Long to Reign Over Us Reel History of Britain


Long to Reign Over Us

Archive footage telling the history of modern Britain. Melvyn Bragg looks back to the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.


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Transcript


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'Just over a century ago, the motion camera was invented

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'and changed forever the way we recall our history.

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'For the first time, we could see life through the eyes of ordinary people.

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'Across this series, we'll bring these rare archive films back to life

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'with the help of our vintage mobile cinema.

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'We'll be inviting people with a story to tell to step onboard

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'and relive moments they thought were gone forever.

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'They'll see relatives onscreen for the first time, come face to face with their younger selves

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'and celebrate our amazing 20th century past.'

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This is the people's story. Our story.

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Our vintage mobile cinema was originally commissioned in 1967

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to show training films to workers.

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Today it's been lovingly restored and loaded with remarkable film footage,

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preserved for us by the British Film Institute and other film archives.

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In this series, we travel to towns and cities across the country

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and show films from the 20th century that give us the reel history of Britain.

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Today we're pulling up in 1953 in London

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to hear stories of our Queen's coronation.

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Just over 58 years ago, a young woman came out of Buckingham Palace here in London

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on her way in a golden coach to Westminster Abbey to be crowned Queen Elizabeth II

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and it was to be the most public coronation in the long, rich and varied life of our monarchy.

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Coming up: the people who watched the big day on brand-new live television.

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Everybody wore their best clothes.

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We were in the presence of the Queen!

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Memoirs of a royal train carrier:

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It didn't hit me until I got inside how this was going to be seen all over the world.

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'And a father rediscovered in a forgotten coronation film.'

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Hearing his voice - he died in 1970 -

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was, to me, extraordinary.

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'It was here to London that millions of people came on 2nd June, 1953,

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'to see the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II for themselves.

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'Women outnumbered men 7 to 1

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'and no less than 8,251 esteemed guests from all over the world flocked here

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'to attend the ceremony in nearby Westminster Abbey.

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'Another historic event took place that day, too - live television brought it to ordinary families

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'right across the country.'

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From now until after five o'clock, television cameras take you into the heart of London

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to watch and share in each phase of this great day's events.

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'About 27 million watched at home on television.

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'That's 53% of the population. Another 11 million listened to it on the radio.

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'But sadness had preceded this happy event. The young Princess Elizabeth had been forced to return early

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'from a visit to Kenya when her father King George VI died a year earlier.

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'At 25, with two young children, the deep responsibilities of monarchy were placed

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'on her young shoulders.

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'However they witnessed the coronation, my guests today have never forgotten it.

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'They've travelled from across the country to remember that big day.

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'Some will be seeing the film we're about to screen for the first time.

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'They'll be showing us photos of their loved ones and reliving memories of coronation day.

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'Lady Jane Rayne was one of six young women chosen to carry the royal train.

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'She was 20 at the time.

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'Her family moved in royal circles, but she was chosen mainly, she says,

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'because she was the right height.

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'She treasures the brooch the Queen gave her as a token of thanks.'

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I think you call this a cypher.

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-Her E.

-Her E.

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-Gosh. Beautiful, isn't it?

-She gave one of these to each of the six girls.

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'Now Lady Jane is about to see herself captured on the silver screen.

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'What memories will it bring back of the naive young woman she was on that day?

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'I suppose we were the Queen's helpers. I don't know how else I can describe myself.

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'My mother had died and I was all on my own getting ready.'

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We had a dear old Latvian lady who'd been looking after my mother when she was ill.

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She helped me do up my dress

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and brushed the back of my hair and things like that.

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When we got out of the coach and joined the others,

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this beautiful train had been fitted to the back of her dress. We were all ready.

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Then she turned round and said, "Well, girls, shall we go now?"

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The jewel-encrusted Norman Hartnell gown took 3,000 hours to make by hand.

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'This enormous and very, very beautiful train weighed an absolute ton.

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'Even my part of it, that's one sixth of the total weight,'

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was quite heavy. Quite a strain on the arm, I remember.

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CHOIR SINGS

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The sacred anointment ceremony was closed to cameras, but Lady Jane saw what the Queen had to cope with.

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I think for her

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it must have been petrifying, but she would never show it.

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And in that scene, I think it's the anointing,

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she looked really... just fragile is the word.

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I just felt quite close to tears.

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That was the most moving bit for me.

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And, um, I think she stood up to the strain very well.

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Lady Jane was witnessing the moments of deepest significance during the coronation,

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which saw the Archbishop anoint the Queen on hands, head and heart

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with consecrated oil symbolising the sovereign's divine right to rule.

