The New Elizabethan Age: Culture, Society and National Identity after World War II 9781350988965, 9780857728340

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Table of contents :
Title Page
INTRODUCTION Irene Morra and Rob Gossedge
1. New Elizabethanism: Origins, Legacies and the Theatre of Nation Irene Morra
2. The ‘New’ Elizabeth and Scotland: The Royal Style and the British Constitution Kelly De Luca
3. Wales and the Crown: Coronation, Investiture and Jubilee, 1953–2012 Rob Gossedge
4. The Elective Affinity of the New Elizabethan Nation Arthur Aughey
5. The Unending Charity of Cultural Memory Paul Stevens
6. Dreaming the Commonwealth: Arthurian Myth and Byzantine History Rob Gossedge
7. Postwar Revival: Elizabethan Medievalism at Midcentury Ayla Lepine
8. The Arts Council and the Young Elizabethans Tony Coult
9. Young Elizabethans, Young Readers and an Incomplete Vision Helen Phillips
10. The New Elizabethan Soundtrack Stephen Banfield
11. From Brabazons to Quatermass: New Elizabethans in Air and Space Tony Coult
12. English Ballet: A National Art for the New Elizabethan Moment Melanie Bigold
13. ‘A Profound Commentary on Kingship’: The Monarchy and Shakespeare’s Histories on Television, 1957–65 John Wyver
14. A Case Study: The Future of Big Brum Theatre-in-Education Company Edward Bond
15. ‘Not a History Workshop Vision’: Frank Cottrell Boyce on the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games Scott Anthony
16. History Play: People, Pageant and the New Shakespearean Age Irene Morra
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Irene Morra is Reader in English Literature at Cardiff University. She has published on drama, opera, literature and the arts, popular music, and English cultural nationalism. She is the author of Twentieth-Century British Authors and the Rise of Opera in Britain (2007), Britishness, Popular Music, and National Identity (2014) and Verse Drama in England, 1900–2015: Art, Modernity and the National Stage (2016). Rob Gossedge is Lecturer in English Literature at Cardiff University, where he specializes in the literature and cultural afterlife of the Middle Ages and contemporary Welsh literature in English. He has published extensively on Chaucer, Arthurian myth, Robin Hood and other outlaw legends, twentieth-century medievalism, and Welsh literature in English. He is the author of Arthurian Literary Production in Britain, 1800–2000 (2016) and is currently working on a book-length study of the interrelation of medievalism and militarism in the Romantic period.

‘The New Elizabethans recognized themselves but it has taken two generations of scholars to recognize them and the contribution they made to the national identity of these islands. The New Elizabethan Age starts with the makers of the culture rather than some pale abstraction of it. Underpinning the whole scholarly enterprise is the relationship of the arts to politics. Not before time, Enid Blyton and Margot Fonteyn, Shakespeare and King Arthur have been asked constitutional questions (“Who are the British?”) in a single academic study.’ Robert Colls, Professor of Cultural History, De Montfort University ‘I was ten during the Coronation so I’m old enough to be a New Elizabethan. I was fascinated by the examination of the phenomenon and its legacy. It’s a thought-provoking and illuminating investigation of deeply embedded social and cultural habits. It’s both surgery and autopsy.’ Sir Richard Eyre, Artistic Director of the National Theatre, 1987–1997

The New Elizabethan Age Culture, Society and National Identity after World War II Edited by Irene Morra and Rob Gossedge

Published in 2016 by I.B.Tauris & Co. Ltd London • New York Copyright Editorial Selection and Introduction © 2016 Irene Morra and Rob Gossedge Copyright Individual Chapters © 2016 Scott Anthony, Arthur Aughey, Stephen Banfield, Melanie Bigold, Edward Bond, Tony Coult, Kelly De Luca, Rob Gossedge, Ayla Lepine, Irene Morra, Helen Phillips, Paul Stevens, John Wyver The right of Irene Morra and Rob Gossedge to be identified as the editors of this work has been asserted by them in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. Except for brief quotations in a review, this book, or any part thereof, may not be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher. Every attempt has been made to gain permission for the use of the images in this book. Any omissions will be rectified in future editions. References to websites were correct at the time of writing. International Library of Twentieth Century History 90 ISBN: 978 1 78453 179 9 eISBN: 978 0 85772 867 8 ePDF: 978 0 85772 834 0 A full CIP record for this book is available from the British Library A full CIP record is available from the Library of Congress Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: available Typeset Fakenham Prepress Solutions, Fakenham, Norfolk, NR21 8NN


Acknowledgements vii Illustrations viii Contributors x INTRODUCTION  Irene Morra and Rob Gossedge 1 I. ORIGINS AND LEGACIES   1. New Elizabethanism: Origins, Legacies and the Theatre of Nation  Irene Morra


II. A FAMILY OF NATIONS   2. The ‘New’ Elizabeth and Scotland: The Royal Style and the British Constitution  Kelly De Luca 51   3. Wales and the Crown: Coronation, Investiture and Jubilee, 1953–2012  Rob Gossedge 68   4. The Elective Affinity of the New Elizabethan Nation  Arthur Aughey 95 III. CULTURAL MEMORY   5. The Unending Charity of Cultural Memory  Paul Stevens 119   6. Dreaming the Commonwealth: Arthurian Myth and Byzantine History  Rob Gossedge 134   7. Postwar Revival: Elizabethan Medievalism at Midcentury  Ayla Lepine 158



IV. ELIZABETHANS YOUNG AND NEW   8. The Arts Council and the Young Elizabethans  Tony Coult 175   9. Young Elizabethans, Young Readers and an Incomplete Vision  Helen Phillips 192 10. The New Elizabethan Soundtrack  Stephen Banfield 211 11. From Brabazons to Quatermass: New Elizabethans in Air and Space  Tony Coult 230 12. English Ballet: A National Art for the New Elizabethan Moment  Melanie Bigold 243 V. SHAKESPEARE, SPECTACLE AND SOCIETY 13. ‘A Profound Commentary on Kingship’: The Monarchy and Shakespeare’s Histories on Television, 1957–65  John Wyver 267 14. A Case Study: The Future of Big Brum Theatre-in-Education Company  Edward Bond 289 15. ‘Not a History Workshop Vision’: Frank Cottrell Boyce on the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games  Scott Anthony 293 16. History Play: People, Pageant and the New Shakespearean Age  Irene Morra 308 AFTERWORD  Edward Bond 337 Index339



The editors would like to thank the Institute of English Studies, and particularly Jon Millington, for their encouragement of the early formulation of this project. They are grateful to have received a financial grant from the Scouloudi Foundation in association with the Institute of Historical Research. Thanks, too, to the estates of John Verney and Edward Bawden for their kind generosity, and to Jo Godfrey, for her professionalism and support of this project throughout its many phases.


ILLUSTRATIONS 1. Cecil Beaton, Queen Elizabeth II, 1953. © National Portrait Gallery 2. Michael Cummings, ‘Who Will be the New Elizabethans’, Daily Express, 11 February 1952. © Express Newspapers/N&S Syndication and Licensing. Image Reproduction Courtesy of the British Cartoon Archive, University of Kent, 3. David Low, ‘Cultural Addition to the Procession’, Manchester Guardian, 3 June 1953. © David Low/Solo Syndication. Image Reproduction Courtesy of the British Cartoon Archive, University of Kent, www. 4. Edward Bawden, promotional poster for the 1946 Ealing film Hue and Cry. © Edward Bawden Estate 5. John Verney, cover to Young Elizabethan, May 1953. © John Verney Estate 6. John Verney, cover to Young Elizabethan, June 1953. © John Verney Estate 7. David Low, ‘Morning After’, Manchester Guardian, 3 June 1953. © David Low/Solo Syndication. Image Reproduction Courtesy of the British Cartoon Archive, University of Kent, 8. Ninette de Valois at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 1946. © Royal Opera House/ArenaPAL 9. Homage to the Queen at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, 1953. © Royal Opera House/ArenaPAL 10. Radio Times cover, 24 April 1960. © Radio Times



11. Radio Times cover, 1 May 1960. © Radio Times 12. Nicholas Garland, untitled, Daily Telegraph, 8 September 1978. © Telegraph Media Group Limited 1978. Image Reproduction Courtesy of the British Cartoon Archive, University of Kent, 13. Paul Thomas, untitled, Daily Express, 27 May 2013. © Express Newspapers/N&S Syndication and Licensing. Image Reproduction Courtesy of the British Cartoon Archive, University of Kent, www.



Scott Anthony is Assistant Professor of Public History at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. His books include Public Relations and the Making of Modern Britain (Manchester University Press, 2012) and The Projection of Britain: A History of the GPO Film Unit (BFI, 2011). Arthur Aughey is Professor of Politics at Ulster University, Senior Fellow at the Centre for British Politics at the University of Hull and Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences. His recent publications include The Politics of Englishness (Manchester University Press, 2007), These Englands, edited with Christine Berberich (Manchester University Press, 2011) and The British Question (Manchester University Press, 2013). He is currently working on a study of the Conservative Party and the English Question. Stephen Banfield is Professor Emeritus at the University of Bristol. A musicologist, he has published critical studies of composers of American musicals and English art songs, while also pursuing the social and cultural history of music in Britain and the ‘British world’. A book mapping six centuries of music in an English region, West Country Sounds, is in the offing. Melanie Bigold is Senior Lecturer in English Literature at Cardiff University. She specializes in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century literary and book history, and is the author of Women of Letters, Manuscript Circulation and Print Afterlives in the Eighteenth Century (Palgrave, 2012). In a previous life she trained as a professional dancer at the Australian Ballet School and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Professional Division. Edward Bond is a playwright, theorist, poet and director. From his first plays at the Royal Court Theatre in the 1950s to his contemporary x


