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Seeing Things: literature and the visual

Peter Vernon

The Queen's Christmas Messages

Hélène Catsiapis

Texte intégral

1The Queen's Christmas broadcasts are often considered as the mere formality of season's greetings with no political impact. But a careful analysis of their contents and images reveal historical facts and attitudes of the utmost importance.

I- History of the Royal Christmas messages

21932: King George V started the tradition of Christmas messages then broadcast on the radio. With his first message the sovereign somehow set the rules of that rhetoric exercise which was to be continued by his son King George VI and by his granddaughter Queen Elizabeth II. In 1932 George V said in his “gruff, friendly, even intimate” voice:

Through one of the marvels of modem time I am enabled this Christmas day to speak from my home and from my heart to you all, to all my peoples throughout the Empire.... To men and women so cut off by the snows, the desert or the sea that only voices out of the air can reach them, men and women of every race and colour who look to the Crown as the symbol of their unity. To those who are celebrating this day with their children and their grand children, to all, to each, I wish a happy Christmas. God bless you.

3With his very first message George V established a "genre" the rules of which can still be found today. From 1932 the message has always been double-sided, religious and political. One obvious purpose of this annual royal speech was, and still is, once a year at least, to gather all the peoples of the Empire and now the Commonwealth around the sovereign in one same community of ideals. George V also made the notion of "family" an essential component of his message. As to the religious element, it is of course necessarily present but it is far from being overwhelming, because the sovereign has to respect the convictions of his subjects who do not belong to the Church of England.

41936: there was no Christmas broadcast in the abdication year as the abdication had taken place on December 11th.

51937: George VI delivered the first Christmas message of his reign

Many of you will remember the Christmas broadcasts of former years, when my father spoke to his peoples at home and overseas as the revered head of a great family. His words brought happiness into the homes and into the hearts of listeners all over the world.
I cannot aspire to take his place-nor do I think that you would wish me to carry on, unvaried, a tradition so personal to him. But, as this is the first Christmas since our Coronation, the Queen and I feel that we want to send to you all a further word of gratitude for the love and loyalty you gave us from every quarter of the Empire during this unforgettable year now drawing to its end.
We have promised to try be worthy of your trust, this
is a pledge that we shall always keep.

61939: George VI delivered his first war time Christmas message

7"dressed in the uniform of Admiral of the Fleet (he had resolved as long as the war lasted he would no longer wear civilian clothes) and sitting in front of two huge microphones, the King delivered the live broadcast which was always such an ordeal for him. His hesitations were evident, and at one point he went back, as his therapist Logue has trained him to do, and began a phrase again, but his carefully chosen words about the uncertainties that the new year was likely to bring made it the most memorable he ever gave and he ended with a quotation which seemed to his listeners to epitomise the uncertainties of the future":

I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year, 'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.' And he replied, 'Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be better than light and safer than a known way. May that Almighty Hand guide and uphold us all.

8This tragic wartime speech pronounced by a reluctant but heroic King, suffering from a severe stammer will remain, perhaps, the most beautiful, poignant and powerful of all Christmas messages. It helped to boost the morale of the British people.

91952: Queen Elizabeth II gave her first Christmas message on the radio. The Queen's speech was in the faithful and respectful continuity of her father's and grandfather's style:

Each Christmas at this time, my beloved father broadcast a message to his people in all parts of the world. Today I am doing this to you who are now my people. My father and my grandfather before him worked all their lives to unite our people ever more closely and to maintain his ideals which were so near to their hearts. I shall strive to carry on their work.

101957: Queen Elizabeth II started broadcasting on television her Christmas message to the Nation and to the Commonwealth. It was the 25th anniversary of the first Christmas broadcast. In her 1978 Christmas message the Queen reviewed all Christmas broadcasts since 1932, and she said: "By 1957, television was a feature of most homes; the broadcast was televised. During the years that followed, the Christmas broadcasts were illustrated with scenes from all over the Commonwealth."

11Laurence Gilliam wrote in Radio Times: "The message from Her Majesty at 3 will be broadcast in the Home Service and the Light Programme and will be carried to Services of the BBC. On the twentyfifth anniversary of the Royal Broadcast, viewers at home will be for the first time able to see the Queen as she speaks to her peoples from Sandringham.... Since its inception twenty-five years ago the Christmas day reunion has been a unique family occasion. By the simple magic of radio millions of people from the far corners of the earth are gathered to hear the Christmas message that goes out across the world from Sandringham, to hear the voice of our Queen" (Radio Times, 22-28 December 1957).

