PRINCE Philip died just two months short of his 100th birthday, so missed out on a telegram from his wife.

It’s sad news for her and for the rest of his family, of course, and they deserve our sympathy. But it soon became clear that many felt the wall-to-wall coverage of tributes was excessive.

The BBC took the scheduled BBC1 and BBC2 programmes off air on Friday, as EastEnders, Gardeners’ World and the final of MasterChef were replaced with pre-recorded tributes.

And it was flooded with complaints. BBC2 lost two-thirds of its audience as a result. ITV also suffered a heavy drop in audience figures. The highest rated programme that evening, with 4.2 million viewers, was Gogglebox on Channel 4.

The national BBC radio stations also replaced their scheduled output. And the corporation received so many complaints that it had to open a dedicated form on its website to process them all.

It seems that the Beeb is being battered from both sides. While some complained about the coverage, a right-wing group called Defund the BBC said it was “disgraceful” that the corporation had set up a complaints form on its website in the first place.

So you are allowed to complain about the BBC output unless it’s about the death of a Royal Family member.

I imagine the BBC deliberately erred on the side of excess because it was accused of not appearing mournful enough when the Queen Mother died. This time it will have swung in the other direction – particularly now that it faces a hostile Government and a lot of Conservative MPs who want to axe the licence fee, breathing down its neck.

The BBC may or may not have got it wrong but it doesn’t have a set of instructions on how to handle a royal death.

The Government, however, does. Each family member has a code name and a set of details attached for what to do when they die. Prince Philip’s codename is Operation Forth Bridge – a reference to his title as Duke of Edinburgh.

Flags remain at half-mast until the official period of mourning ends with his funeral tomorrow.

I may not be the country’s most devoted supporter of the monarchy; I look forward to the day that it’s abolished and the Windsor family are set free. But I had a certain regard for Prince Philip.

He is remembered for his “gaffes” – the ill-judged or blunt comments that bordered on the offensive. They would have got him sacked from any other job, but in his case they were indulged as adding to the gaiety of the nation.

There was also the hypocrisy of the enthusiastic hunter who became president of the World Wildlife Fund. There’s a famous photo from an official trip to India in 1961 – the year he was appointed to the role – standing behind an 8ft tiger he had shot.

But there’s one overall reason he deserves to be remembered and celebrated, like many men in their 90s across the country. Philip repeatedly risked his life in the Royal Navy fighting for the Allies.

On the domestic front there were some other positives, if less heroic ones.

He set up the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme. He established informal palace lunches, inviting guests from a variety of backgrounds, and broadened invitations to royal garden parties.

And in 1958 he did away with the archaic practice of presenting “debutantes” at court.

It was the meat market in which young aristocratic or upper-class women who had turned 18 were displayed to eligible bachelors from the same select circle.

The 1969 TV documentary showing the royals at home is sometimes blamed for whetting the appetite of the media for more details of their lives. But it was Philip’s idea, as a way of giving them a more modern air.

The Queen relied on his advice for many of the big decisions, including finally agreeing to pay income tax, abolishing the royal yacht Britannia, and her letter to Charles and Diana suggesting an early divorce.

And yet the sad thing is that he never got to lead the life he wanted to. He was a career sailor yet have to give up the job loved when his wife became queen.

In an interview in 1993, Philip admitted: “It wasn’t my ambition to be president of the Mint Advisory Committee. I didn’t want to be president of the WWF. I’d much rather have stayed in the Navy, frankly.”

He would have been able to do so, and achieve his real ambition of becoming an admiral, in a Republic of Britain.