Television introduced Queen Elizabeth II to the world. It was only fitting that television should see her out of it.
The queen’s seven-decade reign almost exactly spanned the trendy TV era. Her coronation in 1953 began the age of world video spectacles. Her funeral on Monday was a full-color pageant accessible to billions.
It was a final display of the force of two institutions: the concentrated grandeur of the British monarchy and the ability amassed by television to bring viewers to each corner of the world.
“I actually have to be seen to be believed,” Elizabeth once reportedly said. It was less a boast than an acknowledgment of a contemporary duty. One needed to be seen, whether one liked it or not. It was her source of authority at a time when the crown’s power not got here through fleets of ships. It was how she provided her country reassurance and projected stability.
The last funeral service for a British monarch, King George VI, was not televised. For one last time, Elizabeth was the primary. She entered the world stage, through the brand new magic of broadcasting, as a resolute young face. She departed it as a bejeweled crown on a purple cushion, transmuted finally into pure visual symbol.
Americans who woke up early Monday (or stayed up, in a while zones) saw striking images aplenty, on every news network. The breathtaking God’s-eye view from above the coffin in Westminster Abbey. The continual stream of world leaders. The thick crowds along the procession to Windsor, flinging flowers on the motorcade. The corgis.
Viewers also saw and heard something unusual within the TV news environment: long stretches of unnarrated live motion — the speaking of prayers, the clop of horse hooves — and moments of stillness. This was notable within the golf-whisper coverage on BBC World News, which let scenes just like the loading of the coffin onto a gun carriage play out in silence, its screen bare of the standard lower-thirds captions.
The industrial American networks, being the distant relations at this service, filled within the gaps with chattery bits of history and evaluation. News departments called within the Brits. (On Fox News, the reality-TV fixtures Piers Morgan and Sharon Osbourne critiqued Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s media ventures.) “Royal commentators” broke down points of protocol and inventoried the materials and symbolism of the crown, scepter and orb like auction appraisers.
But even American TV fell still in the course of the funeral ceremony. The cameras drank within the Gothic arches of Westminster Abbey, bathed within the hymns of the choirs, goggled on the royal jewels, lingered on the solemn face of Charles III in the course of the performance of — it still sounds strange — “God Save the King.” Finally, we watched from above as bearers carried the coffin step-by-step across the black-and-white-diamond floor like an ornate chess piece.
The quiet spectating was a gesture of respect but in addition a type of tourist’s awe. We had come all this fashion; in fact we wanted to absorb the sights.
Elizabeth’s reign was marked by unprecedented visibility, for higher or worse. Her coronation in 1953 spurred the British to purchase television sets, bringing the country into the TV age and welcoming the general public into an event once reserved for the upper crust.
This modified something essential within the relation of the masses to the monarchy. The coronation, with its vestments and blessings, signified the exclusive connection of the monarch to God. Once that was not exclusive, all the things else in the connection between the ruler and the general public was up for negotiation.
The young queen resisted letting within the cameras. The prime minister Winston Churchill apprehensive about making the ritual right into a “theatrical performance.” But Elizabeth could no more stop the force of media than her forebear King Canute could halt the tide.
TV undercut the mystique of royalty but spread its image, expanding the queen’s virtual reach whilst the colonial empire diminished. There have been other surviving monarchies on the earth, however the Windsors were the default royals of TV-dom, the predominant characters in a generational reality-TV soap opera. They became global celebrities, through scandals, weddings, deaths and “The Crown.”
The coronation had worldwide effects too. It began the age when TV would bring the world into your front room live — or not less than near it. In 1953, with live trans-Atlantic broadcasts still not yet possible, CBS and NBC raced to fly the kinescopes of the event across the ocean in airplanes with their seats removed to slot in editing equipment. (They each lost to Canada’s CBC, which got its footage home first.)
The subsequent day’s Times heralded the event because the “birth of international television,” marveling that American viewers “probably saw greater than the peers and peeresses of their seats within the transept.” Boy, did they: NBC’s “Today” show coverage, which carried a radio feed of the coronation, included an appearance by its chimpanzee mascot, J. Fred Muggs. Welcome to indicate business, Your Majesty.
The one limit on cameras at Elizabeth’s coronation was to disclaim them a view of the ritual anointment of the brand new queen. By 2022, viewers take divine omniscience as a right. If we are able to consider it, we must always have the option to see it.
So after Elizabeth’s death, you can monitor the convoy from Balmoral Castle in Scotland to London, with a glassy hearse designed and lit to make the coffin visible. You possibly can watch the queen’s lying-in-state in Westminster Hall on live video feeds, from quite a few angles, the silence broken only by the occasional cry of a baby or cough of a guard. The faces got here and went, including the queen’s grandchildren joining the tribute, however the camera’s vigil was constant.
After 70 years, nonetheless, television has lost its exclusive empire as well. Whilst it broadcast what was described — plausibly but vaguely — because the most-watched event in history, traditional TV shared the funeral audience with the web and social media.
Elizabeth and the medium that defined her reign were each unifiers of a form that we won’t see again. Though not all the British support the monarchy, the queen offered her fractious country a way of constancy. TV brought together disparate populations within the communal experience of seeing the identical thing without delay.
Now what? Tina Brown, the author, editor and royal-watcher, asked on CBS, “Will anyone be loved by the nation a lot again?” You possibly can also ask: Will Charles’s coronation next 12 months be nearly as big a worldwide media event? Will anything? (You possibly can also ask whether an event like this ought to be so all-consuming. While American TV news was wall-to-wall with an overseas funeral, Puerto Rico was flooded and without power from Hurricane Fiona.)
Monday’s services felt like a capstone to 2 eras. For sooner or later, we saw a display of the pageantry that the crown can command and the worldwide audience that TV can.
American TV spent its full morning with the queen. (Well, almost: CBS aired the season premiere of “The Price Is Right.”) The day’s pomp built toward yet one more never-before-broadcast ceremony, the removal of scepter, orb and crown from the coffin, which was lowered into the vault at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor. Then followed something almost unimaginable: A personal burial service, with no TV cameras.
Television got one final spectacle out of Elizabeth’s reign. And the queen had one final moment out of the general public eye.