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King Charles and members of the Royal Family walk behind the coffin of Queen Elizabeth as they leave Westminster Abbey in London on Sept. 19.BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images

“Oh death, where is thy sting?” There was such precision and solemnity in the occasion, the Queen’s funeral service, but on TV it amounted to an almost enjoyable spectacle, an exaltation of ceremony and tradition.

A spider scuttled across the card in the flowers atop the coffin. A square of paper fell to the floor in Westminster Abbey. These random moments and unexpected images were briefly striking but only because everything else proceeded with such grace and stateliness. It was a unique TV event; visually sumptuous and strangely quiet. A grand solemn occasion unfolding in an era when we are used to seeing so much unruly spectacle on TV.

“It’s an extraordinary moment playing out before our very eyes,” said some pundit redundantly on CNN, some time before 6 a.m. ET. In fact, much of what followed in commentary was redundant because what was happening live had planned, precise meaning. Then, as the coffin moved into Westminster Abbey and the service began, almost everyone doing commentary on TV simply shut up, as they had to.

The service itself was visually spectacular, the aerial shots breathtaking. Even someone indifferent to church ritual and religion in general would have been impressed. The importance of ritual was profoundly obvious, with the readings, the hymns and the prayers amounting to a fastidious but rather warm farewell to the late monarch.

After the service, the talking started again on the various TV channels. The importance and meaning of the crown, orb and sceptre on the Queen’s coffin was explained more times than anyone could possibly want to hear, but that’s just part of TV coverage on such occasions – filling time with observations from the inane to the interesting.

  • King Charles III, left, watches as The Lord Chamberlain Baron Parker breaks his Wand of Office, marking the end of his service to the sovereign, during a committal service for Queen Elizabeth.Joe Giddens/The Associated Press

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In a Canadian TV context, the event had a piquancy. Lisa LaFlamme, so recently of CTV, and the subject of the biggest news story of the summer, was there as a special correspondent for CITY-TV. And there she was on the screen, in her grey-haired glory and that distinctive voice. She sure has presence, it can’t be denied, and in her coverage – on Monday and the days before – seemed to be enjoying herself.

Her replacement on CTV National News, Omar Sachedina, was less visible on-camera and seemed to be fulfilling the chief anchor role as a voice, with quiet commentary – “This is an important grieving process.” – and garnering insight from the small army of “royal experts” employed by every TV channel in the world.

CBC’s coverage, led by Adrienne Arsenault, had a relaxed feel to it, and also featured a nifty little scoop. A CBC reporter found a charming couple waiting near Windsor Castle, who had flown in from Nelson, B.C., mainly because the wife was a Girl Guide, as the Queen was. The husband wore a plaid shirt over what appeared to be a Tragically Hip T-shirt. It was as Canadian as all get-out.

What most of the TV coverage seemed to understand intuitively was the sheer force of the visuals; the hearse proceeding down the near-empty streets, the various members of the British armed forces working with military precision in every step of the proceedings. Watching it all, you couldn’t help but realize that the formality and the intense public interest was less about fealty to the monarchy than it was about the observance of custom and ceremony on a very rare occasion – the death of a long-serving monarch.

Of course, there were hours of prattle. At one point on CNN, Don Lemon observed, “You can see some military with their heads down, of course some others with their backs turned, that’s the security, which makes sense I guess, still probably a mark of respect though.” Lisa LaFlamme exclaimed one point, “Look at the fall colours!” Yeah, we could see the fall colours very clearly on our screens already. But there is little point in judging the chatter with disdain. Time had to be filled and a watching public expects some kind of commentary.

On Monday morning, the meaning of the monarchy was clearer. And for once the coverage didn’t amount to soap-opera tattle about rich, famous people with royal titles. It was about the public’s need for solemn spectacle at a time when so much of what we seen on TV is chaotic, obnoxious or anchored in ego and divisiveness. The pomp and spectacle of English tradition was explained, and revealed itself as having meaning, if only for a day and for this occasion. All you had to do was look at the images. You didn’t have to feel emotionally moved, you only had to observe the majestic ceremony of it all.