The Day Murdoch Spoilt the Queen's Christmas

by Ray Setterfield

Event Date: December 25, 1952
Location: Sandringham, Scotland, United Kingdom

Queen Elizabeth II made the first live Christmas Day broadcast of her reign on this day. Her accession to the throne had taken place ten months earlier when her father, King George VI, died, but she was still awaiting her coronation, which was to come in the summer of 1953.

With television in its infancy, the speech, delivered from the royal residence of Sandringham, in Scotland, was broadcast only on the radio. It was not until 1957 that the annual Christmas message from the monarch was televised.

A recording of the 1952 speech, delivered by the 25-year-old Queen from the same desk and chair that her father and grandfather, King George V, had used for the purpose, was re-transmitted all over the world in the next few days so that far-flung members of the Empire and the Commonwealth could hear it.

From the start, the Queen adopted a non-controversial approach, which has been the tone of every annual message since. "I give you my affectionate greetings, with every good wish for Christmas and the New Year," she said, and asked for everyone to pray for her on her forthcoming coronation day.

In 1969 the Queen must have thought that enough was enough because she decided not to deliver a Christmas message, but there was public outcry and the tradition was reinstated the following year.

In November 1992, she gave a speech at a dinner in London and talked of her "annus horribilis", with the breakdown of Prince Charles's marriage to Diana, divorce for Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson – and a disastrous fire at Windsor Castle. The Queen was not to know that more bad news lay in wait: the contents of her Christmas message, pre-recorded by then, were leaked and published two days ahead of schedule in Rupert Murdoch's Sun newspaper.

In the old days, heads would have rolled for less...

Published: April 25, 2016

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