Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (partially found television coverage of royal coronation; 1937)
Issue 710 of Radio Times promoting the television coverage of the coronation.
Status: Partially Found
On 12th May 1937, the coronation of King George VI and his wife, Queen Elizabeth, took place. From a media standpoint, it was the first coronation to receive radio coverage, and the second after King George V's coronation to be filmed. Additionally, this marked the first time a royal coronation was televised, with it also being deemed the first major outside broadcast in the United Kingdom.
On 12th December 1936, following his brother Edward VIII's abdication, George VI officially ascended the throne. Edward VIII's abdication occurred before his coronation was carried out, which was planned to occur on 12th May 1937. Rather than delay proceedings, the Coronation Committee decided that the event would instead crown George VI. Beforehand, Edward VIII had agreed only on a low-key coronation that had removed many of the traditional services, including a royal procession across London the day following the coronation. With George VI set to be crowned, changes were made so that the coronation reflected the high-key services provided during the coronation of George V.
Meanwhile, the BBC had launched its high-definition Television Service on 2nd November 1936. The BBC, including its founder John Reith, were aiming to provide as much coverage of the coronation as possible. Reith had an especially vested interest, as he disapproved of Edward VIII's behaviour prior to and after his abdication, while he approved of George VI and believed that "the old England was back" as a result. Not only would various programs honouring the King, as well as live radio coverage be provided, Reith and Director of Television Gerald Cock aimed for the BBC to provide extensive live television coverage of the event. Permission was granted for television cameras to be situated across all areas relevant to the coronation, with the exception of inside Westminster Abbey. Thus, the BBC planned to televise the coronation from Hyde Park Corner.
Televising the Coronation
The coronation was not the first outside broadcast the BBC had achieved. On 3rd June 1931, it had worked with Baird Television to provide live coverage of the 1931 Epsom Derby. In 1936, it had achieved broadcasts within the grounds of Alexandra Palace and during the RadiOlympia exhibition. However, likely due to the sheer distance of the broadcast and the fact it would be broadcast on BBC Television Service, the coronation is considered the first "true" outside broadcast. The BBC's main challenge was to ensure the television signal could travel from Hyde Park Corner back to its main transmitter housed at Alexandra Palace. To achieve this, eight miles of "Harry Lauder" cable was laid across central London. The BBC also needed an outside broadcast unit, as it lacked one prior to the coronation. EMI provided one just days before the coronation, with the BBC also transporting three of its cameras for the event, about half of its available resources. The corporation would place them across Hyde Park Corner, providing the advantage of covering Marble Arch all the way to Buckingham Palace. In the case of a cable failure, a van with a wireless link to Alexandra Palace was in place as a backup.
Overall, even with the additional challenge of rain faced on the day, the live television coverage received universal acclaim. Beginning at around 10:15 with the procession of Queen Mary, the full broadcast was watched by around 50,000. The sight of the new King smiling at the camera especially received attention from newspapers. It was summarised by the Daily Mail with "When the King and Queen appeared the picture was so vivid that one felt that this magical television is going to be one of the greatest of all modern inventions." The broadcast would break new ground, with more outside broadcasts occurring that same year, including major sporting events like the Wimbledon Championships.
Lessons from this television coverage would be incorporated during the televising of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II on 2nd June 1953, utilising more than twenty cameras to capture footage. This latter coronation is considered the event that ensured television became mainstream in the United Kingdom. Because of Elizabeth II's long reign that ended on 8th September 2022, it means that the coronation of her son, King Charles III on 6th May 2023, will be only the third instance of a British royal coronation receiving television coverage. Whereas over 20 million tuned in to watch the Elizabeth II's coronation, the BBC predicts that hundreds of millions worldwide may watch the coronation of Charles III.
