BBC may devote LESS airtime to royal deaths: Boss Tim Davie says he wants ‘lessons to be learned’ after wall-to-wall coverage of Prince Philip’s death sparked 109,741 complaints and low viewing figures

  • Record complaints to BBC over coverage of Duke of Edinburgh’s death on April 9
  • Audience on night of death was ‘lower than expected’ at 2.6m across BBC 1 and 2
  • News programmes replaced EastEnders and MasterChef & BBC Four went off air 

The BBC wants ‘lessons to be learned’ after its coverage of Prince Philip’s death prompted a record number of complaints and low audience figures, its boss says.

Tim Davie’s comments suggest the corporation could consider devoting less content across its platforms to the death of a Royal Family member in the future.

The BBC received a record 109,741 complaints from the public over its wall-to-wall coverage of the Duke of Edinburgh’s death on April 9 after clearing its schedules.

The figure beat the previous record of Jerry Springer: The Opera which drew 63,000 complaints in 2005; and Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand’s infamous prank call to Fawlty Towers actor Andrew Sachs, which drew 42,000 complaints in 2008. 

And Mr Davie admitted in a board meeting that viewer numbers on the night of Philip’s death were ‘lower than expected’ at 2.6million across BBC One and BBC Two.

It came after news programmes replaced EastEnders and the MasterChef final, BBC Four was taken off air completely and normal radio schedules were also changed.

Bringing news of Prince Philip’s death to BBC viewers in April, presenter Martine Croxall said: ‘We are interrupting our normal programmes to bring you an important announcement’

BBC boss Tim Davie’s comments about the coverage suggest the corporation could consider devoting less content across its platforms to a death of a Royal Family member in the future

During the meeting on April 22, which was reported by The Times today, Mr Davie said the coverage had ‘reflected the role of the BBC as the national broadcaster’.

According to the minutes, he added: ‘The response of production teams had been accomplished, both in the implementation of the technical plans and editorial.’

What did the BBC board meeting minutes say? 

‘The Director-General reported that the coverage of the death of HRH Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh had reflected the role of the BBC as the national broadcaster and the response of production teams had been accomplished, both in the implementation of the technical plans and editorial. 

‘The audience for the funeral coverage was very strong delivering a peak of over 13 million viewers, while viewing on the night of the announcement was lower than expected at 2.6m across BBC One and BBC Two. 

‘The decision to simulcast coverage across BBC One and BBC Two had resulted in a record number of complaints. 

‘The Executive were looking at lessons to be learned. The Board thanked the Executive for the high quality of the coverage.’

Taken from Meeting of the BBC Board minutes on April 22, 2021 

The minutes also said Mr Davie praised the audience for the funeral coverage on April 17 being ‘very strong delivering a peak of over 13million viewers’.

But he added: ‘Viewing on the night of the announcement was lower than expected at 2.6million across BBC One and BBC Two. The decision to simulcast coverage across BBC One and BBC Two had resulted in a record number of complaints.’

The minutes concluded: ‘The Executive were looking at lessons to be learned. The Board thanked the Executive for the high quality of the coverage.’

Although ITV and Channel 4 also covered the Duke’s death, data from the Broadcasters Audience Research Board showed week-on-week viewing figures for BBC One and BBC Two fell by 6 per cent and 65 per cent respectively. 

As for the other channels, ITV’s Friday night audience fell by 60 per cent compared to the previous week – but the most-watched programme on one channel that night was Channel 4’s Gogglebox, with 4.2million viewers. 

The BBC even put a dedicated form on its website so viewers could complain about the coverage of Philip’s death because it was being swamped by complaints – although this was then removed when the number started to fall. 

Separately, Andrew Marr apologised for a comment made during live coverage in which he said Prince Philip’s relationship with the Queen meant he ‘was always two steps behind – like an Indian bride, as they say’. The BBC later said Marr accepted his comment ‘was poorly phrased, for which he apologises’. 

There were also complaints from viewers who thought it was inappropriate for Prince Andrew to feature in the coverage given the controversy over his friendship with paedophile financier Jeffrey Epstein. 