work in Europe and with Big Brum, his work challenges the complacency of much contemporary drama and theatre. He is the author of over 50 plays. Tony Coult is a playwright, critic and alternative theatre historian, currently working with the Unfinished Histories project. He is the author of The Plays of Edward Bond: A Study (Methuen, 1977) and About Friel: The Playwright and the Work (Faber, 2003), and has written drama for youth and community theatre and BBC Radio. Ayla Lepine is Visiting Fellow in Art History at the University of Essex. A specialist in British and American Gothic Revival architecture, she has held postdoctoral fellowships at the Courtauld Research Forum and Yale’s Institute of Sacred Music. She is co-editor of Gothic Legacies (2012) and Revival: Memories, Identities, Utopias (2015), and has published articles on Anglican art and empire, Kenneth Clark and the Gothic Revival, and modern medievalism in British sacred space. Helen Phillips is retired Professor of English Literature at Cardiff University. She has published extensively in the areas of medieval literature, medievalism and the cultural afterlives of the Middle Ages. Her edited books and monographs include An Introduction to the Canterbury Tales: Reading, Fiction, Context (Palgrave, 2000), Bandit Territories: British Outlaws and their Traditions (University of Wales, 2008) and Chaucer and Religion (Boydell and Brewer, 2010). Paul Stevens is Professor and Canada Research Chair in English Literature at the University of Toronto. His most recent book is Early Modern Nationalism and Milton’s England (a co-edited volume that won the 2009 Irene Samuel Prize), and he is currently working on two projects: The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare and War and Sola Gratia: English Literature and the Secular Ways of Grace (for which he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship). John Wyver is writer and producer with Illuminations Films and Senior Research Fellow at the University of Westminster. He produces the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Live from Stratford-upon-Avon cinema broadcasts and is the author of Vision On: Film, Television and the Arts (Wallflower, 2007).



‘It was good the first time, though’, Frederica was saying. ‘In the first place. All the singing and dancing. Funny, the fifties. Everybody thinks of it as no-time, an unreal time, just now. But we were there, it was rather beautiful, the Play, and the Coronation and all that.’ ‘A false beginning’, said Alexander. ‘All the beginning there was’, she said. ‘My beginning, anyway.’ (A. S. Byatt, The Virgin in the Garden)1

In its depiction of the preparation of a community play about Elizabeth I in the months before the Coronation of Elizabeth II, A. S. Byatt’s The Virgin in the Garden (1978) continues to provide one of the most extensive narrative engagements with the New Elizabethan moment. The novel invokes and reiterates many of the cultural Elizabethanisms of that time, from the vogue for verse drama and national pageantry through to the scholarly work of Frances Yates on Astraea. It also acknowledges the New Elizabethan idealization of a new beginning in relation to the theatre and spectacle of the first Elizabethan age. As this book argues, many of the informing instincts of that moment continue to characterize a contemporary New Elizabethan era perpetually defined by this revisitation of cultural tradition and aesthetic reading of national history. The New Elizabethan discourse that anticipated and hailed the Coronation is now relatively forgotten. When it is acknowledged, it is more often than not dismissed as a curious, fleeting manifestation of media hype and nationalist, monarchist fervour. In 2012, the Diamond Jubilee saw some media commentators conjuring up New Elizabethanism as a 1950s extension of the reforming energy of the Attlee government.2 More typically, however, it has been assessed as inherently conservative and reactionary, as emblematic of a social and cultural moment that 1


built upon royalist emotion and the re-election of Winston Churchill’s Conservatives to ‘dress up Victorian laissez-faire capitalist imperialism in the colourful doublet and hose of the sixteenth century to make it more palatable’.3 Perhaps as a result, larger histories tend to ignore New Elizabethanism entirely, treating the first years of the 1950s as the tail-end of austerity Britain, as a nebulous continuation of establishment complacency in the face of postwar uncertainty. This volume argues that such critical practices have overlooked a formative moment in British postwar culture. That moment saw a coherent, unified invocation of immediate historical parallels between one national age and an imminent era of contemporary achievement and expression. It also saw a forceful celebration of national possibility through figurative language and metaphor. These tendencies were most prominent in the months immediately preceding and following the Coronation. Historians, politicians and newspaper editorialists devoted themselves variously to hailing an imminently youthful, confident and Elizabethan manifestation of national strength, unity and modern identity. Adverts and aviation posters aligned the glories of modern transport with the vessels of Drake and Raleigh. Newspapers and magazines published instructions on how to fashion homemade Elizabethan ruffs. Fashion designers produced ‘Sir Walter Raleigh’ doublets for men and swimming ‘doubloons’ for women. American designers were reported to be fashioning ‘heart-shaped Mary Stuart bonnets’ and ‘“Good Queen Bess” evening gowns’ in the favourite colours of the current Queen.4 Special issues of leading magazines and newspapers published sonnets and pastiche Elizabethan verse. Towards the end of 1953, the enthusiasm of the BBC for all things Elizabethan was such as to schedule an entire ‘Elizabethan evening’ on television – and to provoke columnist Noel Whitcomb into verse: ‘Now all the world’s a screen, and every heathen / Around this joint doth prate Elizabethan.’5 Adding appropriate artistic gravitas to these various energies were the contributions of contemporary artists to official Coronation events. The most expensive and anticipated of these events was the Benjamin Britten–William Plomer opera Gloriana, which conformed to the general spirit (if only) in its Elizabethan subject and perceived moments of musical pastiche. The evening of the Coronation saw a considerably less controversial, officially commissioned ballet, Homage to the Queen, a tribute to the masque with music by Malcolm Arnold and choreography by Frederick Ashton. An Arts Council-sponsored Coronation concert emphasized the commitment of music and letters to a similar ideal of aesthetic 2


continuity, featuring excerpts from the Elizabethan madrigal collection The Triumphs of Oriana (1601) and the final masque from Henry Purcell and John Dryden’s 1691 semi-opera King Arthur. It also staged performances from a commissioned madrigal collection (Garland for the Queen), with contributions from well-known poets and composers who had been asked to embody in their works a ‘search for modern parallels with the age of the first “Oriana”’.6 Such invocations of modern parallels characterized a discourse that looked for contemporary Drakes and Raleighs in the adventurous embrace of science, technology and modern exploration, and in the public, expressive articulation of that spirit within the arts. On Coronation Day itself, newspaper headlines hailed the scaling of Mount Everest, identifying a fortuitous convergence of New Elizabethan aspiration with its official induction in the pageantry of the Coronation. Enabling that pageantry were the modern nation’s cultural institutions: the breadth and dissemination of the Coronation’s live radio and television broadcast were such as to ensure ‘one of the most important moments in broadcasting history’.7 Six days later, two separate studios released full-length, Technicolor films of the Coronation into cinemas; one, A Queen Is Crowned, became the most successful film at the British box office that year.8 The apparent ‘unreality’ of this received (if engineered) moment of euphoria, optimism and communal celebration was implicit in rueful revisitations soon thereafter. In 1955, the sociologist Edward Shils, co-author of an oft-quoted 1953 study on the meaning of the Coronation,9 reflected that the ‘new Elizabethans who were conjured up in aspiration […] as carriers of the British tradition have petered out into thin air’.10 The next year, New Elizabethanism was being dismissed in the Daily Mail as ‘having been so overdone […] that it is now regarded as slightly off-beat’.11 In a 1963 retrospective, Robin Douglas-Home remembers ‘feeling a bit of a Charlie for getting so emotional’ on Coronation Day itself.12 In 1977, journalist James Cameron confessed to having ‘thought very highly of the New Elizabethan Age for an hour or two’; it was a feverish moment that he can now see as having been ‘oversold by the promotion’.13 New Elizabethanism thus became associated with a transient naivety, with a blinkered pre-Suez ignorance of the inevitability of imperial loss, of Cold War anxiety and of continuing internal divisions. Most cultural studies of postwar Britain now look towards the later ‘kitchen sink’ expressions of those ‘angry young men’ whose novels, theatre and film would 3


become increasingly mythologized in relation to the commercialized counterculture of the 1960s.14 Notwithstanding the occasional critical intervention, this account assumes a culture in which the dissentient anger of the Angry Young Men paved the way for a modern era that announced itself with a British pop invasion, a National Theatre and a vague air of countercultural freedom and expression. As this book contends, however, such assessments risk imposing a simplistic narrative that both belies the complexity of the New Elizabethan ‘moment’ and overlooks the continuation of many of its presiding instincts well into the cultural and political discourse of the twenty-first century.15 This book examines that moment from a variety of critical and disciplinary perspectives. It also identifies and analyzes its legacy within a diversity of contemporary social, cultural and political formulations. In so doing, it aims to expose the overlooked significance of the New Elizabethan discourse both to the historiography of postwar British culture and to mainstream, contemporary assumptions of national culture and identity. *** The origins of New Elizabethanism long predated the Coronation, its various contradictions and anxieties dominated by an awareness of the nation’s changing position in the world, by an internal divisiveness about social reform and by a well-established focus on the encouragement of cultural creativity and excellence. As Irene Morra’s opening essay contends, that discourse was marked by a very serious attempt to reconcile distinct social and ideological instincts into an enduring construction of contemporary British identity and immediate potential. Equally central was the performativity of much of the New Elizabethan rhetoric itself, its willed invocation of historical parallels and precedent in order to effect a much-needed, optimistic narrative of national modernity and communal identity. A striking example of such tendencies is provided by a Canadian Coronation souvenir guide: When the news flashed around the world that the Princess Elizabeth had become Queen Elizabeth II an elusive thrill stirred the hearts of her people. Men’s minds […] and hearts […] recalled stories handed down across the centuries […] tales of another Elizabeth, who, nearly four hundred years ago, had graced the Throne of England. […] In literature, exploration and accomplishment, in a hundred fields, the Elizabethan era shines like a wondrous beacon in the night. Today, Elizabeth II rules in a time of testing. Her realms have many a problem to 4

INTRODUCTION face and solve. Yet her subjects know that, with the help of God, under her the lands that call her Queen shall know another glorious era.16

Morra examines the significance of the figurative nature of this rhetoric – its ‘defiance’ of contemporary reality ‘through the construction and reinforcement of an ideal of national identity as Elizabethan performance’. This ideal, she argues, has persisted well into English contemporary culture and politics. The following chapters are arranged under larger thematic headings, their discussions variously expanding upon, contesting and teasing out the social, political and cultural implications to what this collection identifies as the dominant preoccupations and prevailing legacies of the New Elizabethan moment.

