When I learnt of the passing away of the Queen my professional instincts were re-awakened instantaneously and I breathlessly awaited how major newspapers around the world would treat the report the following morning of Friday. It is the kind of occurrence you don’t have too often.
William Shakespeare said a long time ago: “When beggars die, there are no comets seen; the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.” My inner gaze roamed around the globe to scan it and a scenario got created in my head.
At the such hour of 12, the hour of a momentous newsbreak, chief priests emerge from their offices, to congregate in the newsroom, and two or three descend the stairs. Senior editors, editors, line editors and senior correspondents—all converge in the newsroom and assignments are shared.
For the news editor, it is not a day you wring hands, stare at the ceiling, and bite lips. The lead story is here. Who does what? Different angles to the story are listed and shared. Who is handling the backgrounding? The editor blurts out. It is the day of grief and mourning, yet it is the hour of action. My min
d races to Editor Henry Odukomaiya, cigarette in the left fingers, biro in the right hand, sleeves rolled up and held with arms band. Oh, it is Segun Osoba that is in the saddle now. Segun Osoba is in his element and already has the headline in his head. So does Sad Sam. News Editor Kunle Animashaun is putting available reports together. Chief Theo Ola is on the line from Ibadan. David Attah is making frantic efforts to reach the newsroom from Kaduna. Martin Iroabuchi’s line is off. Femi Ogunleye and Victor Izekor are unrelenting from Kano and Maiduguri respectively. ID Noble (Idowu Sobowale) whom some call Sho, rushes down to the office from the airport. Angus Okolie is returning from the library. Chief Sub-Editor George Okoro is restless. Assistant Editor Emmanuel Hart says there is no cause for panic: Calm down. Morning shift Chief Sub-Editor hastens everyone up. Kunle Elegbede and Olufemi Kusa are cleaning up the copies, rewriting where necessary. PECCOS is standing close. Emmanuel Jaja comes in with seriousness in his looks and whispers to Editor Osoba. Assistant Editor Sola Oluwole is back from Chase Room.
The pre-occupation of any editor is how to capture the mood in the land and capitalise on it. It is a bullet intro: The Queen is dead. Sentences to follow must be staccato. It is not a day for the narrative intro! You help the ‘Heavens blaze forth the death of not a Prince but of the Queen!’Meanwhile, Production manager Nworji, the lion, the terror of sub-editors, saunters into the newsroom, and roars, ‘Mould.’ He is waiting on Osoba for a wink to tear off the last copy and layout from that boy that Osoba would scold as too much of a perfectionist. When are we going to get to the market? He fires! Advert Manager Demola Fashola is lurking in the shadows with his heart beating that his advert on the front page might be cleared to make room for a turn-around front-page with only screaming three-deck headline occupying the entire page. Fashola is to later complain to the editor: Your boys don’t know what it takes to build the advert traffic that they are throwing away. This was the scenario swirling in my head as I got hint of the newsbreak. What then is my headline? Uncle Sam (Sad Sam), the star editor Sunday wants to know. I say to him: “The Queen of the World is Dead!” It is Queen with the definite article “The”. It is 120pts in reversed line and superimposed on the Queen’s full-length photograph. Both the picture and the headline fill the whole front page. The proof is out; Editor Osoba is pleased and wants to fly!!!
It was this picture of what fills an editor’s head, a mental sketch of how his newspaper should look on a crucial and eventful day like this, when a great figure passes away and the action-packed day, some would say bordering on a mad house, a newsroom becomes. It was the picture I carried into furiously searching the internet very early on Friday to see how major newspapers, around the globe trumpeted the coverage of the departure of the Queen. As it was the case in the coverage of 9/11 when terrorists blew up the New York Trade Towers, that even sedate newspapers shed their reserved toga to accommodate the mood of the free world, so was the press coverage last week Friday to announce the passing on of Queen Elizabeth 11. The Times of London covering the September 11, 2001 horror captioned its story in bold font of no less than 84 points: “War on America.”
