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.