Britain and the Commonwealth were plunged into premature mourning yesterday when UK television stations accidentally broadcast a dry-run of the death of Queen Elizabeth II. British TV channels work together on this dry-run every few years, filming programs, inserts and news bulletins to create a special day-long schedule of mourning in the unfortunate event of Her Majesty’s passing. This year however the ‘Queen’s Death’ tapes somehow got mixed up with the normal television output and were broadcast to the nation.
The broadcast caused turmoil across the globe, while in the UK ordinary citizens were polarised as the news spread. Some, like former BBC royal correspondent Jennie Bond were grief-stricken and inconsolable, while a surprisingly small minority, like current BBC royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell, reacted with indifference. Roads, telephone lines and internet servers ground to a halt as world leaders and common subjects alike rushed to pay their respects.
Red-faced television bosses were summoned to a meeting with the CEO of OFCOM, not only to explain the mistake, but also to justify the mediocre quality of the material that was broadcast. ITV aired ‘Elizabeth’, a tedious retrospective of Her Majesty’s life while the BBC showed a specially filmed episode of Eastenders. Channels 4 and 5 jointly produced a rolling montage of funereal music set against a sombre backdrop while Sky One kept up a constant barrage of Cillit-Bang adverts and trailers for ‘Ross Kemp in Afghanistan’.
As it became obvious that a mistake had been made, the government moved to handle the crisis with a hurriedly-printed ‘Long-live the Queen’ leaflet campaign. In the media newspaper editors, news producers and webmasters quickly moved to change their leading story to something about the weather. Meanwhile comedians and satirists rapidly re-wrote their material, removing references of Greyfriar’s Bobby-style corgis, Matchmaker.com ads featuring Greek princes and the sound of party poppers at Clarence House.
(Written 4 Feb 2009)