What is the coverage like this time? It was a full length obituary on the front page contrasting with normal times when its obituaries are published far inside after its editorial opinion page. Its caption reads simply but in big typeface of 84pts. The picture is used generously, taking three columns.
The Guardian of Britain online reviews the coverage stating: “Full page pictures of Queen Elizabeth fill the front pages of daily papers with patriotism and praise on display as Britain marks a historic and sombre day.” According to the non-aligned and respected newspaper, its review online says of Daily Express: “Our beloved Queen is dead.” It is in capital letters superimposed on the Queen’s picture with both the headline occupying the whole of front page. The Express speaks of how ‘Britons flooded the streets “united in grief and weeping crowd” singing the national anthem outside Buckingham Palace. The Daily Mail’s roaring headline is: “Our hearts are broken.” The tone and content of the grief would seem to be saying that with the departure of Queen Elizabeth 11, Britain is orphaned. The Guardian goes on to quote Daily Mail as saying “Our hearts are broken: It just seems unimaginable. That wisest and most steadfast of women, our guiding light in the darkest of nights has gone.” The review says of The Times of London as follows: The Times’ obituary reflects on the Queen’s life that spanned “an era of vast social, material and technological change,” asking “who would have believed the Queen we once knew would have agreed to take part in a stunt with James Bond for the opening of the London 2012 Olympics. ‘Above all, the paper says “she was the woman who saved the monarchy in this country.”’
‘The Times political sketch’ according to The Guardian review, ‘describes how the “political din” of the Commons fell quiet, as a note alerted MPs to the monarch’s failing health: “Suddenly nothing else much mattered.”’
The Daily Telegraph fills, like the others, its front page with the picture of the Queen with its masthead in reversed line touching the Queen’s hair and cross reference on top of it announcing 28 pages of pictorial tributes inside the paper. Its headline, according to The Guardian online review, says somberly: “Grief is the price we pay for love.” Inside The Telegraph ‘describes the Queen as a “calm presence” ‘who was steadfast and “self-effacing.”’ The Belfast Telegraph with the photograph of the seated Queen on page one against a black background which also features glazed pictures of her activities displayed states in grateful appreciation of her service to Great Britain: “Thank you, Ma’am.” It reports that Northern Ireland’s politicians were united “in tribute to woman ‘who led by example during peace process.’” The Herald in Scotland comes out with the Queen in full regalia of her office with the crown on her head and the headline simply reads “The Queen” with her date of birth as the kicker—April 21, 1926 –September 8, 2022. The Guardian online says The Scotsman settles ‘for a black front page with an image of the young, with the same sentiment’ as The Herald. The Financial Times features the Queen elegantly dressed with the crown on her head against a black background, also with the photograph splashed across the entire front page. One can imagine how big the photograph is published in a broadsheet newspaper. The Financial Times describes what it calls the ‘‘grace, humanity and fortitude of Elizabeth,” reflecting on a life of “extraordinary service.” It says considering the ‘stoic weathering of familial misfortunes’, she was, ‘for the public, a human and relatable figure,’ ‘and the affection in which she was held reflected, above all, a sense of duty that seemed innate.’”
The Guardian itself, how does it cover the passing of the Queen? It uses her picture during her coronation on the front page. After noting that she is the oldest sovereign in the history of the United Kingdom, but also the longest serving, it then describes her as “woven into the cloth of our lives so completely” ‘in a reign that encompassed a period that saw some of the greatest changes of any era.’ But comparing her with the reign of her predecessor, Queen Victoria, noted down in history as the harbinger of the era of etiquette, refinement and civility, The Guardian says, “it is hard to see her being bestowed, as her predecessor Queen Victoria’s was as “the defining symbol of an age.” Instead, it says, “she played, largely impeccably, the part of a modern constitutional monarch, a symbolic figurehead with a right to be consulted and to advise and warn political leaders privately and to show herself publicly as a focus of national life, celebration and commemoration.”