12In her first television Christmas broadcast, the lovely young Queen of 31, wearing a particularly elegant dress, was seen speaking from her office. A photograph of Prince Charles and Princess Anne, aged 9 and 7, was very visible on her desk as if to stress the continuity and future of the monarchy.

II- Place of the Christmas broadcast among the Queen's other speeches in the year

13Among the numerous and varied speeches the Queen delivers each year, about 50 of them, according to the approximate appreciation of BP Press Office, two messages are broadcast with absolute certainty and clockwork regularity: The Speech from the Throne and the Christmas message. Her Majesty, wearing the Imperial State Crown, reads the former in the House of Lords during the State Opening of the Session of Parliament. Usually The Speech from the Throne is given in November, but it may be repeated several times in the same year according to political circumstances. In her 1974 Christmas message the Queen said: "This year, I have opened Parliament four times, in New Zealand, in Australia and twice in the mother of Parliaments in Westminster", because two General Elections had taken place that very same year, in February and in October.

14Apparently, this Speech from the Throne which lays out the plans for legislation for the forthcoming year should imply for the monarch a political role of some importance. In fact, it has none whatsoever as it is written by the government, and handed to the Queen by the Lord Chancellor. As a Constitutional Monarch, the Sovereign has a very limited role: she just lends her voice to speak her government's words.

15As to the Christmas message, it is and has always been broadcast on December 25th at 3 o'clock, when all British families are gathered after having enjoyed their Christmas lunch. The Queen's delivery is no longer a live broadcast. Since 1960 it has been pre-recorded so that it can be sent to Commonwealth countries in advance, and can go out at times that are convenient for each country. The speech is recorded by the Queen from one of her homes, Buckingham Palace, Sandringham, and most often now Windsor Castle, as that immense place is big enough to accommodate her ever growing extended family. The recording takes place just a few days before Christmas.

16Paradoxically, the Christmas message, supposedly a mere season's greetings, has in fact a great political importance in the relationship between the monarch and the country, and the very institution of monarchy. It is the only time when the sovereign is allowed to speak "from her heart". With the help of her "senior advisors", her Private Secretary most of all, she may choose her suject, and express herself as freely as possible, a liberty which is denied to her in nearly all her speeches. The Christmas television broadcast is, once a year, a kind of intimate "tête-à-tête" between the monarch and her people. Constitutionally speaking, it is her only possibility to convey a message of her own, without needing the Prime Minister's consent. In 1936, for instance, during the abdication crisis, according to the Constitution King Edward VIII was forbidden the right to speak to the British people on the radio. His famous speech ("You must believe me when I tell you that I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love"), was pronounced after the abdication, when he was no longer King, when as an ordinary British citizen, he had acquired the freedom of speech.

17The Queen is an experienced speech-maker. Some of her numerous speeches have become famous for their sense of humour or their sadness, or above all for their political impact. Apart from her Christmas messages, the most noteworthy public declaration of Queen Elizabeth II are, chronologically:

18 - In 1940, when Princess Elizabeth, aged 14, gave a speech of encouragement to the British children separated from their parents because of the dangers of the war. Her sister, Princess Margaret, only 10 years old, added a few words on the radio: "Good night, children," she said.

192° - In 1947, at the age of 21, Princess Elizabeth, in her first political speech dedicated herself to the service of the nation. She did it at Cape Town, while she was visiting South Africa with her parents and her sister.

I should like to make this dedication now, it is very simple. I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong. But I shall not have strength enough to carry out this resolution alone, unless you join in it with me, as I now invite you to do; I know what your support will be unfailingly given. God help me to make good my vow and God bless all of you who are willing to share it.

20This solemn declaration by which the Princess gives her life to the Nation can be compared to a nun's religious vows.

213° - On June 2nd 1953, on the evening of her Coronation day the Queen, in a celebrated speech, renewed her vows to the Nation, linking, once more forever, her life to her people.