A Family of Nations New Elizabethanism celebrated an expansive Commonwealth, an inherently blessed and ‘scept’rd isle’, and a Queen who was an ‘idealised parent’, ‘the centre and the rallying point of national life’.17 These figurations did little to acknowledge the established multicultural and multiethnic demographic of that national family. Indeed, notwithstanding the popular success of Young Tiger’s celebratory Coronation calypso, ‘I Was There’, the New Elizabethan recognition of racial or cultural diversity ‘at home’ was decidedly rare.18 So too was any sustained engagement with the contemporary multinational identity of a United Kingdom whose informing, ruling and expressive centre continued to be associated with England and the nation’s capital. An indicative representation of that assumption is provided at the beginning of A Queen Is Crowned. The film opens with the voice of Laurence Olivier intoning John of Gaunt’s famous speech from Richard II over scenes of rolling farmland and white cliffs. As the soundtrack segues into a choral performance of ‘Jerusalem’, Olivier proclaims (from a Christopher Fry script) upon the Shakespearean immensity of the New Elizabethan realm: This earth. This Realm. No longer England only […] No longer only the castle in the water-meadows, but now also the castle on the rock. […] Scotland! […] Balmoral Castle waits for its queen again. And in the west is Caernarfon, castle of Wales. Wales, where music is mined from the deep ground and Merlin prophesized and Arthur sleeps and the sun melts at 5

THE NEW ELIZABETHAN AGE evening on the sand. This earth, this realm. Three lands indivisible. A union of loyalty in the bounds of the sea and yet unbounded, overleaping Wales in distance to the Ulstermen and the Channel Islanders.19

Within this characteristic construction, England has expanded its Shakespearean borders to embrace the cultural, if not political, presence of a stereotypically proud and mighty Scotland, a romanticized Welsh idyll and a vague masculine collective in Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands. Unsurprisingly, this Anglo-centric model of New Elizabethanism met with some resistance. As Kelly De Luca examines, the very notion of a second Elizabethan age in twentieth-century Scotland was under violent dispute at the time, and continues to inform contemporary constitutional debate. Where Scottish nationalists blew up postal boxes in protest at the ‘EiiR’ insignia, however, Welsh nationalist responses were considerably more muted: as Rob Gossedge argues, they were mediated by a very different national history and nationalist historiography. Sixteen years later, the literary and intellectual response of Wales to another occasion of royal spectacle in the Investiture of the Prince of Wales was much more emphatic. As Gossedge contends, that event became a vital occasion for the unprecedented crystallization (in English and in Welsh) of the political and cultural nationalism that eventually led to devolution and to the emergence of a distinctly modern voice of cultural expression in Wales. A different approach to the vexed ‘unity’ of the New Elizabethan ‘kingdom’ is pursued by Arthur Aughey. Aughey identifies an ‘elective affinity’ in the midst of devolution, and a modern era defined by pronounced political rifts and reactions against an English governing centre. This affinity constitutes a bond that is emotional and cultural. Tracing the developing manifestations of that affinity from its invocation in the Queen’s Coronation broadcast through to the result of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, Aughey examines a persistent, voluntary and evolving identification in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with a vague if always pervasive Britishness. For Aughey, ‘it is this paradox of choice and naturalness which has been critical for the stability of the United Kingdom.’



Cultural Memory As these first essays acknowledge, the construction of national identity is often inextricably bound to dominant readings of national culture and heritage. The New Elizabethan moment was characterized by a persistent tendency to look to the past, critically and creatively, in order to address (if not redress) contemporary national change. In his comparison of the class politics of the historian A. L. Rowse and the social imaginings of the Powell and Pressburger film A Canterbury Tale (1944), Paul Stevens investigates this phenomenon in relation to a postwar moment in which national (English) history was not only ‘remembered but routinely mystified and often imagined as having the power to perform something like the miraculous, regenerative function of God’s caritas or grace’. In the New Elizabethan moment, this emphasis on a cultural and historical past was both complicated and complemented by readings of a medieval and of a neo-medieval heritage. As Gossedge reveals, in the first half of the twentieth century, the myth of King Arthur was reworked from its nineteenth-century construction as a metonym for Britain’s imperial strength. Instead, Arthur became associated with a narrative of imperial decline, with Arthur himself reconfigured as the last of the Romans, a civilized remnant of a past age. He was also, however, subject to the regenerative impulse of New Elizabethanism. This new version of Arthurian history became attached to the story of Byzantium, which replaced Rome in the rhetoric of many writers, historians and politicians as a new informing model of British imperial history. This particularly New Elizabethan engagement with medievalism is also the focus of Ayla Lepine’s essay. As Lepine explores, the social and cultural complexity of that discourse can be read in the textiles, architecture and material design of the Coronation itself and in the aesthetic and social values that informed the reconstruction of the House of Commons, in 1950. While both projects were nominally undertaken in the nationalist spirit of New Elizabethanism, they were also strongly informed by an understanding that the Middle Ages ‘could and did draw attention to the pressing problems and values of the present’.



Elizabethans Young and New Equally central to the New Elizabethan moment, of course, was an emphasis on imminent renewal and regeneration, on the youthful modernity of the incipient age. This youth was manifest in the Commonwealth, in the new Elizabeth and in technological and scientific innovation. It was also, to a less defined extent, celebrated in relation to the nation’s young people themselves. As Tony Coult explores, young people – as creative voices, as audiences, as subjects and, crucially, as formative New Elizabethans – were central to many projects of the Arts Council, an institution considerably more fraught by ideological and aesthetic tensions than its sponsoring of Coronation madrigals might initially suggest. Both Coult and Helen Phillips reveal the extent to which the complexity of the New Elizabethan moment can in many ways be read through varying cultural engagements with and representations of postwar youth. In her investigation of the history and informing voices of the Young Elizabethan magazine and Puffin books, in her analysis of the Coronation-themed covers of children’s comics and magazines, Phillips uncovers a moment in which the figuration of youth, youthful possibility and ‘Young Elizabethanism’ by contemporary postwar artists was anything but simplistic. Complementing that emphasis on youth and future possibility was a fascination with adventure and exploration, most especially as manifest in technological innovation and space-age modernity. Stephen Banfield and Coult explore the postwar mythologization of aviation, the test pilot and air travel. In adverts, film and staged flying demonstrations, aviation was a potent symbol of the nation’s recent ‘Armada’ victory, a manifestation of New Elizabethan achievement and technology and a means to perpetuate a national narrative of exploration, adventure and expansion. Indeed, in 1953, broadcaster Richard Dimbleby hailed ‘ships of wood, ships of steel, ships with wings’ from one Elizabethan age to the next.20 By the next year, however, as Banfield observes, the Brabazon, the Comet and the Airspeed Ambassador would all become New Elizabethan emblems ‘of heroism, enterprise, failure of corporate will, and ultimately tragedy’. Historical revisitations of New Elizabethanism tend to identify a discourse characterized by a performative confidence, by an aspirational energy almost immediately traduced by the harsh realities of the contemporary age. The temptation is consequently to assume a uniformity to those aspirations, a unified reading of ‘Elizabethan’ values. 8


As these chapters variously expose, however, much New Elizabethan culture reflected an acute engagement with the complexity of that contemporary moment. Coult identifies a cinematic and televisual culture that responds with some anxiety to an increasing tension between scientific initiative, individual heroism and the failure of corporate will identified by Banfield. As Banfield explores, that tension was similarly implicit in various attempts to formulate a ‘soundtrack’ for the New Elizabethan era, in the creative workings of composers, film producers and songwriters to encapsulate, reflect and capture what was in fact a much more complex moment of national self-definition and modernity than the optimistic, patriotic rhetoric of New Elizabethanism seemed initially to suggest.

Shakespeare, Spectacle and Society Variously complementing and contradicting these creative expressions was a more prominent, often state-sponsored, rhetoric of cultural nationalism. The most dominant voices of New Elizabethanism called for an artistic tradition that would manifest the confident emergence of a modern nation and era. Melanie Bigold unearths the extent to which many critics and proponents in the arts insisted on ballet as an exemplary New Elizabethan art. Ultimately, those voices were superseded by an increasingly centralized, institutionalized cultural environment dominated by its perpetual search for a more familiar, traditional manifestation of national art. If mountaineers and test pilots acted as latter-day Drakes and Raleighs, if the Battle of Britain constituted the nation’s modern Armada moment, then the contemporary equivalent to Shakespeare was Shakespeare. In the decade following the Coronation, that assumption received emphatic support in the extensive television productions of Shakespeare’s history plays on the BBC. As John Wyver argues, in their very emphasis on a Shakespearean heritage, those productions can be read as an attempt to reinforce the centrality of the BBC itself as a New Elizabethan cultural institution. As such, they point to the enduring, signifying importance of Shakespearean expression as both Elizabethan and New Elizabethan art. Furthermore, those productions were aired by a corporation that had established its national reputation through its ambitious dissemination of royal spectacle. The effect was to reinforce not only the continuing centrality of Shakespearean drama to contemporary national culture, but 9


also the essential relationship of that drama to the modern spectacle of monarchy itself. The implications of this emphasis on cultural heritage are explored from very different perspectives in the final contributions to the volume. For playwright, poet and theorist Edward Bond, any such emphasis actively discourages the creative imagination necessary for the genuine transformation of society into an optimistic, new era. In a forceful critique of the legacy of New Elizabethanism, Bond looks to youth involvement in the theatre as a necessary means to redress – and thus regenerate – society through drama. In 2012, this ideal of a regenerative, social art was reiterated and redefined within a considerably more celebratory and self-consciously national mainstream discourse. The focus of these celebrations was not the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, whose national importance seemed to pale in comparison with the spectacle of the opening ceremony of the London Olympics. In newspaper columns, on social media and in retrospectives in following years, the ceremony was received as a progressive articulation of a Britain now liberated through spectacle from the artificial trappings of a staid heritage and conservative traditionalism. Scott Anthony’s interview with the writer of the ceremony, Frank Cottrell Boyce, resonates with much of the social and cultural optimism that similarly characterized the first iterations of a New Elizabethan moment. In contrast, Morra is much more critical of the social and cultural legacy of New Elizabethanism within what she identifies as a New Shakespearean age. That age, she argues, looks for a ‘Shakespearean’ ideal in national art. This ideal is not just aesthetic, but envisions the nation, its history and its art within a perpetually stratified wooden ‘O’.

