BBC’s Prince Philip coverage breaks UK TV complaints record

110,000 people have complained, mostly about excess but also about Andrew, attire – and ease of complaining

The BBC’s wall-to-wall coverage of Prince Philip’s death has become the most complained-about moment in British television history, as viewers expressed their annoyance that shows such as EastEnders and MasterChef were replaced with royal tributes.

At least 110,994 people have contacted the BBC to express their displeasure at the decision to turn most of the corporation’s TV channels and radio stations over to rolling tributes to the Queen’s husband.

BBC One and BBC Two dedicated Friday evening’s programming to Philip, and their ratings fell as viewers switched off altogether, turned to streaming services or watched shows such as Gogglebox on Channel 4.

According to an internal BBC complaints log seen by the Guardian, an unprecedented level of viewer feedback was received over the weekend, meaning the coverage appears to have elicited one of the most negative reactions to BBC programmes ever seen.

One example comment from a member of the public included in the log said: “Coverage of this event took up the entire evening broadcast to the exclusion of all other topics, including the ongoing topic of the pandemic. Some coverage was justified, but not to this extent.”

Another said: “It was sad news Prince Philip [sic] died on Friday and I understand the BBC had to acknowledge the fact but on every single one of its channels? Why [not] just put it on one channel for those that want to listen to that drivel and the rest of us can have a bit of music.”

Within hours of Philip’s death the number of complaints about the coverage had become so large that the BBC set up a dedicated form in an attempt to streamline the process. This form was then taken down on Sunday, making it harder for people to register their displeasure.

The previous record for BBC complaints is believed to be the 63,000 objections to the 2005 decision to broadcast Jerry Springer: The Opera, following criticism from Christian groups.

The BBC declined to comment on the leaked weekend figures and said a formal announcement would be made as planned on Thursday.

Not all the complaints were about the extent of the BBC’s coverage. Almost 400 people wrote in to complain that Prince Andrew had featured despite his association with the late financier Jeffrey Epstein and refusal to answer questions posed by the FBI.

A further 233 people complained that BBC presenters were not wearing sufficiently respectful clothes, with viewers complaining that not all newsreaders were wearing black – an echo of the controversy over the burgundy tie worn by Peter Sissons when he announced the death of the Queen Mother in 2002.

And in a sign that the BBC is destined to be criticised by all sides, 116 people wrote to the corporation over the weekend to complain that it was making it too easy to complain about its coverage.


Jim Waterson Media editor

The GuardianTramp

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