The Queen's Jubilee: When Brits got a glimpse of the royal lifestyle
A family sat around the breakfast table: mother, father, two young adult children. The matriarch tells a funny story about her grandmother, much to the amusement of the youngsters.
It sounds like an early episode of Coronation Street, but in reality this was far more of a television revolution. Because the family sat around the table are not Frank and Ida Barlow, bickering with their sons Ken and David. It is the Royal family, and the Queen is reminiscing about Queen Victoria, much to the amusement of the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and Princess Anne.
Fly-on-the-wall documentaries about the rich and famous may be bread and butter for today's broadcasters, but back in the 1960s this was a huge thing – and something the Queen was said to be somewhat uncomfortable with.
As the Frugal Fifties made way for the Swinging Sixties, a social revolution was sweeping Britain. Rationing was long gone, television was becoming increasingly commonplace. Young people tuned into Radio Luxembourg and Caroline for their fix of popular music, while the newspaper industry became noticeably less deferential.
To this backdrop, the Royal Family faced a stark choice: it either had to either adapt to the new age of celebrity and egalitarianism, or risk becoming an outdated irrelevance.
While the Queen, still in her early 30s at the start of the 1960s, was very much a product of this age, she is said to have felt unease at how the monarchy should react to the age of mass media.
In an interview during her Golden Jubilee year in 2002, the Queen said the greatest regret of her reign had been how she responded to the Aberfan disaster of 1966, when a spoil heap from a nearby colliery collapsed onto Pantglas Junior School, killing 116 children and 28 adults.
The Queen initially refused to visit the village, sending her husband the Duke of Edinburgh in her place. But while Philip's visit was well received by the small, tight-knit community, speculation began to mount about why the Queen did not see fit to attend. Eventually she relented, and eight days after the disaster she turned out to pay her respects.
It was said at the time that the Queen was reluctant to visit because she did not want to cause a distraction while the rescue effort was still going on. But royal commentator Robert Hardman believed there was another reason:
"Everyone I've spoken to says that the Queen was really worried that she would let the side down. She didn't want to go there and make things worse for these families," he said. "She was a young mother, Prince Edward was a baby, she knew she was going to be as overwhelmed as everybody else was. And the last thing people want is a sobbing Queen on their shoulder."
Either way, it demonstrated that the Queen had a quiet, reserved side, which also became apparent when Elizabeth was approached about making a revolutionary television documentary about the life of the royals.
It was Lord Brabourne, the son-in-law of the royal cousin Lord Mountbatten, who suggested using the medium of television to provide the Queen’s subjects a sense of her personality. Brabourne proposed that a behind-the-scenes TV special could introduce the public to 21-year-old Prince Charles, ahead of his investiture as Prince of Wales.
Palace press officer William Heseltine was convinced that allowing the people to see the real people who made up the Royal Family could only be a good thing for the monarchy, and the Duke of Edinburgh agreed. The Queen cautiously agreed, although she was said to have misgivings. Princess Anne was said to be horrified.
"I never liked the idea of 'Royal Family,' I thought it was a rotten idea," Anne was reported as saying. "The attention which had been brought upon one ever since one was a child, you just didn’t need any more."
Filming, which began in 1968, showed the Queen taking five-year-old Prince Edward to a sweet shop, while Charles and Philip showed off their sporting prowess, fishing, water-skiing and flying an aircraft. The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh are also seen decorating their tree at Christmas time. And while the debate went on about whether the royals were wise to invite the camera crews into their homes, viewers at home couldn't get enough of it: 30 million tuned into watch. For better or worse, the Royal Family were now well and truly part of the television age.
If the documentary gave the public a fresh perspective of what royal life was like behind the scenes, the Silver Jubilee of 1977 brought her into contact with her subjects in a way never seen before.
The anniversary of The Queen's Accession on February 6 was commemorated in church services throughout that month. The Queen marked the milestone with a quiet weekend with her family at Windsor, and it wasn't until the spring that the celebrations began in earnest.
Her three-month tour of the UK was unlike anything performed by any monarch before, taking in a total of 36 counties. The tour began in Glasgow on May 17, with greater crowds than the city had ever seen before. In Lancashire, more than a million people turned out on one day.
