Tuesday 17 December 2013

Q is for...Queen's Christmas Speech

The Royal Family can be seen by many observers as antiqued and out of touch with the ordinary man and woman in the street. One thing they have always been surprisingly good with though is keeping up with the technological advances of the day. Since 1934 the reigning monarch at the time has broadcast a Christmas Message across Britain and the Commonwealth with the time being set at 3pm GMT.

The idea of sending a making a radio broadcast was suggested by Sir John Reith (Later known as Lord Reith). The 68 year-old King was unsure about the whole thing but was convinced after a visiting the BBC earlier in the summer. The first message was written by Rudyard Kipling and reached an audience of of up to 20 million people across what was still known as the British Empire. Sadly George V only got to do the broadcast once more before his death in January 1936.

It took a few years for the Message to become established. Since Edward VIII abdicated on 11 December 1936 no broadcast was made that year. The newly crowned George VI gave his first message on Christmas Day 1937 however no broadcast was made in 1938. It was the start of the Second World War that firmly made the royal Christmas message a yearly tradition.

When Elizabeth ascended to the throne in 1952 she continued this now established routine of sending a message across the Commonwealth on Christmas Day. More and more homes were having televisions in them and between 1952 and 1956 the speech was broadcast on both radio and television albeit with just sound. In 1957, on the 25th anniversary of the first broadcast, pictures were shown for the first time as the Queen was shown talking from Sandringham House. Surprisingly in 1969 there was no message broadcast but a written statement was published in its place. In that year Prince Charles' investiture as Prince of Wales had been shown on television as well as a the documentary Royal Family and the Queen decided that she and her family had had enough television coverage for one year.

Each year the Message usually focuses a set formula of events. Royal births, marriages, deaths and anniversaries are usually touched upon. As are wars, conflicts and tragedies around the world and not just those affecting Commonwealth countries. As a devout Christian the Queen often mentions the religious significance of Christmas and the role of families and communities. However, in 1992 The Sun newspaper managed to get hold of a copy of the Queen's Christmas Message and decided to publish it on its front page two days before Christmas, thus breaking the usual embargo. It is often thought now that this was the speech in which the Queen used her famous phrase of, “Annus Horribilis” to describe the 40th year of her reign which saw the break-up of three of her children's marriages and a devastating fire at Windsor Castle. In fact this was said at a dinner the month before at the Guildhall in London in mark her 40 years on the throne. The Christmas Day message itself contained nothing controversial and did not stray from the usual format so the scoop that The Sun thought it had was in fact rather a damp squib.

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