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The Queen, 1953 and 2013 Hardly young at 27, yet a maid of honour charged with carrying the train of her heavily embroidered gown, remembers the Anointing of a ‘child queen’; recalls how she was disrobed, then the 70-year-old Marquess of Cholmondeley, Lord Great Chamberlain, pressing the studs – ‘his heavy fingers going down her spine’ – of the plain linen shift she was dressed in to receive the holy oil.
Partly hidden by a portable canopy held over her by four Knights of the Garter, spiritually even more significant than placing the crown on her head, this was to be a moment of private austerity between God and the monarch and the slim-waisted yummy mummy with beautiful skin, now slipping into her regal role. Out of sight, in a ceremony steeped in a thousand years of Christian tradition, the Archbishop laid an oily finger on her hands, her head, her breast. Another 60 years – long to reign over us – before anyone would even think: child queen, behind a screen, shades of Jimmy Savile.
And so to the BBC. After a commemorative service at Westminster Abbey on Tuesday of this week (‘O Lord, make thy servant Elizabeth our Queen to rejoice in thy strength; give her her heart’s desire, and deny not the request of her lips; but present her with thine everlasting blessing, and give her a long life, even for ever and ever. Amen.’), on Friday the Queen went to Oxford Circus to re-open Broadcasting House, the BBC’s home of Radio, newly refurbished and extended to accommodate TV, too.
It was the TV broadcast of her coronation 60 years ago which first established television in the eyes of the British nation. More than 20 million viewers in the UK; a million televisions purchased in the run-up to the big day. In the Abbey unsightly cameras were boxed in, with slits for the camera-eye to look through, like machine guns poking out of Second World War pillar boxes. ‘We will crown you on the beaches,’ Sir Winston never said.
Banned from taking close-ups by the Duke of Norfolk, the master of ceremonial himself, as the newly crowned monarch processed down the aisle the BBC’s director of broadcast snapped on a telephoto lens and got away with the first intimation of Queen Elizabeth II.
Yes, a right royal young woman. But there’s the slightest stoop of her shoulders, perhaps brought on by the weight of the coronation gowns (since the Anointing she has been dressed and dressed again in crimson and purple surcoats and latterly the Imperial Robe of purple velvet). Minutes into her reign, her lips look chastened. Her mouth is mutating: setting by the second into lifelong duty.
This Friday, with David Dimbleby in tow – his father Richard lived briefly on a barge on the Thames in order to lead the team of commentators on Coronation Day, welcomed by a new director general – the previous BBC D-G was obliged to resign because of the Savile scandal, shoulders bowed down – now with age, in little-old-lady steps the Queen proceeds to the news floor of Broadcasting House. Assembled journalists applaud her entrance. She walks around the perimeter of the fishbowl TV studio. Inside the glass, live on air, two presenters turn their backs to camera in order to show their faces to Her Majesty.
When she makes her way towards the exit, the journalists remain in train, fanning out behind her like the twenty-one feet of embroidery which six maids of honour carried into Westminster Abbey 60 years ago.