A Brief Primer on the Secret Codenames Used When Royals Die

Leena Kim
·3 min read
Photo credit: Colin McPherson - Getty Images
Photo credit: Colin McPherson - Getty Images

From Town & Country

Perhaps one of the travails of being an extremely famous and very, very important individual—like, say, a senior member of the royal family—is that you're forced to plan your funeral way in advance. The Queen and her palace officials have been planning hers since the 1960s, and meetings are held to refine and rehearse these plans several times a year.

As ominous as this may seem, it's really for logistical purposes. A person as prominent as the Queen will attract a staggering number of mourners when she passes away, and her funeral will be as much an affair for honoring her remarkable life as it will be a global event that must be flawlessly executed by a team that includes the government, the Church of England, the British Armed Forces, the Metropolitan Police Service, the Royal Parks, all 32 London boroughs, City Hall, Transport for London, and the media.

Photo credit: E. Round - Getty Images
Photo credit: E. Round - Getty Images

Obviously, when she dies, Her Majesty's private secretary (the one who must officially start the chain of delivering the news to all relevant governments and parties) can't simply call the prime minister and say, "Queen Elizabeth is dead." They must speak in code. In her case, the funeral plan is "Operation London Bridge," and news of her death will be relayed as "London Bridge is down."

Viewers of The Crown get a glimpse into these protocols for senior-level royals this season, when Prince Charles gets caught in an avalanche on a ski holiday and is thought to be dead—this triggers his designated post-mortem codename, "Operation Menai Bridge" (named for a suspension bridge in Wales).

Photo credit: Tim Graham - Getty Images
Photo credit: Tim Graham - Getty Images

The event portrayed on screen is based on a real-life accident that did end in tragedy. In 1988, Prince Charles, Princess Diana, and Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, went on ski holiday with a group of friends to Klosters, Switzerland. On March 10, the Prince of Wales was on Gotschnagrat Mountain—home to the steepest slopes that are suitable only for experienced skiers and closed to the public—with a party that included Major Hugh Lindsay and Charles and Patricia Palmer-Tomkinson, along with a Swiss guide and police officer. (Princess Diana and the Duchess of York were at their chalet in Davos at the time.) An avalanche occurred, and while Prince Charles was able to avoid the tumbling mass of snow, Major Lindsay and Patricia Palmer-Tomkinson got trapped underneath. Palmer-Tomkinson survived with leg injuries, while Major Lindsay was killed. He had been a former equerry to the Queen and left behind a pregnant wife, who he had married just the year before. Local reports stated that Prince Charles was weeping on the helicopter that transported him off the slopes.

Photo credit: Tim Graham - Getty Images
Photo credit: Tim Graham - Getty Images

While it's unclear whether Buckingham Palace actually thought Prince Charles might have died—according to news reports, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were notified after the accident and Prince of Wales hadn't been injured or trapped in the avalanche—that is how The Crown portrays it, presumably using the event as an opportunity to weave these codenames into the narrative.

For anyone keeping track, here are the known secret codes for the rest of the royal family: King George VI's death was coded "Hyde Park Corner." Prince Philip's is "Operation Forth Bridge" (a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Edinburgh) and the Queen Mother's was "Operation Tay Bridge" (located in Dundee, Scotland). When Princess Diana died in 1997, her funeral was modeled after the Queen Mother's operation, even though the latter didn't die until 2002—that's because her funeral plan had been in rehearsals for 22 years before its occurrence.

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