The death of HM The Queen is an event all the major broadcasters have prepared for. As the national broadcaster though, the BBC needs to put an incredible amount of care and attention into getting things right.
Any significant errors of judgement could damage both its pedigree as a news broadcaster and its corporate reputation.
The corporation has regularly reviewed and where necessary revised its plans over the years.
The Queen’s death was announced after almost six hours of rolling news on BBC One.
The simple fact that Buckingham Palace had issued a statement on the Queen’s health was a sign that there was serious concern – even though the words of the statement itself did not convey the gravity of the situation.
The fact a statement was made by the Speaker of the House of Commons was also a sign of real concern.
The decision to interrupt Bargain Hunt and stay with rolling news through the afternoon would not have been taken lightly.
At this point, it is worth noting that the procedure for interrupting programmes appears to have changed.
It now seems to be the case that a programme will simply be faded to black and that the news presenter will welcome viewers to BBC One.
Of course, in the past Presentation would put up a slide and the announcer would hand to the newsroom.
As the afternoon progressed, it was noticeable that Huw Edwards and many reporters were wearing black. Clearly the possibility of an announcement was on their minds.
However, until 5pm, ITV was running as normal. There were no news reports or changes to the schedule although one story dominated the ITV Lunchtime News.
The announcement of Her Majesty’s death came around 6.32pm and was made by Huw Edwards during the rolling news programme which had replaced the normal BBC News at Six.
A few moments later, BBC Two joined – an abrupt fade to black came during athletics coverage.
Again it is noticeable the caption came from News – not Presentation – and that Huw made the out-of-vision announcement about programmes being interrupted. This would have been in the planned procedures.
By Friday morning, some of BBC One’s normal programmes had moved to BBC Two. Naturally care will need to be taken to ensure nothing inappropriate is accidentally shown.
BBC One will resume some normal programming from this evening but the channel will have a more subdued character during the period leading up to the State Funeral. It is reasonable to expect anything too lighthearted will be dropped.
Presentation needs to be on guard against the risk of a misplaced trailer or misjudged transition causing difficulties.
In days gone by, things would have been different.
Former announcer Reg Sanders tweeted a picture of the caption placed in the Noddy machine for the death of the Queen.
Exactly how it may have been used is not clear. Perhaps Reg or another former member of Pres staff can offer an insight?
But I would imagine that in those days a procedure like the following would have been adopted.
BBC One and Two would have been brought together at an agreed time. In the days before the internet and 24-hour news it would have been possible to agree an embargoed time for an announcement by the BBC, ITN and the main national news agency the Press Association.
If BBC One were closed down – or if BBC Two were completely off the air – there would have been sufficient time to get both networks open. Perhaps a caption saying that a news report would follow shortly would have replaced the test card or Ceefax, almost like a normal “z minus 2”.
After the news report – read by the newsreader – Presentation would have shown the caption tweeted by Reg and played somber music. At some point, further news reports would have been broadcast.
Back to the present. The following days will be very demanding for the BBC’s journalists and others engaged in special programmes.
Presentation will also have to remain completely on the ball. Even one simple mistake could be seized upon by the BBC’s enemies.
PICTURED: Queen Elizabeth II. COPYRIGHT: Unknown.
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