Queen Elizabeth's Coronation Marked A Tremendous Change In The History Of The Post War World
Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation is the embodiment of postwar progress and modernity. At the time, for a 25-year-old to become a monarch, Elizabeth accomplished the unthinkable. With Britain going through a dreary, postwar phase, this moment gave the people exactly what they desperately needed. Some color, glamour, hope, and optimism that was so obviously missing. With the release of the BBC documentary that goes behind the scenes of the coronation, Hugh Costello talks about the day that Elizabeth II made history on June 2, 1953.
Queen Elizabeth II has broken the record and has become Britain’s longest-reigning monarch. This, of course, means that many people are too young to remember the Queen’s 1953 coronation. The only ones who might have any personal connection and recollection of the event are reaching their 70s, and even beyond that. By now, most of us have seen some blurry and grainy photos that were taken of the young, female monarch.
How the monarch's coronation had a lasting impact
Looking at these pictures, most people associate them the UK’s break from the past and into the new. The beginning of a decade full of rock’n’roll, and austerity taking over consumerism. It was a mark of progression and a time that seemed just like our own. However, ‘Crowning a Queen’, a former BBC Timewatch film, showed us that these associations are far from the truth. In reality, Queen Elizabeth’s legendary coronation took place before all the seismic shifts were finally felt in British society. Then-Timewatch editor John Farren commented on the situation, saying,
“The film gives us a snapshot of a country that is white, Christian and deferential. In many ways, it’s a completely different country from the one we live in now.”
The editor’s interest in the 1953 royal events was inspired by a previously filmed Timewatch movie.
“When we did The Greatest Storm, about the floods that killed hundreds of people [in January 1953], we realised that a sea change had happened in that year. It seems that was why the storm had been more or less obliterated from our memories.
People had had enough bad news, enough austerity. This was the beginning of the end of drab postwar life. A new, young queen offered a chance to have a celebration, for people to say ‘this is the dawn of a bright new era’.”
Eyewitness testimonies tell it all
Taking his team with him, Farren decided to begin his search for eyewitness testimony. The idea behind this was to “turn the usual programme-making approach on its head” and construct a film around the stories told by individuals who could recall the day. They had many people contact them with vivid vignettes. Farren shared:
“A lot of people recall driving to London and camping out overnight. The day itself was the wettest June day in living memory, which tends to stick in people’s minds. One family remember that after it was all over they couldn’t find their car. Another thing nearly everyone recalls is Hillary and Tenzing conquering Everest.”
The triumph already appeared in all the papers that same morning and was celebrated by the entire nation. James Hayes, the film’s producer, recollected what was typical from those personal recollections from a Watford couple. The pair was born around the same time as Queen Elizabeth and got married in the same year as well.
“In 1953 they were ordinary working-class people who slept overnight in the rain and waited for 20 hours just to see the carriage passing. Mrs Langley had very much aligned her life with that of the Queen. They had both married sailors, though in the Queen’s case it was an officer. And they had both been in the Girl Guides.”
What was happening behind the scenes
Aside from focusing all their attention on stories taken from the crowd, the producers also made an ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ picture of the actual event.
“We try to give a sense of what was happening backstage, the minutiae of how all of this was planned down to the very last detail,” Hayes added. The main theme they were trying to project is that while all the splendor was put on show, the country was going through a financially difficult time.
“Wellington Barracks [where Trooping the Colours begins] had had a paint job, but only on the facade – inside it was falling to pieces,” says Hayes. “Nobody had anything. It had been six years of war followed by eight years of deprivation, and this was everybody’s first opportunity to put colour back into their lives again.”
In addition to putting colour back into people’s lives, it was also the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the importance of the Commonwealth in everyday life. Even though the empire was on the wane, Britain still hadn’t accepted the reality of their situation - that they were no longer a world power (the painful revelation came with the Suez crisis, three years later).
Hitorian Wendy Webster wrote in BBC History Magazine on the coronation’s 50th anniversary, and noted that “the Commonwealth was not only seen as youthful by comparison with Britain as ‘the old country’, but also provided an idea of Britain as a moral and mature nation, willing to make the transition from empire to a multi-racial community of equal nations”.
Going on air changed the media forever
However, one of the biggest reasons that Queen Elizabeth’s 1953 coronation had such a huge impact on the British psyche, has to do with television. The event, in fact, marked the birth of television as a mass medium. Asa Briggs and Peter Burke comment on this fact in their book ‘A Social History of the Media’, added that whilst around two million television licenses were issued by the time, over 20 million had tuned in to watch the event. James Hayes added:
“People gathered around the first and only TV in their village, sets with tiny screens but huge aerials that flapped when aircraft went by. We found one story of a woman who’d polished all her furniture as if the Queen was actually coming into the room.”
Read more: Prince Charles Won't Automatically Be The Head of the Commonwealth Once He's King, And This Is The Reason Why.
Getting the coronation on air, however, was a hard task. The palace was absolutely terrified that airing the coronation would make the ceremony lose everything special about, its magic, and will make it become vulgar. Clearly, they didn’t recognize the PR benefits of TV during that time. Hayes commented on the situation:
“It was a battle that lasted six months. Many newspapers took the BBC’s side and argued that it should be a people’s coronation. But the resistance was there. It’s easy to forget now, but this was still an age of deference and privilege.”
Read more: Prince Charles Was Crying Before His Wedding Day, And Prince Harry May Not Be Charles’ Son.
We’ve come a long way since the monarch’s coronation, and Queen Elizabeth surely deserves a little bit of credit for the progress that’s been made! Which fact stunned you the most? Have you watched Elizabeth II’s coronation? Share your thoughts with us!
Sources: History Extra