UK news broadcasters including the BBC and ITV had well-rehearsed their strategies to deliver meticulous coverage of the death of the Queen.
The death of Prince Philip during his sleep last year, the Queen’s life-long companion and husband of 73 years, meant no opportunity in advance to galvanise coverage with correspondents in location or breaking news of royals converging on airports.
But the Queen’s death unfolded differently, allowing broadcasters more time to follow their carefully laid plans. Shortly after 12.30pm on Thursday, the BBC’s main channel interrupted Bargain Hunt to deliver a statement from Buckingham Palace that said doctors were concerned for her health, and it continued with a BBC News special.
It was presented by Huw Edwards, well-prepared wearing a dark suit, white shirt and black tie – in line with the corporation’s on-air dress code for when a royal family member dies – while his colleague Clive Myrie was wearing a blue tie.
Later in the afternoon, ITV followed suit, switching its flagship ITV1 channel to a rolling news special from 5pm.
Media sources learned that the Queen, 96, had died late in the afternoon, with the expectation of official confirmation between 6pm and 7pm.
Official news of the Queen’s death was announced by Edwards at 6.30pm on BBC One, breaking into programming on the BBC’s other channels. The broadcaster then played the national anthem, in line with a well-rehearsed plan that has been practised regularly in recent years.
The BBC’s news division has been holding regular rehearsals on how to cover this moment, not all of which went to plan. On one occasion, in 2015, a BBC journalist announced on Twitter that the Queen had died after mistaking a training exercise for the real event.
Once again some journalists jumped the gun on Thursday, with incorrect announcements widespread on social media. Yalda Hakim, the host of the international news programme Impact on BBC World News, tweeted an apology after originally posting that an announcement had been made that the Queen had died.
The Guido Fawkes blog also mistakenly proclaimed “Her Majesty The Queen Dead at 96” in a tweet that was deleted shortly afterwards.
There was particular concern within the BBC to avoid the criticism handed out in 2002 when the newsreader Peter Sissons announced the death of the Queen Mother. He was castigated for wearing a burgundy tie during the broadcast, which certain newspapers decided was not suitably respectful to the royal.
Setting the tone of the coverage is the first big test for the new BBC News boss, Deborah Turness, who officially started her job on Monday.
The Queen’s death is expected to disrupt broadcast radio and television schedules for several weeks, with many shows cancelled or postponed.
Broadcasters face a delicate balancing act between marking the historic moment and not causing modern audiences to switch off or turn to other forms of media. Last year, the BBC received its highest-ever number of complaints about its wall-to-wall coverage of Prince Philip’s death.