TeaThe last time Britain had a coronation in 1953, no one said “Britain Is Broken”. The country was class-obsessed, institutionalized and brutally homophobic – Same for the likes of John Gielgud and Alan Turing — sexist, bizarrely monocultural and unequal.
Millions lived in slums, in what we now consider to be abject poverty. The country was burdened with wartime debt. What’s more, apart from the odd splash of royal glamour, Britain was a dreary, sour, dull and gray kind of place. The food was terrible. Hardly anyone owned a motor car, and an exotic holiday was the preserve of the wealthy.
Home ownership, bank accounts and a university education were for some, not for many. hanging was still a criminal punishment, and The Judicial Murder of Timothy Evans A Recent Act,
Still, no one considered the place gloomy.
far from it. To borrow another popular phrase from 2023, we had nothing but ecstasy — and were wildly optimistic to boot. Britain still had most of its empire, all of its Commonwealth, and considered itself the third largest power in the world after the United States and the Soviet Union.
With Winston Churchill back at No. 10, it confirmed that Great Britain was still a great global power. The project that we now know as the European Union was just beginning. Britain wished it well, but there was no need for it. Britain detonated its first atomic bomb in 1952. Only a decade earlier, after all, the country had “stood alone”, and endured its finest hour in the face of Nazi Germany. The coronation of 1953 seemed a good moment to remind us of that. Britain is once again looking for the role.
Although there is some coincidence, the fact that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay conquered Everest on the morning of 2 June 1953 – Coronation Day – seemed an apt metaphor. The “new Elizabethan era” had a sense of a new beginning, not an end. Just as the earlier Elizabethan era had its privateers and outlaws, explorers and traders, and boasted innovations such as tobacco and the potato, so too would the new Elizabethan era, whose horizons would be set in science and outer space.
Queen Elizabeth II herself had something to say about this in her Christmas message in 1953:
“Some have expressed the hope that my reign may mark a new Elizabethan era. Frankly I do not feel like my great Tudor ancestor, who was blessed with neither husband nor children, who ruled as a despot and was never able to leave his native shores.
“But there is at least one very important similarity between her and my age. Though small and poor in comparison with her European neighbors her kingdom was great in spirit and well endowed with men who were able to encircle the earth.” were ready for
“Now, this great Commonwealth, of which I am so proud to be the head, and of which that ancient kingdom is a part, though rich in material resources, is yet rich in the enterprise and courage of its people.
“Those daring heroes of Tudor and Stuart times did not realize what would develop from the settlements they and later pioneers established. The empire they built spanned nations never seen before. A worldwide association of
Never a political party, the new queen did not express views on other improvements in the condition of her subjects. The welfare state was established and the NHS was comprehensive and free at the point of delivery. Only a few years ago if you didn’t have private insurance or could afford the fees, you couldn’t see a doctor unless they were willing to do a consultation for free.
Large, roomy council houses were being built of a good standard. We enjoyed full employment. Deliberately growing business, the era of austerity was soon to give way to the era of “never had it been so good”. Britain had the great technological wonders of the era: passenger jets, the oldest computers, nuclear power, and of course, television. Britain was the leader in all of them.
the queen was crowned first televised And the event greatly boosted TV sales and rentals, because that monochrome thing in the corner of the lounge was so expensive. This enabled a British family to sit at home hundreds of miles from Westminster Abbey and watch this magnificent ancient ceremony as it more or less went on for centuries.
Britain was soon to become a television society, and one where the monarchy, like politicians and everyone else, had to face Harold Macmillan, then an aspiring minister for housing with a target of 300,000 new homes per year, with what the latter called “the warm, probing eye of the camera, these monstrous machines and their attendants”.
This brave new world made room for its young Queen and her modern-day husband Prince Philip (who, by the way, made sure the BBC was allowed into the Abbey. He himself, along with the Queen, Churchill and the Archbishop of Canterbury) were against, who thought that people watching at home “over their coffee cups” would belittle the dignity of the proceedings).
The event was covered by European networks and a few years before satellite could do the same across the Atlantic, US networks were allowed to “telerecord” the broadcast and stream it to the US. Around 27 million people in the UK, with only around 3 million television sets, watched their monarch’s coronation. The introduction of the mass adoption of television was the first achievement of the new Elizabethan era.
As people watched he felt a personal connection with the sacred service, which is less prevalent today. However, even leftist intellectuals of the time had to accept the mystique of the House of Windsor. Light had not yet been allowed to illuminate the magic of the monarchy, only to dispel it.
On coronation day in 1953, academic, MP and future Labor cabinet minister Richard Crossman recorded this in his diary: “There is no doubt about the enormous technical prowess of television performance … comparing notes with those MPs Those who chose to go to the Abbey, or to sit outside in the stands by the House of Commons, found that everyone was certain that they had had the best of it, because, curiously, everyone felt that it was a wonderful show, Wherever they were and whatever they were doing.
“But I don’t think there can be any doubt that those who stayed at home watched more, although, of course, they lost the color and sense of the crowd. My own feeling was that the ceremony was more in keeping with modern democracy.” out of sorts, but it is clearly shared by at least a small number of people, because those who are against it are against it in principle, and those who are for it are completely unconstitutional.”
The Britain of 2023 is in many ways the opposite of 1953. It is clearly a richer, more open, tolerant and diverse society. The food is miles better. You can buy whatever you want, whenever you want. But are we happy? barely.
Moreover, as far as the monarchy is concerned, the age of respectability is long gone.
Successive scandals, not least the ones involving the now king and queen consort, have eroded trust and respect for the institution. It’s a sorry and sometimes sordid leela of affairs, broken marriages, betrayals and outright immorality. We remember, with trepidation, the televised adultery confessions of Charles and then Princess Diana. The allegations leveled against her disastrous interview with Prince Andrew and Emily Maitlis, when she tried to convince the world that she didn’t sweat. Prince Harry’s terrible behavior and allegations of racism towards Meghan, Duchess of Sussex were shameful.
The family’s seemingly cold response to Diana’s death in 1997 was perhaps the lowest point of the Queen’s reign, a moment when her infallible sense of public expectation deserted her.
That entire history has damaged the institution in ways that would have been unimaginable in 1953. A section of the British public in those days believed that the Queen had been born through a divine delivery. This was bound to change, and the media bound to become more intrusive as the public demanded more and more outrageous stories. Yet there was nothing so inevitable about how Windsor dressed herself.
Perhaps God really does protect them – from themselves as well as from the machinations of their enemies. Despite some bleak predictions about youth apathy and their own unwitting efforts, Britain’s monarchy is not broken. Borrow some of the optimism of the 1950s: Maybe even the country is improving.