The BBC won’t cover royal deaths the same way after Prince Philip’s passing

Britain's Prince Philip (R), Duke of Edinburgh arrives for the transfer of the Colonel-in-Chief of The Rifles ceremony at Windsor castle in Windsor on July 22, 2020. - Britain's Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh will step down from his role as Colonel-in-C

When Prince Philip died in April, we heard from British Celebitches that the coverage on British television was way over-the-top. Like, 24-7 coverage akin to the death of a monarch or world leader. No one was saying that there should be zero coverage at all, but the wall-to-wall coverage for days on end just rubbed people the wrong way. Now, it will be like that when Queen Elizabeth passes. All of the British and Commonwealth TV stations have a plan in place for what happens when Liz passes and it’s just as macabre as you would think. But maybe those TV stations are updating their plans after using Philip’s death as a dry-run for coverage. Apparently, the BBC will make changes to how they cover royal deaths now:

The BBC wants ‘lessons to be learned’ after its coverage of Prince Philip’s death prompted a record number of complaints and low audience figures, its boss says. Tim Davie’s comments suggest the corporation could consider devoting less content across its platforms to the death of a Royal Family member in the future.

The BBC received a record 109,741 complaints from the public over its wall-to-wall coverage of the Duke of Edinburgh’s death on April 9 after clearing its schedules. The figure beat the previous record of Jerry Springer: The Opera which drew 63,000 complaints in 2005; and Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand’s infamous prank call to Fawlty Towers actor Andrew Sachs, which drew 42,000 complaints in 2008. And Mr Davie admitted in a board meeting that viewer numbers on the night of Philip’s death were ‘lower than expected’ at 2.6million across BBC One and BBC Two.

It came after news programmes replaced EastEnders and the MasterChef final, BBC Four was taken off air completely and normal radio schedules were also changed. During the meeting on April 22, which was reported by The Times today, Mr Davie said the coverage had ‘reflected the role of the BBC as the national broadcaster’.

According to the minutes, he added: ‘The response of production teams had been accomplished, both in the implementation of the technical plans and editorial.’

The minutes also said Mr Davie praised the audience for the funeral coverage on April 17 being ‘very strong delivering a peak of over 13million viewers’. But he added: ‘Viewing on the night of the announcement was lower than expected at 2.6million across BBC One and BBC Two. The decision to simulcast coverage across BBC One and BBC Two had resulted in a record number of complaints.’ The minutes concluded: ‘The Executive were looking at lessons to be learned. The Board thanked the Executive for the high quality of the coverage.’

The BBC even put a dedicated form on its website so viewers could complain about the coverage of Philip’s death because it was being swamped by complaints – although this was then removed when the number started to fall.

[From The Daily Mail]

From a broadcasting perspective, I think the BBC tried to use Philip’s death as a trial for what they’ll do when QEII passes, as I said. It’s likely that the Queen’s death will mark this particular end of an era, and beyond that we’ll see. And of course the funeral got good ratings – I was surprised that all of the American cable news channels covered it live, but it became such a spectacle because of the advance hype and because Prince Harry came back to the UK for it. That should have been the focus, the funeral and simple news updates throughout the week on what the family was doing, etc. Instead, the BBC overestimated the public’s desire to see the canonization of a problematic 99-year-old man.

Duke of Edinburgh funeral

The Royal family attend the funeral of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh at St George's Chapel in Windsor Castle

Prince Philip Funeral

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red, WENN and Instagram.

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51 Responses to “The BBC won’t cover royal deaths the same way after Prince Philip’s passing”

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  1. Alexandria says:

    I’m surprised about the complaints because I assumed people don’t even watch television anymore and can choose what they want to watch.

    • Katherine says:

      I mean if you’re choosing to watch East Enders or Master Chef and it’s annoyingly not on I could see complaints. There’s still quite a large traditional television audience. Tho I do think fading with each new new generation.

      • Alexandria says:

        That’s the thing because I thought the folks who still watched television would be the older folks who revered royalty more. So I’m amused by the complaints ahha.

      • Eurydice says:

        Well, it was the Masterchef final, and I think the real problem was that every channel was covering the funeral.

      • BayTampaBay says:

        I thought the coverage in the USA by “Yank” networks was excellent. The coverage on BBC America was not as good IMAO. I keep looking for Katy Kay for her commentary. one of my favorite true journalists, and could not find her on any of the BBC channels I get through my cable package.

