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The British nation came to a standstill on 2 June 1953.
Thousands lined the streets of London, while in homes and offices the length and breadth of Britain, colleagues, neighbours and relatives huddled in corners, all peering avidly at a small piece of furniture with a grey screen, watching magic pictures of the coronation of Elizabeth II.
For many, it was their first glimpse of television.
It was the Queen’s decision to televise the coronation, partly to please her grandmother Queen Mary who was too ill to attend in person, and against the advice of Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
BBC Television embarked on the most complicated and prolonged outside broadcast in television history.
Fears that the presence of television cameras would spoil the great day proved to be unfounded, and the vigil lasted all day. Mealtimes were slotted around crucial moments as girls gossiped about the merits of the Queen’s dress, and grandmothers said they had none of this when George V became King.
It was an occasion none would forget.
They shed tears at the shot of the boy Prince Charles in the royal box watching his mother being crowned, reflected in a moment’s silence at that shot of her handbag lying on the seat of the state coach and cheered wildly as the new Queen emerged from Westminster Abbey.
The broadcast began just after 10.00 am with Sylvia Peters introducing Berkeley Smith and Chester Wilmot, the commentators outside Buckingham Palace, as the first pictures were received from mobile units (using up to sixteen cameras) at the Victoria Memorial, on the Embankment (with Max Robertson), and outside Westminster Abbey (with Mary Hill and Michael Henderson).
Starting at 11.20 am, the Coronation Service was described for television by Richard Dimbleby from a position high up in the Triforium. Five television cameras were used in the Abbey.
8,251 guests attended, and 129 nations and territories were officially represented at the service.
The State Procession was then televised, first at a point in Hyde Park, just north of Grosvenor Gate, with commentary by Bernard Braden and Brian Johnston, and then again at the Victoria Memorial.
The return route from the Abbey to the Palace was designed so that the procession could be seen by as many people in London as possible. The 7.2 km route took the 16,000 participants two hours to complete.
Just under 30,000 men took part in the procession – 3,600 from the Royal Navy, 16,100 from the Army and 7,000 from the RAF, 2,000 from the Commonwealth and 500 from the ‘Colonies’.
There were 6,700 reserve and administrative troops, while 1,000 officers and men of the Royal military police were bought in to assist the Metropolitan Police. A further 7,000 police were drawn from 75 provincial forces.
The BBC television broadcast of the momentous day ended at 11.30 pm when Richard Dimbleby said goodnight from the empty Abbey.
Two sets of equipment were used throughout the day to make recordings of the broadcast – one for transmission at 8.00 pm of an edited version of the ceremony, the other for broadcast that same night in Canada, the USA and several European countries of a 2-hour edited recording.
Canberra jet bombers were used to fly the films across the Atlantic Ocean.