Ultimately, whereas radio coverage and footage of the event from Pathé and BBC Films are widely available, the live television coverage received no direct recordings as this was not possible until video tape was perfected in the mid-to-late 1950s. Nevertheless, some footage surprisingly remains available, as Marconi engineer J. E. Davies placed an 8 mm cine camera in front of a television screen, recording part of the coverage. This coverage was included in the BBC Television Service program The Passing Show in June 1953, and remains publicly viewable. It is one of the few surviving recordings of pre-Second World War BBC Television, alongside an RCA recording that occurred in 1938.
British Royal Family Media
- King George VI (lost Wembley Speech recording from British monarch; 1925)
- Royal Family (found British documentary film; 1969)
Early BBC Television
- Alexandra Palace's wartime television demonstrations (lost footage of private television transmissions; 1943, 1945)
- An Inspector Calls (lost television adaptation of play; 1948)
- Ann and Harold (lost early BBC drama television series; 1938)
- BBC Election Night (lost coverage of British general elections; 1950-1951)
- The Care of Your Car (lost early BBC motoring show; 1947)
- Clothes-Line (lost early BBC fashion talk show; 1937-1938)
- Cook's Night Out (lost early BBC cooking show; 1937)
- Craftsmen at Work (lost early BBC documentary show; 1938, 1946)
- Dish of the Month (lost early BBC cooking show; 1937)
- First Aid (lost early BBC medical show; 1937)
- Foundations of Cookery (lost early BBC cooking show; 1939)
- The Man with the Flower in His Mouth (lost early BBC television drama; 1930)
- Marcel Boulestin television shorts (lost early BBC programs; 1937-1939)
- Masks through the Ages (lost early BBC history talk show; 1937)
- Opening of the BBC Television Service (partially found coverage of inaugural day of high-definition television service; 1936)
- The Orchestra and its Instruments (lost early BBC music talk show; 1937)
- RCA recording of BBC Television Service (found footage of pre-Second World War BBC television broadcast; 1938)
- Sea Stories (lost early BBC talk show; 1936-1937)
- Spelling Bee (lost early BBC game show; 1938)
- Telecrime (lost early BBC crime drama; 1938-1939; 1946)
- The Wasp's Nest (lost early BBC television adaptation of Agatha Christie short story; 1937)
- Weaponless Self-Defence (lost early ju-jitsu television program; 1936-1937)
- The World of Women (lost early BBC talk show; 1937)
- History noting when George VI assumed the throne. Retrieved 25th Oct '22
- Coronation: A History of Kingship and the British Monarchy detailing how the Coronation Committee carried on with plans to have the coronation occur on 12th May 1937. Retrieved 25th Oct '22
- BBC detailing its launch of its Television Service. Retrieved 25th Oct '22
- BBC providing a biography of John Reith. Retrieved 25th Oct '22
- The BBC and National Identity in Britain detailing Reith's motivation for broadcasting the coronation and the extent the BBC achieved with its television and radio coverage. Retrieved 25th Oct '22
- Science Museum Group detailing the cable used to transmit the signal to Alexandra Palace. Retrieved 25th Oct '22
- Record Church Music detailing the various types of coverage of the coronation, noting the radio coverage survives. Retrieved 25th Oct '22
- Radio Times detailing the plans for televising the coronation. Retrieved 25th Oct '22
- BBC summarising how the television coverage was captured, and how the coronation of Elizabeth II made television mainstream. Retrieved 25th Oct '22
- Archived BBC detailing the history of outside broadcasts, including the coronation. Retrieved 25th Oct '22
- BBC declaring the coronation coverage as the first "true" outside broadcast. Retrieved 25th Oct '22
- Archives and Manuscripts at the Bodleian Library noting the television coverage drew 50,000 viewers. Retrieved 25th Oct '22
- BBC detailing its coverage of the 1937 Wimbledon Championships. Retrieved 25th Oct '22
- BBC News reporting on the planned date for the coronation of Charles III. Retrieved 25th Oct '22
- Web Archive article discussing how most early television is missing due to the lack of directly recording television. Retrieved 25th Oct '22