    • mynameispearl says:

      it was on BBC1 and BBC2, the exact same programme at the same time, it was ridiculous

      • Jane says:

        Agreed. It wasn’t the coverage that was the problem, it was the fact that it was exactly the same coverage on all the BBC channels – if you’ve got access to BBC1, you’ve got access to BBC2, so it really didn’t need to be on both. It could have even been shifted to BBC News, because it was news, or BBC4, since that’s the prestige drama/documentary channel, and it wouldn’t have affected all the rest of the schedule.

      • Alexandria says:

        Ah ok, that sounds ridiculous.

  2. Bryn says:

    I get that he’s a royal and all, but the way his death was covered in the media was beyond too much. He was a very old man who died from being very old, it didn’t need so much coverage. I remember a few weeks after, my husband opened the Google web page and there was a black cross on it, he wondered what it was for. This was shortly after they started digging up all the mass graves of native children in Canada and I explained to him what was going on(he doesn’t pay attention to news much). But nope, thats not what It was for, it was for an old racist white guy who died weeks earlier. Sigh

    • MangoAngelesque says:

      @Bryn — Seriously, there was a black cross on the UK Google for *weeks*?? Even if I squint and say, well, he was an actual veteran who really did serve in the military, I can give a “fine okay, royal husband who served the military instead of just playing dress-up in military cosplay,” and understand the cross thingie until his funeral day.

      But WEEKS? Actual military (or civilian) *heroes* don’t get that kind of recognition. Is the whole search engine gonna go dark for a year when the Queen dies? Yikes.

    • taris says:

      they covered philip’s funeral like he’d been assassinated or something. like, nope, he was just a 99 year old ailing man, who in fact started dying a decade ago, at least.
      it was way over the top.

      • minx says:

        That’s the difference. There is, frankly, more news value if it’s an unexpected or unusual death, like JFK, John Lennon, Diana. Not the case with Philip.

      • Lady D says:

        “started dying a decade ago, at least.” I was told being born is a death sentence.
        Ftr, I really hope people won’t refer to me as starting to die when I’m 80.

      • Becks1 says:

        @LadyD well a decade ago Phillip was 90. There’s a reason he finally retired at 95. My guess is that he was not doing well at that point and was advised to step back.

  3. helonearth says:

    Thank goodness! Yes, he was an important public figure but the coverage was way over the top.

    The Queen’s death will obviously be covered extensively, but now it won’t be a case of 24/7 updates on the main channel, particularly as the BBC News channel is on freeview.

    I think the funeral got high ratings because it was low key and short (and Harry of course).

    • Amy Bee says:

      It’s debatable whether he was an important figure. To the family yes, to the public not sure. He was the Queen’s husband, that’s all and he wasn’t even a working royal at the time of his death.

      • Lorelei says:

        Exactly. I mean, I think it’s pointless to try to create a blanket policy that will apply to every royal.

        The amount of coverage should vary depending on which royal it is and what the circumstances of the death were. In this case it was a 99 year-old man who had been sick for a very long time, so the coverage was unwarranted.

        I feel like it’s the kind of thing that they’ll need to decide on a case-to-case basis. It will depend on public interest, the person’s popularity, what else is going on at the time, etc.

  4. Lili says:

    I think the Beeb has bigger problems, since they are hemorrhaging viewers like crazy, there are other ways to watch things these days with out having to pay a tv license for less choice and representation. and threatening old ladies when they can’t pay. i suspect things will be slightly different when the queen dies, people will want to see that, and probably Charles’s coronation. but in this day and age one cant lampoon loyalty by blasting viewers and leaving them no alternative viewing choice.

    • BayTampaBay says:

      “threatening old ladies when they can’t pay.”

      Does the BBC and/or government actually do this?????

      • Deputy Dot says:

        Yes. People can be prosecuted and fined (up to £1,000 I think). The government has made things worse for older people since they scrapped the universal free licence for over 75s. Only the elderly claiming certain benefits are now eligible.

      • Lady D says:

        They took TV away from the elderly? That is disgusting, and while technically not elder abuse, it’s still cruel and ignorant behaviour.