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'It was such an honour to be chosen.'

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It gave me a feeling of great pride and my father was very pleased.

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I was glad I caught his eye as I walked in. He gave me a lovely wink,

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which really reassured me. I felt somebody in the family was watching over me.

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'Watching the film has been a surprise for Lady Jane.'

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I was rather shocked how disagreeable I looked.

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I think I was concentrating!

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I look agonised at one stage, but...

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I could not begin to understand how she couldn't put a foot wrong

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because she never came to one single rehearsal. Not one. Always she had a stand-in,

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The Duchess of Norfolk. She must have paced it all out in the Palace or something. I don't know.

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-Perhaps she got into the Abbey at dead of night!

-Crept down.

-I don't know how she did it.

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'The city of London was abuzz with royal fever that day,

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'but excitement spread across the country, too.

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'It brought an outpouring of passion for the Royal family.

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'To explain just why the monarchy was particularly popular with the public at that time,

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'I'm meeting up with the royal historian Kate Williams.'

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How would you compare sentiment then with sentiment now about the monarchy?

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The Royal family were incredibly popular in the early '50s for their role in the war.

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They refused to be evacuated, the Queen trained as a truck driver and worked really hard.

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I think that created a huge amount of sympathy.

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The Queen was devastated when her father died. She was in Kenya at the time, the first to accede overseas.

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And she really felt very young to be becoming Queen.

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-So how did she prepare?

-There was a lot of discussion. They had a year to work it out.

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She'd gone over the ceremony quite a few times.

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The Queen was worried because she was so small that the weight of the crown, 7lbs, would be too much,

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-so she practised wearing it every day.

-Which monarchs do you compare her to? Victoria and Elizabeth I?

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Or would you include others?

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There's a whole tradition of very young monarchs, just like Queen Victoria who was only 18,

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Elizabeth I was 25, Henry VIII who was just 18.

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They're just incredibly popular. It's almost as if the nation grows up with them.

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'Today on Reel History, we parked our van on Horse Guards Parade

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'to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

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'My next guest, Sandra Reekie, wasn't in central London that day.

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'She was a nine-year-old girl watching in Essex, thanks to the new marvel of live television.'

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-So how did you see the coronation?

-On a tiny black and white TV,

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in a small room with heavy Victorian furniture with about 20 other people.

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'Now Sandra's going to see BBC news films capturing the excitement of live TV.

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'Sandra was born a year before war ended. Her childhood began in the shadow of the Blitz and rationing.

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'The coronation was an exciting moment for her whole family.

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'What childhood memories will come back to her?'

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Everybody wore their best clothes. Auntie Zela, whose TV it was,

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had brought lilies to decorate the room, so we had this hot, stuffy little dark room

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with this overpowering smell of lilies!

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We all had to wear our best. We were in the presence of the Queen!

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'Seeing the coronation on the television was the first time I,

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'and I imagine thousands of others, had ever seen something happening live in another place.

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'That was quite amazing.'

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And now here is the Queen.

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The crowd have broken through the cordon of police and guardsmen and they're surging across.

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The films remind Sandra of what her parents' generation had been through in the war.

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I noticed in the film when they were all running

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towards the... Sorry, I'm choking up now. ..towards the Palace gates,

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and it was those same people a few years earlier running into the Underground.

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Sorry.

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They were an amazing generation of people.

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The last time people celebrated on this scale was when the war ended.

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Little wonder that the whole country rejoiced like Sandra's family on that coronation day.

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There was no standing back.

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It was just, "Let's have fun. Let's join in, let's dance together.

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"Let's just...let rip."

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There were armies of men and women carrying these big trays of egg sandwiches

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because everyone kept chickens, so egg sandwiches were easy to have.

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And jellies, blancmange and ice cream.

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And that was a treat.

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It was just an amazing time. Everybody pulled together.

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That's actually the programme that was shown on the film.

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-Well done, isn't it?

-It's beautiful.

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-It's got embossed work here. The souvenir programme.

-Yes.

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-Look at that. With a little crown on top.

-Yes.

-My goodness.

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-Isn't that lovely?

-Yes.

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'The Mall here in London was the heart of the celebrations.

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'It was here that the BBC filmed the installation of live TV cameras.

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'This would change how we record major events forever.

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'This is distinguished broadcaster Peter Dimmock, who as Assistant Head of BBC Outside Broadcasts,

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'produced the coronation programme on the day. And this is Peter at 90.

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'He's come along to the cinema to tell us how it came about.'

