1953 and all that …

For us Elizabethan babies, born in the early days of the Queen’s reign, she’s a figure whose life has shadowed our own.

Always there in the background in some shape or form.

Our mothers were about the same age as the Queen. Our fathers more or less parallel with Prince Philip.

And as for their children – both young Prince Charles and younger Princess Anne made weekly appearances into our primary school classrooms in the form of stamps purchased for our savings books.

Once a week – if my memory serves me accurately – and if we’d remembered to badger our parents with the appropriate sum, we queued up at the teacher’s desk to buy an image of Princess Anne for sixpence and stuck it in our little beige rectangular books. Prince Charles cost far more. Literally, a princely sum of half a crown. Two shillings and sixpence! That was a very rare purchase indeed and it was Princess Anne stamps filling my savings book to be exchanged at some stage at the post office for precious cash.

So the Queen’s children filtered into our lives.

After all, they were the only thing close to celebrity we had in those far simpler days.

And for children in Miss Millican’s infant class at West Lodge school in Pinner, we were truly within touching distance of that notion of celebrity because Miss Millican, our teacher, was Princess Anne’s Brown Owl at the Buckingham Palace brownie pack – how special we thought that made us!

!953 saw the publication of a lot of significant novels and many authors flourishing.

Barbara Pym’s Jane and Prudence was published – and for anyone who has read Pym’s novels, it is a journey into the domestic domain of 1950s life – a sort of mid 20th century Jane Austen experience.

Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale was published and so was Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, a particularly disturbing dystopian novel for all avid readers as it presents a society where all books are forbidden and burnt if discovered.

L.P. Hartley’s The Go-Between also came out – a novel with a dual time setting as the principal action takes place in 1900. Agatha Christie was prolifically producing her Miss Marple books and Enid Blyton was industrious with her Famous Five series.

WW2 had only, of course, been over for 9 years – London was emerging from the destruction, but still so many bombed sites remained. In my grandparents’ neighbours’ garden in Harrow Weald an air raid shelter lingered. Quite why they had not removed it, I have no idea, but its presence terrified me in my childhood for I felt it suggested the possibility of another war.

But we were lucky.

We had clinic orange juice and quarter pint glass bottles of milk to drink at school playtime. We were the children of the new welfare state, Butler’s Education Act, the NHS. We were the post war generation, the children of the reign of the new, young Queen.

And we had Walt Disney films to watch at ‘the pictures’ as we called those vast single screen cinemas that ran programmes uninterrupted – 2 films, naturally, with a main feature and a supporting one, a little like a main course and pudding. It was possible to go in at lunch time and emerge around 11 pm having watched the programme through 3 times.

Peter Pan came out in 1953 as did Genevieve and Young Bess, a film about the early years of Elizabeth 1’s reign with beautiful Jean Simmons in the title role, no doubt a patriotic gesture to the new Queen Elizabeth.

Of course there are many who despise the concept of monarchy.

Many who will not have been moved by the pageant and ceremony nor admired the organisation and the sheer visual and aural splendour of so much of this Platinum Jubilee.

Which is all entirely understandable.

Yet nothing changes the fact of her durability. That for 70 years there has been a continuity she has – willingly or unwillingly – rightly or wrongly – provided.

As Queen Victoria lay dying after a reign of 63 years, the writer and biographer Lytton Strachey wrote:

It appeared as if some monstrous reversal of the course of nature was about to take place. The vast majority of her subjects had never known a time when Queen Victoria had not been reigning over them.”

It may well feel, one day, the same for many of us.

Happy Platinum Jubilee!

Leave a Reply