Last Thursday, September 8th, 2022, for one brief unreal moment, the world gasped, and we all tried to figure out what we were feeling. Elizabeth II had died. It was that simple — yet completely unnatural. For every person on this planet (and that’s not an exaggeration) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II was the Queen. She was not a queen, one of many queens, although there are still many queens in the world. She was The Queen – universally recognized. This is partially to do with the enduring power of the British monarchy – nearly 2,000 years old – but mostly it’s to do with the Queen herself. For over seventy years she studiously cultivated her position in the world.
In 1952, when Queen Elizabeth succeeded to the throne, Britain was still an imperial power. Winston Churchill, who had served Queen Victoria, was the Prime Minister of Britain and Harry S Truman, a haberdasher from Missouri, was President. He was the last President who did not have a university degree. Joseph Stalin, a peasant from Georgia, was the ruthless master of the Soviet Union, and Chairman Mao, a librarian from Hunan, ruled China. Joe Biden was 10 years old but Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Emmanuel Macron, Olaf Scholz and Liz Truss weren’t even born yet.
People wrote letters to each other. Telephones were attached to the wall, and long distance calls were an event. People still sent telegrams. In 90% of the British Commonwealth (as it was called) television was an intriguing rumour. Most people didn’t fly, and great distances were covered in boats and trains.
Computers were electronic monsters that filled whole rooms with their whirring and buzzing. They were run by geniuses and mountains of hole-punched paper cards.
In 1952, the majority of Queen Elizabeth’s British subjects earned (in American dollars) less than $250.00 per month. Fresh fruits and vegetables were outrageously expensive out of season, and there was no such thing as fast food.
In 1952, walking on the moon was the stuff of science fiction; Sir Edmund Hillary hadn’t even walked on Mount Everest. Although transistors had been invented by Bell Laboratories in 1947, it would take Sony, a Japanese company that didn’t exist yet, three more years to commercially market the Transistor Radio.
In 1952, Queen Elizabeth was Time magazine’s “Man of the Year” and nobody thought that sounded strange.
In 1952, automobiles didn’t have seatbelts. Cyclists didn’t wear helmets, and consumer products didn’t come with warning labels. There were repair shops for household items. Doctors made house calls, and lawyers didn’t advertise.
In 1952, the world was halfway through the 20th century. The good old days were vanishing and our contemporary society was just being born.
It is a testament to Her Majesty that, despite the upheavals of a world that now seems to be spinning faster than most of us can understand, she maintained an unassailable dignity. For over seventy years, she represented the best of what we are supposed to be. Quietly and continually, she did what was expected of her, not perhaps what she herself wanted to do. She spent a lifetime dedicated to her task — without comment or complaint or the flares of ego so common these days.
Few, if any, institutions have survived intact from 1952. They’ve all been swept away by history. Yet, Queen Elizabeth II (even in death) remains The Queen.