For the Beeb, the death of Queen Elizabeth will be no joke

The rehearsal for a royal demise ended in farce, but the real event will be comedy-free

In times of national mourning, you've got to laugh, unless you're watching the BBC and Queen Elizabeth has just died, which she hasn't.

But when she does, which she will, the people of the UK and presumably the Commonwealth are not supposed to feel any mirth at all, about anything, for roughly a fortnight. No, not even gallows humour at the thought of Charles being king.

According to reports, BBC protocols for what will happen in the aftermath of the Queen's death include a suspension of all comedy programmes across all BBC channels until after the funeral, apparently pencilled in for 12 days after her passing. Shelving Mock the Week is one thing, but an axe on all comedy? How very un-British.

News site Business Insider, in a recent article headlined "The death of Queen Elizabeth will be the most disruptive event in Britain in the last 70 years", described the cancelling of comedy shows as a "trivial" matter in the context of a country that will supposedly "grind to a halt".


This feels wrong, and not just because nothing in television-land could be more grim than two consecutive Friday nights on the couch without Graham Norton and his infectious splutter-chuckle.

Jettisoning the jokes from the BBC schedule, if this is genuinely the plan, won’t be a trivial matter at all. It will be a mistake much worse than Burgundy-gate. This, nobody except the Daily Mail remembers, is the scandal in which BBC news presenter Peter Sissons had the temerity to announce the death of the Queen Mother while wearing a tie that was not black.

Now, as its annual rehearsals for “category one” royal deaths suggest, the BBC is determined that next time it will be ready and correctly attired for Operation Extreme Reverence, in which it will flawlessly send a sombre newsflash via the @BBCBreakingNews account and other key social media platforms while otherwise pretending that it is still the 1950s.

Sadly, the best laid plans can and will end in farce. Its most recent training exercise was bungled last week when one of its own reporters, seemingly unaware that news bosses were staging one of these "sensitive scenarios", tweeted about the Queen's hospitalisation as if it was happening for real, thereby sparking global alerts from CNN and German newspaper Bild.

She was promptly shamed before the nation, while the BBC was forced to add the gaffe to its comedy-of-errors archive.

So encouraged, sections of the UK press are now primed to treat the future death of the Queen as a bat-signal to turn on the BBC and wait for the first clickbait-producing faux-pas – a gleeful monitoring that will help distract them from the pain of their unimaginable grief.

The BBC, under pressure, may well then decide to pull its subversive repeats of The Vicar of Dibley and fill airtime with grave royal "experts" explaining that the Queen, the world's most intimidating great-grandmother, is not actually immortal. It will be an understandable bid to swerve criticism from its usual enemies and from those who like their patriotism to come wrapped in deathly earnestness.

Shell-shocked nation

But there is a difference between chiming with the mood of the nation (which Business Insider predicts will be “shell- shocked”) and planning an extended spell of top-down tone-policing.

Comedy may indeed be tragedy plus time, but when it comes to the death of a public figure who has lived a long life, this unit of time surely falls very short of 12 days.

Such an official period of mourning, while allowing enough time to organise the necessary road closures and smooth over the inevitable surge in republican sentiment, is ridiculously long for even a state broadcaster to imply that the human urge to laugh is inappropriate.

Meanwhile, anyone who wants access to a more diverse range of reactions will fire up Twitter.

Unfortunately, here’s what will happen on Twitter when the Queen dies. Thousands of people will tweet the news as if it’s their own personal scoop.

Someone will be "disciplined" for making the wrong joke at the wrong time. Then several others will enigmatically quote the lyrics of The Smiths song The Queen is Dead.

And that’s just what we can expect in the first 12 minutes. In short, the whole business will be both the end of an era and an opportunity to get annoyed at both traditional and social media at once.