Diana 1961-1997: The media - Queen Mother plan helps keep BBC on record

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The Independent Online
Once French news agency reports of the Princess of Wales's crash started to come up on its news room screens the BBC immediately implemented a pre-rehearsed plan that was intended for the corporation's coverage of the death of the Queen Mother.

To get a continuous news service up and running as soon as possible the corporation took the unprecedented step of merging its international 24- hour news service, BBC World, with the frequencies used in Britain for BBC1 and BBC2.

The decision was taken after John Birt, director-general of the BBC, Will Wyatt, chief executive of BBC Broadcast, and Tony Hall, head of BBC News, made hurried phone calls to each other in the night. BBC2 was able to get a short news item in just before it closed down for the evening but promised viewers new reports through the night. After taking the feed from the 24-hour rolling news service that is broadcast to the rest of Europe during the night, BBC1's schedules were cleared all day yesterday for updates and analysis.

The BBC refused to speculate on how it would treat the death of any other major figure, but it is thought that even the death of a serving prime minister would not receive the same amount of coverage. One source said that the Queen Mother's death would be covered more out of duty than because of its news value. The Princess's death combines the BBC's need as the national broadcaster to do its duty to the Royal Family with being the biggest news story of the decade.

The BBC has been rehearsing for some years its planned coverage of the Queen Mother's death and reporters, newsreaders and even weathermen yesterday appeared on screen wearing black ties. Only John Sissons, the BBC's main anchor during the day, went without one.

As part of the plans it had been agreed that the national anthem should feature in all of the coverage: "We are the nation's broadcaster and it was fitting that the anthem be played as a matter of respect," a corporation spokesman said.

On commercial television, ITN broadcast a special bulletin in the middle of the night on ITV then closed down until GMTV went on air at 6am. It took the financially difficult decision to drop advertising from its continuous news broadcasts yesterday until 6.30pm. Channel 4 played a taped tribute in between news broadcasts from ITN until 10.30am while Channel 5 stayed with its children's broadcasts but with extended news bulletins.

All of the BBC's local radio stations merged at 5am yesterday with Radios 2, 3, 4 and 5 Live. A special broadcast was presented jointly by Radio 4's Today presenter James Naughtie and Radio 5 Live's breakfast show presenter Peter Allen until 9.30am. Radio 4 and Radio 5 Live continued their joint broadcast throughout the day while Radio 1 switched to slow pop songs and Radio 3 to slow movements from popular classics.