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Prince Philip’s Funeral Marks the End of an Era for U.K. Royal Family

LONDON — Elizabeth and Philip were married the year I was born — 1947 — when Britain’s deference toward its royal family had not yet been exposed to the merciless shredding that was to come. Back then, my own family might almost have seen itself reflected, albeit remotely, in their lives.

Like Prince Philip, whose funeral is on Saturday, my father had served in World War II, on deployments that were so protracted that, my mother recalled, she went three years without seeing him. In London, Buckingham Palace was bombed. So, too, were the rowhouses in Barrow-in-Furness in northwestern England where my aunts, uncles and grandparents lived, close to the shipyards targeted by the German Air Force.

When Elizabeth was crowned Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, we clustered around a small black-and-white television at a neighbor’s home to follow what was billed as the country’s first coronation to be broadcast live. Certainly, it was a moment of pomp that seemed to fete Britain’s re-emergence from postwar deprivation.

British Broadcasting Corporation received about 100,000 complaints about its television coverage of the event when it canceled its scheduled programming in favor of blanket coverage of Prince Philip’s life and his death at the age of 99. Some people likened the obituary programming to what might be expected in North Korea.

Broadcasters “got the tone completely wrong,” Michael Cole, a former BBC royal correspondent, said in an interview with the rival Channel 4 News. Their hushed voices, he said, suggested that they had assumed the somber mantle of “self-appointed chief pallbearers” whose “sepulchral” utterances would have been more appropriate to a personal bereavement.

the kind of Prince Philip more favored by the script writers of “The Crown” than by official biographers. One of his sons, Prince Andrew, called him the “grandfather of the nation.”

But time and familiarity do not always breed fondness, or heal any wounds left by his statements in a country that has become more diverse. Much of the outpouring of sorrow may well have been directed at the queen, a widow facing the rigors of her reign without her “liege man of life and limb,” as her husband swore to become at her coronation.

Throughout the crises that have threatened to upend the institution she has fought doggedly to secure, Philip had been her “strength and stay all these years,” as the queen said in 1997.

It may be that historians will one day penetrate the fog of obfuscation that shrouds Prince Philip’s role in many of the royal family’s crises, part of the blend of aloofness, formality and pageantry by which the monarchy seeks to survive at the titular helm of an ever-shrinking, post-imperial domain.

In these days, few have wished to speak ill of the dead, preferring to focus on the prince’s emblematic place in the chronicles of those, like Meghan and Diana, whose marriages into the House of Windsor challenged them to come to terms with its secretive ways and define their often unscripted roles within, or outside, it.

In a sense, Philip outlasted all of them. Yet his departure may come to be seen as a grim and poignant dress rehearsal, for in those same years the queen has assumed a seemingly immutable position as the nation’s center of gravity. Her reign has overlapped the tenures of 14 British prime ministers and an equal number of American presidents.

In the reverence of the moment, the unspoken question is how she could ever be replaced as the guarantor of her line.

Back in those postwar days of the 1940s and 1950s, British schoolchildren learned by rote the names and lineages of her regal forebears, from Tudors, Plantagenets and Stuarts to Hanoverians, Saxe-Coburgs and Windsors.

In an era of far more divided loyalties and aspirations, the one lesson that may have endured may be found not so much in the names and titles of the past as in the fact that, save for a brief period in the 17th century, the monarchy itself has survived — though rarely without hard choices, stubborn resilience and often reluctant or enforced renewal.

Now is a time of mourning for Philip, who welcomed generations of young royals on their wedding days and who is credited with spurring an earlier period of self-assessment and renewal in the monarchy. That task will fall to others in coming years, in a world that may be less sympathetic than the one that welcomed the young royals on their wedding day.

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Prince Philip’s Funeral Will Include a Call to Battle

LONDON — Toward the end of the carefully choreographed, 50-minute planned funeral service for Prince Philip, scheduled for Saturday, the “Last Post” will be played by musicians from Britain’s Royal Marines. But the military buglers will then have one further duty requested specifically by Prince Philip: sounding so-called Action Stations — a call used on naval warships to summon crew to battle readiness.

Announcing the funeral plans, Buckingham Palace said on Thursday that the ceremony will reflect the personal wishes of Prince Philip, who had a distinguished naval career, serving in the Second World War, before becoming consort to Queen Elizabeth.