The ceremonies you have seen today are ancient and some of their origins are veiled in the mist of the past; but their spirit and their meaning shine through the ages, never, perhaps more brightly than now. I have in sincerity pledged myself to your service as so many of you are pledged to mine. Throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust.

224° - In 1972, on the celebration of her wedding anniversary at London's Guildhall, the Queen's speech remained an example of humour and self derision when she lampooned all those criticize her for starting all her speeches by "my husband and I":

I think, everybody really will concede that, on this of all days, I should begin my speech with the words, "my husband and I." I must confess, my Lord Mayor, that it came as a bit of a surprise to realize that we have had been married twenty-five years. Now that we have reached this milestone in our lives, we can see how immensely lucky we have been, or perhaps fortunate might be a better word. We had the good fortune to grow up in happy and united families. We have been fortunate in our children. And above all we are fortunate in being able to serve this great country and Commonwealth.

235° - In 1992, at the same London's Guildhall, some twenty years later, for the 40th anniversary of her accession to the throne, The Queen's "annus horribilis" speech became world famous. In a painful and dignified way, the Queen alluded to the tragic problems of her family, thus mentioning discreetly the difficult situation of the monarchy in those days.

1992 is not a year on which I shall look back on with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned to be an annus horribilis.

246° - On Friday September 5th 1997, the day before the burial of Princess Diana, the Queen, dressed in mourning clothes, gave an unexpected speech to meet the overwhelming emotion of the devastated and angry crowds. Speaking "as a grandmother", the Queen, in what the Daily Telegraph described as the most remarkable and personal message of her reign, went on live television to urge her people "to show to the whole world the British nation united in grief." She said she joined the nation in its determination to cherish the Princess's memory. This television broadcast had a remarkably soothing effect on the spirit of the population who had started to criticize the Royal Family for their supposedly indifferent attitude to the death of Princess Diana.

25These six speeches which, so far, have marked the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, are all different in style and tone because each of them has been inspired by a very specific, unique event. But, for her Christmas messages the Queen has had on fifty occasions to speak about the same suject: the birth of Jesus Christ. Is it possible, in this recurrent rhetorical exercise, to detect permanent features and differences over the years?

III- Permanent features of the Christmas television broadcasts

26First of all, in this broadcast the Queen shares her own thoughts without consultation with her ministers, although her Private Secretary will have contributed its preparation. Prince Philip is said to help the Queen with the preparation of her Christmas messages. Plans begin several months in advance. Once she has chosen her theme and drafted the shape of what she wishes to say, relevant film is shot during her engagements and away days. This footage is cut into the Queen talking direct to camera.

1° Sameness and variety of the Christmas messages

27After viewing the Queen's Christmas broadcasts, one cannot but be struck by their repetition but also by their great variety. First of all their length varies greatly, from 4 minutes 52 seconds in 1977 to 20 minutes 29 seconds in 1978, the average length being about 10 minutes.

2° All messages seen to be built on one specific theme

28If not always entirely chosen by the Queen, at least always approved by her. Among some of the themes:

291955: "Adventure on, more wonders are in Thee..."

30"Adventure on, if we are to make the world a better world."

311964: The Commonwealth countries united by their "love of freedom" and "democracy".

321972: The Commonwealth and the European Common Market are not incompatible. "Then new links cannot alter our historical and personal attachments with kinsmen and friends overseas.... Old friends will not be lost. Britain will take her Commonwealth links into Europe with her."

331974: The parliamentary system, born in Westminster, "flourishes thousands of miles away," in the Commonwealth.

341977: Year of the Silver Jubilee, reconciliation in Northern Ireland.

351978: A retrospective of Christmas Broadcasts since 1932.

361979: Year of the child.

371981: Disabled people.

381982: Britain's seafaring history.

391983: Space age, or the limits of the new technology: "Electronics cannot create comradeship; computers cannot create compassion; satellites cannot transmit tolerance."

401987: Tolerance.

411989: Ecology.

421992: Family difficulties in a somber year.

431993: The world is a global village.

441997: Westminster Abbey 1998: Voluntary work.

451999: End of the millennium, the passing of time.

462000: The 2000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ.

