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GPO equipment used in coverage of coronation, 1953

Televising the Coronation : the new Elizabethans

On June 2, 1953, the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey ushered in the television age. Until then television had not been taken seriously by the establishment, but the Coronation overcame traditional prejudice, and appealed to millions of people from all social groups both in the UK and overseas.

Cameras had never been allowed inside the Abbey before and the government, led by Winston Churchill, decided the event shouldn't be televised. The decision was overruled by the Queen herself, remarking it was she who would be crowned and not the cabinet.

People ordered televisions in advance as never before. Others went to their neighbours to watch the event. Suddenly viewers who couldn't really afford a 'telly' could buy one through a hire purchase contract, and now they'd seen one they wanted it. Within a year the number of television licences had risen by 50 per cent.

Bush television receiver with Band III adaptor c1952

The birth of ITV (September 22, 1955) : 'what's on the other side?'

The launch of ITV was a huge challenge for several reasons, but the biggest one was adapting the GPO network to handle the extra demands placed on the system to show the new channel.

ITV was based regionally, with a mixture of locally produced and networked programmes, unlike the BBC, which normally broadcast from a central location showing the same programme to a single national audience.

The Post Office had to make significant changes to allow both of these broadcasting requirements to be met. It wasn't interested in what was being shown on the brand new TV channel, just concerned that whatever it was arrived at the right time and in the right place.

ITV pre-launch trailer

ITV - Independent Television (1955) : breaking the BBC's stranglehold

ITV was launched in 1955 to bring choice to television viewing. Unlike the BBC, ITV was funded entirely from revenue earned from advertisement commercials between programmes, meaning the latter had to appeal to as many as people as possible to generate sufficient income.

In fact ITV was set up specifically with this in mind. Many people thought that the BBC was too elitist, so ITV deliberately made its programmes simpler; less concerned over educating people but more interested in entertaining them.

ITV was also unique because it wasn't a single company but relied on a number of regional programme contractors serving specific parts of Britain. Viewers saw a mixture of locally produced and nationally networked programmes, such as Independent Television News (ITN) and Coronation Street.

Engineer - installing TV for the Queen : John Graham

John Graham, born in 1932 was introduced to the phone from an early age. His family had a candlestick phone on a hall table at home, for his father's job as a Fleet Street journalist, but he was forbidden to touch it at first.

Following a schoolboy fascination with electronics, he became a TV and radio engineer.

While working for Decca he remembers installing the first TV set at Buckingham Palace just in time for the Queen's Coronation so that the young Prince Charles could see most of the ceremony from home. He was, of course, brought to Westminster Abbey for the actual Coronation part of the service.

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One little story there was about the time of the coronation, and I was involved in that in two ways. Prince Charles was a toddler of about two years old and the plan initially was that he would stay at home at the palace, he wouldn't go to the service, and they were very anxious that he should be able to watch the proceedings. They called upon me to actually make this thing and then send it along to the palace and install it. And then later on the actual day of the coronation I was employed for part of the day at Lambeth town hall looking after several of these large screen projection sets which had been installed so that all the people that didn't have television in the borough could come in and watch.

Engineer - Goonhilly teething troubles : Mr Neil White

Neil White, born in March 1939, grew up in Cornwall and came to London University to study electrical engineering. However, city life didn't suit him and he returned to take up a post working for Post Office Telephones at the brand new satellite station at Goonhilly in 1961.

It was first used to communicate with the USA via the Telstar satellite and Neil remembers the difficulty they had in beaming the pictures using the ground-breaking technology.

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It was quite tense because it had never been done before we were doing something for the first time ever. We were using the Telstar satellite. (It) was an active one, you tried to send a signal to it, it amplified it and sent it back down again. Now that type of technology had never been never been tackled before and so we were worried and I can remember sitting there waiting for the satellite to come up. We certainly could see some signals; we saw some very flickery pictures, which vaguely could you could see the shape of an American test card but not very good. We found out that the French had received it all right. We were slightly annoyed, the usual French/British rivalry that always there. We arranged for the BBC cameras to be plugged into our transmitters so that when our turn came we actually beamed pictures of ourselves back to America and we congratulated the Americans on the achievements that that they'd made in producing this wonderful new Telstar satellite and in effect we'd transmitted the first live trans-Atlantic pictures ever.

fun and games

Can you beat our games? Explode equipment to see what's inside, hear the changing sounds of telecommunications, see how telecommunications designs have changed over time or send an e-postacard.

what's on

The UK's first permanent gallery dedicated to the history of information and communication technologies opens in the new Information Age gallery at London’s Science Museum.

audio history

Take a trip down memory lane with extracts of the interviews which have been recorded as part of the Connected Earth oral history programme.

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