‘A False Beginning’? In varying tones and from varying perspectives, the authors of this volume identify in the very nature and persistence of New Elizabethanism a continuous attempt to entrench an enduring ideal of contemporary national identity within a fundamentally uncertain present. In so doing, they advocate for a much closer critical attention to the art, cultural politics, social rhetoric and pervading legacy of a New Elizabethan moment now too easily dismissed as a ‘false beginning’ to the contemporary age. 10


Nowhere is the continuity of New Elizabethanism more immediately evident than in the very persistence and expressive manifestation of today’s staged, familial deference to the monarchy. In 1963, notwithstanding his embarrassment at having ‘fallen’ for the rhetoric of New Elizabethanism, Douglas-Home was surprised by his realization that ‘less and less is the monarchy’s backing used, or needed, for ideas and ventures to succeed’: Today, ten years after the glorious birth of the New Elizabethan Age, we are starved of leadership, of direction, of inspiration. We are floundering about – let’s be honest. And the blame is on US. Not on the monarchy.21

This rather startled awareness of the limited, constitutional role of the monarchy – and of the responsibility and agency of everyone else – hints at the extent to which the New Elizabethan discourse could encourage a considerably less active instinct than its perpetual invocations of explorers and adventurers might otherwise suggest. An even more telling response is offered by Keith Waterhouse, who asked in a 1956 editorial, ‘is the New Elizabethan age going to be a flop?’22 For Waterhouse, the success of any New Elizabethan age depends upon the performance of the monarch herself, and he is sorely disillusioned: This should have been the age when kings mixed with commoners. […] [In 1952], parallels were drawn between the court of the new queen and her great predecessor, Elizabeth I, who was surrounded by a lively band of poets, explorers, adventurers. So it should have been.23

Ironically, Waterhouse condemns the Queen for having failed to live up to the example of her considerably more absolutist predecessor. He also, it seems, looks to the performance of the monarch and her court as a vital reflection of a contemporary social identity. While public attitudes and the media treatment of the monarchy have changed significantly over the decades, they have done very little to challenge the centrality of royalty to contemporary assumptions about national identity and national theatre. The death of Princess Diana may well have brought that critique into focus, but it did so by centralizing the nation around another, complementary construction of royalty: the ‘People’s Princess’. In his memoirs, former Prime Minister Tony Blair argues that Diana ‘captured the essence of an era and held it in the palm of her hand. She defined it.’24 Blair unwittingly echoes the critique of prominent Scottish political theorist Tom Nairn, who after anticipating 11


The Break-Up of Britain in 1972, in 1988 compared the monarchy to a mirror, an ‘enchanted glass’ through which the British people choose to identify and assert an unchanging identity. For Nairn, that image is of ‘a decreasingly useful lie’, a Ruritanian ‘Ukania’25 (not dissimilar to the ‘Cool Britannia’ with which Blair had been once identified). It is telling that Nairn’s study has gone through two updates; the last coincided with the public celebrations of the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, in 2011. Notwithstanding the best attempts of some left-wing historians, such celebrations have been embraced persistently across the mainstream ideological divide. This consensus is most evident in the very resilience of state pageantry, inevitably focused around ‘governing’ figures, as participatory and communal national spectacle. Such pageantry reinforces the persistence of tradition and social hierarchy into the modern age. It also theatricalizes an ideal of community, nation and international influence built upon invented tradition and a willed indifference to the complexity of contemporary realities. As the chapters in this book collectively explore, these instincts have informed various postwar formulations of national possibility, expression and identity. They have been challenged and qualified by many. Ultimately, however, their continuing mainstream resonance points forcefully to the presiding significance and endurance of the New Elizabethanism that first ushered in the ‘modern’ age.

Notes   1 A. S. Byatt, The Virgin in the Garden (London: Chatto & Windus, 1978), 15.   2 See, for example, Peter Beresford, ‘What Became of the New Elizabethans?’, Guardian, 15 June 2013.   3 Richard Weight, Patriots: National Identity in Britain, 1940–2000 (London: Pan Macmillan, 2013). See also David Kynaston, Family Britain 1951–1957 (London: Bloomsbury, 2009), 293–307.   4 Mary Niklas, ‘Away from the News’, Daily Mirror, 19 March 1952.   5 Noel Whitcomb, ‘A Cockney Sparrow Grows Fairy Wings’, Daily Mirror, 21 November 1953.   6 Arts Council Commission, quoted in Paul Kildea, Selling Britten: Music and the Market Place (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 132. The Council had recommended that this search reveal ‘the continuing spirit of discovery; the renascence of music or of the arts as a whole, loyalty to the monarchy, and compliment to the first lady of the land’ (ibid.). See also Heather 12

INTRODUCTION Wiebe, Britten’s Unquiet Pasts: Sound and Memory in Postwar Reconstruction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 123–4.   7 Thomas Hajkowski, The BBC and National Identity in Britain, 1922–53 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010), 100.   8 For a more detailed discussion of these films in the context of the monarchy’s representation on film, see Jeffrey Richards, ‘The Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and Film’, Court Historian ix/i (2004), n.p., and Richards, ‘The Monarchy and Film 1900–2006’, in Andrzej Olechnowicz (ed.), The Monarchy and the British Nation, 1780 to the Present (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 258–79.   9 Edward Shils and Michael Young, ‘The Meaning of the Coronation’, The Sociological Review i/2 (1953), 63–81. 10 Shils, ‘The Intellectuals: (I) Great Britain’, Encounter iv (April 1955), 5–16: 16. 11 Robin Douglas-Home, ‘An Age Begins Anew’, Daily Mail, 16 October 1956. 12 Douglas-Home, ‘It’s no Use Blaming the Queen for the Mood Britain is In’, Daily Mirror, 29 May 1963. 13 James Cameron, ‘Twenty-Five Years On’, Punch, 12 January 1977. 14 For an early, indicative reading, see Kenneth Allsop, The Angry Decade: A Survey of the Cultural Revolt of the Nineteen-Fifties (Wendover: John Goodchild, 1958). 15 A notable exception is found in Wiebe’s recent study of Benjamin Britten, in Britten’s Unquiet Pasts. 16 N.a., Our Queen is Crowned (Toronto: George Weston, 1953), n.p. 17 G. J. Renier, ‘The Queen and Her People’, Listener, 28 May 1953. 18 See, for example, Sonya O. Rose, ‘From the “New Jerusalem” to the “Decline” of the “New Elizabethan Age”: National Identity and Citizenship in Britain, 1945–1956’, in Frank Biess and Robert G. Moeller (eds), Histories of the Aftermath: The Legacies of the Second World War in Europe (Oxford: Bergahn, 2010), 231–48. 19 Castleton Knight, producer, A Queen Is Crowned, Rank Organisation, 1953. 20 Richard Dimbleby, Elizabeth Our Queen (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1953), 68. 21 Douglas-Home, ‘It’s No Use’. 22 Keith Waterhouse, ‘Editorial’, Daily Mirror, 26 September 1956. 23 Ibid. 24 Tony Blair, A Journey: My Political Life (London: Knopf Doubleday, 2010), 134. 25 Tom Nairn, The Enchanted Glass: Britain and Its Monarchy (London: Radius, 1988), 9.






There are few greater delights than to go back three or four hundred years and become in fancy at least an Elizabethan. (Virginia Woolf, 1932) A nation is a union in both space and time. We are not compatriots only of those who live a long way away, but of those who lived before us and of those who will live after us. (Arthur Bryant, 1953) Across the green fields, a procession grows We are the out-of-time people of the rose (Damon Albarn, 2012)1

Reflecting upon the New Elizabethan moment in the year of the Diamond Jubilee, Labour MP and historian Tristram Hunt observed, ‘for all Winston Churchill’s happy conception of a Britain able to manage multiple loyalties of Atlanticism, Commonwealth and empire, Queen Elizabeth presided over an epic identity crisis that has still to be resolved.’2 This ‘identity crisis’ was characterized not only by the imminent dissolution of the Empire, but by the significant internal tensions and ideological differences that had marked postwar formulations of national renewal. In the years that preceded and celebrated the Coronation, however, that perception of crisis was emphatically countered by an optimistic New 17


