Watching the Queen’s Coronation on TV in 1953

30th April 2023 | Daily Life, Musings | 4 comments

Talk of how people are going to watch the King’s Coronation next week has reminded me of my father’s tale about Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation in 1953.

My father had recently moved to Scotland to marry my Scottish mother. Before coming to Edinburgh, my dad had been apprenticed to Mr Jolly, who started out as a gramophone dealer but moved with the times and progressed to running a television and radio shop in Aston Lane, Birmingham. (We used to enjoy the idea of a shop called Jolly TVs.)

When my dad arrived in Scotland in the early 1950s he had the idea of starting his own little TV shop to rent out televisions to customers. As it turned out, my dad’s was the first television shop in Scotland, though I think we didn’t realise that until later.

When the Queen was crowned on 2 June 1953, she requested that the event be televised. This was obviously the first time that the coronation ceremony had been seen on television. But few people had a television to watch it on. My father had the idea of renting a local church hall and putting a television (and presumably also a TV aerial) in it so that people could come and watch the Queen’s Coronation. I now don’t remember whether he put just one or several televisions there, but I seem to think he described people seated around one small television, its screen probably not much larger than that of a laptop today. The broadcast was in black and white, of course.

For many British people, the Queen’s Coronation was their first experience of watching television. The event probably triggered people’s interest in having a television in their own home, because my dad was able to build up a business renting TVs and offering a back-up repair service too. From then on he was constantly driving around Edinburgh at all hours to repair people’s TVs in time for them to watch their favourite programmes. My mother used to complain about the phone ringing during our evening meal with customers desperate for Mr Tomes to come and fix their wobbly picture in time for Coronation Street or whatever. My dad would bolt down his tea and drive to the rescue.

It’s amazing to think how much technology has changed since 1953. Next weekend, most people could watch the Coronation of King Charles on their own mobile phones if they so wished!

4 Comments

  1. Mary Cohen

    What a lovely story. In my extended family there was (and still is…) a distinct ‘bragging’ divide between those children who got a Coronation mug in 1953 and those who were born too late for that.

    Reply
  2. Eric Bridgstock

    At yesterday afternoon’s informal service for older folk at our church, the theme was ‘time’ and included discussion about the upcoming Coronation, and memories the Queen’s (several remembered the events of 1953). It seemed appropriate to share the story of your father’s enterprise, so I did, and it went down ‘Jolly well’, clearly striking a chord with those for whom the event was their first experience of television and pageantry on that scale, and joining with others!
    We will be streaming King Charles to our large screen on Saturday and expect between 20 and 40 to gather for light lunch and celebration.

    Reply
  3. James

    He must have been a very clever and practical man – I’m pretty sure I’d have a better chance of learning an obscure piece by Sorabji than I would have of fixing a TV!
    As I watched that strange, almost medieval event yesterday here in Australia I was thinking… how does my viewing experience compare with that of those who saw the coronation in 1953? Camilla’s jewels were so lustrous on my high-def screen. Charles’ almost inaudible thanks to William was so poignant, only just captured by the mic. The entire event was strangely revolting and strangely moving.

    Reply
    • Susan Tomes

      I think you have captured the strange mixture of positive and negative emotions/thoughts which many people had during yesterday’s events.

      Reply

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