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Tuesday, 9 April, 2002, 16:05 GMT 17:05 UK
Public mood takes media by surprise
crowds line the route of the funeral cortege
More than a million people lined the streets of London
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By Torin Douglas
BBC media correspondent
line

They were 10 days that shook the media - forcing newspapers and broadcasters to reconsider their preconceptions about how Britain in the 21st Century feels about the monarchy... and, to some extent, itself.

Ten days during which the mood of the people and the media shifted perceptibly.

There was a shift from a feeling (and fear in some quarters) that insufficient numbers might care to mark the death of their former Queen to the discovery that tens of thousands were prepared to queue for hours to pay their tributes and share in the formal remembrances.

Last week, on its front page, the Mirror was apologising to the Queen for the lack of crowds and the Sun was questioning why Parliament had been recalled.

Queues outside Westminster Abbey
The media struggled to reflect public opinion
And while some papers were obsessed by the burgundy tie of Peter Sissons, others noted that most complaints from BBC viewers were about the loss of their normal programmes.

Yet Friday's procession and the weekend's lying-in-state brought out the crowds, in numbers comparable with those for Sir Winston Churchill and King George VI.

By the day of the Queen Mother's funeral, a poll in the Independent newspaper showed a substantial boost in support for the monarchy.

Yet, as the letters columns and phone-ins showed, many people still felt detached from - and some even alienated by - the spectacle.

And amid the acres of commemorative supplements and hours of tribute programmes, the media struggled to reflect and encompass these varying views.

Republican slant

At either end of the spectrum were the Daily Mail and the Guardian.

The Mail, which had led the early campaign against the BBC's coverage, accusing it of disrespect, was attacked in its turn by the Guardian.

It claimed the Mail was filled with "deep sorrow and gloom" because people were just not sad enough.

By contrast, the early letters to the Guardian reflected a strongly republican, and undoubtedly disrespectful, view under the headline "We're not all mourning" - prompting the paper's own columnist Hugo Young to describe its letters page as "an atypical fount of bile".

girl crying
The lying-in-state brought out crowds in their thousands

On its first front page after the Queen Mother's death, the Guardian headline declared "Uncertain farewell reveals a nation divided" - reflecting the public mood at the time.

Jonathan Freedland wrote that the crowds outside Buckingham Palace were thin and the queues to sign books of condolence - which snaked for miles following the death of Diana - brisk to non-existent.

He said the Palace had shortened the official period of mourning from 13 days to nine, wondering: "Perhaps they anticipated the current mood and worried that the nation's grief would not last a fortnight.

But is there any guarantee that nine days won't also come to seem excessive?"

Change of tone

As for the plans for the lying-in-state, "If it weren't for the tourists, would enough people come?"

The answer did not come for several days, but by the weekend it was plain that they would - several hundred thousand, with many queuing right through the night, along both banks of the Thames, to file past the coffin.

You could feel the Sunday papers changing gear, as columns started earlier in the week needed adjusting, to reflect the public demonstration of support.


Britain has changed a great deal - but not in every respect and, in some ways, not as much as we had thought

On the morning of the funeral, the Guardian's Decca Aitkenhead blamed the change of mood and the queues on "fabrications" in the media whose desire for mourning created a media event.

"Not just the Daily Mail but practically every paper has invested in the idea that the great British public has silenced the media carpers who didn't take this death seriously enough at first."

For its part, the Mail - under the headline "Paper that got it so badly wrong" - accused the Guardian of misjudging the public mood.

Its columnist Simon Heffer wrote that as he stood in Westminster Hall alongside hundreds of his fellow Britons, he "realised something quite wonderful about our country: that it has not changed a bit."

But that is not true either.

Britain has changed a great deal - but not in every respect and, in some ways, not as much as we had thought.

And for a largely metropolitan and often youth-obsessed media, that is a lesson worth remembering.

See also:

08 Apr 02 | TV and Radio
Broadcasting feat for royal funeral
03 Apr 02 | TV and Radio
Sissons hits back at critics
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