a total disgrace and insult to Beverley the outside of that new-ish building is.

Oh, I don’t mean inside. I have nothing but the greatest respect for the contents, the technical facilities, the magnificent climate-controlled storage facilities, the resources or the staff – excellent stuff all round in a purpose-built modern setting.

No, it’s the outside, a mere façade, that has really bugged me from the day the sheeting came off the new structure. Didn’t the architects even bother to visit Beverley before they designed it, just to see what sort of structure it was going to stand beside? What laziness, what arrogance, what visual illiteracy their design demonstrates – and they got paid for it too!

The facade takes no account of the shapes of the windows of the old library, nor of its decoration, its profile and roofline: not even of the colour of the bricks in its more established neighbour. Normally this would lead to a terrible visual clash but there is a lazy option available in the textbook of sloppy architecture which they used here: just slap down a drawing of a vast expanse of ground-to-root glass, which enables them to pretend that the two buildings are actually separate, while joined. In other words, put in a visual gap to reduce the chances of people noticing that the two things don’t blend together properly.

That’s not design, that’s an abrogation of responsibility.

I wonder if their skills could have been better used producing coloured backdrops for model railways.

I’m sorry, I realise this curmudgeonly rant flies in the face of the prevailing mood of Christmas bonhomie but I’ve got an upset stomach from too many mince pies and I’m feeling distinctly irritable.

So I’ll leave you with some seasonal conundrums to consider over the turkey this year:

What headline could a newspaper sub use for a campaign to eradicate a virus that is found in the navy’s favourite tipple?

“Bar Rum Bug”

Have you come across a theme pub based on Germany’s second-largest city?

Bar Hamburg

What name have Ford given to a new edition of their small car that has its profile modelled on an item of headgear?

Ka Homburg

What could you call a hard sweet with a soft centre specially made for the old rulers of the Russian Empire?

Czar Humbug

Eye thanKew – and a merry Christmas to us all

First published December 2009


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