Therefore, we are alert to the latest news from Windsor Castle. Queen Elizabeth II has captured the headlines with the launch of the year-long Diamond Jubilee, feting her as the longest ruling British monarch. Elizabeth assumed the throne Feb. 6, 1952 when her father King George VI died of lung cancer at Sandringham Castle.
Then 25, Elizabeth was vacationing in Kenya with husband Philip and family when the tragic news of her father’s death arrived. She was hustled home as Parliament and her new subjects in the Empire swore fealty to the new Queen.
A personal connection to England at the time included a long-time family friend. She was a U. S. Air Force wife living in Ramsgate Kent, outside London. She introduced my brother Harry Covert to a teenage acquaintance. They struck up a pen pal relationship.
The long-distance friendship yielded a commemorative book, “The Queen Elizabeth Coronation Souvenir,” recording the elaborate rite in June 1953. It revealed a Walt Disney-like window into the world of British aristocracy, which continues to dazzle us plebian Colonists. In addition to a narrative account of the event, the book includes roto-gravure color and black and white prints of Elizabeth, the family and coronation from beginning to end. Its life on the book shelf reveals yellowed edges and the evidence of frequent use.
Arrival of the book came some months after the marathon event, which was broadcast live by British Broadcasting Corporation. American audiences had to wait several hours for the ABC and NBC broadcasts, which came via hookup with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
The BBC telecast was recorded on kinescope film at Heathrow Airport, then put aboard aircraft and flown to Gander, Newfoundland, thence to Montreal, where American television networks could tap the feed and broadcast nationwide.
It certainly did not compare to today’s high definition transmission on flat screen monitors, but it was a curious and historic broadcast. BBC reported 20 million people watched the broadcast, which was transmitted in 44 languages.
Our black and white, 16-inch Admiral Console television became an amazing household appliance that day. Despite the irritating signal interference from our Norfolk, Va., broadcast station, television suddenly overshadowed Howdy Doody, Hopalong Cassidy and the Friday night fights. History and tradition exploded on our little window on the world.
We watched as the rain fell on the endless procession of military units escorting Elizabeth and the Royal Family between Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey.
Although Elizabeth ascended to the throne the moment of her father’s death, the formal coronation of Elizabeth did not occur until 16 months later. Tradition dictated an appropriate period of mourning for the deceased King George VI.
Hundreds of thousands lined the streets of London that day, while Westminster Abbey hosted an overflowing assembly of the world’s elite. They witnessed Elizabeth seated in her Chair of Estate as the Archbishop of Canterbury placed the historic St. Edward’s Crown on her head. He had presented the royal Orb, reminding her, “…the whole world is subject to the power and empire of Christ our Redeemer….” Elizabeth then received the Scepter in her right hand, “The ensign of kingly power and justice.”
I was a few days from my ninth birthday when Elizabeth succeeded her father. Time has not dimmed the wonder of the 1953 coronation broadcast, nor the elaborate rite that marked Elizabeth’s ascension to a throne dating to the English and Scottish monarchs circa 1000. The book remains a treasured possession.—©Norman M. Covert 2012
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