The Queen was Dead
The recent passing of our much loved, admired and respected Monarch, takes Lawrence Lettice back over 44 years to the previous announcement of her demise
Never heard of this story? Well at the time (you must remember this was long before the era of the internet and instantaneous social media) it was kept well under wraps and out of the grasp of the press and media. Although it did cause much embarrassment, stifled hilarity and shifting senior managerial manoeuvring in the process.
The time was the summer of 1978, and the place was the old former headquarters of the BBC in Edinburgh – a building now long vacated by “Auntie Beeb”.
During that time, BBC Edinburgh hadn’t long brought up from England two new senior managerial figures (let’s call them Mr P & Mr R, to save their red faces!) who arrived to raise and enhance the profile of the BBC’s presence in the Scottish capital.
Lots of pomp and circumstance surrounded their arrival, as they stated to all of the staff at the time, their intention to elevate Edinburgh’s profile much higher than that it had previously enjoyed. They certainly raised its profile alright, but not in the way they originally envisaged.
One of the building’s security men (a jolly chap called Bill) had recently handed his notice in and was soon departing for pastures new. As a thanks for his past work and to say goodbye in the proper manner, the two managers invited Bill up to the boardroom to partake in a farewell drink.
The boardroom in question was very grand and palatial, with a large portrait of Her Majesty the Queen dominating the room for all to see. No doubt she would not be at all amused at what would soon transpire in her name, in the coming hours.
So good old Bill popped by as invited, not for the anticipated 30 minutes but for a somewhat bibulous three hours! When he eventually emerged from the boardroom he stood zombie-like at the top of the stairs, somewhat “the worse for wear”. Laughing like a drain, he picked his way unsteadily down the stairs and shambled out of the front door leaving a final, mocking, laugh in the air.
I’ve wondered ever since if Bill later realised that while departing the building he inadvertently took two senior managers with him?
From those who were there at the time (myself included) we formed the impression that Bill and the two managerial types in question, had effectively emptied the drinks cabinet between them!
What later took place could have had serious implications that would have echoed all the way from BBC Edinburgh’s foyer downwind to 10 Downing Street and Buckingham Palace.
With much gleeful amusement, the staff later discovered that Mr P & Mr R were so far gone drink wise that day, they decided (as a misjudged jest) to contact the duty office in BBC Glasgow to announce the shattering news that – the Queen was dead.
What on earth were they thinking about? Then again, drinking rather than thinking was probably paramount on their minds, making their judgements hazy to say the very least.
The continuity announcer in Glasgow who received said shattering news, was in a state of shock to say the least. So he immediately called the main news room in BBC London for official confirmation that this was indeed the case.
Obviously, the sudden announcement of the Queen’s sad passing was discovered to be a gross and shocking mistake on the part of the Edinburgh managers. It was quickly concluded that their drinking was excessive, subverting their judgement and credibility. For the truth of the matter was that Her Majesty was (of course) very much alive at the time and in sturdy good health.
With that in mind, the highest levels of BBC management (I suspect that included both the Director General and the Scotland Controller) kicked into action and started the ball rolling by launching an investigation to ascertain the facts. As well as clarifying the truth of what had really happened – and establishing exactly who the boozed-up buffoons responsible were.
It didn’t take too long for the guilty parties to own up and admit their part in the whole sorry saga. As a result, the news soon spread throughout the building like wildfire (remember, no twitter, or Instagram back then!) and a mixture of shock, dismay, disgust and outright laughter echoed throughout the corridors.
The BBC hierarchy in Scotland thus made every effort to keep this embarrassing scandal from potentially leaking and well out of the gleeful clutches of the press and media. Which from what I can recall at the time, they more or less succeeded in doing. Different times.
So what happened to those two gentlemen tipplers on a monumental scale that almost led to the biggest Royal scandal of the decade? Amazingly, they weren’t sacked, but “strategically removed elsewhere”.
In other words, they were sent homeward to think (and drink) again! ■
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A cubby hole in the old BBC studios at 4 Queen St