The Daily Telegraph
Far from lowering the tone, live feed lets us share communal experience like no other
One woman pushed a girl in a wheelchair; at the coffin the woman ruffled the child’s skirt, her version of a curtsey
They are adhering to two British traits: we don’t like overdone displays of emotion, and we do like to form an orderly queue
Television is seldom the place for silent contemplation. Least of all BBC live streams, more usually reserved for Glastonbury coverage or sporting fixtures. Yet to watch the broadcaster’s feed of the Queen’s lying in state is to be a part of something strangely moving.
In an atmosphere of deep reverence, members of the public file into Westminster Hall to pay their respects to the late Queen. They have queued for hours, many of them through the night, but any signs of fatigue somehow disappear as they round the corner at the top of the great staircase and catch sight of the coffin.
One fixed camera provides the long view, taking in the vastness of the space with the catafalque at its centre. Then the picture switches to focus on the men, women and children who have chosen to be here.
This is people-watching as we have never quite known it. We see the expressions on their faces, and sometimes the tears in their eyes. There are people of all ages and all races. Most bow their heads. Many make the sign of the cross. Veterans salute. There is no dress code: mourning dress, suits, sensible waterproofs, saris, hijabs, school uniforms, slogan T-shirts, briefcases and backpacks are all welcome. The contrast with the uniformed guards standing motionless around the coffin is huge, and yet it does not feel wrong.
Some are in wheelchairs, others walking with the aid of a stick. Mothers cradle babies in slings, and young children hold their parent’s hand while gazing up at the crown. As I watched yesterday evening, a little girl clutching a toy rabbit blew a kiss at the coffin. Behind her, a middle-aged man with his military medals pinned to his coat solemnly lowered his head.
A colleague witnessed one woman pushing a young girl in a wheelchair; when they reached the coffin, the woman leant forward and ruffled the child’s skirt, as her version of a curtsey.
There is a rhythm to it. The queue moves slowly forward, each person turns toward the coffin for a brief moment (there seems to be an unspoken rule that five seconds is the maximum length of time to pause) and then moves on. This gives the viewing experience a meditative quality. Nobody lingers longer than they ought to, or makes a fuss. It feels very British. No doubt, some members of the crowd are visitors to this country, yet they are adhering to two very British traits: we don’t like overdone displays of emotion, and we do like to form an orderly queue.
But what strikes you is the silence. In the queue outside, these people will have chatted and joked (apart from the VIPS who have bypassed the long route, identifiable by the visitor passes around their necks and the unrumpled nature of their attire). Once inside, they do not utter a word, except for parents to whisper into their children’s ears, and their footsteps are muffled by rolls of carpet laid especially for this purpose.
You could be forgiven for believing that the feed is supplying images without sound, until the silence is broken by a low tap. It comes from the boots of the guardsmen, who rotate position every 20 minutes. But even that seems quieter than it should be.
When the BBC announced that it would be running the live stream, available via iplayer and other means, some questioned the decision. Would it cheapen the occasion? Isn’t 24-hour coverage the preserve of reality TV, and would anyone actually want to watch it? Yet, at any given moment since the stream began on Wednesday evening, tens of thousands of us are tuning in. It is an opportunity both to pay our respects in a very personal way, and to participate in a communal experience like no other.