When Britain’s longest-serving monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, is pronounced dead, a message will be sent across secure lines saying simply: “London Bridge is down.” It will be the signal for 10 days of meticulously planned mourning.
Although the vast majority of Britons have never known a world without Elizabeth, now 90, as their monarch, officials and news organizations have been working for years to ensure that they will not be caught off guard by her death. The operation code-named “London Bridge” has been in place since the 1960s, and since the turn of the century has been updated two or three times a year, according to an investigation by The Guardian published Thursday.
Unlike when Britain’s last monarch died in 1952, the news will this time will get out in a matter of minutes rather than hours. However, strict protocols remain in place. After the British Prime Minister is informed, the 15 other governments where the queen is the head of state will be notified, followed by the heads of the remaining Commonwealth nations.
The BBC will no longer get the privilege of being the news organization informed first, but the state broadcaster has still made extensive plans. When news of the queen’s death comes through, the broadcaster will activate the Cold-War-era Radio Alarm Transmission System. The acronym RATS, however, has, to some in the organization, come to mean “royal about to snuff it,” according to the report.
Commercial broadcasters ITV and Sky News have also held regular rehearsals for the aftermath of the queen’s death, substituting the name “Mrs. Robinson” for the sovereign’s so as to not cause alarm. A warning as to what can happen when rehearsals are not kept under wraps occurred in 2015 when a BBC reporter, overhearing a rehearsal, falsely believed that the queen’s death was real, and tweeted out the news.
According to the Guardian report, following her death, the queen’s coffin will be taken to the throne room in Buckingham Palace, where it will be held for four days before being transferred to Westminster Hall. There it will lie in state for four days until her funeral, featuring up to 10,000 guests, will be held at Westminster Abbey.
It has previously been reported that the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton was also used as a dress rehearsal for the route the queen’s coffin would take in London.
Of course, while the country is mourning the loss of its hugely popular queen, it will also be welcoming a new king. Charles, who has already spent more time as the heir to the throne than anyone in the country’s history, will be king the moment the queen is pronounced dead. The formal proclamation will take place as soon as the following evening.
“There are really two things happening,” one of Charles’ advisers told The Guardian. “There is the demise of a sovereign and then there is the making of a king.”
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