In his third blog post for About the BBC, Matt Verrill turns his attention to two publications produced by the BBC previewing and reviewing the corporation's coverage of the Coronation in 1953.

June 2nd will see the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation. For the first time, the BBC was able to give full coverage of this rare and momentous occasion on television as well as radio (the fledgling television service being only 6 months’ old at the time of King George VI’s Coronation in 1937 and so carrying only limited programming to a limited audience).

The BBC issued two publications in 1953 celebrating the event; the first, The Coronation and the BBC, was a two ­shilling booklet issued in May 1953 to raise awareness of the upcoming broadcasts, and The Year That Made The Day book (for six shillings) looked back in more detail on the planning and preparation, as well as comprehensive descriptions of the day itself and how it was received both in this country and abroad.

The Planning

The Coronation was announced on 7th June 1952, which gave the BBC just less than a year to plan and prepare what would be, at that time, the biggest outside broadcast in the Corporation’s history. The technical challenges involved in relaying the day’s celebrations to a domestic audience were many and complex, but such an occasion also demanded that the BBC provide a level of coverage to not only the rest of the British Commonwealth, but also to act as a service provider for the rest of the world.

As well as covering the Coronation ceremony from Westminster Abbey, commentary from key points along the procession routes would also be provided. In total, for both the domestic and overseas programmes, 95 commentary points were planned at 11 sites, catering for approximately 100 commentators. Each site had a control room where commentaries were mixed with sounds picked up by ‘effects’ microphones. Domestic (i.e. UK ­received) programmes were then passed through a central control room at the Abbey and on to Broadcasting House; non­domestic programmes had a separate control room at the Colonial Office. The number of circuits required (including backups) far outstripped the BBC’s capacity, and the General Post Office provided an additional 1,300 circuits.

For the coverage of the Coronation service, 29 microphones were placed throughout the Abbey to give a complete sound picture of the ceremony. This sound picture (free of commentary) was made available to visiting broadcasting organisations, to the BBC Television Service, to BBC recording rooms (where the audio was captured for permanent record on a set of 50 disk­ and 16 tape­recording machines), to the Ministry of Works for their public address system along the procession routes, and to the press and newsreel companies.

For the Television coverage, 21 cameras were placed at the five key sites: Victoria Memorial (covering Buckingham Palace), Hyde Park, Victoria Embankment, the Colonial Office, and Westminster Abbey. The Abbey temporary control room handled five cameras in total,­ two in the Triforium, one over the West Door, one on the organ screen and one in the South Transept. Each of the key sites had a camera enabled with new 'zoom' lenses, which allowed an area of the picture to be slowly enlarged, rather than the sudden effect of a lens change. One camera at Victoria Memorial was also equipped with a special 40­inch telephoto lens that allowed a close­up view of Royal Family members on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.

Here is a plan of where the various television and radio posts were to be within Westminster Abbey, for coverage of the actual Coronation ceremony:

A Government ban on construction of medium-­power television transmitters was relaxed in late 1952 to allow construction of three new transmitters, providing coverage to high­population areas not served by the main transmitters. These were Pontop Pike near Newcastle ­upon ­Tyne, Glencairn near Belfast and (later) Truleigh Hill, near Brighton.

The Coverage

All of the BBC’s Home Service and Light Programme transmitters, 37 in total, were joined together for the main Coronation programme, which opened at 5.30am with a “Music while you wait” item, specially arranged for people arriving to line the Procession route. Television opened with an hour’s test transmission, and the actual programme began at 10.15am. The Home Service transmitters closed down at one o’clock the following morning, the Light Programme transmitters at midnight, and the television stations at shortly before midnight.

Weather on the day itself was inclement, with the wind and rain providing unwanted sound effects during the Procession commentaries. The coverage of the Processions began with a pre­arranged verbal signal ­ “The coach moves!” ­ from commentator Jean Metcalfe, and one­by­one commentators took up describing the scenes as the Royal coach passed by their vantage points. One of the highlights was hearing the voice of Charles Gardner, who was on board one of the jet aircraft involved in the fly­past, mixed into the commentary at the appropriate time.

Wynford Vaughan Thomas was one of the Victoria Memorial commentators charged with describing scenes around Buckingham Palace. When he was unable to reach the required position at the Memorial because of the crowds, he performed his evening duties standing on a box near the control room.

