BBC criticised over premature poppy wearing

Presenters race to pin on remembrance flowers early – before two-week appeal begins

They are worn for a symbolic silence lasting two minutes, but the period of poppy wearing leading up to Remembrance Sunday is getting longer than ever. This year the BBC's presenters started wearing them this weekend – a week before the Royal British Legion even launches its fund-raising appeal.

Newsreaders and personalities started sporting poppies on Saturday even though volunteers across the country are not ready to start collections until next weekend.

Charity collectors were taken aback when they tuned in to the BBC given that strict rules limit the period during which they are allowed to sell the poppies.

The British Legion says that it wrote to inform the Corporation that its campaign would not launch until later in the week. Presenter Colin Murray and football pundits sported the symbols of remembrance on Match of the Day, while newsreaders wore them during the BBC's bulletins.

Sue Cornwell, who co-ordinates poppy sales for the Amersham branch of the charity, thinks the early publicity is distracting. "There is a strict date when you can buy a poppy and make your donation, and it has to be from 30 October. There is only a two-week open period when we can collect starting then, because we're a charity.

"I think it causes ill feeling among the people who go house to house selling the poppies if people are recycling them and wearing them already."

Tom Drake, a 72-year-old former soldier who helps run the Bury St Edmunds branch of the charity, also thinks the BBC have started too early. "I was surprised, it would have been better for them to have waited," he said.

"Last year we raised over £40,000 locally so the period is a short, sharp reminder to people – it's better for it not to go on, so that people focus their attention on it."

The poppy appeal raised a record £35m for the charity last year. This year, organisers hope to beat that figure, planning to sell 44 million poppies for £36 m. The charity distributes the proceeds to help support former members of the Armed Forces and their families.

A spokesman for the Royal British Legion said: "What we do say to people is that when you receive your poppies – organisations, retailers, whoever – we set guidelines and say the national launch will be from 28 October. You can put them out from then.

"But it's really down to the individual as to when they choose to wear their poppy. We would never say they're wearing their poppy too early."

Presenters have been chided in the past for not wearing poppies. Will Self, the author, was taken to task live on The Andrew Marr Show in 2008 for not wearing one. He said yesterday: "The time I was on the Andrew Marr programme and I didn't wear a poppy and some woman journalist belted me on screen, Andrew Motion was also on and wearing one, but after the show he turned to me and said I was right.

"It's not that I don't feel sad about the people who are injured, it's just that I think making people feel reverend and charitably bound into helping injured ex-servicemen is the obverse side of the unthinking acceptance of the deployment of armed force in Iraq and Afghanistan."

Others are not so reticent. There is currently a two-storey high poppy outside Jeffrey Archer's penthouse. A BBC spokeswoman said: "It is down to the individual presenter to decide if they want to wear a poppy or not. The majority of presenters choose to wear a poppy and they are worn by presenters between 23 October and 14 November."

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