TV rivals 'proud' after 10 million watch Queen Mother's funeral

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The Independent Online

The Queen Mother's funeral was watched by a peak audience of more than 10 million television viewers, with the BBC's share more than double that of ITV1.

Viewing figures showed BBC1's coverage, led by David Dimbleby and Professor Simon Schama, peaked at 7.1 million viewers, or 58 per cent of the audience, during the service at Westminster Abbey. ITV1's highest audience was 3.4 million, or 27 per cent of the audience, at a similar point during the funeral service.

The overall audience of 10.5 million was a third of the 31.5 million viewers who watched the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997, although that took place on a Saturday.

Both channels said yesterday that they were "extremely proud" of their coverage. Mark Byford, the BBC's acting director general, said he was "gratified" that the large majority of viewers chose the BBC to watch the service. Throughout the five hours of the BBC live broadcast, 13.7 million people, approaching a quarter of Britain's population, watched for three minutes or more. On ITV1, 9.1 million watched for three minutes or more. The figures were received with some satisfaction at the BBC after the fierce criticism of the presenter Peter Sissons' choice of tie and style of questioning on the day the Queen Mother died.

ITV1 said audiences traditionally turned to the BBC for important state occasions and ratings were not the biggest issue. Steve Anderson, ITV1's controller of news, said: "The BBC is always expected to achieve higher ratings at times like this, but it was a much closer contest than is traditionally the case."

Channel 4's mock-Japanese gambling show, Banzai, exploited the funeral for a comedy stunt. A crew was stopped by police as it tried to set up a speed camera in front of the Queen Mother's cortege, intended to invite bets on how fast it was travelling from Westminster Abbey to Windsor.

Officers parked vans in front of the crew in Cromwell Road, in west London, to prevent filming and equipment was confiscated, shortly before the cortege was due to pass by. A Scotland Yard spokeswoman said: "They were given words of advice about their behaviour in relation to security and road safety. Property was temporarily confiscated but no criminal offence took place. No further action will be taken."

Channel 4 stood by Banzai, which was named the best entertainment show at the Royal Television Society awards this year. The channel said no "harm or disrespect" was intended by the stunt, but Banzai was simply covering the Queen Mother's funeral "in its own inimitable way".

A spokeswoman at Clarence House, where the Queen Mother lived, declined to comment.