The date for the Queen’s coronation, 2 June 1953, had been set sixteen months before. Elizabeth installed Prince Philip as Chairman of the Coronation Commission, a committee which oversaw the preparations in their entirety.
Given the complexity of an event like this, it is hardly surprising that problems and arguments abounded from the outset, not least of which was a protracted debate regarding the relative merits, or lack thereof, of allowing television cameras to broadcast the ceremony.
It had already been agreed that the ceremony would be transmitted to Britain’s eleven million radio sets, and to another several hundred thousand listeners internationally. In addition, various newsreel companies, such as British Pathé, were permitted to record the event, which would subsequently be shown to an estimated 350-million strong audience in cinemas across the globe.
But a live television broadcast was an altogether different story. Many, including Elizabeth herself, feared that without the benefit of editing, television cameras would shine a rather unforgiving light on the ceremony, picking up any slip or mistake the Queen might make during the long and difficult service. The extent of the opposition was such that, despite heavy lobbying from the BBC, the organisers decided not to permit a televisual broadcast of any kind.
Outcry and compromise
But when it was announced, on 20 October 1952, that this new medium would be playing no part in the Coronation, the outcry was immediate. Backed by the press, and of course the Chairman of the BBC, the chorus of public disapproval put significant pressure on the authorities, and forced a re-think of the issue.
Eventually, a compromise was reached – the BBC would be allowed to film most of the ceremony, with certain exceptions (which included the anointing and the taking of Communion), while close-up shots of the Queen were prohibited entirely.
This lifting of the television ban upped the ante for many of the main players, but especially for Elizabeth, who would now be under immense pressure to ‘get it right’ under the unrelenting gaze of the cameras.
And, in response, the ever-diligent Queen certainly rose to the challenge. In the run-up to the event, she spent countless hours practising every aspect of the ceremony. Indeed, Elizabeth could often been seen pacing slowly up and down the ballroom of Buckingham Palace, counting her steps, with heavy sheets pinned to her shoulders to emulate the train of the Coronation Robes. She was even known to wear the Imperial State Crown as she went about her daily business so that she could grow accustomed to its weight!
When the big day finally dawned, the Queen, true to form, executed her role almost flawlessly. Witnessed by some 7,500 guests (with David, the erstwhile Edward VIII, being conspicuous by his absence), she hardly wavered throughout the three-hour ceremony. While Prince Philip swore to be her “liege man of life and limb”, Elizabeth pledged her life to the service of God and her country, and did so with such an intense solemnity that nobody could have been in any doubt about the depth of her commitment to the role she had been called upon to perform.
And when she finally emerged from the Abbey, resplendent in a white silk gown and sumptuous purple velvet robes, one thing seemed certain – at just 27 years of age and in perfect health, her reign (unlike those of her father and uncle) was not going to be a short one.
Queen Elizabeth II was here to stay.