3° Visual interpretation

47Once the theme has been chosen, the film makers, either from the BBC or ITN, (they alternate every second year) choose the most adequate technique. When the theme implies political events with the participation of the Queen (visits to or from foreign Heads of State, the Queen's visits to Commonwealth countries, commemorations, important anniversaries: the Queen's silver Jubilee, her golden wedding anniversary, the Queen mother's 100th birthday, Prince Charles's 50th birthday, the 50th anniversary of VE day), her speech is illustrated by appropriate, evocative flash back. The 1976, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1997, 1998, 1999 messages are particularly rich in flash back showing the Queen and the royal family working at the service of the Nation.

48On the contrary, when the theme is a moral or religious meditation, there is no need for any flash back. The film is restricted to the image of the Queen delivering the words of her speech. She may just move a little, for instance, enter her living room, start her speech standing near the window and finish it sitting at her desk, or on a sofa. It is the case of the years 1974, 1987, 1992, 2000.

49Since the eighties, the images of the Queen delivering her speech have all had the same characteristics. The same props can be found year after year: a Christmas tree (in the first messages, there were flowers instead), and an illuminated lamp to express the hope of the light of Christmas. Two sorts of insets are very important, first Christmas cards displayed in the room, some close ups on them representing the only visible religious element for most of the speeches, secondly framed photographs in the background. However, these photographs change every year according to the circumstances. In 1997, the year of the Queen's golden wedding anniversary, there was a portrait of the royal bride and bridegroom on their wedding day, on November 20th 1947. In 1980, a photograph of the Queen Mother marked the celebration of her eightieth birthday etc.... Apart from the color of her hair, the Queen has changed remarkably little over the 43 years. She has adopted for this particular function an immutable style. She always wears plain, almost clerical dresses however in a different color every year, brighter when she was younger (green, pink, yellow), softer or darker now (all shades of blues, purple or very dark red). It is interesting to remark that in her 1982 speech, the Queen was wearing the very same pale blue dress she had worn for the visit of the Pope to London the previous summer. For her Christmas messages, we also notice that the Queen has always sported the same type of jewels: a watch, pearl earrings, three strings (in some very rare years two strings only) of a pearl necklace and a brooch, different each year. Purposely there is never anything sensational in the Queen's appearance. Some unusual item in the Queen's dress should not distract the viewers' attention from her speech. Her words are more important than her image which must be unobtrusive to stress her message of love and peace.

50Apart from the flash back proper introduced in the speech, most Alms present some still images projected at a very fast rhythm, before or occasionally after the message itself. The choice of these extra pictures is never meaningless. For instance in 1992 "annus horribilis", when the Queen said in her Christmas message: "like many other families we have lived through many difficulties this year", the still, silent images at the end of the film after the speech showed a lovely, resplendent young Queen with adorable babies. The purpose of these pictures, in complete contrast with the sad tone of the delivery, typical of that "somber year", was to put aside the present difficulties of the monarchy, and to remind the viewers that the institution had been and could still be attractive. The more silent the image, the more powerful the message. In this very specific type of communication this pictures express the unspeakable, the words the Queen cannot possibly say. In her 1976 Christmas broadcast, the numerous pictures of her triumphant journey to the USA show, for instance, that if "King George III never saw the colony he lost," his descendent received from this former territory the same warm (even warmer) welcome as if she were their sovereign. To a candid eye, the image expresses the idea that Elizabeth is, in some way, the Queen of America too. The U. S. A. seems almost to regret their independence!

51In all the films illustrating her Christmas messages, the Queen is frequently seen shaking hands, speaking, joking with people from all ethnic groups. These numerous images of course stress the sovereign's antiracist attitude.

52We can mention another image that speaks for itself, the 1999 picture of the Scottish crown placed on the table and not on the Queen's Head, it is sufficient to sum up the whole situation of Devolution in Scotland.

4° Synthetic plan for all Christmas messages

53• Notion of Family

54• The theme always connected with some aspect of the Commonwealth

55• A concrete example of a person of good will (an anonymous nurse, 1985; Leonard Cheshire, 1992; Sister Ethel in South Africa, 1995.)

56• A kind thought for citizens away from home, service men and women, people suffering in hospitals, etc...

57• The spiritual message of Christmas

58• Finally, the Queen always wishes a "Happy Christmas", adding sometimes "God bless you all."

