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13th Apr 2021

BBC’s Prince Philip coverage sets British TV complaints record

Charlie Herbert

Over 110,000 people have complained to the broadcaster

The BBC’s blanket coverage of Prince Philip’s death on Friday has broken the UK television complaints record. At least 110,994 people have complained to the BBC, making it the most complained-about moment in British television history.

Viewers expressed their anger and annoyance at the decision to cancel all scheduled shows and programmed across the broadcasters channels and radio stations, and replace them with rolling tributes to the Duke of Edinburgh. EastEnders and the Masterchef final were just two examples of the shows that were replaced.

As BBC One and BBC Two dedicated their entire programming on Friday evening to the Queen’s husband, their viewing figures plummeted, with viewers seemingly preferring Channel 4, which continued with its normal schedule of Gogglebox and the Circle, or turning to streaming services.

The Guardian has reportedly seen an internal complaints log from the broadcaster that shows an unprecedented level of viewer feedback, as the broadcaster’s coverage appears to have prompted one of the most negative reactions ever to BBC programming.

One complaint 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 described the coverage as “drivel.” They said: “It was sad news Prince Philip 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.”

This seems to be in reference to the fact that the BBC’s radio stations halted all music for coverage of the prince’s death, before then playing only instrumentals and piano music for the rest of Friday evening.

The BBC had to set up a dedicated complaints form for the coverage in an attempt to streamline the avalanche of complaints, which beat the previous BBC complaints record in 2005 when 63,000 people complained about the broadcast of Jerry Springer: The Opera.

Some of the 110,000 complaints weren’t just about the extent of coverage though. Almost 400 people complained about the appearance of Prince Andrew in the coverage, whilst 233 wrote in to say that some presenters were not wearing sufficiently respectful clothing.

Finally, 116 wrote in to complain that the corporation had made it too easy for people to complain, providing a reminder that really no matter what the BBC does it just can’t win.