On July 27 she took part in a hectic tour of the West Midlands, beginning with a visit to the Goodyear works in Wolverhampton, before moving on to Dudley Council House where she was received by Mayor, Councillor Jim Taylor, and Oak House Museum in West Bromwich. She rounded off the day with a visit to Walsall Town Hall, where proceedings ground to a standstill after her car broke down.
The tour of the UK, which closed in Northern Ireland, was then followed by overseas trips to Western Samoa, Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji, Tasmania, Papua New Guinea, Canada and the West Indies. Over the course of the year it was estimated that The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh travelled 56,000 miles.
But the undoubted highlight of the celebrations came at the start of June. On the evening of June 6, Her Majesty lit a bonfire beacon at Windsor, which started a chain of beacons across the country. The following day, vast crowds saw the Queen driven in her famous gold state coach to St Paul's Cathedral for a Service of Thanksgiving, attended by heads of state from around the world and former prime ministers of the UK.
Afterwards the Queen and members of the Royal Family attended a lunch at the Guildhall, where she spoke of the pledge she had made at the age of 21 to dedicate her life to the service of the people.
"Although that vow was made in my salad days, when I was green in judgement, I do not regret nor retract one word of it," she said.
An estimated 500 million people around the world watched on television as the procession returned down the Mall. Back at Buckingham Palace, The Queen made several balcony appearances, while street parties were held around the country.
The final event of the central week of celebrations was a flotilla down the Thames from Greenwich to Lambeth on June 9, emulating the ceremonial barge trips of Elizabeth I. The journey ended with a firework display, and a procession of lighted carriages took the Queen back to Buckingham Palace for more balcony appearances to a cheering crowd.
Silver Jubilee year went down in history as an unqualified success. The shy young monarch who entered the 1960s tentatively trying to adapt to the glare of publicity at matured into a master tactician able to connect with her subjects like no sovereign before.
It was a day of pageantry and pomp — and, at the centre of it all, a profoundly touching scene between a mother and her 20-year-old son.
As the Prince of Wales knelt before the Queen at his glittering Investiture ceremony in the Castle of Caernarvon, he looked very young, very vulnerable.
Her Majesty looped the sword belt over his shoulder then took several seconds to settle the gold ceremonial crown on his head.
The event was one of a number that defined the 1960s and that were largely a happy time for the Queen and the Royal Family.
The Beatles and the Apollo 11 astronauts were all visitors to Buckingham Palace. And on July 30 1966, the Queen handed Bobby Moore the Jules Rimet Trophy at Wembley.
The Queen took her duty as monarch seriously and visited Aberfan after the colliery spoil disaster in October 1966. She had agonised over the visit, wanting to show support but not wanting to distract or add to the grief of the town.
A trip to Australia and New Zealand in 1970 brought a new experience – the walkabout.
It was the first of thousands the Queen was to carry out, particularly when 1977’s Silver Jubilee saw her tour the country to meet her people.
On June 7, 1977, Elizabeth and Philip rode in the Gold State Coach from Buckingham Palace to St Paul’s Cathedral to officially celebrate her 25th year on the throne. The Queen repeated her long-ago pledge to devote her life to service. She said that “although that vow was made in my salad days when I was green in judgement, I do not regret nor retract one word of it.”
Later that day, The Queen’s walk from the Cathedral to Guildhall was scheduled to last 20 minutes. In fact, it took almost twice as long.
But time didn’t matter – it was a day for the Queen and the people, and the laughing faces around her tell the story.
Jubilee pictures are filled with smiles and laughter. In 1977 she firmly became the People’s Queen.
The cheering crowds, blancmange and jelly, the tacky souvenirs. For those who were around, the Silver Jubilee of 1977 left an indelible impression on the people of the West Midlands, not least during the Queen’s unforgettable visit to the region.
But while the jubilee is the one we all remember, one should not forget the other visits that the Queen made to the area during the 1960s and 70s.
It is 60 years this month since the Queen visited Molineux, where she was greeted by the Staffordshire military.
The visit, on May 24, 1962, saw Her Majesty present new colours to 5 Battalion South Staffs Regiment, and other units including the Staffordshire Yeomanry and the North Staffs Regiments. She apologised for damaging the turf with her high heels.
