Proper Gander – send in the crowns

Both of May’s big events were marked by corny rituals, ridiculous costumes and celebrating a country’s figurehead, with the hype cranked up high. While the Eurovision Song Contest comes around every year, there’s a longer gap between coronations. Over the seven decades since the last one, the reach of the media has grown in ways which those who huddled round a small black-and-white screen in 1953 could scarcely have imagined. Then, as now, the TV coverage of the coronation shows us that its pomp and pageantry is a world away from the difficulties endured by the vast majority. Whether the coronation is seen as an affront or a temporary escape from rising prices and struggling public services depends on our individual point of view.

The point of view pushed by the mainstream media was that Charles’ crowning should bolster a sense of pride not just in the monarchy but in the country’s ability to ‘put on a do’ when so much else isn’t running well. The latter also applies to Eurovision, and another similarity between the two events was the central role of the BBC. The corporation had the monopoly over footage filmed in Westminster Abbey during the coronation ceremony, with an agreement that they would be paid royalties (as it were) by other broadcasters using it. As reported by the Guardian on 5 May, this arrangement was made murkier by the coverage being produced by BBC Studios, a for-profit arm of the corporation, with ultimate say over what could be shown decreed by the royal household. On the day, this was communicated to broadcasters every five minutes, with some parts of the ritual vetoed beforehand, such as Charles being greased up with ‘holy oil’. The National Union of Journalists, in particular, was concerned ‘that a public event, paid for by the people and televised for them to be able to pay their respects should be censored in even a small way’. The BBC’s coverage wouldn’t have been much different without these restrictions, though, as it was overseen by Clare Popplewell, whose favour with The Firm was shown by her being appointed as a commander of the Royal Victorian Order following her work on televising 2022’s platinum jubilee.

This explains why the BBC gave only the briefest mentions of the anti-royalist protests, whereas Sky News, for example, gave them more airtime in its own reports. Otherwise, Sky News’ commentary aimed for the stateliness of the BBC’s, throwing in predictably bland phrases such as that Charles is ‘fulfilling his destiny’ and that the ceremony is ‘both ancient and modern’. Anyone tuning in to GB News would have had Nigel Farage and David Starkey for company, lapping up all the tradition. Later, on his Tonight programme, Mark Dolan hosted a ‘coronation party’ for a panel of pundits wide-eyed with enthusiasm for the royals. He talked about the spectacle in sycophantic superlatives, while against protester ‘numpties’ he said that ‘our day’ was an advert for ‘modern Britain’, adding that if the republicans win we would only get a faceless public servant as a figurehead, such as ‘president Gary Lineker’. GB News’ coverage had levels of tackiness you at least wouldn’t get on the BBC.

Channel 4’s coverage was less reverent, with a package of programmes on its website including documentaries reminding us about Diana’s death and Prince Andrew’s incriminating interview with Emily Maitlis, the latter to be the subject of an upcoming drama from Netflix. Sitcom The Windsors’ coronation special saw the event relocated on the cheap to Slough’s Holiday Lodge Express and Charles abdicating. For all its cheekiness, The Windsors ended up with the family reconciled on the Buckingham Palace balcony and the crowd below rejecting a ‘fiscally responsible, slimmed down monarchy to suit these straitened times’ for one that’s ‘full on’. Like all Channel 4’s output, it wasn’t as radical as it would have us believe.

ITV’s coverage has the honour of the most complained about programme of the year so far, following actor Adjoa Andoh saying ‘there is a bit of me that has gone from the rich diversity of the Abbey to the terribly white balcony’. She was perhaps forgetting that in the real world, the nobility isn’t going to be as diverse as that imagined in her show Bridgerton.

A short piece broadcast on Al Jazeera pointed out that jewels used in the ceremonial trinkets brought out for the coronation are a product of the state’s colonial background, including the slave trade. ‘Their king is a symbol of our bitter past which unfortunately translates into our very difficult present’, according to Everisto Benyera of the University of South Africa. Otherwise, the commentary on Al Jazeera was drier and less involved, with historian Linda Porter saying that while the pageantry is something people ‘can be pleased with’, it may not have a wide impact on ‘national pride’. There’s a contradiction in trying to make people feel part of an institution which is outside them. This applies not just to the British monarchy, but to any monarchy, including that of Qatar, whose state funds Al Jazeera.

The various broadcasters’ coronation coverage differed in tone according to their niche in the market, although they still relied on the ‘money shot’ footage from inside Westminster Abbey controlled and sold by the royals and the BBC. For all the mainstream media’s efforts to present the coronation as something for everyone to rally around, within a day there were calls from leaders of commonwealth countries in the Caribbean to ditch the monarchy, and complaints that the police were too keen to use their new powers to arrest protesters. The coronation has exposed tensions in society as much as its glossy spectacle has been a distraction.


Next article: Book reviews – Dawson, English, Michaels/Reed ⮞

One Reply to “Proper Gander – send in the crowns”

  1. Not only is it worrying that republicans were arrested for peacefully protesting, but some of them were arrested the day before the coronation, under suspicion of intent to peacefully protest!

Leave a Reply