Television networks rise to event of 'unimaginable scale'

ITN’s Tom Bradby, centre, one of more than 200 people working on the broadcaster’s coverage

Television companies carried out their most ambitious outside broadcasts as millions watched live coverage of the royal spectacle.

Hundreds of journalists and production staff worked throughout the day to provide coverage of the procession from Westminster Hall to the Abbey and the funeral service: more than 350 people worked on the BBC’s live radio, online and television coverage; ITN, which extended its funeral programme by 63 minutes, had more than 200 people working on the day, while 120 staff worked on Sky News’s coverage that ran from 9am to 5pm.

Nick Vaughan-Barratt, the BBC’s creative director of events, said the scale of operation was "unimaginable".

"What we effectively did was to take the entire contents of TV Centre and take it out onto the road," he said. "It’s a massive operation logistically: 20 outside broadcast units, 100 cameras all over London, people up on the rooftops, so just the communication, the process of talking to everybody was massive.

"For me this was the event that marked the end of the 20th century and we wanted to convey the sense of history and keep in mind the real story," he said. "When you have been working on something like this for days with no sleep and your legs don’t work because you have been on your knees for days, despite all the planning, there is still the sense that millions of people are watching what is effectively your first draft. If you miss a shot, you miss it forever."

The BBC has defended Tom Fleming’s continued commentary at Westminster Abbey as a two-minute silence began as "appropriate".

Nigel Dacre, editor of ITV News, said the two-minute silence was "an important part" of its overall coverage. "We were aware that many schools and businesses would be using the television to observe the silence, so it seemed an important thing for us to do," said Dacre.

The ITN programme was due to end at 2.10pm, but Dame Vera Lynn agreed to remain on air with presenter Sir Trevor McDonald after ITV chiefs extended the programme to allow coverage of the final journey to Windsor Castle.

Laurence Vulliamy, ITN’s programme director, who has been involved in planning the Queen Mother’s funeral for the past 10 years, said that "apart from the usual panic", the extra hour posed "no problems".

"We have been planning this for years, but you have to bear in mind that plans can always change," he said. "We rang up ITV and said it would run over, but then they phoned and said they wanted another hour or so, which gave people a chance to see some of the service again.

"We have had to make good use of our resources and I don’t think there was a person or any technical equipment that wasn’t put to use," he added. "We’ve been working solidly with only three or four hours sleep, but I think the whole team counts it as an extraordinary privilege to have worked on such an historic event."

By Julie Tomlin

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