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As the life of the late Queen Elizabeth II is being celebrated, one aspect that should not be overlooked is the role that television played in her reign
That was evident early on, when her 1953 coronation set a record as the most-watched TV event at the time, attracting an audience of 20 million during an era when few owned TV sets. That single broadcast, in fact, is widely credited for popularizing TV as a mainstream medium.
Recognizing that television was both expansive and intimate, in 1957 the Queen delivered her first-ever televised holiday broadcast. “I very much hope that this new medium will make my Christmas message more personal and direct,” she told viewers.
In 1969, at a time when the monarchy was facing an existential threat, she opened up Buckingham Palace to a BBC camera crew for a documentary she herself commissioned, with the intention of reviving public interest in the royals. Titled The Royal Family, this TV special was viewed by 30 million in the U.K. and 350 million worldwide.
Sir David Attenborough—then director of programming for the BBC—was among many in the British establishment who felt the Queen had shown viewers too much of herself, eroding the mystique upon which the monarchy depends for its survival. He was wrong, of course; the monarchy soldiered on, and the Queen continued to utilize TV as an essential means of communication.
Over the years, television also offered Her Majesty opportunities to demonstrate she had a sense of humour. That was the case when she was depicted as parachuting into the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics with Daniel Craig’s James Bond or, most recently, having a cup of tea with Paddington Bear in a televised comedy bit celebrating her Platinum Jubilee.
That was a philosophy she shared with viewers during her 1991 Christmas broadcast. “Let us not take ourselves too seriously,” she said. “None of us has a monopoly of wisdom and we must always be ready to listen and respect other points of view.”