Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation was almost banned on TV

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On June 2, 1953, Elizabeth II was sworn in as Queen of England. At just 25, she prematurely transitioned from princess to queen after the untimely death of her father, King George VI. His coronation 17 years ago was the first to be broadcast live on radio, and the assumption was that Queen Elizabeth’s coronation would be similarly broadcast live via the latest innovation of the time: television.

Just as Nikola Tesla predicted in 1926 when he envisioned: “We will be able to witness and hear events – the inauguration of a President… as if they were present.” The coronation could now be witnessed not only by royals and nobles but also by ordinary Britons as if they were present at Westminster Abbey.

It was the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip, who suggested televising the coronation as one of his first recommendations as royal consort. He considered this an important step in modernizing the monarchy and making it more accessible to its subjects. The proposal met with opposition, including from the Queen Mother and then Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, who believed:

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“It would be inappropriate to present the whole ceremony as a theatrical performance, not only in its secular but also in its religious and spiritual aspects.”

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Prince Philip’s suggestion was ignored, and on 20 October 1952 the Coronation Committee took the decision to ban live television cameras from the Coronation. The British public was not happy, and the ensuing controversy was described by one outlet as “one of the loudest controversies in years”.


Source: The British Newspaper Archive

The issue “cooked into a hot political stew” and the public outrage resulted in “letters pouring into newspaper editors vigorously protesting the ban”. In Parliament, 79 Labor Members tabled a motion on the issue. They criticized Sir Winston Churchill for not making clear the Conservative Party’s position on the issue.

Proponents of televising the coronation live saw it as a democratizing force, extending the right to see the highest officials anointed beyond high society and the good fortune of being a king by birth or marriage. Opponents said it would put undue pressure on the Queen and “detract from the dignity and religious nature of the event”.

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Source: The British Newspaper Archive

On October 28th Prime Minister Winston Churchill made a statement in Parliament on the subject:

“We hope that the principle that the world should see and hear what the congregation sees and hears in the abbey can be put into practice.”

Afterwards it was reported that the atmosphere in Parliament was “unhappy” and “excited” as Churchill knuckled his knee with “an expression of surprise and indignation that such a controversy should be introduced into the Queen’s coronation”. on his face. The Coronation Committee announced that it would convene a meeting the following week to discuss the matter.


Source: The British Newspaper Archive

On November 6, the Coronation Committee met to discuss the ban, giving hope to millions of Britons tuned in to tune in live. A month later, on December 8, she announced that the ban on televising the coronation had been lifted – with the blessing of the yet-to-be-crowned Queen Elizabeth.

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Source: The British Newspaper Archive

The announcement sparked a boom in TV sales across the UK and on the big day, 27 million people watched the ceremony and millions more in other countries. Nikola Tesla’s futuristic vision had come true, and Prince Philip’s desire for a more accessible and modern royal institution was fulfilled.

Television’s reputation would decline rapidly over the next half-century – from a marvel of modern invention to a base commodity with an addictive appeal. A prominent anti-television activist urged Prince Charles to ban television whenever possible at his inauguration, saying:

“The Queen’s coronation in 1953 had marked the beginning of widespread television in the UK, a television-free Charles coronation would have … a pleasing symmetry.”

The inauguration of King Charles III. is finally imminent and, as in 1953, the sacred ceremony will not be confined to British high society within the confines of Westminster Abbey; it will be accessible to billions of people around the world. Ironically, television will not be the primary medium through which it will be received – the internet will be – fitting for the heir to the throne of a monarch that was first head of state to send an email 1976

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