Showing posts with label Queen's Silver Jubilee 1977. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Queen's Silver Jubilee 1977. Show all posts

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Diamond Jubilee

Last night after dinner Mum stood up and gazed skywards as if admiring an unseen deity. Then suddenly, with a speed belying her 91 years, she spun round and flapped her arms like a deranged pigeon.

“The Raven?”, “The Birds?”, we offered, unable to suppress our laughter.

“No, no” she shouted out loud, frustrated by our incompetence.

“Ssh”, everyone went, “do it again, Granny”.

Once more she looked up and bowed, then resumed her flapping even more wildly. A goose, maybe? Or a very cross swan?

“The Black Swan – that’s three words, not one”.

Playing charades with Granny is like going back to those happy evenings without X Factor and X Box, texts or apps. It’s how life must have been in the innocent days of the Fifties when Elizabeth became Queen. And when I was born.

There are ten of us in this holiday apartment on the West Coast of Scotland. We’re here for Jubilee week – not because we didn’t want to join our English compatriots for their loyal celebrations, but in truth because we hadn’t realised our family party would be clashing with The Queen’s when we booked.

As we drove through Northumberland, people were still draping union jack bunting over fences and telegraph poles. At the border, opposite the enormous blue and white flag of Scotland, a modest union jack implored us to stay in England, but it hadn’t quite made it to the top of the flagpole, which gave it a rather mournful air. Reflecting the impending loss of its blue background, no doubt.

All the bunting in the Scottish villages was plain blue and white, or faded and multicoloured, left over from a thousand village fetes. It looks like Scotland left the United Kingdom a while ago. The BBC isn’t even bothering to put up one of their big public screens in Glasgow: to most people here, the Jubilee, like the Olympics, must be an irrelevant London-centric curiosity.

Despite the lack of royal branding, there’s nowhere that appears more stuck in a Fifties time warp than this part of Her Majesty’s realm. At the local Asda I asked for an aubergine and they thought I was mad: “We don’t sell that kind of thing here”. But they had a good selection of sliced white bread and iced finger doughnuts. I’m glad we brought our own supply of Marks and Spencer’s jubilee cakes. One way or another, I’m determined to celebrate this Jubilee: for I completely missed the last two.

Ten years ago I was the only Brit on an American film set in Mexico, so the Golden one came and went without me. Back in 1977, I was actually directing the BBC’s live Silver Jubilee coverage at Television Centre. On the warmest day of the year we’d filled an enormous studio with a traditional English summer fair, brimful with British clich├ęs. Children wrote special Jubilee songs, everyone wore red white and blue, and we had outside broadcasts from street parties across the land – even from Scotland. Meanwhile the Queen waved cheerily from her coach through the streets of London.

Despite the enormity of the occasion, like all television producers I felt rather disconnected from the real world, and, by the time it was over and I’d stepped into the warm evening air, they were already sweeping up the union jack napkins and empty champagne bottles from the gutters.

So this time, we’re doing it properly, and I’ve brought a red, white and blue shirt and a fake diamond tiara for Izzy. We’ll toast Her Majesty with pink champagne and after the Jubilee cake we’ll probably play another drunken round of charades; Mum will fail to decipher my impression of The Royle Family.

“Give up?” said Mum finally, exhausted with all the flapping.

“Yes”, we groaned, exhausted by all the laughing.

“It’s Superman, of course”.


“It’s obvious – he’s super, and he flies”.

Simultaneously eight of us put out an arm in front of us, impersonating the real superhero.

“Nonsense – no-one could fly like that,” Granny protested.

“But he’s Superman,” we said.

I hope The Queen is better at charades than my Mum.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Farewell Humph

[Humphrey Lyttelton, Britain's greatest jazz musician, died this weekend]

The Queen was having her lunch when Humph saved my bacon. It was on June 7th 1977, in the middle of the Silver Jubilee celebrations. In London a million people lined the pavements to see the gold state coach make its way to St Paul’s. In every village and town, streets were filled with tables and smiles. The whole country dressed in red white and blue for what was probably our last great national celebration. It’s funny how you can remember what you were doing during momentous events. I was in a television studio with Humphrey Lyttelton.

I was just 25, and I’d been given the task of directing the BBC’s Jubilee coverage: not the actual state occasion, but all the other bits that didn’t have the royal family in them. On the big day, our main role was to keep the nation amused while the Queen was lunching in the Guildhall.

According to the royal schedule, we had an hour and a half to fill – that’s an eternity for a live entertainment show. So we built a giant fairground of nostalgia, with stalls, sideshows and cafes lined with memorabilia and celebrity guests. It was called the Nationwide Jubilee Fair and in the middle was a bandstand, where we installed that great British institution, Humphrey Lyttelton and his Band. Having given Humph a brief to “keep it jolly”, we knew we could rely on a few pieces of traditional jazz to get the national foot tapping.

As we waited to start our party, we watched the Queen going on an unplanned walkabout outside St Paul’s. It was making her late for lunch. We knew we had to finish our bit at 2.30 because at precisely that moment an extra 500 million viewers from all over the Commonwealth would be joining to watch the Queen’s speech in the Guildhall. It would be one of the biggest live audiences in the history of television. So my producer and I set about cutting out chunks of script to shorten the show.

We went on air twelve minutes late. Apart from Humph there were lots of bands, celebrities and people talking with moist eyes about the past. Somehow we managed to reach our finale dead on time at 2.25. I was keeping an eye on the Guildhall so that I could organize a smooth handover, but for some reason all the cameras were pointing at the ground. “They’re cutting it fine,” I thought, as Frank Bough announced the final song.

“Standby Guildhall” I shouted above the din. No response. I called the control room at St Paul’s. An engineer told me they were still at lunch. “They can’t be”, I said. “We’re on our last item”. “Sorry mate, can’t help you”.

I frantically searched for the bits of script we’d cut out. They were all crumpled up on the floor. In front of me I could see the line “Cue Applause, Cue the Queen” which I’d written at the end of the script as a private joke. In desperation I grabbed a pencil and tore a little piece off the corner of the page. I scribbled three words on it, threw it at a runner, and waited.

At the end of the song, the applause was deafening. Humph was bowing as the note was handed to him. It read “Keep Going Humph.” He paused for a second, smiled, put his trumpet to his lips, and nodded at the band. Then, with that extraordinary intuition which all jazz musicians share, they started to play on together. And on, and on.

So it was that at half past two, 500 million people who’d tuned in for their Queen, instead, for reasons never explained, found themselves watching this wonderful, funny, giant of a man doing what he loved best: impromptu, unrehearsed, celebratory jamming. For twelve glorious minutes he entertained the world until the Queen finished her petits fours. I’m sure they loved every second of it.

Thank you, Humph, we’ll miss you.