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The wonderful tradition of the Queen’s Christmas Speech

 

December 2018

Black and white picture of Queen giving speech
Her Majesty has been broadcasting a Christmas message for over 60 years

Times and traditions are changing all around us, but one thing that has been with virtually all of us throughout our lives is the Queen’s Christmas Speech.

The idea of a Christmas message started well before our current Queen came to the throne and was in fact a key element in the development of the BBC in its early years.

The first public broadcast (from the Marconi factory in Chelmsford) took place in June 1920, featuring the famous Australian singer Dame Nellie Melba. However, a public broadcast was frowned on by the military and also the General Post Office because they felt it could interfere with national communications, so further public broadcasts were banned.

However, two years later the General Post Office had received nearly 100 broadcast licence requests and thought that sounded dangerous too. So they proposed that there should be a single broadcasting licence and by December 1922 the organisation had been set up. The GPO appointed Scottish John Reight as general manager who thought a Christmas message from the sovereign to the British Empire would be a wonderful idea, giving the organisation royal approval and credibility.

But when John Reith approached King George V, he declined, believing radio was mainly an entertainment.

The nation had to wait another ten years before the King finally agreed, in 1932, to give a Royal Message. He made the speech from a temporary studio set up at Sandringham House and interestingly the broadcast was introduced by a local 65-year-old shepherd although interestingly the speech itself was written by Rudyard Kipling. Carols were also included in the broadcast which, thanks to improving technology, went out to around 20 million people in Australia, Canada, India, Kenya, South Africa and the UK.

It was very well received; for most of the listeners it was the first time they had heard the voice of the King; and the tradition of a Royal Christmas Message came into being although for various reasons there was no Royal speech in 1936 or 1938.

Queen Elizabeth gave her very first Christmas message, to what was then the Commonwealth rather than the Empire, at 3.07pm on Christmas Day in 1952, but it was another five years, in December 1957, before the Royal broadcast was televised.

Two years later the live broadcast came to an end, and since 1959 the broadcast has been pre-recorded although it is still broadcast faithfully at 3pm every Christmas afternoon. The Queen writes her Christmas message herself, although with the assistance of various advisers.

The speech hasn’t been without problems. In 1957 some listeners complained their broadcast had been interrupted by a transmission from an American police radio frequency with a voice that said:

“Joe, I’m gonna grab a quick coffee!” 

And in 1992, the Sun newspaper leaked the contents of her speech early. The Royal family sued and the Sun paper paid £200,000 to charity.

But things are moving forward again, and this year the Queen’s Christmas Speech will be broadcast live on Facebook and YouTube as well as on television and radio. But one thing has not changed in well over 60 years…across the nation and the Commonwealth millions will be sitting down to listen attentively to this loved traditional aspect of Christmas day.


 

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