Mary Kelly: The BBC has a duty to its republican licence payers too

The BBC is the national broadcaster in Britain and the duke of Edinburgh was a loved and respected member of their royal family. But it got completely carried away. Mother of God, as Ted Hastings would say

Portraits of the late Prince Philip displayed in a gallery window in Windsor earlier this week. Picture by Steve Parsons/PA

WHEN I first started work in the BBC’s Belfast newsroom I wondered what the circular light, shaped like a dalek’s head, hanging from the ceiling was for. It was explained to me that it was an early warning system, connected to Broadcasting House in London, which would flash when a top-level royal died.

There would then follow a strict protocol by which the newsreader, or whoever was on air, would make a short statement and then hand over to London which would take over control of all broadcasting. We even held sporadic rehearsals for that momentous occasion.

It never happened on my watch and now it’s a new system, which apparently came into play last Friday, when the Duke of Edinburgh died.

He was certainly a figure who’s been around for nearly everybody’s lifetime as even Alex Maskey was able to acknowledge graciously in a new spirit of 'The Brits aren’t the enemy' rapprochement at a special sitting of the assembly on Monday.

It was a welcome intervention, as was the unprecedented statement of sympathy by the deputy first minister, Michelle O’Neill, on the day the death was announced.

It was so serious the prime minister even got his hair cut before he made his weirdly inappropriate remarks about the Duke in the House of Commons. Though it’s a pity it looked like it had been done with a knife and fork.

It was also welcome that there was a halt to the nightly rioting in loyalist areas as a mark of respect which we can only hope lasts beyond the funeral.

The only sour note was struck by the BBC itself. It’s apparent that in the current climate of Beeb bashing, mostly by the Tories, the corporation has become so nervous it’s lost all sense of perspective.

It hasn’t forgotten the ructions last time, when the queen mother died, over the lese majeste displayed by newsreader Peter Sissons. He narrowly escaped a spell in the Tower for the crime of wearing a burgundy tie instead of a black one, to impart the news of the 101-year-old’s death to the nation.

No such mistake this time as everyone donned mourning weeds following the tearful announcement by newsreader Martine Croxall, who also popped a black jacket over her brown dress and removed a too-jazzy-for-the-day necklace.

The BBC is the national broadcaster in Britain and the Duke of Edinburgh was a loved and respected member of their royal family. But it got completely carried away. It was fine to have all programming on BBC1 devoted to the story, which did mark a big event. But BBC2 showing the same programme? And worse – BBC4 taken off air completely in case anyone was offended by a history of jazz or some old Top of the Pops compilations?

That, coupled with solemn music being played on all radio channels and Radio 3 even prevented from going ahead with its classical music schedule and it all got a bit hysterical. Mother of God, as Ted Hastings would say.

Little wonder that people were so furious at the excessive coverage the BBC had to put a special form on its website which drew its highest ever tally of more than 110,000 complaints. And even that was seized on by the Defund the BBC organisation which suggested it was making it too easy to complain.

The BBC has a duty to its republican licence payers too, not to mention fans of MasterChef and all the other programmes that were pulled. And giving them a schedule that North Korea would blush at made me wonder if programming had been taken over by someone from the Vanuatuan island of Tanna in the Pacific where they believe Prince Philip is an actual god.

He will be buried today with a Covid-restricted funeral, bereft of the usual parade of dignitaries. But given his well-known distaste for flummery, he’d probably be glad it was confined to those he knew and loved.

* * *

RISHI Sunak, the Ken doll of the cabinet who favours suits the size of Norman Wisdom’s, seems to have blotted his copybook by getting involved in the controversial lobbying by shameless ex-PM David Cameron.

And instead of turning up to answer an urgent question from the opposition, the chancellor sent out a junior minister from another department to face the scrutiny. Not cool, Rishi.

This latest example of Tory cronyism is par for the course for this government. But then it is led by a man described this week as “an international stain on our reputation, a selfish, ill-disciplined, shambolic, shameless clot”.

The description comes from a former Foreign Office minister and colleague of Boris, Alan Duncan.

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