Diana remembered on the BBC - nine years on from the 'One Year On' special

 by Martin Belam, 27 August 2007

Over the next couple of days there will be acres of print, air time and online space dedicated to the anniversary of the death of just one of the 30,000 or so British people killed in road accidents in the last ten years.

Since we'll be wallowing in forced nostalgia for the nineties, I thought I'd look back at how the first anniversary of Diana's death was covered online by the BBC in 1998.

The fledgling online service followed up 1997's special Diana Remembered microsite with Diana: One Year On.


Until earlier this year you could still access the one year anniversary site with the simple short-cut URL bbc.co.uk/diana, but in June that started producing a 403 Forbidden error, presumably as the BBC geared up to produce online material for the tenth anniversary with the same easy to remember address.


Like the site that covered Diana's death the year before, the "One Year On" website aimed to solicit user comments.

There were those who saw it as a defining moment from all around the world:

"I will always remember being in London at that time - a singular moment in history." - Portland, Oregon

"When I think of the funeral I think of ... an overwhelming silence amidst the thousands and thousands of people, all sharing their grief." - Marseilles, France

However, in contrast to the previous year, this time, rather than a constant stream of platitudes, the BBC received some views that reflected misgivings about the whole public response to the affair.

"Perhaps the nation had been subconsciously seeking a Messiah ..This, I think, is what we witnessed a year ago, and as a nation it should continue to worry us." - London, England

"I think I over-reacted! I find her brother's speech embarrassing now but then I agreed with every word!" - Singapore

"Diana was not the answer. But her fans could not see beyond this. The public should put their obsession with her to rest." - Toronto, Canada

This contributor from Taiwan back in 1998 best summed up my continued thoughts on the general public response to Diana's death.

"If I mourned so deeply for a woman I'd never known, oughtn't I to strive to know and care for others who are much nearer to my own sphere?"

Commentators this year may find it hard to criticize the national hysteria and media frenzy as a cultural product of society in the 1990s, given the continued public furore over the Madeleine McCann case.

One interesting thing to note about the "Diana: One Year On" site from a technical point of view was that it was clearly built on the same platform that had been powering the BBC's 1998 World Cup site a couple of months previously. In fact the cgiemail script that submitted the public's response to the BBC was even housed in the /worldcup/ directory, as this chunk of source code from the site shows.


As well as viewer contributions, the site also contained a daily published Q & A session with Royal experts like Jennie Bond and The Sun's Arthur Edwards.


The commemorative site also included early BBC multimedia online, with a picture gallery, and streaming video of the interview Diana did with BBC that revealed a lot of the secrets of the unhappy royal marriage.


I'm not entirely convinced by the design decision to make the funeral procession look like the cast of Reservoir Dogs though - a trick previously used by the BBC Online for Gordon Brown's first budget in 1997.

Another section of the "Diana: One Year On" site focused on newspaper reaction to the death and the unfolding story as the funeral approached. It has a great gallery of front pages depicting things like the way The Mirror's coverage morphed during the early hours of the morning. Their first edition headline was "Dodi Spice", revealing their relationship. This eventually transformed into "Diana Dead"


This section also includes my favourite quote from the site:

Saturday September 6
Mother Teresa dies of a heart attack but the story garners little front-page attention. The tabloids focus on Prince William's tribute: "My mother would be so proud"

I assume he wasn't suggesting that she'd be proud of having come out on top in the battle of the saints for tabloid attention.

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