ALEXANDRA PALACE TELEVISION SOCIETY

 

2 June 1953 - Coronation Day

 

 

In most parts of the country, in the towns and cities, streets were deserted on the morning of Coronation Day, 2 June 1953. In the residential quarters, and in the suburbs, groups of cars were parked, here and there, in the silent roads. They stood outside houses where the 'H' aerial of TV had drawn neighbours and friends inside - to take part in what became, as hour passed hour, the greatest day of viewing in television's short and remarkable history.

That day the TV audience, for the first time, was almost double sound radio audience. Of the adult population of Britain, numbering about 36,500,000, fifty-six per cent watched the Coronation on TV - 20,400,000 viewers. Sound radio had 11,700,000 listeners.

In the longest-established TV areas the TV audience exceeded the listening one to an even greater extent; in London and the Midlands there were three times as many viewers as listeners. More than half the viewers all over the country watched in the homes of friends. About a million and a half watched big-screen relays in cinemas and other public places.

As befits the coming generation, two hundred children saw the Coronation procession by the TV of the future - in colour. They were at the Great Ormand Street Hospital in London. By closed-circuit they received pictures from three TV colour cameras overlooking Parliament Square.

The first real throb of Coronation excitement came to viewers on the eve of Coronation Day. Cameras stationed at the Victoria Memorial, at the head of the mall, opposite Buckingham Palace, showed the unbroken line of pavement squatters preparing to spend the night in the open. Barrie Edgar interviewed some of them - including an Australian family which had sailed all the way in a ketch to see the Coronation, and a Swiss Alpine guide.

On Coronation Day morning, Sylvia Peters, looking happy and elegantly though quietly gowned, opened the historic transmission. Three cameras at the Victoria Memorial then showed the procession leaving the Palace. Surprisingly quickly came the viewers' first view of Queen Elizabeth on her Coronation Day. In close-up, the gold-encrusted window of her coach was held in a long pan of what seemed to mount to thrilling minutes, as she smiled beautifully and happily on her people. Wisely, commentators Berkeley Smith and Chester Wilmot let this exciting picture tell its own story. No words of theirs could have aided either the privileged intimacy or the beauty of that TV moment.

On the Victoria Embankment, Max Robertson, beside three more cameras, found himself shouting against the full-throated cheering of thirty-thousand school children, as the Queen passed on her way. Then, high on the massive, covered stands opposite the specially built Annexe to Westminster Abbey, two cameras picked up the unfolding story at its first crescendo - as the Queen's procession arrived at the historic place of Coronation. Here Michael Henderson and Mary Hill assisted the rapid flow of exciting pictures by which viewers saw royalty, statesman and dignitaries arrive at the Abbey. A third camera, perched precariously on the slated roof of an eight-story building, helped; while yet another, inside the Annexe door, gave glimpses of the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret stepping from the coach.

Now it was the turn of TV's men inside the Abbey. In a cubicle perched high in the Triforium, directly overlooking the Coronation Theatre, Richard Dimbleby took up the great story. Beside him was one of four cameras placed discreetly inside the Abbey, occupying such small spaces that their attendant cameramen had been chosen for their slightness of build.

A camera over the West Door surveyed the Nave as the procession of royal and ecclesiastical splendour moved towards the place of the historic ceremony. Two more cameras watched the Theatre from the organ screen and South Transept. In a special TV control room, raised adjacent to the Abbey's outer wall, Peter Dimmock took up the task he performed with such faultless sensitivity - the mixing of these cameras' pictures into a rhythmic pattern of sympathetic interpretation.

Of that Coronation ceremony every viewer must hold his own special memories. The screen's framing of Queen Elizabeth, full length, to the cry of "Vivat Regina!" The shot of shoulders and head as she replied "I am willing" to the Archbishop's query: "Madam, is Your Majesty willing to take the Oath?" The tactful watch of cameras as she turned the pages in her copy of the order of service. The screen filled again with the slight and solemn figure as she was divested of bejewelled ornament. The glimpse of little page-boys carrying in coronets as the moment of crowning neared. The camera's capture of the Queen Mother tenderly bending over the peeping, curious child, Prince Charles. The Duke of Edinburgh's proud and serious mien as he approached to do homage to his wife, that day so much a Queen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coronation Route

These incidents were etched, one by one, on a nation's mind. As TV so fittingly found the way to do its rightful duty to religion, tradition, Queen and people, it brought a new experience of national unity into life. And as the great procession moved back to Buckingham Palace, past three more cameras in Hyde Park, still came the revealing glimpses of human idiosyncrasy within the ordered pageantry. The newly crowned Queen'simple, white handbag, on the seat before her within the golden coach. The joyous defiance of pelting rain by Salote, Queen of Tonga, in her open carriage. The long-held, wheeling close-up again, as the Queen smiled from the coach window on entering the Palace. The inquisitive outreach of the young Prince Charles's hand to the golden Armill, still about the Queen's wrist, as they stood on the balcony.

And later still, by stroke of most fitting genius, TV took viewers back to the Abbey, to look down on the emptied Coronation Theatre, quite in such tremendous memories - an epilogue sublime, touching and human as had been the great day itself.