The Reception

The apocryphal tale of the broadcast is of people crowded into the living rooms of neighbours and friends as there were only just over 2 million TV licences issued by early 1953 (against a population of around 42 million). In addition to these private arrangements, many television sets were arranged in church halls and other public spaces to allow those without ready access to television to see the broadcast. The licensing of these public broadcasts (normally not allowed under a regular domestic receiving licence, especially for paying audiences), is specifically referred to on the back cover of the Coronation... booklet:

NOTE: For the benefit of local authorities wishing to test public exhibition sets the BBC’s telelvision transmitters are on the air one hour before the start of programmes on 2 June, that is to say at about 9 a.m. No objection is taken by the BBC to the re­diffusion in public of the sound and television broadcasts of the Coronation ceremony and processions.

The BBC is authorized to state that the Performing Right Society also does not object. The re­diffusion of television programmes to paying audiences is not covered by the G.P.O. £2 receiving licence but the Postmaster­General has announced that he proposes to issue a collective licence, free of charge, to cover the re­diffusion of the BBC broadcasts to paying audiences.

One example of these public showings was at the Festival Hall where, one morning in April, 3000 tickets sold out within 54 minutes.

Although footage of the procession and ceremony exists as colour newsreel, this was recorded separately on film by Rank. There was also an experimental colour television broadcast (not by the BBC), relayed by closed ­circuit to Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.

The Year That Made The Day offers some insight into how many people experienced the ceremony courtesy of the BBC:

An audience survey carried out in Great Britain shows that some eleven­and­three­quarter million adults listened to the sound broadcast of the Coronation and nearly twenty­and­a­half million saw it on television.

It is estimated that a further one­and­a­half millions in Europe saw the Coronation relayed by their local television stations. [...] It has been estimated that over two million people in Canada and some eighty­five million all over the U.S.A. watched the Coronation on television.

The BBC made use of all its own transmitting resources, but also those of other broadcasting organisations. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation relayed the broadcast via two of their transmitters, which was also picked up extensively across the whole American Continent, and Radio Ceylon used their high­power transmitters to relay coverage across South and South­East Asia. Excluding Europe, the total number of relaying stations was approximately 2,750; in Europe the number was over 200. There were also rebroadcasts by the British Forces Network stations in Europe, the Middle East Land Forces’ transmitters and the Commonwealth Forces’ station in Japan.

The RAF flew tele-recordings (film recordings of the television broadcast) across the Atlantic to Canada in three stages throughout the day: ­ 1.30pm; 3.15pm and 6.26pm. At 4.15pm local time, the full BBC television programme was broadcast by stations in Ottowa, Toronto and Montreal. NBC and ABC in the United States also relayed this broadcast, and CBS transmitted its own copy of the tele-recording, which had come across with the RAF and then been flown on to Boston.

At the end of the book, several telegrams (detailed below in capital letters) and messages are reproduced, received by the BBC from the various outposts around the world responsible for rebroadcasting the transmission:

R.T.F, Paris:

11.25; 2.6.53 VERY URGENT QUALITY IMAGE PASSABLE DEPARTURE FROM BUCKINGHAM PALACE

EXCELLENT FROM 10.30 STOP SOUND PERFECT STOP PUBLIC CROWDING ROUND PUBLIC RECEIVING SETS AND CINEMA HALLS FULL STOP REACTIONS ENTHUSIASTIC

STOP BRAVO

Sao Paulo, Brazil:

I would like to mention that reception here was marvellously clear on the special wavelengths.” (This listener enclosed a copy of a Sao Paulo newspaper, published at 2.30pm, local time, on 2 June, on the front page of which were four radio photos of the Coronation taken from the TV screen.)

Radio N.H.K., Tokyo, Japan:

SPLENDID RECEPTION MANY THANKS GOD SAVE THE QUEEN

From a Petty Officer on board the British submarine Andrew, that picked up the Coronation broadcasts during her 2,500 mile underwater Atlantic crossing:

My biggest thrill was being awakened one morning by a fanfare of trumpets. I couldn’t make out what it was at first. Then I realised we were hearing the Coronation broadcasts from the Abbey.

Matt Verrill is Technical Project Manager, BBC Children's Interactive.

Tagged with:

Comments

This entry is now closed for comments.

