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The Queen’s Coronation In 1953 Was The Day That Changed Television

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Many significant acquisitions to the National Television Collection relate to one very important event in the history of television. Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation on June 2, 1953 put television on the map. Today we celebrate the 60th anniversary of that momentous day, and 30 years of the National Television Collection in Bradford, by sharing some key objects from our archives.

The BBC prepares…

In the days leading up to the Coronation, cameras were set up all over London. It promised to be the BBC’s biggest-ever outside broadcast at the time. Our collection highlights some of the technical achievements and breakthroughs made for the day.

A good example of such an object is the Watson zoom lens. Three cameras with zoom lenses like this one were used on the Thames Embankment to capture the outgoing procession as well as the fireworks display.

Pye Mk III Camera with Watson zoom lens, 1955, National Media Museum Collection

Pye Mk III Camera with Watson zoom lens, 1955, National Media Museum Collection. This Watson zoom lens (on a standard Pye Television camera) has a sticker inside which indicates it was actually used to televise the 1953 Coronation.

The national television network expands

An urgent post-war task was to spread coverage of television throughout the country. Four new high-power transmitters at Sutton Coldfield (Midlands), Holme Moss (Northern England), Kirk O’Shotts (South Scotland) and Wenvoe (South Wales) were completed by 1952, bringing 81% of the population within range.

With signals now available, people went out in their thousands to buy their first television sets in time to see the Coronation.

Pye Television Receiver type V4, 1953, Pye Limited

Pye Television Receiver type V4, 1953, Pye Limited, National Media Museum Collection. This television receiver is typical of the type of set which people purchased to watch the Coronation.

Watching the Coronation

Introduced by Sylvia Peters, the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II would represent for many British people the first time they watched television. It was also the first time television had brought the nation together in such as shared experience.

The ceremony was viewed by an estimate 20 million people huddled around small television sets in their homes. It was calculated each set in Britain was watched by an average of 9 people.

Cover of Radio Times, Coronation edition, May 31 - June 6 1953, National Media Museum Collection

Cover of Radio Times, Coronation edition, May 31 – June 6 1953, National Media Museum Collection

Recognising the Coronation today

The collecting of items relating to the Queen’s Coronation in 1953 continues today. For example, recently we acquired a set of ten Tele-Snaps, photographs taken from television screens using a special technique by the photographer John Cura.

Unlike films of the Coronation, this series of Cura’s Tele-Snaps provide us with a crucial record of the Coronation as it actually appeared to the television audience in 1953. These likely resemble the selection of Cura’s Coronation Tele-Snaps which were mounted in a commemorative album and later presented to Her Majesty by the BBC.

Tele-snap of the Queen's Coronation in 1953

Queen Elizabeth II during the Coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey. Tele-Snaps like this one were photographed directly from a television screen by John Cura using a special technique.

It’s certainly looking like a month for memories. Help us countdown to our 30th birthday by sharing your memories of the Museum. Leave a comment on this blog, on our Facebook page, or on Twitter, using the hashtag #NMeM30.

Written by Iain Baird

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  1. Malcolm Baird

    Thanks, Iain, for this very informative post.

    Here in Canada, our local cable company is showing the entire Coronation as it appeared on BBC including the processions to and from Westminster Abbey;7 hours of programming without any commercial breaks. It is uncanny experience to watch this after so many years — a time trip worthy of Dr.Who.

  2. Alan Keeling

    The BBC Television Service, in its infinite wisdom wanted its viewers to watch the Coronation with the best possible picture quality, so Test Card C was radiated from 9.15 until 10.15 to enable viewers at home, etc to adjust contrast, brightness, fine tuning, etc to the best possible quality.

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