Guessing the coverage of Philip Battenburg's aftermath - The Snow In The Summer or So-So

2 September 2017
When Edinburgh drops it

Our starter is this little conversation.

shinydh: I am genuinely interested in what happens when Philip dies, assuming he does so before Lizzie. We know Lizzie coverage will be smothering but Philip? His death would be a good litmus test for the reaction of British society and media in my opinion.

The_Arn: Probably similar to the Queen Mother I'd say.

shinydh: ...which would have been a heck of a lot more smothering a year earlier. If memory serves BBC explicitly dialled down those plans post-9/11.

Our contemporaneous notes recall that BBC1 gave over about three-and-a-half hours of breaking news and tributes. Opinion in BBC News sees this as an error. Roger Mosey, the head of news in 2002, said a better response would have been to put up a short (5 minute) obituary, repeat the news, give any fast-breaking reaction, and then go to a mid-length (15 minute) obituary. That basically buys the newsroom half an hour to line up guests and look serene.

A useful template is the BBC's initial treatment of Margaret Thatcher's death - give the news on News 24 as soon as it's confirmed. But let Bargain Hunt finish on BBC1. Wait twelve minutes till the One O'Clock News, air Nick Robinson's prepared piece, with tributes and recorded interviews for an hour. BBC1 goes back to "normal" for two hours, then a news special at 4pm, slightly extended Six, and a 90-minute obit in the evening up to the Ten. The Eastenders went out as normal; so did The Nod Show with Joan Collins and that night's repeat of Have I Got News for You.

This blog's guess (and let's assume an announcement at 10am): first half-hour is mostly off tape, then extend coverage to about two hours, or the scheduled end of the One. Come back for a mid-afternoon update, and a massive obit that evening. Don't expect comedy, don't expect light entertainment.

The days between announcement and funeral could be irritating. We can see a tension between "enjoying oneself" and "being too glib". Pointless might remain on air, Bargain Hunt might come off, HIGNFY has no chance. Light entertainment would also have stops, perhaps harder on the BBC than elsewhere.

Here's a hypothetical: the news breaks on a Monday in October, funeral Wednesday a week later. Strictly would need to make a decision early, and we're sure they'd choose to come off that weekend. Would The X Factor go ahead? Have a suspicion they would on that timetable, but not if the news breaks on Friday.

The main change from 2002 is that all viewers have choice. If people want to watch BBC Dead Duke 24, it will be available. If they want to ignore it, many commercial channels will line up. Semi-major channels like ITV2 and E4 could well run without much change, except perhaps during the day of the funeral.

Mr. Shiny is correct that the BBC's tone shifted, with September 2001's events helping to restrain coverage. Was it better that Tim Luckhurst's nightmare (described in August 2001) never came to pass? Or was Tim Luckhurst's piece part of the process to make change happen?

The BBC was criticised for trivia, not the overall tenor of its coverage of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon. (Part of the problem was Peter Sissons, his strength was analysis and not breaking news.) At this stage, it's equally unlikely that Phillip Battenburg's death will be a catalyst to seriously discuss the concept of a monarchy. That might well happen a few months after his wife passes on...

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