Excerpt: Monarch: The Life and Reign of Elizabeth II

Peter Edwards, the sound technician who had worked on the ground-breaking Royal Family television documentary in the late sixties, had been called at lunchtime and had driven straight to the palace. Since 1969 Edwards had recorded all the queen's Christmas Broadcasts for both TV and radio, and he had a knack for putting her at ease. She would be taping a "piece to camera" around four or four-thirty, he was told, to go out later in the evening, and he arrived to find the BBC's engineers in the process of setting up.

The atmosphere was tense. Philip Bonham Carter, the freelance cameraman who normally worked with Edwards on royal assignments, had not been able to make it, and Edwards worried that the lighting being set up by the BBC's cameraman was too strong. The hastily rigged circuit of lamps and electrical connections was audibly "buzzing" both in the room and on the soundman's tape, which was crackling with interference. Press office staff were working on last-minute changes to the teleprompter.

Behind the scenes the broadcasting strategy still was not finalised. One option was for the queen to "do live," talking direct to the camera in a live insert that would break dramatically into the evening news bulletins. A second best would be for the queen to speak "as live," making a recording which would then be broadcast within minutes. But that would lessen the impact, and those who knew Elizabeth II's unease with rehearsals and fake occasions knew that she needed to be put on her mettle.

"It was a psychological thing," said one aide. "She goes flat when she knows it's being recorded. When she knows it's real, she rises to the challenge."

To go totally live was a high-risk strategy. The queen had never before spoken so directly and unshielded to such a major audience. When she gave her only previous "address to the nation" on the eve of the Gulf War in 1991, it had been recorded. But Fellowes and Crawford felt she could do it, and they walked to the Belgian Suite at the back of the palace where the queen and her husband were having tea.

"Do you think you can do it?" Fellowes asked the queen.

"If that's what I've got to do," she replied.

The queen looked through her script one last time and suggested some final alterations. Fellowes went to his office to get the changes transcribed, and, with only ninety minutes left before transmission, Geoff Crawford walked back into the reception room-turned-studio.

"Can we do it live?" asked the press secretary.

BBC riggers scrambled as they ran sweating up and down the stairs, running leads to connect up with the Outside Broadcast links trucks outside.

"Are you sure you can say every word in this speech and really believe it?" someone had asked the queen during the drafting process.

"Certainly," she replied. "I believe every word."

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...