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There was quite a lot of resistance to having the coronation on TV.

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How did you get through that? How did you make people accept that it would be good to put it on TV?

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It was really lobbying and then, finally, a secret -

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we took cameras secretly to the Abbey and demonstrated

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to the Air Marshal, the Archbishop, the Minister of Works and the Press Secretary from Buckingham Palace,

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we showed them that it wouldn't be a strain on the Queen.

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That's what was behind it. The Queen was prepared to do whatever her advisors said.

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After that demonstration, I had an agonising 48 hours. Telephone call - "OK, you can do it."

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As well as broadcasting to homes across Britain,

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the ceremony was distributed around Europe and sent by plane to America and Canada.

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All because the camera can cross the Atlantic in the time it takes the Earth to rotate on its axis.

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And so the coronation will be seen on the same day, halfway round the world.

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So what were the bits of it you remember most affectionately?

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I'll never forget all of us in the Control Room having tears in our eyes

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with that shot from the West Door as the Queen processed out of the Abbey.

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And to that wonderful music, for which I have to thank the late Princess Margaret.

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We were going to have a piece of music that was specially written and Princess Margaret said,

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"We should have a more resounding piece of music." That's how we got that wonderful orchestra.

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It worked a treat. I'll never forget it.

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CHOIR SINGS

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'The coronation was the single biggest boost to television sales

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'with over one million new sets bought especially for it.'

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It was very interesting. You went to a dinner party before the coronation and somebody would say,

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"Have you got television?" "I think the servants have got it."

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Immediately after the coronation, "Did you see that programme...?"

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'One person who didn't see the coronation on television was Margaret Tyler from Wembley.

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'Her father wouldn't let her watch television because she was preparing for her 11 Plus.

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'The ban broke her heart at the time, but she's made up for it since

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'and is now famous for her record-breaking collection of royal memorabilia.'

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This is from the coronation, yes. We all got a mug at school.

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-And you kept yours.

-I've got about 40 of them now. I have somebody else's as well!

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But it was a lovely era. These are little stickers. They've got the coach and horses on.

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They're very sweet, aren't they? And this is a plate.

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This is when the Queen actually went to New Zealand, Christmas, 1953.

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-You should open a museum!

-It's like living in a museum, but it's a labour of love.

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I feel very proud to think that I've got so much stuff on the Royal family. I'm so proud of them.

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So this is the Mall, from Admiralty Arch to Buckingham Palace.

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This was the great showpiece, the grand promenade. 30,000 people slept here on a very rainy night

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and stood through a very rainy day and three million more were around largely this part of the city.

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'I'm meeting up with Faye Hasid from Manchester, who slept out all night as a young woman,

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'for a chance to see the new Queen.'

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-So you came...

-I did.

-..to see the coronation.

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-In the middle of the night.

-What made you decide you wanted to come?

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Well, I was a great Royalist and it was an exciting occasion.

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Everybody thought I was mad, but it was worth it.

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-It was quite something.

-What was the crowd like?

-Oh, marvellous.

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Everybody was happy, everybody was friendly. It was exciting.

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And everybody talked to everybody. It was that kind of atmosphere.

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-And you brought this.

-And sat on it.

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-This is 58 years old.

-Yes.

-Did you buy it for the occasion?

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I can't remember, but it's been used for decorating and all sorts since.

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-To the museum of royal memorabilia, this might be worth a lot!

-I'll tell my son it will gain in value!

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-Antiques Roadshow.

-Definitely.

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'Clearly it was amazing to sample the atmosphere of London on that coronation day.

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'My next guest, Ron Bygate, was also on the streets that day, but he was strictly on duty.

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'Ron was one of over 29,000 British and Commonwealth forces who marched or lined the route.

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'He's travelled here from Warrington with his wife Ruth.'

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We did several rehearsal parades and when the main day came we were all on duty by half past eight,

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in our positions, and we stayed there until four o'clock in the afternoon.

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-Did you have anything to eat or drink?

-We had an army packed lunch,

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-if you can imagine what was in that!

-What was it?

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A corned beef sandwich, I think. Something like.

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-I used to like corned beef! You had to!

-Exactly, yeah.

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'Ron and his wife Ruth met a year after the coronation.

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'They've been married for 53 years.

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'Ron's about to relive his day on duty with the Territorial Army 4th Battalion, South Lancs.'

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I was very lucky to be chosen to come to the coronation.

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'24 of us got chosen to represent the Battalion.

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'Our quarters for that week were in Kensington Gardens, under canvas.