Elizabethanism, where the centrality of the Queen enabled the return of a reassuring historical template. According to broadcaster Richard Dimbleby in 1953, Elizabeth I had united ‘a nation impoverished and divided against itself’; the new Queen would similarly watch ‘over the conflicting elements of [her] family […] to see that the true will of the electorate prevailed’.3 As the historian Arthur Bryant noted in the Coronation programme, ‘of all our institutions the monarchy serves best to unite us: to remind us that the political and economic differences that divide us are less real than the ties of history that bind us.’4 The dawning of the New Elizabethan age saw commentators envisioning an era in which dreams of (inter)national glory and future progress would unite in service to the Queen and an established national ideal. This construction was adopted on various sides of the political spectrum to embrace a contemporary patriotism focused on familiar, apparently Elizabethan signifiers of national strength: benign expansionism, internal unity, artistic exuberance and international renown. As this chapter contends, however, the very performative nature of such assertions also suggests that the ‘identity crisis’ of the 1950s was to be redressed less through the practical realization of these ambitions than through the unifying rhetoric of New Elizabethanism itself. Invoking a cohesion, creativity and expansive energy informed by a defining Elizabethan heritage, that discourse defied its own postwar, imminently post-imperial reality through the construction and reinforcement of an ideal of national identity as Elizabethan performance. In so doing, it ensured the reading of the history and identity of the nation itself through a fundamentally aesthetic template. Increasingly enforced by central political and cultural institutions, that template has prevailed to dominate contemporary readings of the modern performance of the nation itself. *** On 11 February 1952, Labour leader Clement Attlee responded to the death of King George VI in the House of Commons: ‘It is our hope that Her Majesty may live long and happily and that her reign may be as glorious as that of her great predecessor, Queen Elizabeth I. Let us hope we are witnessing the beginning of a new Elizabethan Age no less renowned than the first.’5 That same month, the Daily Express ran a Michael Cummings cartoon that asked, ‘Who will be the New Elizabethans?’; it answered its own question by representing contemporary cultural and political figures in Elizabethan garb.6 On 19 April, Picture Post provided 18


a more expansive list of possible New Elizabethans.7 That July, the prolific historian and emphatically New Elizabethan A. L. Rowse delivered a presidential address to the English Association: a young queen had come to the throne ‘at just the same age as that of the first Elizabeth’.8 With the wars over, ‘what more natural than that people should wonder whether another age may not be opening to us like that which has proved itself unforgettable in the memory of the English peoples?’9 As the coronation of Elizabeth II approached, these assertions of a parallel between one Elizabethan era and the next were such as to ensure that the term ‘New Elizabethan’ became ‘a stock-in-trade of contemporary journalists’.10 Within this New Elizabethan discourse, Elizabeth II was a symbol of royal continuity, an image of youthful modernity and an icon of traditional, feminine duty who would enable and inspire the exploits of great men. As Dimbleby wrote in his Coronation paean to Elizabeth Our Queen: There is no doubt that a woman on the throne brings out the innate chivalry in man and fires him with a more adventurous spirit, and to greater achievement. […] It was thus with the first Elizabeth, inspiring men like Drake, Raleigh, Frobisher, and Hawkins to explore the unknown for the honour of the Queen. It is already so in the reign of the second Elizabeth, where men like the late John Derry and Neville Duke have heralded the scroll of achievement in the dimensions of space and sound.11

Journalist Philip Gibbs similarly identifies in the very youth and beauty of the monarch an appeal to an ‘old sense of chivalry, not dead in men’s hearts’,12 while Ernest Barker asserts a national history in which ‘some magic about a queen’ has made ‘the reign of a woman […] a stimulus to the imagination of men’.13 According to Rowse, in the inherently ‘masculine’ society of England (and, assumedly, Britain), ‘people respond with gallantry to the idea of a woman on the Throne’: ‘Certainly women throughout the world have reason to be pleased.’14 For all its celebration of a new era and a modern queen, such rhetoric showed very little divergence from the first Elizabethan age. Nonetheless, this gendered reading of the Queen also helped to accommodate the necessarily more limited role of a constitutional monarch. In a Christmas broadcast to the Commonwealth in 1953, the Queen herself refuted direct comparisons with the previous Elizabeth: ‘Frankly I do not myself feel at all like my great Tudor forbear, who was blessed with neither husband nor children, who ruled as a despot and was never able to leave her native shores.’15 Notwithstanding the Queen’s own rejection 19


of the Elizabethan parallel, commentators insisted on aligning her role with contemporaneous historical readings of the first age of Gloriana: according to Rowse, Elizabeth I had not been a despot, but rather the centre of a ‘galaxy’ that had inspired the emergence of Spenser, Sidney and Drake.16 Historian J. E. Neale similarly contended that Elizabeth I exerted her control only to enable ‘the energies of the people’, to restrain the ‘cruder promptings of individualism’ and to enforce political moderation and balance.17 Contrasting this exercise of power to that of later dictators (such as Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin) who found the basis of power in the ‘cult of [themselves]’, he identifies a Queen who personified ‘the emotion of the nation without necessarily being doctrinaire’.18 This imagining of the first Elizabeth as a presiding, moderate influence enforced a distinct continuity, in the postwar years, from one moment of ‘new’ Elizabethan history to the next. In 1950, Rowse observed that the English people had just ‘been through a crisis of their fate to which the nearest parallel is that they passed through in the Elizabethan Age’.19 When Gibbs asks himself ‘how […] we compare, then, with our ancestors in the first Elizabethan era’, he is able to conclude: ‘The Battle of Britain and the little ships at Dunkirk, and the civilians in cities under air bombardment, answer that.’20 As such appraisals suggest, the New Elizabethanism around the Accession and Coronation took particular strength not only from the fortuitous accession of a second Elizabeth, but from a wartime experience that had also been read in Elizabethan terms. The perception of a distinct parallel between World War II and the defeat of the Armada had been enforced prominently in film and theatre; the Armada narrative of Fire Over England (1937) offered ‘possibly the earliest exemplar of the pillaging of Tudor history on film for war-propaganda purposes’,21 building upon the established, patriotic resonance of the Elizabethan age as manifest in the tradition of the blockbuster Edwardian pageant and pageant-play.22 Even more significant, perhaps, was the received manifestation of Elizabethan leadership in Winston Churchill himself. By the time of his re-election, Churchill had become an iconic figure, providing a contemporary manifestation of a great national and Elizabethan past returned to (and implicitly surpassed within) the present. As Gibbs declared in the Coronation year, ‘as New Elizabethans we may be proud that we have at our helm one of the greatest men of all time – Mr Winston Churchill.’23 In a note to the 1952 reprint of his 1934 study Queen Elizabeth, Neale identifies a resonance between the age of the Armada and that of the recent war in terms of ‘the idea of romantic leadership 20


of a nation in peril’.24 Reflecting on the cult of the first Elizabeth, he suggests that ‘the like had never before been known in this land, and perhaps has only been repeated since in the unique hold on Englishmen’s affections won by Sir Winston Churchill during the late war.’25 Indeed, such was Churchill’s influence that Elizabeth I herself could now be read through the example of her apparent successor: possessing ‘not a few of Mr Churchill’s qualities’,26 ‘this woman was as vital as Winston Churchill, and, like him, made romantic leadership an art of government.’27 This received restoration of an authentic and familiar Elizabethan model enabled the perception of a natural narrative continuity, where one modern Elizabethan era could now give way to the next. It also implicitly (and at times explicitly) suggested the inauthenticity of the intervening postwar Labour government, whose social policies had temporarily disrupted that national narrative. Gibbs, for example, likens Labour’s welfare state to a ‘social revolution’ that broke with a national ‘heritage of tradition and adventure’, leading to a ‘worship of the State’ that marked ‘the road to serfdom as in Russia’.28 Rowse similarly identifies an inauthentic rupture from the defining social structure and heritage of the first Elizabethan age: ‘the gentry and the middle classes […] were the dynamic element in that society and made it what it remained right up to our time and the social revolution that has now engulfed it.’29 For many, 1951 would see the return not only of Churchill, but also of the entrenched values of an establishment class wary of the egalitarian rhetoric with which postwar reform, architecture, the Arts Council, the Festival of Britain and the Labour government as a whole had become so strongly associated. In such readings, the glamour of the Coronation and the Queen offered a nostalgic and superficially modernizing response not only to Britain’s changed international position, but also to its internal postwar deviation from an essential Elizabethan template. In its emphasis on continuity and an emergent, youthful era, however, New Elizabethanism was also emphatic in differentiating between the earlier Elizabethan performance of a Britain at war and the contemporary promise of a postArmada age. In his popular and influential 1928 history, Lytton Strachey had divided the reign of Elizabeth I into two parts: The earlier period was one of preparation; […] [it] produced a state of affairs in which the whole energies of the country could find free scope. […] Then suddenly the kaleidoscope shifted; the old ways, the old actors, 21

THE NEW ELIZABETHAN AGE were swept off with the wreckage of the Armada. […] Essex and Raleigh – young, bold, coloured, brilliantly personal – sprang forward and filled the scene of public action. It was the same in every other field of national energy: the snows of the germinating winter had melted, and the wonderful spring of Elizabethan culture burst into life.30

As Violet Markham similarly observed in the Listener in 1953, from the struggle with Spain ‘came a great resurgence of national life that flowered in the supreme genius of Shakespeare and inspired a new spirit of adventure and exploration’.31 As translated into a New Elizabethan discourse, this characteristic historical reading saw the nation naturally return to, revive and progress along an inherited ideal of national culture, spirit and identity. Now freed of ‘the old actors’ and ‘the wreckage of the Armada’, that nation could look forward to a ‘wonderful spring’ marked primarily by the bursting forth of a new, Elizabethan culture to enshrine the ‘public action’ of its young and ‘brilliantly personal’ courtiers.

