The Queen's Coronation

04/06/2013  -  10.13

Paul Brighton, Head of Department of Media and Film

The Queen's Coronation

I was born in 1959, and, like most people of my age group, can remember watching the big Royal media events of the 1960s and 70s: the “Royal Family” documentary of 1969, followed by the Investiture of Prince Charles (clustered round the school TV set at St Michael’s Primary in Tettenhall). Then came the wedding of Princess Anne and Mark Phillips in 1973, and the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977. But I was always conscious of having missed The Big One: the Queen’s Coronation of 1953.

I remember the family stories of Mum and Dad claiming their places on my grandparents’ settee in Wolverhampton to watch this strangely shaped box on the other side of the front room flickering uncertainly on a June morning in 1953. Great Auntie Violet came from a few doors down, and Uncle Joe and Auntie Vera popped round from the neighbouring street to join in. While others made do with the radio, my family were among the new media elite: watching this thing called television.

And now, at last, I’ve been able to join them – albeit sixty years late. The entire service and both processions – to and from the Abbey – were relayed on BBC Parliament on June 2, the sixtieth anniversary. And what a revelation it was!

There were no reporters in the crowd, asking vacuous questions. No panel of studio guests and “experts”. No so-called celebrities telling us what the Queen said when they picked up their gongs. No crossing over to assorted locations during the “boring” bits to “break it up” for the viewer. No endless repetitions of “Over to you, Sophie!” None of that. Just straight, well-informed, authoritative commentary on what we were seeing, from intelligent men and women, who never talked down to us. Yes, perhaps Richard Dimbleby was a bit reverential by 2013 standards. But Brian Johnston was there to redress the balance, sounding jovial even then, but never crossing the line into irreverence.

None of them appeared on screen. There was no presenter. This wasn’t about “TV personalities”. They knew they were only there at all on sufferance. Churchill, as Prime Minister, had been in favour of keeping to the pattern of George VI’s coronation: a purely radio event. That didn’t stop him milking the cameras during the procession: upstaged only by the two Queens: Salote of Tonga, and, of course, Elizabeth herself.

Having watched the full seven hours, I then tried out the radio output. BBC Radio 4 Extra rebroadcast the evening round-up from June 2, 1953. Here was a different world. Still reverential and respectful, but with lots of regional accents from all around Britain, plus link-ups around the world; complete with songs, impromptu good wishes, and an excitable reporter shouting that, yes, the Queen had now signalled that the beacons should be lit!

Radio was the mature, confident, accomplished medium. Television was the hesitant, polite, nervous guest, standing awkwardly at the Abbey door, clutching its hat, hating to intrude. But, oh, what a refreshing change! Over to you, Richard.