Few events are as well planned for as the death of a major royal. However unexpected the timing, what happens in the hours and days after the announcement is strictly determined. It's no good moaning if you don't approve, it's going to happen anyway.
The Duke of Edinburgh's meticulous plan was given the codename Operation Forth Bridge. The pandemic has messed up the physical aspects, restricting the laying of floral tributes and the funeral procession, but the media response was textbook, right down to the TV newsreader donning ever-ready black clothing before informing the nation. In this case the palace sent out the news at noon and by ten past all normal programming had been suspended for the day.
BBC1/BBC2 Friday 9th April 2021
before 12.09 - normal programming
12.09 Announcement of death
12.10 National Anthem
12.11 Rolling news coverage
18.00 News at Six
19.00 Local News
19.30 Tribute programme 1
21.00 Tribute programme 2
22.00 News At Ten
22.45 Local News
23.00 The Papers
23.30 Tribute programme 2 (rpt)
BBC TV channels promptly combined (using a rarely seen brand ident) and then spent hours repeating the news that a 99 year-old man had died. Many of the inserts and documentaries will have been on the shelf, suitably updated, for many years. ITV also went full-on Philip for the rest of the day, whereas C4 and C5 were quicker to return to normal programming and minor Freeview channels continued as normal. Meanwhile the BBC's radio stations combined for a lengthy deferential news broadcast before unchallenging downbeat music was allowed to resume shortly after five o'clock.
All sorts of people complained. Where is my normal programming, they said. This is not want I want to watch and hear. I know the Prince is dead, I do not want to learn about his life again, even The One Show would be an improvement. Thankfully a wealth of catch-up and streaming was available, providing an escape that simply wouldn't have been available had Prince Philip died aged 89 instead, but grumpy people still felt culturally limited anyway.
In good news this really doesn't happen very often (as the appearance of Prince Albert in the following list confirms).
The last 10 deaths of British monarchs or consorts
2021: Prince Philip 2002: Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother 1972: King Edward VIII 1953: Queen Mary 1952: King George VI 1936: King George V 1925: Queen Alexandra 1910: King Edward VII 1901: Queen Victoria 1861: Prince Albert
The only other royal consort to die during the last six decades was the Queen Mother, and in her case relatively normal programming returned a few hours after the announcement. Princess Diana's death jolted the national psyche (and impacted broadcasting schedules) considerably more, but she'd left the royal family by then so never had a top level mourning plan. An event of Friday's magnitude occurs on average twice a generation, so take a breath and it'll all be over soon.
And all this is merely a rehearsal for the big one, the eventual death of Queen Elizabeth, which'll be nationally disruptive on a scale most alive today cannot imagine. Her plan is called Operation London Bridge, intricately detailed in this acclaimed Guardian article, and that's due to interrupt normality for nine historic days. Brace yourself for a long-planned volley of reverential retrospectives, whether you'd have done it differently or not. When the state broadcaster pauses to mourn the passing of the head of state, or her husband, best not be surprised.