There is a danger that this blog will be very long because it’s about a topic that has dominated my life for sixty years – just as it has dominated the lives of all the loyal subjects of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (UK).
It will be about the royal family but mostly it’s about Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. She is also Queen of Canada, Australia and New Zealand; Head of the Commonwealth; and Queen of twelve countries that have become independent since her accession: Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize, Antigua and Barbuda, and Saint Kitts and Nevis. At ninety she intends to continue as our monarch as long as she can.
While I try to keep impartial and not to reveal my views about politics or religion, I make no apologies for being fiercely Royalist. Perhaps you will see why when you read what follows.
For those outside the United Kingdom, perhaps it’s time for a brief political summary. The UK is a sovereign state of the UN and it consists of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland and sometimes our inhabitants refer to these as four separate countries with their own capitals. Their political status has changed over time and they now have significant independence – but they remain part of the UK. (It would be far too simplistic to compare these four parts to the fifty States that make up the USA.)
The geographical island of Great Britain consists of England, Wales and Scotland. The island of Ireland consists of the country of Ireland (also called Eire) and Northern Ireland. (Historically England used to include parts of France, and the word Britain is cognate with Brittany, a region in the North of France.)
Most of the smaller islands around our shores are part of the UK but the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands (Guernsey, Jersey and some smaller islands) are dependencies of the UK with their own governments. While the UK is part of the EU, these islands are not!
[There are a few small overseas dependencies such as Gibraltar and the Falklands.]
Generally the word Briton is used for a member of the UK or these dependent islands.
[Don’t worry, even we get confused sometimes. In international sporting competitions GB and UK get confused. In Football – that’s Soccer, not American Football – England, Scotland and Wales maintain their separate status. Six Nations Rugby is a bit more complicated.]
Accession and Coronation
I was too young to be aware of the Queen’s accession in early 1952 and have no memories of her father (except as a head on coinage.) But her coronation on 2 June 1953 was a nationwide event of great significance. Many people bought their first television set to see the Coronation, which was broadcast live. Our television came a bit later. But I remember three things about the coronation.
In our area, every street seemed to have its own street party to celebrate. So just for the residents of Boar Close, we had our own marquee and party. To children in those days a party meant jelly and blancmange. We also had a mini sports day with the usual races – egg-and-spoon, three-legged and sack race.
I have to mention the book Royalty in Essex, which was given to every child at school in the county of Essex. (Ilford used to be part of Essex before the formation of Greater London, which moved it into part of London as part of the new borough of Redbridge.) The book only had a few pages and it just said a little about visits by royalty to places in the county but it was lavishly illustrated with many heraldic shields. Its magnificent colour was far beyond anything we had seen. I always regret somehow having thrown away my treasured copy.
Then there were the newspapers. Remember that in those days they were more or less our only source of news. They were black and white, using ink that almost smudged and came off on your fingers and all they could do was plain fixed text. Pictures were very rare.
As children we had one chest of drawers in our bedroom for clothes. I think the three of us had a drawer each. They were plain, fairly rough wood and to protect our clothes they were lined with sheets of newspaper. (They were all what we called broadsheets with larger pages.) The paper in our chest of drawers was a single double page spread of pictures from the coronation. I remember them as light brown so they may have faded from their original glory – but I often saw these pictures in later years even though I had not seen them at the time of the Coronation.
Coins and Stamps
My earliest memories of the Queen must have come from the faces on our coins and stamps – even though I was too young to be writing letters and most coins would have been from earlier monarchs. To us she was like a young mother figure. (By age, HM is almost between me and my parents but I saw her more as their generation. Perhaps this is because of Prince Charles, of whom more a little later.)
Trooping of the Colour
After reading what I have said about the Church, you will not be surprised, to find out that I love ceremonial events and traditions. I have early memories of the Trooping of the Colour, always shown on television. The picture above is from 1956. Of course the television pictures were just poor quality black and white. I think it would have been narrated by Richard Dimbleby.
I was impressed from an early age to see the Queen riding a horse and using a side saddle.
The simultaneous movements of the troops are also impressive, all done on just one voice command.
I remember much from my early years of the Queen and the royal family and this certainly includes the Maundy Thursday ceremonies, part of Easter week (which used to be much more significant then.) It’s a long established tradition where the monarch offers alms to deserving citizens and distributes special ‘Maundy money’ – specially minted one, two, three and four 4 penny pieces. The number of men and women and the total value of the coins is always the age of the Queen. (Of course they used to be our old pennies before decimalization.)
Opening of Parliament
The State Opening of Parliament has always been a day of ceremonial with a grand procession in a royal horse-drawn coach and the Queen delivering her speech. It maintains the illusion of a real Monarchy, while the actual powers of the monarch gradually diminish. The speech is effectively written by the Prime Minister and it outlines government policies and plans for the year ahead.
There are so many occasions where the Queen (and other members of the Royal Family) make the news. She travels abroad on State Visits and receives other visiting heads of state, often with lavish banquets. She travels throughout the UK on visits and sporting occasions. Even when just with her family – such as Balmoral at Christmas – she is seen visiting church regularly.
As a general comment I would say that people are less monarchist than they used to be and royal visits and occasions receive less publicity than they used to. You will remember that the news used to reflect the Establishment view more than it does today.
