I remember Wednesday February 6th 1952 rather well. I was sitting at the back of class VIII at Burghley Road Primary School, Tufnell Park, listening to our teacher, Miss Kirkby, talking about Italic writing. When the classroom door opened and the Headmaster Mr Condern came in we all stood up.
Mr Condern was never a barrel of laughs at the best of times but today he looked more sombre than ever. He asked us to sit down.
“I have some rather sad news”, he said.”It has just been announced that the King, our King, George 6th, has died.”
Being only 7 years old we didn’t know how to react to this kind of news so we sat there until Miss Kirkby gave a gentle sigh, which set us all off, oohing and aahing in a suitably funereal way.
Mr Condern waited until we had all calmed down and then continued.
“This is a sad time for everyone - the Royal Family, the Nation and for all of us too. For this reason we are closing the school for the day - and you can all go home.”
At this poignant moment in our nation’s history all 42 members of class VIII at Burghley Road Primary School, Tufnell Park, burst out cheering. Mr Condern was not amused by this. However by the time he had received the same reaction from all the other classes in the school he had grown used to it
My Mum wanted to know why I was home so early. She hadn’t heard the news so she turned on the wireless. After some solemn music the BBC announcer read out this statement…
“This is London. It is with the greatest sorrow that we make this following announcement. It was announced from Sandringham at 10.45 today, Wednesday February 6th 1952, that the King who retired to rest last night in his usual health, passed peacefully away in his sleep early this morning.”
I cannot remember much about the king’s funeral apart from a photograph that appeared in all the newspapers. It showed Three Queens standing together and heavily veiled, the King’s mother, Queen Mary; the King’s wife, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother; and our new Queen Elizabeth II.
The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II took place on Tuesday 2nd June 1953. Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay had just reached the summit of Mount Everest, the Stone of Scone, stolen from under the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey in 1950, had been returned and my granny had bought a 9 inch TV set so we could watch the ceremony in flickering blobs of grey and grey. I went to 3 street parties, one at school, one at my Sunday School and one in my street. The day before the coronation Mr Condern summoned the school, now forgiven for our outrageous behaviour the year before, into his office. He invited us to write our names on a “Coronation Scroll”. He then gave each of us a book, “London Adventure” by Margaret M Pearson. Engraved on the front it said “To Commemorate the Coronation of HER MAJESTY QUEEN ELIZABETH II - “2nd June 1953”. Our names were written inside in crisp Italic. Miss Kirkby must have been busy that week.
These memories came to mind after I saw the film “The King’s Speech” last week. It tells how the Duke of York, played by Colin Firth, overcame a debilitating stutter with the help of Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush). It also tells how the Duke of York was obliged to become King after his elder brother, Edward VIII abdicated to marry twice divorced socialite Wallace Simpson.
Kingship carries enormous responsibility but confers little real power. On the face of it George VI may not have been the best suited to take on the task but he did, with dedication and determination and the unflagging support of his wife. He restored the monarchy, became a national figurehead during the 2nd World War and the first Head of the Commonwealth. There are many who say that it was the enormous pressure of the job that eventually killed him. Whatever the cause it sent 42 members of class VIII at Burghley Road Primary School, Tufnell Park, tumbling out onto the foggy streets cheering. We didn’t care. We were the New Elizabethans and the world was ours.
– from Martyn Day