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‘Do it solemnly, quickly, and shut up’: how TV is preparing for the royal funeral | Queen Elizabeth II

Miles of television broadcast cabling has been laid, almost every satellite truck in the UK has been hired out and international broadcasters are offering wads of money to anyone who can secure them a broadcast location overlooking the ceremony.

Monday’s funeral of Queen Elizabeth II is a global TV event that has been planned for decades – yet at the same time pulled together in just 10 days.

“I’ve been in the business so long I first started rehearsing the Bridges Events 30 years ago,” said the presenter Dermot Murnaghan, 64, referring to an internal codename for deaths of major royals.

The presenter, who will be co-hosting Sky News’s coverage of the funeral with Anna Botting, said preparations had been quietly stepped up since the summer. “I’ve been traveling around with a black tie in my back pocket for the last few weeks. We saw the pictures of her with Boris, we knew she had mobility issues, and she was 96.”

Yet even the best-rehearsed plans can fall apart, as Murnaghan found out last Thursday when telling viewers that the Queen had died. “It ended up with me making the announcement in the pouring rain holding an umbrella, my phone, and with water peeing down my neck.”

Almost every major British TV channel – with the exception of Channel 5, which is showing the Emoji Movie – has cleared its schedule for royal coverage on Monday. For the most part, viewers will see the same raw images of the main events on the BBC, ITV and Sky News. All three outlets have coordinated on a plan to pool their resources in order to provide a single national video feed of proceedings.

“There probably aren’t many pieces of outside broadcast equipment in Britain that aren’t on this event,” said Michael Jermey, the director of news at ITV. “People will be rigging cables and cameras throughout this weekend.”

Cameras that were due to be filming the arrival of Coronation Street stars at the canceled National Television Awards have been redeployed to cover the funeral of a monarch. Leading broadcast technicians were arriving in Amsterdam for an industry conference when the Queen’s death was announced, only to immediately head back to London to start putting equipment in place.

ITV’s Jermey said the pooled footage meant each broadcaster’s coverage of the funeral would be shaped by the tone of its presenters and experts. His channel is relying on Tom Bradby and Julie Etchingham, with a promise to keep interventions to a minimum.

“It will be possible to watch ITV and see the events happening in front of you without too much interruption by commentators or people talking,” Jermey said. “We will let the events breathe, people will hear the music, hear what people in the cathedral are saying.”

Murnaghan, who will be based at Windsor Castle, said he hoped to keep out of shot for as long as possible. “This is a ceremony that’s evolved over centuries with uniforms and magic wands, it’s about letting the pictures do the talking.” He said he had a rule for when he needed to make an intervention: “Do it solemnly, do it quickly, and shut up.”

A car carrying King Charles III passes live TV coverage tents near Buckingham Palace on Wednesday. Photograph: Vadim Ghirdă/AP

TV viewing figures are likely to be high, even in an age when fewer people get their news from broadcast channels. The BBC, which has rarely interrupted its royal coverage since the Queen died, will rely on Huw Edwards and Kirsty Young to helm its coverage, with assistance from Fergal Keane, David Dimbleby and Sophie Raworth.

Millions more people are expected to watch online streams on sites such as YouTube or TikTok. There have been nerves at the BBC after its iPlayer service struggled to cope with the number of people trying to stream news of the Queen’s death.

British channels have also had to deal with requests for assistance from international broadcasters. US TV networks have deployed some of their top presenters to London, with the likes of the NBC Today presenter Savannah Guthrie flying to London for hosting duties.

While major international broadcasters had long-agreed logistics plans, channels from smaller countries have been left begging for space for their news anchors after failing to pre-book hotel balconies with a suitable backdrop.

There is particular overseas demand for stereotypically plummy voiced British “royal experts” who can explain various traditions to overseas viewers, with one delighted contributor admitting they have earned thousands of pounds over the past week by touring different channels.

Yet one thing you will not find in British TV’s royal funeral coverage is much discussion of republicanism or the future of the monarchy.

Jermey said ITV had covered the arrests of anti-royal protesters and the free speech issues on its bulletins, but for now the coverage “is essentially around a funeral”.

This view was echoed by Murnaghan, who said there would be time to discuss “wide-ranging questions” about the monarchy in the future.

“It’s a funeral,” I said. “A week before the Queen died, I was at my mother’s funeral reading a eulogy, and the next order of funerals is to retain respect. We should know how to behave.”

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