The Sun predictably, given its character which belongs to the mass circulation newspaper genre, and a tabloid at that, lives up to its billing. It uses the Queen’s photograph generously. As if it is part of its masthead, it runs Queen Elizabeth 1926-2022 and the headline is: “We loved you Ma’am.” The Guardian online in its review says The Sun swaps its usual red top for regal purple and the headline: “We loved you Ma’am”. “It says her passing marks ‘an end to her historic reign’ and has sparked an outpouring of grief.”’ The Mirror for decades known as a mass circulation newspaper, the words of The Guardian online review, on its front page “carries the simple message “Thank you” as the “nation begins to come to terms with the loss of the 96-year-old monarch.”
The New York Times comes out waving her flag as the same old lady. Characteristic of a quality newspaper, her appearance is sedate and the headlines subdued. She features on the front page an excerpt from her obituary editorial captioned “The Steady Hand of a nation.” It says of the Queen in it: Through seven decades on the throne, Queen Elizabeth 11 was an enduring presence, one who remained determinedly committed to the hallmark aloofness, formality and pageantry of the monarchy. Her reign survived tectonic shifts as Britain’s post-imperial society as well as the challenges posed by the marriages and missteps of her descendants. In many ways, hers was an accidental reign. It was the abdication of her uncle, King Edward V111, that put her in the direct line of succession. When her father, King George V1, died, she was 25. Some predicted that she would recede into the shadows after the death in April 2021 of Prince Philip, her husband of 73 years. However, she surprised many by re-emerging into public life.”
According to Mail online, the headline of The New York Times is Queen and Spirit of Britain with the kicker that reads Elizabeth 11, Whose 7-Decade Reign Linked Generations Dies at 96. Then a rider to the main report says, A Country in Turmoil Enters a Period of Mourning and Transition. The main report says: “The death of Elizabeth sets in motion a royal transition more complicated than any change in prime ministers. It will be meticulously choreographed in its rituals, but what kind of monarchy it will produce is a mystery. At 73, Charles is the oldest person to become monarch in British history—a familiar figure, to be sure,—but one who has made clear he wants to transform the nature of the royal family.”
The Washington Post is in the same mould as The New York Times as a quality newspaper; the features of which permit a crowded front page, exhaustive reports that answer all questions and solid backgrounding. The photographs are merely illustrative, so economically cropped and above all subdued headline. Washington Post headline reads: “UK braced death of Queen Elizabeth 11. It still came as a shock.” Its report reads in part: “On the morning of her father’s death, on the day she would become queen, 25-year-old Elizabeth was perched in a treehouse in Kenya watching a herd of elephants at a watering hole. Because of the distance and difficulty of communication, it took hours for her to get the news.”
A land of tradition and precedence Britain will witness the transfer of Prince Philip now that the Queen is dead to the King George V1 memorial chapel to lie along his wife of 73 years so that they can be united in death! The volt at the memorial chapel had been built between 1810 and 1814 and it houses the remains of the Queen’s father George V1, her mother the queen Mother and Sister Princess Margaret. The body of Prince Philip had been kept temporarily somewhere awaiting the death of the queen one day, I am informed. Traditionally, I learn, as consort of the Queen, Prince Philip always kept two paces behind the Queen. In the Order of Precedence, the Queen always took the lead. And this applies in death too! Therefore, Prince Philip’s body could not be taken to the chapel ahead that of the Queen. In 2021 it was lowered 15 feet into the 200-year-old Royal Vault beneath St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle where it has remained till date.
A great many across the globe would say that Queen Elizabeth 11 is an epitome of ideal earthly womanhood, with effulgent dignity, refinement and gracefulness in carriage. Who is she that all through her earthly life certain currents and threads of correlation of life work together and in concert to lift her up and make her shine and her aura so encompassing? There are other Queens in some other countries of our world. Why is it that when a queen is mentioned the one to whom the mind races is Queen Elizabeth 11 of England. Are these accidents? This will be discussed next week.