The significance of televising the Coronation of Elizabeth II will be scored in the history of TV, as it is written coolly and objectively in the years to come. The Archbishop of Canterbury himself admitted that the televising of the Abbey ceremony had assured him at least of TV's appropriateness at times of religious observance. Of the Coronation Service, as seen by viewers, Dr J W C Wand, Bishop of London, said: "I do not suppose there has been so great a stirring of the religious imagination of our country since the time of the First Crusade. I cannot help feeling we may now have the possibility of raising the whole standard of worship in a way not possible before."

A million people at least saw the Coronation in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and West Germany. In the United States viewers watched telefilms, flown first by helicopter from Alexandra Palace to London Airport, thence in relays by Canberra jet-bombers.

In the two months preceding the Coronation more TV sets were bought than in any other two months. At least two and a half million sets were in use - giving TV in 1953 a family audience of about eight million people. To say that the Coronation put TV on the map is trite. On 2 June 1953, TV unleashed a binding power through the nation, the significance of which to national life, at times of joy or of strife, is going to be immense and historically important.

 

The relaying of the Coronation Broadcast in France, Holland, and West Germany was looked upon by the BBC as a project of great importance, and the most careful preparations and tests were made during the preceding six months. To make this technically possible was no easy matter because between the countries concerned there was no existing connection suitable for conveying television signals. Furthermore, all three countries have television standards which differ from those of Great Britain. However, the experience gained in July 1952 when a temporary television link was established between Paris and London suggested that similar methods might be adopted on a more extensive scale. At the time the problem of converting the French 819-line signals to the British 405-line standard was successfully solved by using the converter equipment developed by the BBC Engineering Research Department. It was thought that the same general principles might be successfully applied in converting the BBC 405-line signal to the 819-line standard used in France, and to the 625-line standard used in Holland and Germany.

Tests extending over a week were carried out in April, and showed that acceptable pictures could be transmitted at least as far as Hamburg by temporary radio links and standards conversion equipment. The plan adopted for 2 June was to convey the vision signals by three radio links in tandem from London to Dover. A further radio link carried them to a point on the French coast near Cap Blanc Nex and, since there was some likelihood of serious fading occurring owing to the transmission path being over water, special precautions were taken to minimize this. The method adopted was a form of 'diversity' reception using, on the French site, two receivers connected to aerials mounted some fifteen feet apart in a vertical plane. It had been found during tests on an experimental link previously set up that when the signal received by one aerial was subject to fading, that of the other was steady; thus one fading-free signal was always available. From Cap Blanc Nez the signals were conveyed by a further radio link to Mont Cassel in Northern France, and from there to Paris over a radio link provided by the French Post Office. These signals, still on the British 405-line standard, were fed via a 405-line/819-line converter to the 819-line transmitters at Paris and Lille. The French authorities also provided a direct link from Mont Cassel to Lille for the 405-line signals. The Belgian and Dutch Broadcasting Authorities made arrangements to relay the signals across Belgium to Breda, in Holland, where the conversion from 405-line to the 625-line standard was carried out. The output from the converter at Breda was used to supply the Dutch television stations at Lopik and Eindhoven, and was also fed to Germany by a series of radio links as far as Wuppertal where it joined up with the German television network. By this means it was broadcast by all the television stations in the British Zone of Germany.

For the sound accompaniment, the whole of the Abbey service and 'effects' from sites along the processional routes were made available by line to the three countries. Also available in Paris was a commentary in French from the Abbey given by a commentator of Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française in the Triforium, who served both the French sound and television services. French commentators were also stationed alongside the British commentators at the Victoria Memorial, Hyde Park, and Colonial Office sites, and they spoke through independent microphones and circuits to a control point established at Broadcasting House and thence by line to Paris. It was not possible to make such elaborate arrangements for Dutch and German broadcasters; in Holland and in Germany, commentators gave their commentaries while watching the pictures on television screens in their own countries. Each commentary was superimposed locally on the sounds of the Abbey service and on 'effects' from the microphones along the processional route. These Dutch and German commentators had visited London shortly before Coronation Day, and had been thoroughly briefed and made familiar with the route of the Procession.

 

 

 

 

The BBC had arranged, with the co-operation of the RAF, to fly telerecordings - that is to say, recordings on film of the television broadcast - to Canada in three stages during the day. This arrangement - "Operation Pony Express" - functioned perfectly. The film recordings were flown across the Atlantic in three Canberra jet bombers which left London Airport at 1.30, 3.15 and 6.20 pm. Each Canberra took a little over five hours to reach its destination and at 4.15 pm, local time, a full telerecording of the BBC Television Programme was broadcast by television stations in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal. Two of the major United States television networks, the NBC and the ABC, also took this programme via a television link from Montreal to Buffalo. Another major American network, CBS, broadcast its own telerecording of the BBC programme, which had been flown across the Atlantic by the Canberras and then flown on to Boston. Later in the day, NBC switched over to their own telerecording which had also been flown over.

It is estimated that over two million people in Canada and some eighty-five million all over the USA watched the Coronation on television. Approximately 80,000 feet of cinematography film was used for BBC telerecordings. Recordings of the sound broadcast required 3,400 12-in disks and some 250 disks of other sizes, as well as 200 reels (approximately 85 miles) of magnetic tape.

The special Coronation number of Radio Times sold over nine million copies.

Taken from "The Television Annual for 1954"

"The moment of the Queen's Crowning has come"

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