Sunday, March 31, 2002

You would have thought that the major TV networks would have been better able to handle the news of the Queen Mother's death. A combination of extreme old age and recent poor health compounded by the emotional trauma of the recent death of her daughter Princess Margaret, should have been enough for them to have been well prepared to flick a switch and go into "State as One Community" gravitas mode.

BBC Two went into shock freeze frame mode depicting something like:" Important announcement on BBC One coming up". Someone had forgotten to tell anyone at BBC One which continued to show" Dazzling Bloomers", subjecting unwitting viewers to Wogan's execrable witty asides and painful puns. More mistakes gleaned from unseen footage were being trotted out to tickle the Nation's funny bone.

By this time Sky News and CNN were well into their succession of film loops and response interviews. It was as if the BBC as a national institution was caught in the headlights of the breaking news of the death of another national institution and stunned into inaction. Eventually Peter Sissons broke into BBC One - whether BBC Two unfroze their screen I shall never know- looking startled and unprepared - voice tremulous, hands fidgeting - and made the announcement.

Just as it seemed BBC had settled itself, there followed a frustratingly long library shot of the Royal Ensign filling our screens to the strains of the National Anthem. A tired and lumbering convention obviously extracted from one of their ancient protocol guides.

Even this breathing space didn't stop Sissons and the BBC making an arse of it. As he gamely sought for the right words, questioning official Royal Watchers and Court Correspondents, Sissons dropped a succession of clangers - " The last time you saw her did you realise that she was on the way out?" he asked one them.

Groaning I switched to CNN. I don't know why but I am always interested in other nation's perspectives on our national obsessions in particular anything which seems newsworthy enough to attract their attention. I though I misheard the anchorwoman refer to the Queen Mother as "Queen Mum", but I didn't, and as if to validate the expression up it popped in written form next to her photograph " Death of the Queen Mum."

Not really the British style - too folksy, too informal, but perhaps demonstrating a certain charm. Difficult to find excuses though for the repeated references to the death of Queen Elizabeth 11 which followed. Even the BBC in its most unpreparedness wouldn't make a mistake like that. Surely not.


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