The Daily Telegraph
BBC’S funeral coverage was poignant and full of gravitas
When it comes to commentary on solemn state occasions, less is more. The funeral of Queen Elizabeth II was at its most poignant, and its most beautiful, when the broadcasters said nothing at all.
Rather than the presenters in front of the camera, it was the BBC’S behind-the-scenes team that deserved the credit. The Corporation was responsible for filming the services and the processions using 213 cameras in Westminster Abbey, Windsor and various points along the route, then sharing the images with ITV, Sky News and the rest of the world. It was brilliantly done. The most striking shots were taken from high above, looking down on the coffin from the ceilings of the Abbey and St George’s Chapel.
Huw Edwards, anchoring the BBC’S coverage for the first part of the day, had clearly been sent a memo advising him to keep aimless burbling to a minimum. “These processions are very solemn events and we really don’t think it’s appropriate to talk over them,” he told viewers. “When we cover these processions live on BBC One, we are doing so with minimal commentary because we feel [that] that is the most respectful way of covering a state funeral. So that’s the plan, and I hope that message is one
that you are receiving positively.” Very positively, Huw. For once, there was no need to head immediately to the commentary-free version available via the Red Button.
For events inside the Abbey, Fergal Keane provided commentary. A surprising choice but not an unwelcome one, because he has a soothing tone of voice. Perhaps he was selected because he is best known as a foreign correspondent, and someone thought he would be able to identify the world leaders coming through the door. Actually, he named very few of them – perhaps David Dimbleby would have been better informed. But he did provide some poetic turns of phrase – the Victoria Cross holders making up “a procession of the brave” – and some actual poetry, quoting Wordsworth.
Over on ITV, Julie Etchingham and Tom Bradby were sitting outside Windsor in oddly shaped chairs, with royal editor Chris Ship stationed outside Buckingham Palace (the BBC’S royal correspondent, Nicholas Witchell, was notable by his absence, which was for the best given his tactless remarks about the late Queen’s ill health in the hours before her death). ITV also kept waffling to a minimum once the funeral got under way, but its production values were not as good as the BBC’S: as the procession reached the outskirts of Windsor, ITV failed to muffle the intrusive sound of the helicopter hovering overhead.
Sky News gets a tiny audience in comparison to the BBC and ITV, but it has the best presenter in Anna Botting, who never puts a foot wrong, and anchored events faultlessly alongside Dermot Murnaghan, with Alastair Bruce providing knowledgeable commentary. GB News had David Starkey supplying the historical context and Alastair Stewart in the presenter’s chair. Earlier in the day, Eamonn Holmes kept things light by making jokes about Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield’s VIP visit to Westminster Hall.
Everything was going well for the BBC, then, until it made its usual mistake: trying to pad things out with minor celebrities. Did this historic moment really require the presence of Alan Titchmarsh recalling that the late Queen once told him: “You give a lot of ladies a lot of pleasure”? The most inappropriate anecdote, though, came from Dame Maureen Lipman, invited to appear for no reason I can think of, and spouting the sort of nonsense that would make you edge away from her in a supermarket queue. Kirsty Young asked her how she reacted to news of Queen Elizabeth II’S death. “I had a premonition, Kirsty,” Lipman replied. “I actually texted to a friend in Corrie, ‘I think the Queen’s going to die.’”
At least Young also interviewed people whom the late monarch actually knew. Major General Simon Brooks-ward, for example, director of the Royal Windsor Horse Show. He shared a lovely story about the late Queen delighting in winning rosettes at the show and proudly laying them out on the dining table.
The BBC’S coverage ended with one of those expertly constructed montages, set to music, and a closing monologue by a tearful Young: “She made history, she was history. Queen Elizabeth II has gone, but she will surely never be forgotten.” Its broadcast from Windsor also featured Dimbleby, providing commentary on the service. His voice was a little weaker than in years gone by – he is now 83 – but still full of gravitas. He was a reassuring presence on a day when continuity seemed important.