      • BothSidesNow says:

        @ Deputy Dot, that’s actually despicable and unwarranted. What a bunch of boozy leechmen.

  5. Becks1 says:

    I think the issue was a combination of two things – the canonization and whitewashing of his past (I was looking up the Gemma Chan tag on here yesterday and came across the story about Gemma pushing back after a newspaper ran a story saying we “secretly enjoyed” his racist remarks….) and the fact that he was 99 years old. His death wasn’t tragic, it wasn’t a surprise. He was a very old man who died at home with his wife of 70+ years at his side. Every death is sad, but some are more expected than others and I think the tone of the news coverage of “omg who can believe it!!!!” was just too much for a lot of people.

    I also think the canonization like I said was a big problem – yes when someone dies you want to remember the good times, but I think as a society we are starting to push back on that more and more. Someone dying doesn’t turn them into a saint, we should still be able to look at them objectively. Maybe their funeral isn’t the time to be like “so here’s why he was pretty racist” but it should certainly not be completely brushed under the rug in all coverage. I also think people are starting to look more objectively at the royal family and there was a sense of, “why are we making a big deal about this man who yes had a rocky start to life but the majority of his life was lived in complete luxury and privilege?”

    FINALLY I think the timing played a HUGE role. He died during a pandemic, so many have lost loved ones over the past 18 months that I think the huge coverage of his death left a bad taste for many.

    All that said – I watched the funeral to see Harry, yes, but also just because I was interested to see what they were actually going to do and how it was going to be more intimate and smaller. I thought it was a nicer, more personal funeral than a large one with lots of international guests would have been.

    • BayTampaBay says:

      @Becks1 – Thank you for another eloquent post.

      I watched the funeral to see Philip’s Royal relatives we rarely get to see or have never seen. I wish the news coverage would have gone into more depth about who these people are and how they are related to Philip.

      I was also interested in seeing Penny Knatchbull Brabourne Mountbatten.

    • Lorelei says:

      Becks this is a great post and you articulated my thoughts exactly! (except you did it way better than I could have)

  6. SusanRagain says:

    I cut cable several years back and find I watch less tv and am trying to lessen my iPad time also.
    I agree Liz and Charles coronation will be big coverage and viewers.
    But no one watches all day and every channel coverage of news stories anymore.

    People complain in the US when daytime soaps are replaced by news stories.

  7. Eurydice says:

    Considering that some of the younger members of the BRF are also problematic, maybe the BBC overestimated how much appetite the audience has for the royal family, in general.

    • Lorelei says:

      That’s a good point, about the younger royals being problematic. His death came not long after Sussexit and only days after the Oprah interview, so many people were still fuming at the BRF because of how Harry and Meghan were treated.

  8. Amy Bee says:

    It is true that the BBC used Philip’s death as a trial run for the Queen’s death. And they found out that the public wasn’t here for it.

  9. Aidevee says:

    I think the criticism of the BBC has a wider context too – people were really genuinely angry at the overblown response. I felt sorry for all the 1000s of people at RHS gardens who had gone to meet loved ones there for the first time since the lockdown restrictions had eased; straight after the announcement of his death, the gardens were all closed with immediate effect and there was chaos as people were forcibly hurried out of the exits and into massive traffic jams. Just one over-reaction that rubbed people up the wrong way.

  10. Sofia says:

    Yeah the coverage was too much. I was surprised as a Brit when I heard that the BBC set up a complaint form for the coverage because I didn’t think people would actually complain beyond tweets but that’s what happens when you take away people’s television when they’re supposed to be inside. But also he was very old and his death was expected.

    I think in the future, one channel can have wall to wall coverage (but personally I would keep it for around 24 hours only that’s it) and everyone else can spend an hour on it and then move on. Those who want to watch can go to that one channel and those that don’t, don’t have to.

  11. GrnieWnie says:

    You know, they’re all very trim. Do you think they’re forced to diet? Or is this just the effect of having a private chef and little opportunity to eat out like an ordinary person?

    • Becks1 says:

      Private chef, I think anne said in her 70th bday interview that she doesn’t eat until she’s done work for the day, they’re probably not eating out a ton, and clothes made to fit them perfectly. Also lots of horseback riding and walking and hiking and other exercise.

      • BayTampaBay says:

        I think another why Anne does not eat during an official work day is because Royals do NOT use public lavatories (Ladies Room in Yank speak).

