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The Queen Looks Outward at Christmas

December 28, 2009
Princess (now Queen) Elizabeth at 7, painted by Philip de Laszlo

Princess Elizabeth of York (now Queen Elizabeth II) at age 7, by Philip de Laszlo.

Queen Elizabeth II was but a 14-year-old princess  when, with little sister Margaret by her side, she delivered her first radio address. It was October 1940, during a terrifying world war, and her shy pep talk was directed to her fellow youth of England, many of them exiled from urban homes for safety from German bombs. Elizabeth’s father, George VI, occupied the throne at the time, and he and his hardy queen were revered for their decision, rather than evacuating themselves, to remain in London alongside their people.

The Queen still addresses her people regularly in the annual Christmas homilies begun by her grandfather.

The tradition has seen as much change over the years as its presenter, now a self-assured matron whose tresses match her diamonds. On a technical level, she successfully moved her address from radio to TV in 1957 (see that broadcast at the end of this post). Since then, it’s taken on a documentary style, in contrast to the traditionally static queen-facing-camera format. Like her medium, the Queen’s material, too, has tried to keep pace with modern times. The Queen once again addressed concerns of war in her Christmas talk yesterday, in a somber tribute to casualties of Afghanistan, but then turned her lens outward, toward the 60-year-old Commonwealth of Nations over which she, loosely speaking, presides.

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After her opening focus on casualties and sacrifices in Afghanistan, her text this year made a bow to (dare we say) political correctness (or, in a more generous light, offered a queenly nod to the United Kingdom’s decided diversity) by highlighting the contributions of the multi-hued youth of the the 54 Commonwealth nations.

As Pigtown Design pointed out with her usual optimism, the whole setpiece is worth it if only to hear a steel drum ensemble of Jamaican school children — including a rare girl percussionist — tapping out God Save the Queen.

The broadcast begins this year with elegiac footage of Buckingham Palace. The groundbreaking black-and-white 1957 broadcast opened with scenes of the royal palace at Sandringham, where the royals traditionally spend Christmas. In it, a much younger queen also devoted her remarks to celebrating the Commonwealth, a nation of “friends” because “we have always tried to do our best to be honest and kindly and because we have tried to stand up for what we believed to be honest and right… Today, I cannot lead you into battle, but I can .. give you my heart, and my devotion to these old islands, and to all the people of our brotherhood of nations.” Watch and enjoy:

Vodpod videos no longer available.
Buckingham Palace portrait courtesy of Agência Brasil.
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