5° The three key words to be found in all Christmas messages are "Family, Commonwealth, Christmas

59For example:

60In the 1955 broadcast there are 4 "Christmas", 5 Commonwealth and "Empire ", and the word "family" is replaced by "my husband and our children"... "my Grandfather"

61In the 1964 broadcast: 1 "family", 3 "Christmas", 8 "Commonwealth"

62In the 1977 broadcast: 2 "family", 2 "Christmas", 2 "Commonwealth"

63In the 1992 broadcast: 5 "family", 2 "Commonwealth", 7 "Christmas"

64In the 1998 broadcast: 2 "family" (+ " as a daughter, a mother and a grandmother "... "My own grandchildren"), 3 "Christmas", 2 "Commonwealth", etc...

6° The very first and last images have a special importance in all messages and must be analyzed carefully for they "speak" more than anything else.

65For instance in 1996, the year of the divorces of the Prince and Princess of Wales and the Duke and Duchess of York, to stress the fact the Royal Family was not disintegrating, but was strong and tenderly united, the 40 second silent film of introduction to the Christmas message shows the Queen and Prince Philip taking a quiet walk in the grounds of Sandringham. In their casual country dress (the Queen is wearing a loden coat with a scarf in her hand, Prince Philip, without a tie, has a simple polo jumper) the Royal couple, presented as a very ordinary, affectionate, old couple (Prince Philip opens the door of Sandringham House for the Queen with loving gallantry) are meant to represent the strength of the British monarchy in spite of its present difficulties.

7° The last image of the Christmas broadcast since 1986 is always the Queen's flag floating in the wind to the music of God Save the Queen. This very last image is of utmost importance as it signifies that the institution prevails upon the person of the monarch

IV-Evolution of the Christmas messages over the years

1° Change of terminology and style

66The word Empire was used by King George V and King George VI and even Queen Elizabeth in the early of her reign. In 1955, for instance, she said: "we must adventure on if we are to make the world a better place. All my peoples of the Commonwealth and Empire have their part to play in this voyage of discovery." Now, of course, "Empire" is replaced by "Commonwealth". Likewise, the expression "my people (s)" has fallen out of use. A 1955 sentence such a "Now a New Year will soon be upon us, and we are looking forward to seeing something of Nigeria, that great Country in Equatorial Africa, where more than thirty millions of my people have their homes" sounds dated, utterly obsolete; in our 21st century it would be unthinkable for the Queen to express such a view. In fact, the whole style has changed immensely, it is more simple, more readily understandable by everybody. Perhaps what has been gained in the simplicity of a more daily language has been lost in literary rhetoric. We can regret the beauty of the styles of King George V and King George VI. As a matter of fact, their speeches being radio broadcast only, the quality of the style was an indispensable ingredient. With television the beauty of the images has, to some extent, taken the place of the literary attraction of past Christmas messages. An Australian linguist from Sydney University, Dr Harrington, having studied the Queen's vowels in her Christmas broadcasts from 1952 to 1988, has discovered a sort of democratization of her accent. According to him, the Queen has lost some of her aristocratic tone, she no longer speaks "Queen's English", her pronunciation has acquired the speech patterns of her subjects lower down the social order.

2° The Queen's quiet revolution

67Year and after year, Elizabeth II's Christmas broadcasts reveal a new Britain. All the scenes presented to illustrate the Queen's activities during the past year show a multiracial country, and obviously, the sovereign enjoys meeting people from all origins. The images show the natural, relaxed, really happy way Queen Elizabeth genuinely loves speaking to all sorts of different people.

68The Queen's Christmas messages also reveal a new attitude to religion and in particular to the Church of England which will perhaps no longer be, in the future, the only State religion. In her 1982 Christmas message the Queen had already said "at this time of the year, Christians celebrate the birth of their Saviour but no longer in an exclusive way. We hope that our greetings at Christmas to all people of religions, convictions and good will be received with the same understanding that we try to show in receiving the greetings of other religious groups at their special seasons." In her 2000 message which celebrated the 2000th anniversary of Jesus Christ's birth, the Queen even added:

Whether we believe in God or not, I think most of us
have a sense of the spiritual, that recognition of a
deeper meaning and purpose in our lives, and I
believe that this sense flourishes despite the
pressures of our world.

This spirituality can be seen in the teachings of other
great faiths. Of course religion can be divisive, but
the Bible, the Koran and the sacred texts of the Jews
and Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs, are all sources of
divine inspiration and practical guidance passed
down through the generations.

