Global television ‘events’ are ten a penny these days, what with royal weddings, the Eurovision Song Contest and pretty much every sporting fixture under the sun being watched live by audiences of billions.
But that wasn’t the case in the 1950s. Then, televisions were very much luxury items, and what they showed was, to be frank, pretty dull stuff. Britain had just one channel, and that only broadcast for part of the day.
That changed with the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on this day in 1953. Along with 8,000 of the country’s top toffs crammed into Westminster Abbey and three million lesser mortals lining the rainy streets of London, over 20 million people watched the whole show on their – or, more likely, someone else’s – TV.
But it nearly didn’t happen at all. A committee headed by Prince Philip ruled that no cameras should be allowed in the Abbey itself. The Queen wasn’t big on being filmed – her wedding hadn’t been filmed in 1947; her Christmas broadcasts remained confined to radio; and at the Trooping the Colour, she insisted on only being filmed from a distance.
But she was eventually persuaded to change her mind, as long as there were no close-ups.
The whole thing took a year to organise. A crew of 120 worked on the day itself, with five cameras installed in the abbey and 15 along the route of the procession. The nation’s infrastructure was upgraded so more people could receive the signal – the country only had five permanent transmitters in 1953, so temporary transmitters had to be installed in lorries.
The event led to a TV boom. The number of TV licences rose from 700,000 in 1952 to 1,100,000 in 1953, and its success led to the introduction of Independent Television in 1955.