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'There was many hundreds of tents there, lots of Commonwealth and Great Britain forces,

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'Army, Navy and Air Force. We had a very early breakfast,'

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then we made our way down to our location at East Carriage Drive.

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And we took our positions. That was about 8.30 in the morning.

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Troops and police officers of all ranks did their bit.

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Down the broad sweep of Piccadilly to Hyde Park Corner.

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Here the great parade splits into three to pass through the arches of Apsley Gate.

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'We didn't think this would happen.

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'Representing the Battalion on the coronation, you expected officers,

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'sergeant and corporals to have gone.'

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But quite a few of us went as ordinary private soldiers. We were all very pleased about that.

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Everybody was excited and there were huge crowds at the back of us.

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It was really great to see people from all walks of life.

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I know it was wet and cool, but nevertheless really good.

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When the procession started to come past, we had to stand to attention.

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And of course when the Queen's coach came past us, we had to present arms to her.

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When the day was over, Ron was left with a lasting reminder of the contribution he'd made.

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When we got back from London, that particular evening we had this photograph taken

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in front of the town hall, Warrington. We had to hand the dress uniform back to the stores

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in the barracks, so it was a question of taking the photo while you had it!

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-You wore those uniforms on the parade?

-Yes. Navy blue, red stripe down the trousers.

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-Very smart.

-Yeah, it was. Long time ago, 58 years ago.

-But did you enjoy it?

-Oh, yes.

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I'll always remember it.

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That film we've seen brought a lot of memories back.

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'My final guest today, Lord Wakehurst, has come to see a rare film made by his father,

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'an early home movie enthusiast. It's a film his son didn't even know existed.

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'His father, the previous Lord Wakehurst, here with wife Margaret, was Governor of Northern Ireland

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'when the coronation took place.

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'So when he was invited to the ceremony, his trusty camera went with him.

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'Now the current Lord Wakehurst is going to watch the very film his father made on that day.

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'It's called Long To Reign Over Us.

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'No one knows how his father got permission to film,

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'but he certainly secured some remarkable behind the scenes access on the day.'

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Peers in their crimson velvet robes and ermine capes make their way to the places assigned to them.

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A heavy shower is the cause of some disarray, especially to peeresses.

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Here is the representative of an African territory, here a Red Indian chief from British Columbia.

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'Lord Wakehurst's father died 40 years ago. Watching this film brings him close again.'

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'He was a fairly remote character.

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'Very interested in all sorts of things that he spent his time on

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'and recording things that he thought would disappear.'

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He bought a Kodak camera. It was quite a big thing in those days,

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which he used, I think, for the rest of his life.

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A ride round the town seeing the decorations is quite the thing to do.

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And it isn't only the better off West End that has decked itself out.

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Hearing his voice, when he died in 1970,

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was, to me, extraordinary.

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We're not just witnessing a wonderful show. This is an event of deep spiritual significance.

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He was ahead of his time in many ways.

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'It made me realise that he was really very good at putting that film together.

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'It was my father's personal film. I think it's very important.'

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And people are still looking at what he did.

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The people I met today have retained their affection for the Queen throughout the last 60 years.

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# And a golden coach

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# Bears a heart of gold

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# That belongs to you and me... #

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And I'm delighted they've shared their thoughts with all of us.

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But there's another curious thing

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about the song on that film, In A Golden Coach, where he says...

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-#

-With a heart of gold That belongs to you and me.

-#

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That was a strange thing to say, that it belonged to us, her heart.

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I know it's a song and sentimental, but still...I think it was provoked

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by her determination to dedicate herself to the country and that struck a chord with people.

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And that's what she's done.

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Next time on Reel History,

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we're at the Park Hill Estate in Sheffield, remembering '60s high-rise housing.

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We lived in a slum area, back-to-back houses.

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We moved to Park Hill flats. It was like a palace.

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It held out hopes for a better future.

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Subtitles by Subtext for Red Bee Media Ltd - 2011

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Email [email protected]

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Melvyn Bragg, accompanied by a vintage mobile cinema, travels across the country to show incredible footage preserved by the British Film Institute and other national and regional film archives, telling the history of modern Britain.

Melvyn visits London's Horse Guards Parade to look back to the 1953 coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and remember an event when the nation celebrated and television took off.

Lady Jane Rayne shares her memories of being one of the six young women chosen to carry the royal train. Sandra Reekie is transported back to coronation day, when she watched the event live on television with 20 people crammed into the same room. And Ron Bygate recounts his memories of being one of the thousands of military troops lining the parade route as the Queen passed by.


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