A Knight’s Tale (28: Three Monarchs In Quick Succession)

In our classroom on the morning of 6th February 1952 we witnessed the dragon’s tears.  Miss Bryant was an extremely fearsome headmistress.  Hitherto the only tears associated with her were those of pupils who were in for it.  As I have previously indicated, being sent to Miss Bryant was to be avoided at all costs.  This time, Miss Bryant came to us.  That in itself was an event, as she toured the school with the dreadful news.  This calm, contained, diminutive, yet terrifying woman burst into our classroom in tears to announce: ‘The king is dead!’. 

I can assure you there is no more effective way to imprint an image for life on a child’s memory.  It is a sobering thought that most people alive today have known no other UK monarch than Queen Elizabeth II; and that when she ascended the throne in 1953, most of her subjects did not have a television.

Mr. and Mrs. Brown lived next door.  In sixteen years I don’t remember ever having seen either of them.  I think there was a disability involved.  Mr. Brown made Elizabeth a doll called Minnehaha.  It was the Browns’ television, I believe, which was responsible for my teenage fantasies.  No, not those fantasies.  In the twilight moments between being awake and asleep, I would hear the three discordant notes which Mum said were coming from their television.  I believe it was a closing down signal.  This led me to thinking how wonderful it would be if you could have a picture frame on your wall and a gadget that could tune in to and display in this any of the films currently being shown on any of the four cinemas Wimbledon then boasted.  We didn’t have a television and the only one I had ever seen was a small wooden cabinet bearing a postage stamp sized screen.  This was for the occasion of the coronation on 2nd June 1953 when those of us at school who didn’t have a television were billeted with those who did.  Being a tall lad I was seated at the back from whence I peered at a tiny black and white haze.  

Photo from https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofBritain/The-Coronation-1953/

This digitally remastered image, in its wide format, sharper focus, and without parallel lines travelling up or down it, would not have been possible on the little square screen of that early TV; but I do remember a hazy something like the Queen’s head.

Little did I imagine, in that teenage dream world, what my grandchildren can now hold in the palms of their hands.

In July 2013 Hawes & Curtis in Jermyn Street, hoping to attract prospective customers to take advantage of their large reductions, featured King Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson. In his brief tenure this playboy king had provoked a constitutional crisis in 1936 by his determination to marry his twice divorced lover.  In that bygone age this was acceptable neither to the Church nor the State – although 50 years on, their image was thought by this West End outfitters to be likely to draw buyers for goods past their sell-by date.  Edward, as king, was not allowed to marry his Wallis, and therefore chose to abdicate, on December 11th, and thrust his younger brother onto centre stage.  A reluctant and shy monarch, King George VI, despite a dreadful stutter, with his wife Elizabeth, saw us nobly through the war years and died at the age of 56, making way for our current long-serving queen.  Colin Firth was awarded a well earned Oscar for his spellbinding performance in the 2010 film ‘The King’s Speech’ which follows King George’s struggles to find his voice.  

Queen Elizabeth II was, at 25, even younger than had been her father when she found herself at the helm.


  1. Hi Derrick
    I saw the kings speech a while back and liked it – ((and funny but I still
    Remember you blogging about how you had to turn off the called “the crown”
    And goodness – to imagine seeing the TVs of the 1950s to the smart phones and systems of today sure does show so much drastic changes

    I remember in 1987 I won an orange juice sales award (yay me) and had my choice of 500$ or a 25 inch TV – I ended up getting a Toshiba after shopping around – and then brought it back (fun story with that experience) and so I remember how huge and heavy the TVs were – to now smart, light, and spying

      1. Not sure if you are a Monk fan?
        Well even if not – there is an episode – think it is called Mr Monk and the Big Game (featuring Bob Costas) and One of the characters has to work during a super bowl and takes a large flat screen TV out of evidence and then it gets stuck in the hallway- upside down too – and they have to leave it that way
        It Added humor to the show because at the end – he and Natalie watch part of the game by looking at it upside down

        Anyhow – I thought the writers might have exaggerated with having the TV get stuck (and considering it is in my Favorite show categories) I had little complaints and this one was really just a mild wonder about if it really could get stuck to where they had to watch upside down??
        Well a year or two ago – someone donated a couple of large flat screen TVs to a church and they didn’t want them because even though they were originally 19,000 – they were extremely heavy and just not worth hanging (no tech for what was needed )
        It was another example of huge tech advances in such a short time – and when my husband brought one home (that we soon gave away) we were all Amazed at how darn heavy it was – hence my connection to that episode of Monk
        It was a lot more realistic that a heavy flat screen ? could become wedged in the stairwell like that

  2. I can imagine how the sight of your dreadful headmistress in tears would stay with you as you learned the king was dead. So many changes!
    I don’t get the connection between Edward VIII and Mrs Simpson and the clothes store, but advertising is strange. ?

  3. We had that tiny TV, with a lens attached to the screen that enabled the audience of assembled neighbors to see at least something. Interesting that you were able to see three Monarchs, one after the other.

  4. Oh, the memories of our childhood, like that of the fearsome Miss Bryant in tears, that we just cannot erase! You tell the story well. That period of modern British history is filled with the great heroism of an unlikely king and young queen. One woman stole the heart of a future king and brought another woman to the throne. Fate is a strange beast.

  5. Intersting history. I vaguely remember from the age of 4 or 5 (which would have been around 1960) hearing talk about Queen Elizabeth, and might have even seen her briefly on TV in living black an white. Now I understand why my mother laughed out loud when I asked her with honest curiosity, “Are Queen Elizabeth and Elizabeth Taylor the same person?”

  6. I could think of a different dress style that Edward VIII may have preferred, but I think our Knifton beat me to it, although I haven’t read the entire article he linked.
    I vaguely remember having to line up “somewhere” in 1963 as a consequence of QEII’s visit, but at best, I saw a car drive past my school.
    And as for television. I might have thought I was missing out because we didn’t get one until 1970 when I was fifteen. It was a much outdated second-hand set, on which I watched old Black and White movies, and Japanese Godzilla horror movies.
    Looking back, I realise I was privileged to have, instead, a world of books; and if I could toss the TV we currently own, I’d do it in a flash. One of my pet peeves is arranging the living room furniture around the telly.

  7. Quite a history! And I was much struck by your comment about the contrast between you and your grandchildren—no TV when you were young and the devices they hold in their hands.

  8. Thank you for sharing these memories, Derrick. Things, especially technology, have changed so much over the course of our lives. I did See ‘The King’s Speech’ starring Colin Firth, and enjoyed it very much.

  9. I well remember the coronation. We had a new television — the same wooden cabinet, a 12″ screen, and all that — but I can see every detail of the scene, right down to the pattern of the carpet I was sitting on, about two feet from the screen. I thought the Queen was beautiful, and for a week afterward I wore the crown I made. It had sequins rather than diamonds, but that was all right with me.

  10. You have retold intriguing chapters from British history through reminiscences from your younger days. Both technological advancements and Queen’s perseverance have been remarkable.

  11. The abdication rid the UK of a Nazi sympathizer and brought into power a very capable man, who, as King with his Queen, inspired a nation in time of war and whose child became the next Queen, whose reign lasted longer than Queen Victoria’s.

  12. I enjoyed re-reading this one and all the comments, too. I still find that advertising odd. It’s sort of unsettling to re-read this knowing that Queen Elizabeth is gone, too.

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