Monarch, Metaphor and Modernity At the time of the Accession and Coronation, commentators were eager to find evidence of this public action and wonderful spring within a rejuvenated narrative of imperial origins and return. Where Poet Laureate John Masefield dreamed of an ‘old land’ that would ‘revive and be / Again a star set in the sea’,32 Gibbs translated such contemplations into a less ephemeral recognition of contemporary possibility: If the old Elizabethan era was the age of sea travel and exploration, then this New Era will be one of the air. […] There are lands yet to explore and develop […] The spirit of endeavour and the will to conquer continues to entice men to climb Everest and to gain greater speed on land, water and in the air.33

On Coronation Day, the national press proclaimed Edmund Hillary’s successful ascent of Mount Everest: ‘Glorious News for the Queen’; Hillary and his ‘successful assault’ had marked a ‘great feat of the new Elizabethans’.34 In language that implied both the continuation and renewal of an imperial reality, the Queen was ‘immediately told that this brightest jewel of courage and endurance had been added to the Crown of British endeavour’:35 headlines proclaimed Britain to be ‘on 22


top of the world on this Elizabeth II day’.36 The fact that Hillary was a New Zealander on a British team did not qualify such rhetoric; instead, it acted as apparent testimony to the centrality of Britain to the achievements of its Commonwealth subjects: ‘Everest the unconquerable’ had been ‘conquered by men of British blood and breed’.37 As such receptions suggest, this simultaneous emphasis on a youthful, modern moment and on the continuation of a natural Elizabethan expansionism found its strongest support in celebrations of the newly formed Commonwealth. Within that rhetoric, the nations of the Commonwealth would together enact and expand upon that innate Elizabethan narrative. In a special feature in Picture Post, Patrick Walker, MP, observed that the Queen would be at the head of an ‘Elizabethan Commonwealth’ – ‘a giant in the world’, a new ‘society without precedent in the history of man’.38 She would consequently ‘have to establish a new technique of being seven queens at once’.39 While such celebrations might suggest the imposition of an imperial identity onto the Commonwealth, their very invocation of Elizabethan origins and youth also worked to counteract the negative implications of Empire and imperial loss.40 As Gibbs acknowledged, ‘the Empire is dissolving and departing from us’; Britain is ‘again without an Empire at least in its old idea of domination and control’.41 In 1953, that awareness was implicit in the Queen’s Christmas broadcast: the Commonwealth ‘bears no resemblance to the Empires of the past’, but is a ‘worldwide fellowship of nations, of a type never seen before […] an equal partnership of nations and races’.42 That same year, the Australian Minister for Labour acclaimed ‘a young queen for a young Commonwealth, both with bright expectancy – the forward-looking quality of youth’.43 Within this rhetoric, the Commonwealth would both re-enact and transform an originating imperial narrative into a future of benevolent expansionism – always with Britain and the Queen at its informing centre. Reflecting upon the 1951 tour of Canada by the Princess Elizabeth, Dimbleby finds an inherent continuity between the imperial past and the Commonwealth present; untrammelled by the internal ‘doubts [and] disillusions’ of the mother country, the Canadians would both ensure ‘the survival of all those things for which we have fought in this country through the ages’ and ‘by so doing […] ensure this for others, too’.44 Rowse adopts a similar tone, where the ‘prophecy of the Elizabethan poet’ would become fulfilled in the Commonwealth ‘progeny’.45 Such constructions position the Queen and ‘Great Britain’ at the defining centre of these expanding accomplishments. They also, however, seem 23


to assume that the practical realization of these energies, achievements and benignly expansive ambitions will now be delegated to the nation’s youthful ‘progeny’. In the context of Britain’s recognized international decline, therefore, the New Elizabethanism that acclaimed emergent international dominance – let alone colonization – remained firmly at the level of a performative discourse. As Jan Morris, correspondent for The Times at the time of the Everest expedition, observes, at the moment of the ascent, ‘allegory struck.’46 Such figurative formulations embrace a reading of national performance as national theatre. For many New Elizabethans, where Churchill’s ‘Elizabethan’ leadership had assumed the responsibilities of a warrior potentate, that of the post-Armada Gloriana would inspire a national pageant. The symbolic strength of that pageant would itself attest to the modern renewal and revival of familiar Elizabethan glories.

Origins In many respects, the New Elizabethan moment only reinforced an established cultural appreciation for Elizabethan art, poetry and drama. In the first half of the twentieth century, the Elizabethan era had been explored enthusiastically by self-consciously modernizing writers, particularly those associated with Bloomsbury. As suggested by the very titles of Strachey’s influential history Elizabeth and Essex: A Tragic History (1928) and Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando: A Biography (1928), the Elizabethan era was characteristically read as one in which life and art were inextricable, unimpeded by convention and marked by a constant spirit of creative invention. The legacy of Strachey’s text was to resonate throughout subsequent decades; immediately popular on publication, the history was further enshrined in Maxwell Anderson’s Broadway verse drama Elizabeth the Queen (1930), which itself became the source of Hollywood’s Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939). In 1953, Strachey’s text provided the source for Benjamin Britten and William Plomer’s ‘national opera’, Gloriana, performed before the Queen in honour of the Coronation. In these works, the Elizabethan era was identified as an inspiration for the assertion of a new, rejuvenating and ambitious aesthetic, ‘a model for anti-Victorian modernity, a time of vitality, innovation, brilliance, young imagination, vehemence, violence, and amorousness’.47 In drama, T. S. Eliot and Ronald Duncan identified a similar inspiration 24


in Elizabethan models by reacting against the realism of the national stage. Eschewing regressive pastiche, Eliot encouraged the development of a contemporary verse idiom whose effect would be comparable to that of the Elizabethans.48 A different Elizabethanism was popularized by Christopher Fry, whose mainstream verse plays delighted in poetic conceit, blank verse and a clear affiliation with Shakespearean romance and comedy. Gibbs identifies the plays of Fry as nearest to the Elizabethans ‘in robust spirit and in playfulness with words and joy in them, as though they were glittering jewels’.49 In their identification of the Elizabethan era as an originating, creative and modern moment, these various expressions offered an early manifestation of cultural neo-Elizabethanism. Unlike the New Elizabethans, however, the Bloomsbury writers took inspiration from the disruption of any sense of aesthetic continuity from one era to the next. This disruption, they emphasized, was in fact necessitated by the very indecipherability of the historical past they invoked; according to Strachey, ‘it is, above all, the contradictions of the age that baffle our imagination and perplex our intelligence.’50 As Woolf similarly notes in a 1932 essay on ‘The Strange Elizabethans’: Elizabethan prose […] was almost incapable of fulfilling one of the offices of prose which is to make people talk, simply and naturally, about ordinary things. […] the social student can pick up hardly any facts about daily life from Shakespeare’s plays; and if prose refuses to enlighten us, then one avenue of approach to the men and women of another age is blocked.51

Woolf reinforces this distance in Orlando, emphasizing the extent to which the era has been disseminated primarily through its non-realist dramatic and poetic conceits: The age was the Elizabethan; their morals were not ours; nor their poets; nor their climate; nor their vegetables even. Everything was different. […] Sunsets were redder and more intense; dawns were whiter and more auroral. Of our crepuscular half-lights and lingering twilights they knew nothing. The rain fell vehemently, or not at all. The sun bled or there was darkness.52

For all their celebration of Elizabethan theatre and art, for all their alignment of that celebration with a new aesthetic moment, such responses enforce a fundamental divide between neo-Elizabethan artistic enthusiasms and the nationalist discourse that was to define the New Elizabethanism of the 1950s. 25


In direct contrast to artists such as Woolf and Strachey, New Elizabethanism insisted upon a natural historical continuity. It also assumed and celebrated an earlier era that was inextricable from its received artistic expressions. Thus, the atmosphere of the Elizabethan Age had itself been ‘drenched in passion and poetry’;53 England had been ‘a nest of singing birds’;54 ‘the explanation of the miracle that is Shakespeare […] is that in his work there is more than the man: there is the age’;55 Shakespeare ‘was inspired by the spirit of his age. He was the spirit of his age.’56 In this discourse, the era itself was received as performance: as a theatrical, poetic and expressive manifestation of national identity indecipherable from historical reality. In such readings, therefore, Elizabethan art – old and new – does not just reflect or represent contemporary reality; it manifests that reality. This construction was again enforced by the recent example of the wartime nation’s ‘Elizabethan’ performance. Not only had that nation repelled a modern Armada, but it had apparently done so within a distinctly Shakespearean idiom. As Marjorie Garber observes, the significance of the Henry V St Crispin’s Day speech throughout the war, with its rallying invocation of a ‘happy few’ and a heroic ‘band of brothers’ was such that it acquired a ‘separate life as a work of inspirational motivation’.57 In 1942, Laurence Olivier delivered a radio performance of the speech on the programme ‘Into Battle’; he continued to recite the speech publicly throughout the war, complementing his famously patriotic film of Henry V (1944). As Olivier observes in his memoirs, ‘from village hall to Albert Hall, there was hardly a limit to the variety of gatherings that found my supposed eloquence forced upon them, always and without fail ending with “Once more unto the breach”.’58 These performances gathered further resonance with the many public appearances of Flora Robson in character as Elizabeth I, their collective significance forcefully emphasized in an account by Rowse: There is no doubt about the fact, when Londoners in the tense hours of 1940, awaiting the issue of the Battle of Britain, thronged to hear Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Speech to the Commons in 1601 recited in 1940 by our most admired living actress; when the chief box-office draw throughout the war, the one dramatist that never failed to hold the stage was a Warwickshire man who made a successful career in London over three centuries ago; when on the famous morning of 6 June 1944, a company commander […] read Henry V’s speech before Agincourt to his men; when people at home held their breath and felt that not to be there was, in his phrase, not to be there on Crispin’s day.59 26


In combination with Olivier’s Henry V, Fire Over England and the supportive Elizabethanism of Hollywood, these appearances underlined yet another unifying ideal: film, Shakespeare, history and contemporary experience came together to reinforce the continuous, informing presence of the Elizabethan age to a mass audience on a national stage. Equally significant to such receptions was the famous rhetoric of Churchill’s speeches themselves. Melman identifies a ‘Churchillian ring’ to Robson’s speech (as Elizabeth I) in Fire Over England.60 Churchill’s speeches, moreover, frequently echoed the St Crispin’s Day speech, giving further support to the perception of a second Elizabethan moment and the inextricability of that moment from aesthetic expression: ‘never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few’; ‘Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour”.’61 Neale enforces this relationship between Churchill’s oratory, his leadership and the apparently formative national culture from which such patriotic confidence could derive. The ‘apocalyptic mood’ that defined this latter speech of Churchill’s had also ‘possessed many Elizabethans’; after the defeat of the Armada, the first Elizabethans had grasped ‘with instinctive certainty that that indeed had been their finest hour’.62 Churchill’s language was oratorical and dramatic – and in the context of some of the most public recognitions of patriotic expression at the time, it also had a distinctively Shakespearean ‘ring’. This reading of Churchill, the nation and the nation’s cultural expressions as not just Elizabethan but as Shakespearean clearly informed the national and cultural expectations of New Elizabethanism. It also ensured the persistence of those expectations within today’s alignment of theatrical performance (and actors) with an ideal of performed leadership, Shakespearean drama with contemporary lived experience, and theatre as a whole with the expressed realities and ambitions of a national ‘stage’. For many, the New Elizabethan age would manifest itself in an Elizabethan performance of national identity, where courtiers, Commonwealth and commoners united within a contemporary pageant presided over by a symbolic, televised Gloriana. This expectation was to evolve into a powerful anticipation of contemporary national performance that continues to this day.



