Former BBC newsreader Peter Sissons gives BBC news high-ups a roasting in an autobiography which is being serialised in the Daily Mail this week.
In today’s extract, he focuses on covering royal deaths and reveals that when he first joined the BBC, he had a special suit made for him in case he should be required to announce the death of a senior royal.
He reveals that six-monthly royal death drills would be held at the BBC and that, amazingly, they had rehearsed the death of Princess Diana in a car crash in advance of the day she died in Paris on 31 August, 1997.
Despite all the rehearsals, Sissons reveals that the only advice he was given on picking up the Diana death story that day was “go easy…leave the awkward questions until tomorrow”. He said the advice was “absurd” and he ignored it.
He said: “The BBC has a policy on everything, yet, when the chips are down presenters make up editorial policy as they go along.”
On the day the Queen Mother died, at 3.15pm on 30 March 2002, and Sissons revealed that royal correspondent Jenny Bond was informed on an embargoed basis straight away. But he says that despite BBC top brass being in the loop, journalists were only given 20 minutes to prepare ahead of the official announcement at 5.45pm:
“After we’d run an eight or nine minute obituary it began to dawn on me that we had very little other pre-prepared material to work with.”
He says that the advice from his editor before going on air was: “Don’t overboard, she’s a very old woman who had to go at some time.”
He said: “At the core of the BBC, in its very DNA, is a way of thinking that is firmly of the Left.
“By far the most popular and widely read newspapers at the BBC are The Guardian and The Independent. Producers refer to them routinely for the line to take on running stories, and for inspiration on which items to cover. In the later stages of my career, I lost count of the number of times I asked a producer for a brief on a story, only to be handed a copy of The Guardian and told ‘it’s all in there’.”