Queen Elizabeth’s First Televised Broadcast Presented a New Type of Monarch

Queen Elizabeth II delivers her Christmas speech at Buckingham Palace on December 25, 1957 in London, England.

King George V may have invented the tradition of delivering a Christmas Day message to subjects of the British monarchy around the world in 1932, but it was his granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II, who televised for the first time the annual event 25 years later.

While George’s speeches were radio broadcasts, much like Elizabeth’s early addresses from 1952 to 1956, her landmark 1957 speech was broadcast live on television from her home in Sandringham. The shows offered viewers a rare and humanizing glimpse into the interior of his residence and his ways, while reaching a wide audience. In her first broadcast, Elizabeth also noted that the role of the monarch had changed from being a ruler to one of symbolic support to the people of the kingdom.

“I really hope this new medium makes my Christmas message more personal and direct,” she said from the long library at the country house. “It is inevitable that I am a rather distant figure for many of you. A successor to the kings and queens of history; someone whose face may be familiar from newspapers and movies but who never really touches your personal life. But now, at least for a few minutes, I welcome you to the peace of my own home.

Alan Allport, a professor and historian at Syracuse University who specializes in the history of Britain during the two world wars, says television was still a relatively new medium in 1957, with millions of people were attending TV programs for the first time while watching the Queen’s coronation four years earlier.

Click above to listen to Queen Elizabeth II’s first radio address.

“The idea of ​​projecting the image of the monarch into the homes of ordinary people represented a new kind of intimacy in the relationship between the Crown and the masses,” he says. “The royal family has long faced the difficult balancing act of maintaining the dignity and mystique of the monarchy while appearing approachable and possessing enough ‘common touch’.”

In the televised address – seen in Britain by just 16.5 million people, with a further 9.5 million listening on the radio – Elizabeth pointed out that in the past the British monarch led soldiers on the battlefields, providing constant and personal leadership.

“Today things are very different,” she said. “I cannot lead you into battle, I do not give you laws or administer justice but I can do other things, I can give you my heart and my devotion to these old islands and to all the peoples of our brotherhood of nations.”

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Beginning of the Christmas message

King George V broadcasting at the Empire on Christmas Day, Sandringham, 1935.

King George V broadcasting at the Empire on Christmas Day, Sandringham, 1935.

George V’s first Christmas message, dreamed up by BBC founder Sir John Reith and written by poet Rudyard Kipling, reached 20 million listeners via the BBC radio broadcast and received an overwhelmingly favorable response.

“I speak to you now from home and from my heart to all of you; to men and women so cut off by snows, desert or sea, that only voices from heaven can reach them,” George V began his two-and-a-half-minute remarks.

After George V’s death in January 1936, his brother, George VI, carried on the holiday tradition in 1937, as depicted in the film ‘The King’s Speech’. (Edward VIII, who abdicated the throne in less than a year, did not deliver a Christmas speech.) According to Royal.uk, the official website of the British royal family, there was no Christmas broadcasts in 1936 or 1938, but the outbreak of World War I prompted George VI to resume the tradition in 1939.

Since 1952, after her father’s death, Elizabeth has delivered the message, which she has continued to do every year except 1969, when a printed version was released because a documentary on the royal family was planned during the period of the holidays.

Throughout her reign, the Queen has used the broadcasts to reflect on national, global and personal events, issues and concerns. Since 1960, the shows, always broadcast at 3 p.m. in Britain, were pre-recorded so that Commonwealth countries could broadcast them at their preferred times.

A more accessible monarch

Despite its reception, the 1957 speech, according to Allport, followed a 1953 controversy over whether Elizabeth’s coronation should be televised, with some of the Queen’s advisers considering the idea vulgar and intrusive.

“Elizabeth herself had insisted on the presence of television cameras to allow her subjects an unprecedented insight into the service,” he says. “She felt that a modern democratic nation and the Commonwealth needed a more approachable monarch. The 1957 Christmas broadcast was an extension of this greater visibility.

However, this visibility had its limits, adds Allport, whose most recent book is Britain at Bay: The Epic Story of World War II 1938-1941.

“The Queen’s children have not been shown on the show and will not appear for some years, despite popular demand to see them, as Elizabeth felt it was too great an intrusion into the privacy of family,” he said.

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