69Thus, in speech after speech, the Queen seems to pave the way for the next monarch to find a new attitude to religion in the constitution. In fact, her simple Christmas wishes might hide a drastic change in Britain's life; perhaps, in the future an interdenominational coronation could take place. For instance, instead of showing the Bible, in most of her recent broadcasts the Queen takes "a book" in her hands, a book of poetry by Alfred Tennyson (1980), John Donne (1982), William Blake (1997), and she reads a poem expressing a message of spirituality in general, instead of a page from the Gospel as could be expected from the Head of the Church of England. The image of the book, a book of poetry, any book of poetry seems now to illustrate all forms of worship and spirituality.

The Queen's Christmas messages are of great significance

1o-They express some very important constitutional points

70a) The principle of monarchy based on the hereditary system

71The repetition of the word "family" and the numerous images of the Queen's ancestors (particularly in the 1996 broadcast from Sandringham which showed many family paintings and photographs from the reign of Edward VII onwards) and of her present family, with princes Charles, William and Harry, heirs to the throne, to be seen in all messages, express the idea that monarchy is based on a hereditary principle. All the images of the sovereign's forefathers and descendants are meant to suggest that continuity is the strength of the monarchical political system.

72b) This annual speech, viewed by all the countries of the Commonwealth, is also meant to strengthen their moral and political links.

73c) In Britain the Church of England is thus far a State religion, with the monarch at its head who wishes a "happy Christmas" and says "God bless you all." In Britain there is no separation between the State and the Church as is the case in the French Republic where the President presents his New Year's wishes to the Nation on December 31st at 8 p. m. and not on Christmas day as the Queen does. In an equivalent message, the President of the Republic never mentions the word "Christmas" which would be anticonstitutional in the historically lay country of France.

2°- They are a plea in the defense of the monarchy which, in a way, they seem to advertise

74To continue the comparison with the New Year's wishes from the President of the French Republic, we notice that, on December 31st, their messages systematically end with the words: "Vive la République! Vive la France!." In her speeches the Queen cannot possibly proclaim: "long live the monarchy", but the images she chooses to show express that very idea. All of them are a sort of publicity for the monarchical principle, as they present a hard working Royal Family at the service of the Nation, from past generations to the new generations ready to serve. In the year of the Silver Jubilee, the 1977 Christmas message, for instance, is a real vindication of the monarchy, especially when the film presents enormous crowds in front of Buckingham Palace claiming: "we want the Queen, we want the Queen" for several minutes. This image, which really means "long live the monarchy," is the British equivalent of the French sentence "Vive la République," pronounced by all presidents.

3° They represent for the Queen her only freedom of speech

75In 1972, for instance the Queen reassured the Nation by telling the British people that the Commonwealth and European Common Market were not incompatible.

76In 1991, at the height of the problems met by the Royal Family and to quell the rumors, the Queen decided to declare that abdication was out of the question. She said: "I will serve you in the years to come." The Christmas message was for her the only medium she could use to express herself quietly and thus to calm the situation without making an embarrassing fuss with her declaration.

4°- They reveal the Queen's personality

77In 2000 Elizabeth II made publicly the most intimate confession a human being can avow. She said that she believed in God:

To many of us our beliefs are of fundamental importance. For me the teaching of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ's words and example.
I believe that the Christian message, in the words of a familiar blessing, remains profoundly important to us all.

78Thus, in each of her Christmas messages, the Queen does not only mention some political or religious suggestions, she also clearly reveal traits of her personality. All the films illustrating her speeches show her as a hardworking, dutiful, tolerant person who seems to enjoy her role immensely. She is obviously at her best when she can talk to ordinary people, and learn from them about their lives and problems. In these meetings or walk abouts she is always smiling, relaxed, natural, full of humor, which is not always the case when she delivers her speech in front of the camera.

79The Queen's televised Christmas messages are significant documents. One day, when historians will study the whole of Queen Elizabeth II's reign, a careful analysis of each sentence, each word, each image (and absence of some images) in these annual speeches will certainly be found to contain interesting revelations and be a valuable source of information on the contemporary period.


University Professor at L'Ecole Centrale de Lille, where she specialises in Theatre and Twentieth-Century Literature.

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2005

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