Following lunch with dignitaries, she went on to plant a tree at Wolverhampton Grammar School, before moving on to Wednesfield, Walsall and Wednesbury.
The Queen returned to the region in 1967 when she opened Shrewsbury’s new Shirehall, before moving on to Dawley New Town, as the town that would become Telford was still known. She dropped in on the home of Geoffrey and Beryl Davies of Sandcroft in Sutton Hill, who had just moved from West Bromwich.
The Shropshire Star’s photograph of the Queen arriving at Shrewsbury railway station for the visit made newspaper history as the first colour photograph taken by a British newspaper which was published on the day that it was taken – March 17, 1967.
For the Silver Jubilee, the Queen embarked on a mammoth tour of the West Midlands, throng by huge crowds of well-wishers as her car passed through the packed streets. The day began when the Queen arrived at a makeshift railway station created at Goodyear tyre works in Wolverhampton. She was then driven through the centre of town in a glass-sided car as she made her way to Dudley, where she greeted crowds amassed outside the council house, and was taken on a tour of the zoo and castle. She then visited Oak House in West Bromwich, before hitting a bit of car trouble as she was welcomed in Walsall town centre.
She also visited Birmingham, Solihull and Coventry, before ending the day with a banquet at the Metropole Hotel at the National Exhibition Centre.
It was a warm summer’s morning and mechanics at a Rolls-Royce dealer took a brief break to watch the Queen’s cavalcade drive past.
“I hope that thing doesn’t break down,” muttered service manager Terry Stanley, as he eyed up the Her Majesty’s gleaming glass-sided limousine. A couple of hours later it did. And of course nobody believed it. But once it had been established that Her Majesty genuinely was stranded, mechanics Fred Budd, Chris Tate and Dean Guest came to the rescue.
The mishap happened during The Queen’s visit to the West Midlands during the Silver Jubilee celebrations in 1977. The Queen had started her visit in Wolverhampton, and Fred and Chris had watched the cavalcade make its way past the P J Evans Rolls-Royce garage in Sedgley as it made its way to Dudley. But it was later in the day, during a visit to Walsall, that the Rolls-Royce Phantom Landaulette failed to proceed.
Fred recalls his boss interrupting his lunch break. “I was sitting in the canteen eating my chips when the service manager came in and said ‘get your tools together Fred, the Queen’s car’s broken down’,” he says. “I panicked for a bit, then I thought it was a wind-up, and sat down again, I carried on eating my chips.
It seems even service manager Mr Stanley had his doubts about the call.
“Because he had said that, about the Queen’s car breaking down, he thought when he took the call it was a joke,” says Chris, who was 21 at the time. Fred and Chris went out with Mr Stanley to examine the stricken motor, which had broken down close to Walsall Town Hall. Unfortunately the car required a new fuel pump which could only be obtained from the factory in Crewe, meaning that the Queen would be unable to finish her tour in the car.
“We did a roadside repair to get it back to the garage, but it would have been no good letting her have it back as it would have gone again,” recalls Chris. “We were taken back to the garage under police escort with blue lights, and we let her have a brand new Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow to finish her engagements for the day.”
Chris, now 66, remembers being subjected to intense security checks before he was allowed to work on the royal vehicle.
“Terry, the service manager, lived in Cheshire, only 10 minutes away from Crewe. So he was able to pick the new fuel pump up on his way home, so we were able to let her have the car back the following day.”
A short while later, service manager Mr Stanley received a letter from the Queen’s equerry thanking him, Chris and Fred for their work on that eventful day. Chris says he was not especially nervous about working on the Queen’s car, although he says it could have been embarrassing had something gone amiss.
“We used to work on a lot of celebrities’ cars at Sedgley in those days. We did Slade’s Phantom, Jimmy Lea’s Silver Shadow and Kendo Nagasaki had a Corniche. I suppose it was more exclusive working on the Queen’s, but we weren’t fazed by it.”
Fred, now 71, owns the Castec Motor Services, a Rolls-Royce, Bentley and Mercedes-Benz garage in Great Brickiln Street, Wolverhampton. Chris, who recently retired from running his own garage, works for Fred on a part-time basis.