  • Comment number 11. Posted by MattVerrill

    on 4 Jun 2013 21:01

    @JohnBergqvist Yes, that's my understanding. From what little reference material I can find the Pye CCTV coverage consisted of just 3 fixed cameras mounted in Parliament Square (presumably covering only the procession). I'm not sure how many cameras Rank had but, being newsreel rather than television, they would have been recording on film, and then obviously the BBC television crews as mentioned in the article. As Kit Green mentions in the first comment there was also experimental colour 3D footage of the procession shot by Pathe (thought lost until 2009 and then broadcast on Channel 4 in that year). It's probably reasonable to assume that there would be film crews from miscellaneous foreign news agencies dotted around the procession route as well.

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 11: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 11: 0
    Loading…
  • Comment number 10. Posted by John Bergqvist

    on 4 Jun 2013 09:19

    @MattVerrill So there would have been 3 seperate camera crews then, each recording their own feeds; the BBC, Rank, and Pye?

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 10: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 10: 0
    Loading…
  • Comment number 9. Posted by Barry Coward

    on 2 Jun 2013 18:06

    Without getting too technical I would refer you to Edward Pawley's authoritative book BBC Engineering 1922 -1972 in which he explains the Coronation feeds went to a central control room at BH. The GPO provided 18 vision and 84 sound circuits for the BBC, 3 sound lines for NTS (Netherlands TV) and 27 for RTF. Twenty two cameras covered the event. STC transmitted the vision for Netherlands and France from a mast on the Senate Building of the University of London. The 405 line signal was received by RTF in Cassel where it was converted to 819 lines and sent to Paris (where an optical converter reduced the signal to 441 lines) and 625 lines and sent to Breda. Pawley also gives details of the temporary transmitters in Newcastle, Belfast and Brighton (Shoreham actually). Design, planning and construction of these transmitters took just three months.

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 9: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 9: 0
    Loading…
  • Comment number 8. Posted by Jack T P Robinson

    on 1 Jun 2013 11:49

    I was a BBC engineer with one of theTV OB units on The Day. BBC OBs in those days were based at the old Palace of Arts building at Wembley and the day before (60 years ago today) everyone involved in the proceedings were bussed up to Central London and slept overnight on BBC premises. We were up well before dawn on the 2nd and taken to our various positions to start setting up and testing our part of the system......the rain didn't help! As a maintenance engineer manning the external position outside Westminster Abbey I remember it being a hectic, long day.

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 8: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 8: 0
    Loading…
  • Comment number 7. Posted by MattVerrill

    on 1 Jun 2013 10:52

    Hi John. The colour newsreel would have been shot on film, whereas the colour footage broadcast via CCTV was done by a private conglomeration of the British company Pye and the American Chromatic Television Laboratories. There's not a huge amount of documentation about it, but I don't think the technology existed at the time to record the colour broadcast for posterity (other than to capture it to film as a telerecording, but I don't suppose that was the intention of the experiment.)

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 7: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 7: 0
    Loading…
  • Comment number 6. Posted by John Bergqvist

    on 1 Jun 2013 06:25

    "Although footage of the procession and ceremony exists as colour newsreel, this was recorded separately on film by Rank. There was also an experimental colour television broadcast (not by the BBC), relayed by closed ­circuit to Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital." So was the colour newsreel footage taken from the same source as the experimental colour transmitted via CCTV, or were there 3 different feeds in total then? I presume the CCTV colour footage is lost now, which is a shame as if we had them all (BBC B&W, Rank Colour & CCTV Colour) that would make a great multi-angle feature on a DVD or Blu Ray.

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 6: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 6: 0
    Loading…
  • Comment number 5. Posted by MattVerrill

    on 28 May 2013 18:31

    Yep, I'm afraid Andy and Weston1 are absolutely correct - Truleigh Hill transmitter is near Brighton rather than Bristol. Sloppy fact-checking on my behalf, I promise I'll do better next time!

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 5: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 5: 0
    Loading…
  • Comment number 4. Posted by Weston1

    on 28 May 2013 17:30

    Truleigh Hill is near Brighton, not Bristol.

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 4: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 4: 0
    Loading…
  • Comment number 3. Posted by Andy Hame

    on 28 May 2013 17:26

    Truleigh Hill is near Brighton rather than Bristol.
    Interesting article though!

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 3: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 3: 0
    Loading…
  • Comment number 2. Posted by Tony29

    on 28 May 2013 16:56

    Very interesting Matt, thank you.

    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of positive ratings for comment 2: 0
    • This entry is now closed for comments. Number of negative ratings for comment 2: 0
    Loading…
More comments

More Posts

Next