Buckingham Palace said the Duke of Edinburgh died aged 99 on April 9 at Windsor Castle

Philip’s funeral took place on April 17, with a Land Rover Defender carrying his coffin

But the BBC stood by this coverage, saying ‘all of Prince Philip’s children gave a tribute to their father’.

It added that it had fully reported on the allegations against Andrew – and made it clear he had not been charged with any crime. 

By the time of the funeral, the service itself was aired on BBC One – but BBC Two carried alternative programmes such as Saturday Kitchen and Football Focus. 

At the time of Philip’s death, a BBC spokesman said it was ‘a significant event which generated a lot of interest both nationally and internationally’.

They added: ‘We acknowledge some viewers were unhappy with the level of coverage given, and impact this had on the billed TV and Radio schedules. 

News programmes replaced EastEnders and MasterChef’s final on the BBC after Philip’s death

The minutes from the BBC board meeting on April 22 considered the coverage of Philip’s death

‘We do not make such changes without careful consideration and the decisions made reflect the role the BBC plays as the national broadcaster, during moments of national significance. 

‘We are grateful for all feedback, and we always listen to the response from our audiences.’

Changing Rooms returns with VERY odd wall feature… but only 1million viewers saw it 

In its heyday it attracted up to 12 million viewers. 

But as Channel 4’s reboot of Changing Rooms made its debut on Wednesday night, only 1.2million tuned in for their hit of vibrant and over the top interior design.

A ‘strokeable’ wig wall in Changing Rooms

And while many viewers were thrilled to see its jaw-dropping and chaotic transformations back on screen there was one feature that raised everyone’s eyebrows – a wall of wigs.

The return of the show, which became a hit in the late nineties and early noughties, saw one bedroom and one living room made over in Swansea.

Both rooms were a hit with contestants, and viewers tuning in for a hit of nostalgia. But many could not contain their horror at a human hair feature that was installed on one of the contestant’s bedroom walls.

New show designers Russell Whitehead and Jordan Cluroe were hoping the piece would provide a ‘show-girl entrance’ to the once cluttered bedroom.

The pair said the ‘strokeable’ statement piece had been inspired by ‘a cushion made of hair’ and that they were hoping to emulate ‘showgirls and glamorous drag-queens’.

But the audience were less than impressed with one claiming: ‘Watching the new changing rooms on c4 and they’ve put a…hair wall feature in and it’s giving me serial killer vibes.’

On the BBC on April 9, the National Anthem was accompanied the announcement from Buckingham Palace, while journalists across TV networks switched to black outfits as a mark of respect.

At 12.09pm on BBC One, an episode of Paramedics on Scene was abruptly paused as the screen faded to black, before being replaced by silence and a screen reading ‘News Report’.

Presenter Martine Croxall then told viewers: ‘We are interrupting our normal programmes to bring you an important announcement.’

The newsreader appeared to choke up with emotion as she began reading the official statement from the Palace and the scores of tributes that flooded in subsequently.

Ms Croxall donned a black cardigan for the announcement, which she had not been wearing on the BBC’s rolling news channel just minutes earlier when she first broke the news.

She also removed a piece of jewellery she was previously wearing around her neck for the BBC One statement.

The corporation’s Royal Correspondent Nicholas Witchell was also wearing a black suit and tie as he appeared in the studio, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson also in the same colour as he made a statement outside Downing Street.

Channel 4 and Channel 5 also halted their planned run of lunchtime programmes to announce the news. ITV also made schedule changes following the news.

Entertainment show This Morning, which was being presented by Eamonn Holmes and Ruth Langsford, was interrupted and Loose Women was scrapped.

Holmes cut mid-way through an interview with actor Alan Halsall to say: ‘Sorry I have to interrupt you for some very, very important news because we now, viewers, have to end This Morning and go straight to the ITV newsroom for more.’

ITV newsreader Lucrezia Millarini then appeared on the screen to announce the death of the Duke of Edinburgh. She told viewers: ‘Good afternoon we are breaking into programmes to bring you an announcement from the Royal Household.

‘In the last few moments we have received the following significant statement.’

She then proceeded to read the statement from Buckingham Palace which said: ‘It is with deep sorrow that Her Majesty The Queen has announced the death of her beloved husband, His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

‘His Royal Highness passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle.’

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