The Royal Christmas Message
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It was the idea of Sir John Reith ; Rudyard Kipling wrote the first; David Attenborough produced some of the best: the royal Christmas message, as much a part of the British Christmas as Turkey and the tree, even if for some of us only in its being ignored.
The institution started in 1932 with a radio broadcast by George V , and it was exclusively a radio transmission until as late as 1957 when we got to see the monarch speaking from the Long Library at Sandringham House – strangely the previous ones by Elizabeth II had been put out on TV without pictures. We waited until 1967 for colour.
Over the years the format has changed according to need. During WWII King George VI regularly stressed the concept of Britain and the wider Commonwealth as a family. The royal family itself has been the focus of many messages – with details when times were good and marriages fresh; the endings of those same unions merely hinted later. And sadly disasters natural and man-made have often been included: Aberfan ; foot-and-mouth; the London bombings ; and further afield earthquakes, the Indian Ocean tsunami, 9/11 and many more.
Whatever your views of the monarchy, there is something comforting and comfortable about the existence of the message; 3pm Christmas Day, a solid milestone of the year; almost a full-stop to it. Millions sit down full of Christmas dinner and too many toffees intending to take it all in, and are asleep within minutes; millions make a little point by avoiding it, happily free to do so, but would feel unsettled if it wasn’t there to be avoided. Press Sandringhamologists examine the text for stories – Camilla not mentioned, must be a snub; otherwise so few remain conscious that the Queen could tell elephant jokes and nobody would notice.

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