Renaissance Central to this emphasis on national performance was a fundamental cultural nationalism, where traditional signifiers of national glory, international influence and expansion were invoked in relation to the art through which such achievements and ambitions could be maintained. In an age marked by myths and counter-myths of Britain’s international decline, the New Elizabethans turned emphatically to English culture – its literature, its drama, its music, its art – as the most authentic, lasting manifestation of the nation’s Elizabethan spirit and contemporary potential. Asking if ‘[we can] save our souls, our songs, our humour, our laughter, even if we lose our Empire and our former wealth’, Gibbs characteristically awaits ‘a renaissance of the poetic spirit and imaginative vision to give a glory to this new Elizabethan era’.63 In the discourse of New Elizabethanism, the imminent glories of the modern era would reveal themselves primarily – if not exclusively – in a renewed artistic heritage that could offer a much-needed corrective to any narrative of national decline. The roots of such ambitions can again be traced to the years before the Accession, to the earlier modernizing instincts of CEMA (the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts), the Arts Council and the preceding Labour government. In 1940, the founding of CEMA had officially encouraged the promotion of the arts throughout the war;64 tales of regional art displays in parish churches and violinists performing amidst the bombs soon contributed to the emergent mythology of a populist Blitz spirit. The strength of this reception was such that after the war, ‘Covent Garden and the Arts Council were created with as much unity […] as the nation had shown in waging war against Hitler.’65 The postwar transformation of CEMA into the Arts Council of Great Britain positioned the arts as crucial to a national project of restructuring and renewal. Indeed, as Norman Lebrecht has observed, ‘if the Welfare State had a defining moment, it was not in the delivery of the first benefit cheque’, but in the ‘momentous, consensual decree that the arts – the creative voice of the nation – were from now on to be a paternal concern of central government’.66 In a 1945 prime-time radio address, John Maynard Keynes, Chair of the Arts Council, aligned an egalitarian social ideal with this emphasis on the arts; he looked ‘forward to a time when the theatre and the concert hall and the gallery will be a living element in everyone’s upbringing’.67 For Keynes, however, a larger participation in the arts 28


would not just reflect a broader project of national reform; it would encourage the development of a proud national culture capable of responding to outside threats: ‘let every part of Merry England make merry in its own way. Death to Hollywood.’68 The Council soon moved to focus on the reinforcement of a self-consciously national artistic tradition through London cultural institutions. In so doing, it ensured that an earlier emphasis on artistic creativity across the nation and its regions became increasingly centralized. Ultimately, this centralization enforced an institutionalized construction of national culture: it aligned the governing capital (and nation) with the expressive manifestation of contemporary national identity and cultural might. This emphasis on a strong national (and primarily English) culture, implicitly restorative in its ability to repel foreign influence and maintain a proud indigenous identity, again transcended political differences to promote culture as the primary language of national revival and renewal. Strengthened by the recent Shakespearean performance of the wartime nation, a further encouragement of this ambition was provided by the Festival of Britain. Like the New Elizabethans, the organizers of the Festival had assumed a contemporary identity defined by an established cultural tradition and by the display of that tradition on a grand, national scale. As Becky E. Conekin observes, the Festival celebrated a received national past and cultural heritage ‘to illustrate how the British people were […] “cemented together” by character, tradition, and ancient origins’.69 Kenneth O. Morgan offers a similar reading: the Festival ‘pointed back […] to the way in which continuities had been preserved and adapted to later circumstances’; the main impression it left ‘was not its innovation but its insularity’.70 Only two years later, the Coronation embraced a similar instinct: it would mark ‘a “return to the future” – a fresh start, which recalled earlier moments of Britain’s national greatness’.71 Despite their differing ideals for the future, both events assumed a contemporary Britain manifest in its performance of a unified – and unifying – cultural past. By the time of the Coronation, many were bemoaning the lack of contemporary artists to maintain and promote this continuity. Looking to English literature as the traditional manifestation of national expression, Rowse decried a modern tradition whose intellectualism defied performance and display: ‘was there ever a more apposite instance than Shakespeare, the “child of nature”, as against the academics and the intellectuals?’72 For Rowse, this betrayal of a Shakespearean instinct meant that the New Elizabethan era itself remained unrealized. Gibbs 29


is similarly anxious; like Rowse, however, he identifies in the cultural artefacts of the first Elizabethan era the aesthetic standard for national cultural renewal: ‘English poetry is not dead. It is very much alive, and one day, soon, perhaps – tomorrow! – a new Elizabethan poet will be revealed and acclaimed, giving us a new vision, some touch of ecstasy, a call to the spirit of the people.’73 In 1953, with the perceived deviation of English literature from this apparent national aesthetic, Arts Council gallants and Queen’s courtiers turned eagerly to opera, and particularly to Benjamin Britten’s Gloriana. In a land apparently bereft of contemporary Shakespeares and Marlowes, opera had already acquired a significant national(ist) importance after the war, thanks in part to the established international recognition of Britten’s Peter Grimes and in part to the fact that, under Keynes, the Arts Council had focused on the active development of a national opera tradition at Covent Garden.74 As a satirical poem in the New Statesman suggested, by the time of the Coronation, Gloriana and the operatic form itself were well-positioned to be received as the first major manifestation of a New Elizabethan art: Hee who the death of Culture doth lament In this, oure new Elizabethan Age, Should now ask pardon, For Poet and Musician will present A goodly Royalle Masque upon the stage Of Covent Garden.75

In a letter to The Times, Ralph Vaughan Williams, mistakenly assuming a royal commission, recognized in Gloriana ‘the first time in history [that] the Sovereign has commanded an opera by a composer from these islands for a great occasion’.76 Thought to have been ‘the single most expensive state-sponsored historical spectacle ever staged in the UK’,77 the opera was sponsored by the Arts Council, encouraged by the Earl of Harewood (cousin to the Queen and board member of the Royal Opera House), and performed before the Queen: it was expected not just to celebrate the Coronation, but to offer a performative, cultural manifestation of national unity in the service of a New Elizabethan ideal. Gloriana is now enshrined in history as a notorious disaster, its scathing opening-night reception well-documented and contemplated in various accounts. This failure can be attributed to numerous factors, not 30


least the opera’s staging of Elizabeth I as an aged queen, alone and pondering her death after the execution of Essex. That this narrative had already passed into popular culture seemed to matter little to those anticipating a celebratory pageant or masque. More significant than any perceived insult to a young Queen, however, was the fact that the work did not conform to the presumed aesthetic of a New Elizabethan art. Adhering considerably to the practices of its source text, Strachey’s Elizabeth and Essex, the opera dramatized the contemporary creative voice as a self-conscious mediator between history, art and diverse artistic forms.78 Such practices ensured a notable deviation from aesthetic expectations of a direct, simple, passionate and fundamentally familiar form. Echoing the complaints of Rowse and Gibbs about contemporary literature, the Daily Telegraph saw the opera as offering a ‘once great’ queen now ‘dwindled, in spite of fine clothes, by […] uneasily nervous, ungenerous music’.79 In a similar characteristic response, Tory MP Beverly Baxter lamented, ‘no melody emerged, no tune, no beauty in the sustained passages’; Britten ‘[seemed] to be shouting, “Ugliness is truth, and truth is ugliness!”’80 Years later, Britten himself offered a riposte that acknowledged the confining aesthetic of this New Elizabethanism. Having created in Aldeburgh a ‘small opera house, in the part of the world where [he] lives’, he identified a more authentic creative project away from the national stage: in my own small experience I have learned that if one concentrates on the local, the particular […] the works can have an actuality, a realistic quality, which may make the result useful to the outside world.81

In removing himself from the cultural centre of London to Aldeburgh, Britten was to become associated with an ‘opera fringe’.82 This fringe – overtly indifferent to nationalist concerns, emphatically modern in its aesthetic explorations – would defy recognition within what had become an increasingly institutionalized definition of national culture and identity.

National Theatre The original voices of New Elizabethanism had looked in vain for a contemporary Shakespeare. They were to find an implicit response to this anxiety not in a Coronation opera, not in the creative genius of individual authors and dramatists, but in the institutionalization and 31


international recognition of national drama as national art. The disastrous reception of Gloriana – or, at the very least, the mythologization of its disastrous reception – effectively ended concerted attempts to promote opera as a New Elizabethan art. Those attempts were to find almost immediate revision, support and succour, however, in the rejuvenation of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre as the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC; 1961) and in the much-anticipated, much-discussed founding of the National Theatre (1963). Three years after the opening night of Gloriana, drama critic Kenneth Tynan had looked upon the institutionalized support of opera as a curious and apparently unnatural anomaly: One recalls William Archer and Granville-Barker […] graciously smiling on the idea of a subsidized opera-house, but never doubting for an instant that the theatre would come first, since ‘England possesses a national drama but does not as yet possess a national opera.’83

Tynan’s assessment found implicit support in the proven significance of that (English) national drama throughout the war, a moment when, as Michael Blakemore has observed, ‘the general public and the politicians began to perceive that a National Theatre was not merely desirable; it might even be useful.’84 This usefulness was not restricted to the theatre’s association with the boosting of wartime morale. England’s ‘national drama’ claimed international recognition and influence, all the while reinforcing the continuing prominence of a Shakespearean heritage. It also offered an implicit testimonial to the ability of that artistic heritage to represent an ideal of national character and identity in familiar, New Elizabethan terms: The Old Vic seasons at the New Theatre after the company had been bombed out of their Waterloo home blazed as an expression of the national spirit. […] Soon wildly successful tours of New York and Australasia were promoting Great Britain as effectively as royalty. […] With the foundation of the National Theatre the principle was fully conceded.85

