Peter Coleman: Right royal experience of a lifetime… again

May 06, 2023 at 10:43 pm by admin

A once in a lifetime experience, but I’m lucky, I’m sitting in front of the TV watching my second English coronation!

I’m staring at the metre-wide TV in my Mercure Saint-Omer hotel room, having walked from Arques (no taxis or Uber)… but that’s another story. And here comes the royal coach and the first performance of the national anthem I’ve heard for the day.

Bit of a contrast from the 12-inch Marconiphone console my parents bought to watch the 1953 event, with its tiny monochrome screen, big loudspeaker and radio above.

But the technology is still a wonder. This time it’s YouTube, as I’m in France working a boat back to Calais, and the hotel room is a luxury to compensate for the lack of severely-rationed bandwidth. Could have been anywhere though.

New tech too, I hear with the new Aussie-made jubilee state coach with its air-conditioning and electric windows.

Earlier we watched the world’s heads of state arriving for the sumptuous concert which has been entertaining them in Westminster Abbey, part of the pared-down multi-million-pound show which will no doubt bring back its cost times over in tourism and TV rights.


I can’t remember other than feelings of wonder when I watched that small screen in 1953. We lived in the flat above the stationer’s shop – which was also the office of the local newspaper – then, but others in the street below peered at a set in the window of the Curry’s TV shop opposite.

Today we take live coverage – anywhere – for granted, and expect it on a phone in our pocket. Over the years too, I’ve written about the evolution of the technology which has allowed broadcast-quality moving images to be broadcast from virtually anywhere, anytime.

In this case, to an audience estimated at 350 million.

As the commentator has just mentioned, a very different scene to the one 70 years ago; rain however, appears to be one constant.

The coach pulls up and we discuss the monarch’s choice of robes; seems a lot of ermine have contributed to the spectacle, however… perhaps they’re synthetic.

The procession into the abbey continues – still calling Camilla “queen consort” on the BBC version – and did I catch a brief look of, “I’m over this” on the monarch’s face? But, he’s slipped back into gear, and is smiling again.

The photography of course, is staggering. A transept shot evokes, do I recall, the 1953 novelty of a fixed camera on the abbey ceiling. Except that definition and depth-of-field is beyond belief almost, and a contrast to what we saw on 405-line black-and-white TV, amazing as it was.

Good enough, of course, to catch every inadvertent facial expression, such as that of a woman standing behind the gospel singing group. The false eyelashes of one of the choristers, and the neckband of her male colleague which somehow evokes eight-level paper tape.

Reminders as the service continues too, that there’s still a line between what the cameras could show and what they do show. Vision by prior agreement.

Quick plug for the printed word here: It’s everywhere. On the prompt cards Charles looks left to for fear of forgetting his lines, and of course the documents he signs. The newly-printed bible he acknowledges and kisses, and the sixth-century Augustine gospel, with its references to earlier books, later.

Mention of print, too recalls the day Maggie and I drove to the Press Association to collect trannies of Charles’ marriage to his first wife, so that we could get separations and plates made by a trade house, for printing the following day.

Big role too, for Penny Mordaunt, who twice missed the top Tory job, but gets to carry a sword for Charles, at least swapping it for a lighter one later in the service.

And so it continues… with the personal bits from which the public are still shielded, and with the formal robing and equipping of the monarch with each significant and symbolic element of regalia adding responsibility and weight.

To the crown itself, so that you feel for the old boy and hope he took his Berocca this morning.

Moving on, post-eucharist, we’re in the ‘grease and fever’ praise moment and more, ahead of the procession proper, and you get that feeling – at 12.42 – that the end is in sight… of the service at least.

There’ll be more to follow, of the pomp and pageantry of which Britain, for whom I still hold a passport, is the world’s best – and possibly last – exponent. Proud of that… and perhaps that many of the hymns and responses are familiar, though perhaps not as a six-year-old.

Interesting that the bands throughout the return procession are for the first time, synchronized, ensuring that as vision is cut from camera to camera, they all get off on the right foot. Remarkable.

The abiding feeling, as I watch YouTube in a foreign country, is of the accessibility and impressive quality of the broadcast spectacle. Hopefully I’ll not be walking back to the boat afterwards – still difficult to get a taxi or Uber in regional France – but it’s been worthwhile and a privilege to watch this.

Though what am I complaining about: At least it’s not raining here! Yet at least.

And then it’s gone: The BBC YouTube live stream disappears up the tube, and won’t be replaced, other that an American ABC version, without some trouble, as the procession nears Buck House. No I don’t want to watch the national broadcaster’s world service. Probably time to go.

Hard not to think that it’ll inevitably be less than 70 years to the next coronation, and that much more will have changed by then… not that I plan to be around for a third!

Sections: Columns & opinion


Hi Peter, Grand read on your coronation viewing from France. I watched it down the South Coast from Sydney in a holiday rental at Georges Basin. Your piece made me recall that the previous 1953 crowning was the first time I ever saw television. In a housing scheme in Dublin there was one television set for blocks around. The sitting room was packed and we as kids were rotated through to catch a glimpse of the snowy, flickering, black and white picture. I got to see maybe five or ten minutes of it, but the images remain to this day. As you say, very different this time around. Cheers Pattrick
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