25 Sep 2022

QE2, queues and cultural cues

From Mediawatch, 9:12 am on 25 September 2022

A long Anglican church service bookended by mostly-military parades became possibly the most-watched event in media history this week. But many media outlets struggled with what the Queen’s funeral really meant to different people around the planet.

Preparations for the Queen's funeral in London.

Preparations for the Queen's funeral in London. Photo: screenshot / BBC News

“Why was this so important to you?” Today FM’s Tova O’Brien asked her own boss Dallas Gurney on the air last Monday, the night before the Queen’s funeral. 

Gurney flew to London at almost the last minute to line up with thousands of others queuing up to see QEII lying in state.

A surprising choice for a news boss to take given how much coverage the news media, including his own network, were giving the story. (And the next time anyone else at the network wants time off for a funeral it’ll be pretty hard for the news boss to say no.)

“We've got seven bridges to go. The question most often asked is: 'how long have we got before we get there?'” Gurney told O’Brien. 

Plenty of people back home were also wondering that, with the mourning period already into its second week at the point and the funeral still more than 24 hours away - and the news media not exactly taking a ‘less is more’ approach in the interim. 

TVNZ’s Seven Sharp visited local corgi enthusiasts and a woman with a blanket that once belonged to the Queen. 

In the UK Newshub’s Patrick Gower also spent time with corgi fans - and he also interviewed author Jeffrey Archer about how well he knew the Queen. 

Turns out not that well. Just last week Jeffrey Archer - who hasn't been taken seriously in the UK since he was jailed for perjury 20 years ago for lying and a libel case against a newspaper - told London's Evening Standard he had only met her three times. 

“It's all quite mad, isn't it?” RNZ’s Kim Hill asked Corin Dann on Morning Report last week, as he described the queues and crowds beginning to form. 

“All the ceremony and the marching, when you step back it’s all quite bonkers,” she said. 

It wasn't entirely unprecedented either. People have gathered in big numbers before for royal funerals, royal weddings and jubilees in the UK. 

Corin Dann also made the point that all this was happening against the backdrop of serious problems in the UK, like energy shortages and revolving door leadership of the government. But everything else had been squeezed out of the news there. 

Here too. On the day before the funeral Corin Dann’s stand-in at Morning Report, Guyon Espiner, prefaced his opinion that the wall-to-wall coverage was over-the-top with the words: “I’ll probably get in trouble for saying this ... ‘ 

But not with the guest he was talking to: Morning Report’s Australian regular Kerry-Ann Walsh, who felt the same about the coverage in Australia.   

“I felt like I was watching a British or a foreign channel for the first 48 hours,” she told Morning Report

The day after the funeral Espiner co-hosted an edition of Morning Report that featured almost no other news. 

Although in the hours before the funeral, the most viewed story on TVNZ's 1 News Now site was about Ed Sheeran cancelling a gig in the capital, while Stuff's most-viewed story was one about Sam Uffindell. 

Why so intense?

TVNZ's coverage of the Queen's death.

TVNZ's coverage of the Queen's death. Photo: screenshot / TVNZ 1 News

Around the world, some media were asking just why so many people were so engaged and so emotional - including journalists. 

The US-based author of the psychology of celebrity told Today FM an essentially aloof elite figure came across as so relatable to so many people mainly because she was so famous.

“I don't know what it's like there in New Zealand, but I probably know more about Queen Elizabeth than I know about the people who live next door here,” Gayle Stever said. 

When asked if New Zealanders who never met the Queen were really grieving her loss, human behavior specialist Hayden Brown told TVNZ’s Breakfast some people here would respond to the Queen's death intensely because, unlike a familiar family member, they've only seen the positive aspects of the Queen via the media. 

Washington Post London correspondent Karla Adams said that not everyone in the UK was wrapped up in a Union Jack.

“I think it's probably fair to say that people who are even ambivalent about the Queen, in this moment are are still ... marking this this moment. But there is a chunk of people who wish the UK didn't have a monarchy. Those voices are definitely there,” she said on the live stream of the Post's coverage. 

The host of the Daily Show in the US - Trevor Noah - who grew up in a South Africa dealing with its own complex colonial history - warned against those insisting upon ‘one note’ of respectful reverence.

“This is like a moment in time that reminds them of so much where the country was - and how they were in Kenya, South Africa and other parts of Africa. You can't expect them to mourn in the same way,” he said. 

“That's something we struggle with in life sometimes - understanding that our relationship with somebody may not be the relationship that other people had with that person,” he said, as his studio audience applauded.   

But wrapping up the funeral in London last Tuesday, Today FM’s Tova O'Brien said was unifying, and “what the Queen would have wanted”.

“Watching the state funeral were all these families, roller-bladers, roller skaters, punk rockers, submariners, retired military people, pure Cockney greats. People from all over the world, all walks of life. The puffer jackets and active wear totally at home alongside the black suits and feathered hats, the Union Jacks draped over shoulders,” she said. 

“These were my people. These are all of our people because - they are us,” she said.

But shortly after that on her show, she was challenged by former Prime Minister Jim Bolger.

“Really, it wasn't New Zealand. It was the pomp and ceremony of a different country, community and society. That's why I believe that New Zealand will move on from a monarchy to have a full democracy. And we'll have our own head of state,” he said. 

When the Washington Post posed the question, 'Why is the world so fascinated?' it described the Queen herself as “a TV show that the whole family could agree to watch”.

The star of a TV show of which the Queen was apparently a fan back in the day popped up on the BBC’s live coverage of the funeral. 

“In this world where selfies and ‘I am here, it's all about me’, there is this pilgrimage that has been going through paying respects and there is not a mobile phone in sight. It is absolutely in the moment,” said Felicity Kendal, the star of the The Good Life back in the 1970s. 

While people in the crowds in London weren’t keeping their mobiles in their pockets at all times, it did seem as though most people want to be in that moment, rather than constantly creating content out of it. 

Possibly that was out of a heightened sense of respect, as Felicity Kendal reckoned. Or possibly it was because they knew the mainstream media had provided wall-to-wall coverage.