Updated: Dec 18, 2019
The first Christmas Broadcast was delivered by George V in 1932 & since then has evolved into an important part of the Christmas Day celebrations for many in Britain & around the world.
The Christmas Broadcast is an intrinsic part of Christmas Day festivities for many people across the Commonwealth.
Each Broadcast carefully reflects current issues & concerns, & shares The Queen's reflections on what Christmas means to her & to many of her listeners. Over the years, the Christmas Broadcast has acted as a chronicle of global, national & personal events which have affected The Queen & her audience.
The first Christmas broadcast via the radio, 1932
The Christmas message was started by The Queen's grandfather, King George V. King George had reigned since 1910, but it was not until 1932 that he delivered his first Christmas message.
The original idea for a Christmas speech by the Sovereign was mooted in 1932 by Sir John Reith, the visionary founding father of the BBC, to inaugurate the Empire Service (now the BBC World Service).
Originally hesitant about using the relatively untried medium of radio in this way, The King was reassured by a visit to the BBC in the summer of 1932, & agreed to take part. And so, on Christmas Day, 1932, King George V spoke on the 'wireless' to the Empire from a small office at Sandringham.
The transmission was an exercise of contemporary logistic brilliance. Two rooms at Sandringham were converted into temporary broadcasting rooms. The microphones at Sandringham were connected through Post Office land lines to the Control Room at Broadcasting House. From there connection was made to BBC transmitters in the Home Service, and to the Empire Broadcasting Station at Daventry with its six short-wave transmitters.
The General Post Office was used to reach Australia, Canada, India, Kenya & South Africa.
The time chosen was 3.00pm - the best time for reaching most of the countries in the Empire by short waves from the transmitters in Britain. In the event, the first Broadcast started at five past three (twenty-five minutes to four according to the King's 'Sandringham Time') & lasted two & a half minutes. The Broadcast was preceded by an hour-long programme of greetings from all parts of the Empire.
The text of the first Christmas speech was written by poet & writer Rudyard Kipling & began with the words: "I speak now from my home & from my heart to you all."
As the sound of a global family sharing common interests, the Broadcast made a huge impact on its audience of 20 million. Equally impressed, George V made a Broadcast every Christmas Day subsequently until his death in 1936.
George V's last Christmas Broadcast in 1935 came less than a month before his death & the King's voice sounded weaker. He spoke of his people's joys & sorrows, as well as his own, & there was a special word for his children.
King George V's eldest son & the new king, Edward VIII, never delivered a Christmas Broadcast, as his reign lasted less than a year.
The task fell to King George VI, King Edward's younger brother, who made his first broadcast in December 1937 in which he thanked the nation & Empire for their support during the first year of his reign.
Though the Christmas Broadcast was already popular by this time, it had still not yet become the regular tradition it is today. Indeed, there had been no broadcasts in 1936 or 1938.
It was the outbreak of war in 1939 which firmly established the Royal Christmas Broadcast. With large parts of the world now facing an uncertain future, King George VI spoke live to offer a message of reassurance to his people.
The king delivered his final Christmas message in 1951 just weeks before his death on 6 February 1952.
After her Accession on 6 February 1952, The Queen broadcast her first Christmas Message live on the radio from her study at Sandringham, Norfolk. In her message, she paid tribute to her late father, & asked people to remember her at the time of her Coronation the following June.
The full 1952 broadcast;
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.
As he used to do, I am speaking to you from my own home, where I am spending Christmas with my family; & let me say at once how I hope that your children are enjoying themselves as much as mine are on a day which is especially the children's festival, kept in honour of the Child born at Bethlehem nearly two thousand years ago.
Most of you to whom I am speaking will be in your own homes, but I have a special thought for those who are serving their country in distant lands far from their families. Wherever you are, either at home or away, in snow or in sunshine, I give you my affectionate greetings, with every good wish for Christmas & the New Year.
At Christmas our thoughts are always full of our homes & our families. This is the day when members of the same family try to come together, or if separated by distance or events meet in spirit & affection by exchanging greetings.
But we belong, you & I, to a far larger family. We belong, all of us, to the British Commonwealth and Empire, that immense union of nations, with their homes set in all the four corners of the earth. Like our own families, it can be a great power for good - a force which I believe can be of immeasurable benefit to all humanity.
My father, & my grandfather before him, worked all their lives to unite our peoples ever more closely, & to maintain its ideals which were so near to their hearts. I shall strive to carry on their work.
Already you have given me strength to do so. For, since my accession ten months ago, your loyalty & affection have been an immense support & encouragement. I want to take this Christmas Day, my first opportunity, to thank you with all my heart.
Many grave problems & difficulties confront us all, but with a new faith in the old & splendid beliefs given us by our forefathers, & the strength to venture beyond the safeties of the past, I know we shall be worthy of our duty.
Above all, we must keep alive that courageous spirit of adventure that is the finest quality of youth; & by youth I do not just mean those who are young in years; I mean too all those who are young in heart, no matter how old they may be. That spirit still flourishes in this old country & in all the younger countries of our Commonwealth.
On this broad foundation let us set out to build a truer knowledge of ourselves & our fellowmen, to work for tolerance & understanding among the nations & to use the tremendous forces of science & learning for the betterment of man's lot upon this earth.
If we can do these three things with courage, with generosity & with humility, then surely we shall achieve that "Peace on earth, Goodwill toward men" which is the eternal message of Christmas, & the desire of us all.
At my Coronation next June, I shall dedicate myself anew to your service. I shall do so in the presence of a great congregation, drawn from every part of the Commonwealth & Empire, while millions outside Westminster Abbey will hear the promises & the prayers being offered up within its walls, & see much of the ancient ceremony in which Kings & Queens before me have taken part through century upon century.
You will be keeping it as a holiday; but I want to ask you all, whatever your religion may be, to pray for me on that day - to pray that God may give me wisdom & strength to carry out the solemn promises I shall be making, & that I may faithfully serve Him & you, all the days of my life.
May God bless & guide you all through the coming year.
First televised Christmas broadcast 1957;
In 1957 Her Majesty agreed that, for the first time, the broadcast from Sandringham could also be televised. By this time both Canada & Australia had their own television services; the broadcast could also still be heard on the radio throughout the remainder of the Commonwealth. The speech was televised live & The Queen took the opportunity to talk about the impact of new technology on people’s lives. Sixteen & a half million people saw the television broadcast in Great Britain alone, & a further nine & a half million listened on their radio sets.
Did You Know?
British Monarchs have been celebrating Christmas at Windsor Castle since the twelfth century, & Queen Victoria, Prince Albert & their growing family would always spend the festive season at the Castle. During the reigns of King Edward VII, King George V & King George VI, the Christmas season was almost always spent on the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, & this is a tradition that Her Majesty The Queen has largely adopted, with Christmas celebrations centring on Sandringham for most of her reign.
Finally I'd like you to wish you all a Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year
God Save the Queen
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