The Queen’s Christmas Speech crops up twice in The Crown season two: once in episode two, when Philip delivers a radio broadcast from halfway around the world, and once in episode five, when the Queen invites the cameras in for her first televised Christmas message.
Find out more about these landmarks of British broadcasting history below.
What is the history of the Queen’s Christmas Message?
When King George V took to the airwaves on the BBC’s Empire Service in 1932 and delivered a Christmas speech to his subjects around the world, he started a new royal tradition – but it wasn’t without some persuasion.
The idea of the monarch broadcasting a Christmas Message had first been raised in 1922 by John Reith, founder of the BBC – but the King wanted nothing to do with the radio, this newfangled form of entertainment.
Ten years later, he was finally persuaded to sit down at his desk at Sandringham House on Christmas Day and speak into the microphone. That first speech was written by Rudyard Kipling and urged all 20 million listeners to aim for “prosperity without self-seeking”.
The speech was a hit. After he died there was one Christmas without any message from the monarch, as King Edward VIII lasted less than a year and abdicated just a few weeks before Christmas – but his brother (and Elizabeth’s father) King George VI revived the broadcast the following year.
After her father died, Elizabeth II gave her first Christmas message from her study at Sandringham House at 3.07pm on 25th December 1952, using the same desk and chair as her father and grandfather before her. She thanked the people for their loyalty and affection in her first few months as Queen.
Did Prince Philip really broadcast his own Christmas speech during the Commonwealth Tour?
Yes. In 1956, Prince Philip had already been away from the Queen for several months during his voyage around the Commonwealth when he delivered a Christmas Day radio broadcast from the Royal Yacht Britannia. His message was followed by the Queen’s Speech live from Sandringham House.
The Queen referred to her husband’s message, saying it had given her and their children the greatest joy. She wished him a good journey and expressed her sadness at being separated from him, going on to share her sympathies with those spending a Christmas without their loved ones and asking listeners to think of refugees and the story of Christ’s birth.
Her message to Philip was: “From all the members of the family gathered here today our very best good wishes go out to you and to everyone on board Britannia, as you voyage together in the far Southern seas. Happy Christmas from us all.”
Why was the Queen’s Speech televised for the first time in 1957?
Television had already been around for years in 1957, but the Queen had avoided giving a televised Christmas speech. Worse than that, critics had begun to lay into her style and manner of address, accusing her of banal platitudes.
Then, in 1957, journalist and editor John Grigg – or Lord Altrincham – wrote a scathing article in his publication the National and English Review.
“The personality conveyed by the utterances which are put into her mouth is that of a priggish schoolgirl, captain of the hockey team, a prefect, and a recent candidate for confirmation,” he wrote. Not mincing his words, he called her style of speaking “a pain in the neck”.
The article caused a stir and a scandal, but not everyone disagreed – and that increased the pressure on the Queen to invite the BBC into her home for Christmas. So she did.
In The Crown, Claire Foy portrays a Queen nervous before the landmark address. In fact, that is absolutely accurate, because that first TV broadcast caused her a lot of anxiety.
Radio Times wrote in 1986: “The Queen has not always actively enjoyed the business of the Christmas broadcast. She was uneasy about her first televised broadcast in 1957, when the cameras concealed the microphone behind a sprig of holly but exposed the nervously clasped and unclasped hands for all to see. ‘It’s terrible, isn’t it?’ she worried of her performance in pearls and gold lamé afternoon frock.”
Author Daphne du Maurier prepared draft suggestions to help her, and BBC announcer Sylvia Peters gave her a tutorial on the “five best ways to make a speech on TV”, but in the end the final draft was Prince Philip’s.
She reportedly told a courtier afterwards: “I hope your Christmas went off well. Ours was upset by the television, which was nerve-racking.”