The Queen’s Coronation on Camera

The Queen’s Coronation on Camera

Posted on June 2 by Carolyn Harris in News
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June 2, 2017 is the 64th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. In Season 1 of the Netflix series, The Crown, there is a dramatic scene where Elizabeth’s husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, argues that the Queen’s coronation should be shown on television so that audiences around the world could share in the event. As depicted in The Crown, there was substantial opposition to televising the coronation including skepticism from then Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

The Queen’s decision to allow the BBC television service to bring their cameras into Westminster Abbey gave the Commonwealth including Canada the opportunity to share in the celebrations. The coronation transformed the television from a curiosity to a household item. Hundreds of thousands of people purchased their first television set in the months preceding the broadcast. The friends and neighbours of these early adopters were introduced the new technology by attending coronation viewing parties, prompting a further spike in television sales in the months following the ceremony.

Coronation ceremonies had served as an opportunity to showcase new communication technologies before the accession of Elizabeth II. The first news story to be captured on film was Czar Nicholas II of Russia’s 1896 coronation procession in Moscow. Russia’s last Czar may have been an absolute ruler steeped in centuries of tradition but he was also a keen amateur photographer interested in the emerging motion picture industry.

When King George VI, Elizabeth’s father, was crowned in 1937, the newly created BBC television service saw an opportunity to expand the audience for television. Like Nicholas, George VI gave the camera crew permission to film the procession alone rather than the ceremony itself. On May 12, the BBC used its outdoor broadcasting unit for the first time to capture the parade of royalty processing to Westminster Abbey.

In 1953, coronation fever swept the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. In the United Kingdom alone, 526,000 new television sets were purchased between the announcement that the coronation would be televised and coronation day itself. Temporary transmitters brought the broadcast to rural areas not yet equipped to receive television broadcasts. In London, 3,000 tickets for a public broadcast of the coronation in Festival Hall sold out within an hour. For the first time, BBC footage was flown across the Atlantic to be broadcast in Canada on the CBC. In Vancouver, “massed TV sets” were organized to bring the coronation telecast to thousands of viewers at a time. Two hundred and seventy-seven million people around world watched the coronation television broadcast, an unprecedented audience share for the time.

The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II transformed the television set from a technological curiosity to a consumer staple, revolutionizing the television industry worldwide. At 91, the Queen remains an influence over public perceptions of emerging technologies and industries. When the official British monarchy Facebook page went online in 2010, it received 40,000 likes within its first hour and introduced new users to social media. In 2016, the Queen sent a tweet to acknowledge the congratulations that she received during her 90th birthday celebrations. The monarchy may be over 1,000 years old but the royal family embraces new technologies to connect with people from all walks of life around the world.