I am getting to the stage where I will have to cut out a lot from my original plans. I need to get this blog out fairly quickly. But there are lots of things I can’t miss out. I have to mention the Royal Yacht Britannia, which used to play a major part in the travels of the Royal Family. She was commissioned in the fifties and used a lot for royal travels. The Queen could travel abroad and entertain her guests on this ship in the days when international communication was more difficult. Sadly, she came to the end of her useful life in the nineties and retired to the port of Leith near Edinburgh, where she is on display for the public to visit – well worth a visit and surprisingly small.
I will have to be briefer for other members of the Royal Family but I can’t miss out Prince Philip, always a staunch supporter and companion of the Queen. He was born a member of the Greek and Danish royal families and only realised when he joined the British Navy that he didn’t have a surname. He gave up his royal titles, adopted the surname Mountbatten and married the Queen on 20 November 1947 when he became HRH the Duke of Edinburgh. (In 1957 he became a Prince. The Queen has chosen to continue the more English sounding name of Windsor and the royal family remains the House of Windsor. Non-royal descendants of the Queen are officially Mountbatten-Windsor.)
When they visit crowds they separate. The Queen goes one way and Prince Philip goes off to talk to others. He always seems to amuse and entertain those he talks to – but is occasionally supposed to have made inappropriate comments in his humour.
He has always been associated with the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme, which started in the mid-fifties. This scheme has grown to become an extended alternative to schemes such as the Cadet Force we had at school and Boy Scouts.
Another Diversion – American Pie
The song American Pie by Don McLean, released in the early seventies includes the lines: “And the three men I admire most – The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost – They caught the last train for the coast – The day the music died.” It was based on the death of Buddy Holly.
I always feel that there are four men I admire the most – all strangely linked by unusual naming conventions. One was a Galilean, born in Nazareth, or perhaps Bethlehem, but was known (as was his mother) by a Latin version of his name. One had perfectly reasonable first name Mohandas Karamchand, but was always referred to by a nickname. The other two, who you can guess from this blog, never quite had surnames. (I suppose Post number  is about another idol of mine not usually known by her real name.)
Prince Charles and Princess Anne
I have early memories of both Prince Charles and his sister Princess Anne (now the Princess Royal) from savings stamps. The pictures would change as they grew up. I have a sort of affinity with Charles as we nearly share birthdays, with a difference of one day – and two years. I have watched him grow up as I grew up. His education at Gordonstoun was not quite the same as ICHS but we later went to the same University.
As a child I remember both Charles, the Duke of Cornwall and Anne as children, both quite near to my own age, and loosely followed their upbringing. (Prince Andrew, the Duke of York and Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex, came several years later.)
As a child you make certain assumptions. Just as I always assumed that Andy Pandy was a girl, I also assumed that Princess Margaret was the Queen’s older sister. She was, of course a few years younger.
I was not aware of her relationship with Peter Townsend in the early fifties but I do remember her marriage in 1960 to Antony Armstrong-Jones, later the Earl of Snowdon. He was seen as a bit of a rebel or perhaps just an innovator in fashion. In the days when many formal events were ‘black tie,’ which means a dinner jacket and suit, (‘tuxedo’ for those in the US,) men were expected to wear a formal white shirt and a black bow tie. Antony Armstrong Jones was once seen in a polo-necked jumper and since then various other styles have appeared – coloured bow ties and ties of differing shapes.
The Queen Mother
The mother of our present queen, always styled Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, was probably as well-loved as the Queen. She continued to make royal engagements almost until her death at the age of 101.
I have mentioned the coronation and the State Opening of Parliament but royalty gives the opportunities for ceremonial occasions, enjoyed by the public through the medium of television. I remember the weddings of Princess Margaret, Princess Anne and Prince Charles and the funerals of Princess Diana and the Queen Mother. We also had the investiture of Prince Charles as Prince of Wales and the Silver Jubilee celebrations of the Queen.
The Royal Family has always had many of its members involved in public life in various ways. I will just list three of them here. The Duchess of Kent for many years always represented the Queen at Wimbledon in the Royal Box and all players used to bow or curtsey to the Royal Box.
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor also came up in the news sometimes although they lived abroad. They were the former King Edward VIII and his wife, for whom he had abdicated the monarchy. He was HRH the Duke of Windsor and he died in the early seventies. The Duchess was never formally HRH – I think the Royal Family never forgave her influence on the former King at the time of his abdication.
It is particularly difficult to describe long-term traditions that extended from the fifties to the present because I am not sure how much my memories reflect the period of this blog. (See Christmas.) But all of the people listed above were evident in the fifties and sixties. One of two of the ceremonial events come from later years.
I want to end by trying to convey how much more important royalty used to be to us. Perhaps it was post-war patriotism or perhaps it was old traditions dying slowly but I am sure that royalty were more prominent in the news and more generally popular than now.
For example the National Anthem was much more commonly heard. It was played on the radio before it closed down and in cinemas and theatres at the end of performances. Everyone always stood in silence and respected the anthem.
Like so many things in British traditions it has no official status and no officially defined words. When used as a hymn in churches it generally has three verses and there are other suggested verses but it is rarely heard other than its first verse:
God save our gracious Queen!
Long live our noble Queen!
God save the Queen!
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save the Queen!