The Death Of The Duke: Did The Media Do It Right?

Emily Vivian 

On the morning of 9th April 2021 it was announced that Prince Phillip had died peacefully in his sleep. The UK’s usual TV schedule was halted and instead filled with documentaries about his service to the country and Queen.

However, the rescheduling of popular shows such as the MasterChef final resulted in the BBC receiving 100,000 complaints, a record in British TV history, causing ‘one of the most negative reactions to BBC programmes ever seen’.

A scroll through #princephillip on Twitter in the days after his death showed the clear divide in the country between
strong anti-Royal feelings and pro-Royal tributes. I have been asking friends and looking through Twitter to try find the source of this reaction. Perhaps it was the UK’s die-hard devotion to British television or a larger problem with the institution of the monarchy in modern society?

The BBC’s wall-to-wall coverage of Prince Phillip’s death has become the ‘most complained about moment in British television history’. The BBC, as well as ITV and Channel 4, devoted hours of airtime to Prince Phillip documentaries and coverage.

The previous record was all the way back in 2005 for Jerry Springer: The Opera which culminated 63,000 complaints. Lots of people enjoyed the Prince Phillip programmes and found them informative and interesting, but many found it excessive and overwhelming.

The Prince Phillip coverage caused BBC One’s audience to drop six per cent week-on-week during the coverage about Prince Philip

On first glance, I would have said that the divisions in opinion were generational. However I found a YouGov survey reporting that 61% of the 50-65 year old age group said there was too much coverage.  Most students I know are much more likely to stream TV shows and films on Netflix or Amazon Prime rather then watch live TV yet for older generations, particularly over lockdown, evening TV has become an important daily recurrence for many, with 20 million people still watching peak time every evening.

But the Prince Phillip coverage caused BBC One’s audience to drop six per cent week-on-week during the
coverage about Prince Philip, while BBC Two lost two-thirds of its audience, with just 340,000 people tuning in at any time between 7pm and 11pm.

The complaints could be due to Britain’s love and dedication to British TV and a frustration that the coverage interrupted the normal schedule. This is because the coverage left the British public without a choice of what to watch and listen to. If coverage had been kept to one channel or one radio station, then Royal lovers could
have tuned in and those who weren’t interested could have watched something else.

While writing this article, I spoke to my housemate who felt conflicted about the topic. She said “as far as what the monarchy stands for in the UK it was the right amount as he was the monarch’s husband- however it was too much for modern day”. “Principally it was correct but in reality I think it was too much”.

Another friend said the reaction to the extensive coverage reflected how “outdated the monarchy are and how much people are out of touch with it”. Alternatively, when I spoke to my grandma she was shocked that anyone could think the coverage was too much, as she is huge Royal fan.

Another reaction I got when asking friends at Nottingham was that the excessive coverage seemed unnecessary in the current climate of the pandemic

Lots of friends I spoke to didn’t have much of an opinion about the coverage, saying that there was a lot more going on that they were thinking about.

Another reaction I got when asking friends at Nottingham was that the excessive coverage seemed unnecessary in the current climate of the pandemic. Some said that mourning period for 99 year old Prince Phillip felt ‘unnecessary’ particularly as so many are mourning those whose lives were cut short by the coronavirus.

One audience member at BBC’s Question Time said that they felt that ‘it is only because he has had a life of privilege that we are able to give him a death of privilege as well’.  As a history student, I understand the historical significance of our monarchy, however I do agree that not everyone in society idealises the royal family like they did 100 years ago and our media needs to reflect that.

On the other hand, Prince Phillip’s death was the first major loss to the UK monarchy since the Queen Mother’s passing in 2002. In 2002, the BBC were actually criticised for ‘lacking respect and deference’. So I suppose it is interesting to consider how many may have complained if the reverse decision had been made.

Ultimately, the Prince Phillip coverage got rid of the British public’s choice and did represent, for me, the differing opinions among the British when it comes to the Royal Family.

Emily Vivian

Featured image courtesy of Annie Spratt via Unsplash. Image license found hereNo changes were made to this image. 

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