First of all, there seemed to be some suggestion that the Coronation couldn’t be televised at all – I mean the service in Westminster Abbey which was clearly the thing everybody wanted to see. Churchill was against it, several of the government were against it, the Queen I don’t think had been asked at that stage – she was keeping out of it – but we got up to every trick in the book. Eventually, Churchill , having said ‘Well as long as they can’t see more than I can see from my seat, I suppose we’ll have to let ‘em in’, said we could come in to the West of the choir screen, just for the processions in and the processions out.
Well, I thought that was a lot of nonsense and so did Seymour de Lotbiniere, who was nominally Head of Radio and Television at that time, though I was really running TV for him and he’d asked me to produce the service from the Abbey. I was very much concerned with the overall planning because we had the whole of the route to cover – with every piece of equipment brought in from the Regions – so it was a pretty mammoth operation. But the most important thing was to get into the Abbey…
Well, there was a fellow called George Campey, who was working for the Evening Standard. I always remember I used to run out with pennies for the coin box at Alexandra Palace, whenever we got another refusal from the government, and ring George up and say ‘Now George, this is a tip – you don’t know where the source is – but come on, help us!’. Then next day out would come the banner headline: ‘Government still opposing BBC TV – Absolute Scandal!’ So we were using every kind of pressure unashamedly because we knew we were right, we knew the public not only wanted to see it, but deserved to see it!
Well, eventually we persuaded Bernard Norfolk and Richard Colville, who was the Queen’s Press Secretary at that time, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, that we could have a trial with a camera the altar side of the choir screen, because it was a rule that no camera could be closer than 30 feet to the Queen. That was a silly rule because they didn’t understand lenses, but that’s another story. Anyway, we put this camera there, and of course what I did was I got some girl – I can’t remember who she was – to walk as if she were the Queen, and I put in a 2-inch lens, which was the widest lens you could have on a TV camera. So of course she looked miles away! Of course when the Coronation came, I knew I was going to use a 12-inch lens that would give the best close-up of the Queen that there’d ever been, but they didn’t. So after a lot of muttering, they said ‘Very well, I suppose you can come.’
Covering the Coronation was an enormous responsibility, but we had a terrific team spirit in the Outside Broadcasts Unit. Dimbleby was supreme – I mean the amount of homework he did was enormous, and it showed in the final product. However, I always said, it was the team operation, and I think that God was on our side that day because none of the equipment broke down, and that was an absolute miracle!