Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, husband of Queen Elizabeth II, died at the age of 99 on April 9, 2021.
His death was marked in the United Kingdom by state-funded broadcaster BBC taking ALL its television and radio channels off schedule to pump out a steady stream of tributes to the Duke instead.
This soon became the most complained-about programming decision in the history of British television.
More than 110,000 people contacted the BBC to criticise the fact that every one of the broadcaster’s many outlets, from regional radio stations, to music-only channels, to prime TV platforms, shut up shop and cancelled what was planned, all to bring the same, solitary story — Prince Philip was dead.
Of course, every other media outlet followed suit and covered the breaking story, but seemingly only the BBC had a one-track mind. And kept that mindset for about 36 hours.
Judging by the level of backlash, the nation is going to be far from pleased with what will happen when the Queen dies, as pretty much everything will grind to a halt.
And there will be similar scenes in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. More on that soon…
Where was the respect for Prince Philip?
Either you are a fan of the British royal family, or you are not. Or you don’t much care either way. A YouGov poll in 2020 found that one in five Britons believed the monarchy should be abolished.
Certainly opinions have revealed yet another great divide among the UK population, but the issue at question here is more about the media coverage of Prince Philip’s death, described in many quarters as overkill.
One newspaper went out of its way to round up all the news the population probably missed because the UK had gone all North Korea and was dictating what had happened that day.
As a journalist of 30 years’ experience, the whole episode saddened me. Yes, there were people complaining that their favourite frothy TV programmes were no longer being shown, that their Friday nights had been ruined, but it went a lot deeper than that for me.
The media must always remember that it is serving the whole of the population. That means there should have been plenty of spaces to escape the news if anyone had wanted to.
That includes people who were sad about the death of the Duke, and just needed somewhere to turn to for a change of mood. But if they didn’t have Sky, or Netflix, or Disney, or Amazon Prime… they were going to be swamped with it on TV and radio. And social media.
And yes, a walk in the countryside or a read of a good book is always an option, but you know how people get attached to their digital entertainment.
What will happen when the Queen dies?
Operation London Bridge, that’s what will happen. It’s the code name for an expansive plan for the hours, days and weeks after Queen Elizabeth II dies.
You may have wondered why the picture above doesn’t show London’s iconic bridge. That’s because the one all the tourists call ‘London Bridge’ is in fact ‘Tower Bridge’, the next one along (pictured below).
The real London Bridge has been in the news, tragically, because of two terrorist attacks there in 2017 and 2019. The possibility that terrorists could strike again at what will be the world’s biggest funeral service will of course be the greatest concern, and is possibly already giving those in positions of authority sleepless nights.
Plans for the wearing of armbands, flying flags at half mast, the Queen’s funeral procession and so much more are extensive, but here and now, we are looking at how normal life will be affected, given the outcry following the death of Prince Philip.
The details of Operation London Bridge are widely known because so many organisations have to be ready to put the plan immediately into action, from media organisations to regional government departments, to church bellringers across Britain (they have been told to muffle their bongs by fitting leather pads to their clappers. Oh yes).
The plans are also known as London Bridge Is Down, because that is the coded announcement that will be given to the Prime Minister, to set off a vast chain of events, when the Queen departs her throne.
Operation London Bridge — how it will affect the general public
All TV and radio will divert to the news
Now, you might expect this to happen, but even if the date of the Queen’s death clashes with the football World Cup final, there are no provisions to make any exceptions.
You might have expected the BBC to keep one or two of its channels running on a more normal schedule, but this didn’t happen for Prince Philip, so it’s highly unlikely to happen for the Queen, despite the tens of thousands of complaints the BBC received.
So that means BBC Radio 1 Dance will again possibly swap pumping beats for the National Anthem mid-song.
The media has been building up to this for years. It may sound morose, but they don’t want to get caught out. I myself have worked on obituaries for people, years before they died, just so the newspaper had something to run as soon as the death was announced.
The major media outlets have been rehearsing the death of the Queen for years. Sorry, ma’am.
TV newsreaders will change into their black suits and other black clothing — always on hand in case this story breaks — and the BBC News branding will also turn black.
Radio stations, when allowed to continue playing music, will have to select from already prepared lists of sad songs. Which might be good news for me, as I’m a big Radiohead fan.
As TV eases back to normal, gentle comedy will continue on the BBC, but satire is likely to be banned. But then, that is already happening sadly.
Commonwealth countries will get the same treatment
The reach and influence of British rule still spans across the globe, of course, and the Queen’s death will be felt in Commonwealth countries.
Australia’s arrangements currently stretch to ceremonial duties, but the media there might also take on the plans agreed for New Zealand and Canada.
Across all Radio New Zealand stations, broadcasters will immediately announce the death of the Queen, and set off their own continuous coverage of the news.
Radio stations have been instructed not to play any punk songs or — get this — any songs by the rock band Queen during this period.
Canada started making plans, with the Queen’s approval, way back in 2002. An official mourning period will take place, the length of which will be determined by the Canadian government.
Regular television programming will be cancelled and advertisements kept off air. All CBC TV and radio stations will report the news right round the clock.
Everything will close
Operation London Bridge already suggests that the Stock Exchange, shops and other businesses across the UK should close for the day, depending of course on when the news is announced.
But, out of respect, it is expected that pretty much everything will close or be cancelled for the rest of that day, and perhaps the day after.
Sports fixtures will likely be cancelled
While this provision is not cemented into Operation London Bridge, it is already clear that events associated with the royals will be cancelled if their timeframe is close to that of the Queen’s passing.
So, such events as Royal Ascot, an England cricket test match at Lord’s, golf at a royal course and all games played in royal parks, will be off.
If we are looking for a precedent in other sports, rugby and hockey fixtures were cancelled after the death of George VI in 1952, when the present queen came to the throne, but football matches went ahead. The football might be sacrificed as well this time.
Everything closes again for the funeral
An expected nine days after the Queen’s death, her funeral will take place. This will be a bank holiday, so for most of the country, that means a day off.
The stock market again will not open, and there are plans to open football stadiums for memorial services. So definitely no matches to be played.
The whole country (and many parts of the world) will fall silent at 11am GMT. All public transport will stop. Drivers will get out of buses and taxis — and trains if they can — and stand beside their vehicles.
Other immediate changes
Charles III will be declared king on the same day that his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, dies. Which means that we will have a Queen Camilla, likely to be controversial among those still with a bitter taste in their mouth about the death of Princess Diana.
The Royal Mint will begin making new coins with the head of Charles on them, within days.
The same will happen, of course, for stamps and passports and anything with royal crests, such as police uniforms.
The national anthem will be changed to “God Save The King.”
And when Charles III has his official coronation, the country will again close down for a day, this time in celebration.
Why are we talking about this now?
Obviously, the death of the Queen’s husband has brought extra realisation that, at the grand old age of 95 (on 21 April, 2021), the Queen is in her later years.
And with the complaints made about the blanket media coverage of Prince Philip’s death, the public have been wondering just how much of normal life will be affected when the Queen dies.
But her death will be a significant global event. Elizabeth II has sat on the throne since 1952 and plays a role in the UK’s alliance with many countries.
We don’t know how the United Kingdon, the Commonwealth and the world will react to the new King. For example, there has been growing support in Australia for the country to become a republic.
And of course, we can only hope that the Covid-19 pandemic has calmed down before Operation London Bridge has to be put into action…