    • Deering24 says:

      BayTampaBay—really?!?! 😳 Man. The more nitpicky rules I hear about the royals, the more I can see why Harry wanted out. Who can humanly live like this?

    • Lex says:

      It’s a grim state of affairs when being a normal healthy weight is looked at as out of the ordinary

      • GrnieWnie says:

        Looked at? Oh no, it is. Entirely out of the ordinary. Particularly across multiple generations. Hence the question of what they’re doing different.

  12. OriginalLala says:

    I suspect that having an over the top televised funeral for one very old, very rich man during a pandemic that has killed so many and been traumatic for millions was maybe a tad tone deaf.

    • bub244 says:

      Absolutely, I think timing played a key role here. It made people angry that we have suffered such a high COVID death toll, almost everyone knows someone affected, but for this random old man our life was expected to stop for days. I remember people at the time calling for a similar day of remembrance for COVID victims.

    • schlussel says:

      this is spot on. it had been a full year of lockdowns by that point, and god knows how many Zoom funerals.

    • Lorelei says:

      @OriginalLala: 🏆

  13. Scorpion says:

    Yeah, I’m sorry but I don’t watch anything on the Beeb or Live TV. I have no wish to pay the dreadful Licence fee on principle. Phil the Greek wasn’t a rellie of mine so I could care less about his death coverage. I have the same sentiment for Betty as well.

  14. Catherine says:

    I would like to see a breakdown of the specific complaints made. I have to believe that a lot of them had to do with all the people who went on air to justify/excuse/whitewash Prince Philip’s blatant racism. The people who did that put their own racism on full display. So it was a double dose of racism. For me the issue specifically with the BBC was that they went wall to wall coverage on multiple channels. Why? The whole point of multiple channels is so you can show different things simultaneously. The wall to wall coverage meant they ignored other news that should have been reported. A volcano erupted in St. Vincent ( a commonwealth country) and there was NO coverage. The other thing was all the pre recorded segments. I understand why they had pre recorded material. They had to be prepared. But it just came across so cold. It felt like they were going through the motions of something they had been practicing for a long time which of course they probably had. The coverage came across like a children’s poetry or play recital. Where they’ve perfectly memorized the words but they don’t have the emotional maturity to properly express the meaning behind the words. When they weren’t being racist, they were being robotic. Lastly, the presentation of him as this beloved figured was too much. Philip was never beloved by the public even in his old age. I agree with the above commenter who suggested that the funeral got so much attention in America because of Harry. Most of the channels didn’t even announce that they were going to cover it live until late in the week after the tabloids had spent the week making Philips funeral about Harry’s presence.

    • Deering24 says:

      Seriously, the British media was acting like he was second only to Diana in public esteem. Um…nope.

  15. Lizzie says:

    They would have all had only half those viewers of the funeral if Harry hadn’t gone. Weren’t we all waiting to see if TOB’s incandescent rage would emerge?

  16. SarahCS says:

    I am mostly just loving that we’re talking about Phillip/the BRF in the same breath as Jerry Springer the Opera. Seems fitting for this dysfunctional family and their mountain of dirty laundry.

    • Lorelei says:

      @Sarah, right? I want to know more about this Jerry Springer Opera!!

    • Christine says:

      I am shocked that Jerry Springer airs in the U.K.! That is absolutely hilarious!

      The British press was slamming OPRAH for being a trashy talk show host, and they are all closet Springer fans???!!!! I can’t stop laughing.

  17. Ann says:

    I would have been annoyed too. They covered it pretty well in the US, not too much but they showed us the funeral itself and the procession, etc.

    I remember when the main news stations covered Prince George’s birth ad nauseum, it was ridiculous. One dumb newscaster said “Imagine, this baby will day be the leader of our closest ally.” WTF?! He won’t “lead” anything, he’ll just be a figurehead like his great-grandmother. Ugh.

  18. ChattyCath says:

    The thing was that every BBC channel said the same things on a loop for hours and hours. All programs were cancelled some just having the plug pulled. And the ‘Royal Commentator’ was Nicholas Witchell very unpopular who Prince Charles once called on camera ‘That odious little man’

  19. pearlime says:

    They also stopped broadcasting on CBeebies, their children’s TV channel. While the country was in lockdown.