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Sapphire Jubilee: How we reported the Queen's accession to the throne

Today marks the 65th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne. But how did the Advertiser report the news in 1952, and how significant is the latest milestone? Deputy editor Nicola Hine reports.

Nicola Hine

Sapphire Jubilee: How we reported the Queen's accession to the throne

Never before in British history has a monarch marked a blue sapphire jubilee.

The Queen, who will be 91 in April, became our longest-reigning monarch on September 9, 2015, surpassing the record of her great-great-grandmother Victoria who ruled for 63 years and 216 days.

She is also the world’s longest reigning living monarch, following the death of the King of Thailand in October.

It was at 25 years old she ascended the throne, learning of the death of her father, George VI, on Wednesday, February 6 1952 while in Kenya on a Commonwealth tour.

The Princess Elizabeth, accompanied by her husband Prince Philip, returned to Britain as Queen. ‘Long may she reign’ was the paper’s headline on Friday, February 8.

In Maidenhead, the flag at the old town hall in High Street was flown at half mast.

The King’s last official visit to the town had been in July 1944, when he had toured the district to see the efforts being made to step up the wartime production of food.

The town’s memories of the King were, the Advertiser reported, ‘happy ones’, and the mayor, Alderman John Barker Maudsley, sent a message to the Queen Mother’s Private Secretary which read: “The People of Maidenhead have received with grief the tragic news of the death of our beloved King, and on their behalf I humbly tender to HM Queen Elizabeth and all Members of the Royal Family, deep and heartfelt sympathy.”

The mayor read the proclamation that Elizabeth was now Queen outside the town hall on the Friday, with a similar ceremony taking place in every English borough.

This included Windsor where it was read three times.

Children from every school in Maidenhead were invited to the ceremony, where they joined a huge crowd of church representatives, magistrates, officials and people of the town.

Through traffic was diverted at Castle Hill, with police on every road connecting with the town centre, and vehicles in the High Street brought to a standstill.

A fanfare was sounded from an upper window of the town hall before the proclamation, which ended with the words ‘Bless the Royal Princess Elizabeth the Second with long and happy years to reign over us’.

The town band played and the crowd sang God Save the Queen, with the flags raised to the top of their masts for six hours to salute the new monarch, before being returned to half mast to mourn the King.

His funeral took place in St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle on Friday, February 15.

People began gathering in the streets before dawn to watch the procession.

His body was returned to the town by train (the King died at Sandringham). The new queen was waiting on the platform to watch as the coffin, draped in the Royal Standard, on top of which sat the Imperial Crown, was transferred to a gun carriage for its journey through the streets.

Black and white photos from the Advertiser’s sister paper, the Windsor Express, show the crowds watching as the sombre procession passed by.

The following summer, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II was held at Westminster Abbey, London, on June 2, 1953. An estimated 27 million people in Britain watched the service on television, with 11 million listening to the radio (the population of Britain at the time was just over 36 million).

Fast forward to the present, and the Queen is expected to mark her latest jubilee quietly – it is, after all, the anniversary of her father’s death.

But while there will be no public celebrations on the day, there is no doubting its significance.

Broadcaster and royal biographer Hugo Vickers told the Advertiser this week: “Sixty-five years on the throne and still very much at the helm of national life, surpassing milestones one after the other.

“Following the death of the King of Thailand she became the longest reigning living monarch and of course she celebrated her 90th birthday last year.

“There was a bit of panic over Christmas when she had a cold but that was all it was, and she very sensibly stayed indoors.

“She is the best example I can think of for why no one should ever retire. I’ve been lucky enough to meet her on several occasions and she never misses anything.

“She is firing on all cylinders. She is perpetually stimulated, well informed and I think of huge value to the nation. Long may it continue.”

Reflecting on the current climate as Britain prepares for Brexit and America begins life under a new president, he added: “She is more and more important when politically things are difficult. When the Conservative Party were removing Mrs Thatcher it was reassuring to know she was there, waiting to receive the new Prime Minister. She does give this enormous stability. She has presided over an era of vast change.”

On the prospect of a state visit by US President Donald Trump, Hugo said the Queen will do what the Government asks of her, adding she is ‘quite used to’ meeting characters like him.

He added he could not think of any other reign in history in which he would have preferred to live.

“Life might have been fun in Tudor times if you were rich, but otherwise it probably wasn’t much fun. And although we may grumble we’ve been pretty prosperous,” he said. “It is a golden age and we are very lucky to have her.”

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