But — at a time when many families have lost relatives to Covid-19 and pandemic restrictions remain in place — the arrangements reflected the reduced scale of an occasion trimmed to comply with government rules.

The funeral is scheduled for Saturday at 3 p.m. and will be televised but will take place behind the formidable walls of Windsor Castle. With Covid-19 concerns in mind, Buckingham Palace has urged people to stay away, saying there will be nothing for the public to see.

Only 30 mourners will enter St. George’s Chapel, where the service will be held, and all will wear masks and sit socially distanced, including the queen.

The proceedings seem designed to ease tensions within the royal family where possible. No military uniforms will be worn, a decision that avoids singling out Prince Harry, who lost his military titles after stepping aside from royal duties and could have been the only senior male royal in civilian clothing — despite having served in Afghanistan for the British Army.

Saturday’s ceremony will be the first time Prince Harry has reunited with his family since he said in an interview with Oprah Winfrey last month that his brother and father were trapped in an unhappy life as royals. But he will not be placed directly next to his brother, Prince William, in a short funeral procession that will take place through the grounds of Windsor Castle.

During the procession, the coffin will be moved to St. George’s Chapel. The procession will be led by the band of the Grenadier Guards, a regiment of which Prince Philip was colonel for 42 years.

Queen Elizabeth will arrive at the chapel by car, but Princes Charles, Andrew and Edward, as well as Princess Anne and Princes William and Harry, will follow the coffin on foot as it is driven the short distance to the chapel on a modified Land Rover four-wheel drive.

Not only did Prince Philip chose this vehicle, he is also thought to have helped with its modification as part of plans that he approved.

In normal times crowds would have gathered as would hundreds of mourners who would have been invited to attend. But, with numbers so restricted, even Prime Minister Boris Johnson is not attending.

The choir will be reduced to just four people, and mourners will not be encouraged to sing. At the end of the ceremony — after a lament has been played, the buglers have performed, and the national anthem been sung by the choir — the coffin will be lowered into the chapel’s Royal Vault.

Funerals for senior members of the royal family are planned in advance as contingencies and given code names based on different bridges. In Prince Philip’s case, the code name was Forth Bridge, a reference to the city of Edinburgh, and the prince’s title as the Duke of Edinburgh.

Buckingham Palace has not said when Prince Philip last approved his funeral plans, or whether he did so once Covid-19 restrictions were in place, requiring the ceremony to be slimmed down.

But planning for the funeral first began so long ago that the prince was said to have once remarked that several of those who helped to design it never lived to see it, having predeceased him.

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The BBC covered Prince Philip’s death for hours. Cue the complaints.

Shortly after Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Queen Elizabeth II, died last Friday, the BBC cut away from its schedule to broadcast special coverage across its TV channels and radio stations for the entire afternoon and night.

As popular shows were taken off the air — including Friday’s episode of “EastEnders,” a soap opera that has run since 1985, and the final episode of “MasterChef,” a cooking competition show — the BBC was flooded with expressions of displeasure. To be exact: 109,741 complaints were received, the BBC said on Thursday, making it the most complained-about moment in the BBC’s history.

As Britain’s public broadcaster, the BBC has a pre-eminent position in British media, and its funding from the public via a license fee puts it in a difficult position. It is frequently attacked for being too liberal, and too conservative, while its access to public funding is controlled by the government, currently a Conservative administration.

The BBC tries to reflect the mood of the nation, but recently a fierce debate about the role of the royal family bubbled up after Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex.

the broadcaster received so many online complaints that on Friday it set up a streamlined process — a dedicated online form — for people to register their disappointment about the extent of its coverage.

The BBC said on the Thursday that the Duke of Edinburgh’s death “was a significant event which generated a lot of interest both nationally and internationally” and that the decision to alter the schedule was made with careful consideration, which “reflect the role the BBC plays as the national broadcaster, during moments of national significance.”

Two commercial broadcasters took divergent approaches. ITV, like the BBC, reportedly also saw a large drop in viewers last Friday amid its many hours of Prince Philip coverage. Channel 4 had special programming but then offered viewers a respite by airing a popular show, “Gogglebox,” which shows people watching TV, at 9 in the evening.

On Saturday, the BBC and ITV will broadcast the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral, which will not be open to the public because of pandemic restrictions.

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