This institutionalized concession was to enforce a powerful transition between the nation’s second Armada moment, the overt New Elizabethanism of the 1950s and the cultural nationalism that continues to define contemporary readings of national identity itself. The recognition of drama as an apparently more self-evident national 32


art informed the long-awaited foundation of the National Theatre. Central to this acknowledgement was a reading of national theatre less as a contemporary creative form than as an established tradition demanding institutionalization within the cultural structures that were to define the modern nation. In their (often competitive) stagings of classical theatre, Shakespeare and modern drama, both the National Theatre and the RSC responded to this expectation by reinforcing dramatic heritage in relation to an equally significant heritage of modern dramatic performance. In its first year, the National Theatre opened with a production of Hamlet, immediately signalling the extent to which Shakespeare – his drama, his actors and his resonant national and cultural legacy – would inform the valuation and development of a modern and nationally-funded theatre. The contemporary strength and significance of this continuity was enforced by the casting of Peter O’Toole, an actor recently hailed as the voice of a new acting generation on stage and film. It was further underlined by the presence of Laurence Olivier – Shakespearean actor, director, film-maker and Churchill’s Henry V – as the production’s director. This definition of national theatre – overtly reinforced in 2013’s prime-time televised anniversary celebrations of the National Theatre – has continued to dominate national and international receptions of the contemporary ‘British’ stage. As Blakemore’s reading of the ‘royalty’ of the touring theatre suggests, the significance of the wartime Old Vic productions was to be located less in the dramas themselves than in the performance tradition that ensured their contemporary resonance and international reception. It was also to be identified in the figure of Olivier as the presiding monarch of that theatre. Essential to Olivier’s particular status was his proven ability to associate the contemporary role of the Shakespearean actor with the received performance of national service. Ultimately, the significance of this role was such as to align the very stage occupied by the actor with that presided over by the Queen herself. Like Churchill and the young Queen, Olivier had seen his New Elizabethanism honed and recognized in the nation’s ‘finest hour’. Like Churchill, he had both performed and embodied the role of national wartime service, serving simultaneously as a pilot and as a contemporary Henry V.86 Olivier’s subsequent involvement with the National Theatre provided a vital alignment between that wartime theatre, the prevailing cultural aims of New Elizabethanism and the association of national drama with the performance of national identity itself. This latter reception had been encouraged by Olivier’s dominant national performance – both on and off the theatrical stage – throughout 33


both stages of the second Elizabethan moment. During the war, his public performances had resonated with the Shakespearean speeches of Churchill himself. He had also been publicized as one half of a photogenic ‘royal couple’, a construction disseminated in the very magazines and media that were subsequently to hail the accession of the new young Queen and her consort. After the war, Olivier’s public image transformed from that of a wartime Elizabethan officer to that of a New Elizabethan courtier. This transition was most effectively ensured by his very public participation within the cultural discourse of New Elizabethanism. In 1953, the newly knighted Olivier offered a rousing narration to the Coronation film A Queen Is Crowned. He also continued to build upon the New Elizabethan cinematic tradition heralded by Henry V in his internationally lauded productions of Hamlet (1948) and Richard III (1955). In taking on the role of first artistic director of the National Theatre, Olivier eschewed West End salaries and offers from Hollywood, devoting himself publicly to the subsidized national theatre – and thus aligning the institutionalization of national art with national service. Such projects both enforced the self-theatricalizing instincts of the New Elizabethan discourse and underlined Olivier’s central position to the performance of its cultural nationalism. That this participation was effected by Olivier’s theatrical profession only helped to emphasize the contemporary validity of theatre itself to the potential realization of a New Elizabethan age. In 1970, Olivier became a life peer; in July 1971, he delivered a maiden speech to the House of Lords that recognized in theatre the potential to respond to and performatively manifest the values of national unity, innate confidence and national glory (if not expansionism) essential to New Elizabethanism: My Lords, I believe in Great Britain and in keeping her great under the Sovereign. My ‘great’ is not rhetorical, it refers directly to the continuance of the family of England and Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, together with what relationships we can still muster among those peoples with whom, if we lose a relation, we gain a friend. […] I believe in the theatre; I believe in it as the first glamouriser of thought. […] I believe that in a great city, or even in small city or a village, a great theatre is the outward and visible sign of an inward and probable culture. […] I believe in any thing that will keep our domains, not wider still and wider, but higher still and higher in the expectancy and hope of quality and probity.87



A New Elizabethan Stage As Olivier’s address suggests, the New Elizabethan emphasis on performance, theatricality and Elizabethan drama has informed much more than the practices of the National Theatre and the RSC. Within dominant formulations, the natural art of the New Elizabethan era already exists in the history and drama of an earlier age; it is now left to the nation’s actors and institutions to renew this natural, familiar and unchanging narrative on the contemporary national stage. This formulation has encouraged an elision between theatrical performance and the visible performance of duty and leadership on that larger national stage. This elision found early support in the ‘Elizabethan’ performance of Winston Churchill against the second Armada, and in the clear resonance between his ‘Tilbury’ speeches and those of Shakespeare’s Henry V. It was to be renewed even more emphatically some decades later, in the person, performance and reception of Margaret Thatcher as a contemporary and absolutist Gloriana. In 1977, John Colville, former assistant private secretary to both Churchill and Attlee, reflected ruefully upon the limited achievements of New Elizabethanism. The nation is currently bereft of Shakespeares and Marlowes, if passingly served by ‘the combined effort’ of her painters, composers and instrumentalists.88 The Queen has enforced a ‘solid stability’ through her ‘personal example of good sense, good manners and good morals’.89 Implicit in this praise, however, is the need for a more dramatic, recognizable and artistic manifestation of a ‘splendid’ and ‘glorious’ contemporary Elizabethan age.90 In 1989, the death of Olivier created a vacancy in the Order of Merit: it is not entirely inappropriate that his successor to that role was Margaret Thatcher. As enforced on various sides of the political spectrum, as enshrined in contemporaneous and subsequent cultural responses, the perceived moment of national and cultural decline in the 1970s was allayed not by the emergence of a contemporary Shakespeare or a new Olivier, but by the emergence of the ‘Iron Lady’ as an Elizabethan warrior queen and as a self-consciously theatricalizing presence. Enacting and accepting the role of a contemporary Gloriana, Margaret Thatcher provided an overtly theatricalized reinvocation (and re-enabling) of an Elizabethan ideal. To a considerable extent, she presented herself (and saw herself presented) as a contemporary Elizabeth I: she used a royal ‘we’, she encased herself in what was seen as an image of untouchable female power (with red hair), her domestic life was apparently peripheral to her larger investment in the nation, and 35


she presented herself as an absolute ruler of a great nation that repelled the internal and foreign threats represented by Northern Ireland, the Falklands and the Soviet Union. In a chapter entitled ‘Elizabeth I: The Downing Years’, Dobson and Watson observe: Thatcher […] stood for much that Elizabeth II did not – meritocracy, overweening ambition, power, commercialism, entrepreneurship, greed, new money, power-dressing, militarism, a sadistic sexiness. A man’s woman, with an all-male Cabinet as her court. In its own way, it looked like another new Elizabethan era.91

As suggested by the wistfulness of Colville’s assessment, as reinforced by the mainstream discourse that accepted and reinforced this construction of an alternative but familiar Elizabethan monarch, this performance provided a much-needed cultural response to a contemporary nation bereft of Shakespeares, Marlowes and the fame and glory that such voices were assumed to signify. In a recent authorized biography, Charles Moore notes that when Thatcher accepted the leadership from the wider party in February 1975, she gave a speech that, with ‘a slight nod in the direction of Queen Elizabeth’s speech at Tilbury’, asserted ‘that the country would never have embarked on the Elizabethan expeditions […] if it had lived only for the moment’.92 When she appeared on television’s The Granada 500 in May 1979, she ‘inserted a comparison with Queen Elizabeth I, without pushing it too vaingloriously far’.93 These allusions were not restricted to historical comparisons; they were reinforced by Thatcher’s staged persona. In the early years of her career, she received elocution lessons from the voice coach of the National Theatre and advice from Olivier himself.94 The success and application of this theatrical training were to become implicit in subsequent receptions of Thatcher’s regal performances. In January 1976, in a satire of the speech at Tilbury, she both acknowledged and reinforced the extent to which these performances resonated with mythologizations of Elizabeth I: I stand before you tonight in my red star chiffon evening gown, my face softly made up and my fair hair gently waved, the Iron Lady of the Western World. A Cold War warrior. An Amazon philistine. […] they’re welcome to call me what they like if they believe that we should ignore the buildup of Russian military strength …95

Following a 1980 speech to the Lord Mayor and 120 other attendants, 36


diplomat David Goodall remarked: ‘She spoke like Queen Elizabeth I’; ‘She looked like Queen Elizabeth I!’96 Such performances renewed familiar imperialist and militarist constructions of British national glory. They did so, moreover, by aligning that renewal with an aesthetic return not only to the era of Elizabeth I, but also to the wartime culture that had immortalized the contemporary relevance of the Tilbury Speech in cinema, theatre and popular performance. Thatcher’s Elizabethanism defied comparison with that of the passive, presiding ideal of monarchy hailed by the New Elizabethans in the Coronation year. Instead, it invited immediate comparison with the person of the warrior Queen who had defeated the Spanish Armada. As invoked consistently within an Elizabethan historical template, this rewriting of the ‘new’ Elizabethan monarch did not so much contest those earlier ideals as conform to their expectation of national performance. Furthermore, Thatcher’s Elizabethanism reinvoked the origins of New Elizabethanism in the nation’s ‘finest hour’, reinforcing a continuity simultaneously with Elizabeth I, Robson and the performances of Churchill. As Michael White observed in the Guardian in 2013: ‘she was the first woman to rule rather than merely reign […] since Elizabeth I […] her sheer willpower and courage sustained her ascendancy […] It was the most formidable premiership since Churchill’s in his wartime prime.’97 Not only would this performance align Thatcher with the received national leadership of both Churchill and Elizabeth I, but it would also encourage contemplations of another new Elizabethan ‘spring’ upon her ignominious departure from the national stage. As with the ‘Shakespearean’ performances of Churchill, as with the ‘Churchillian’ performances of Olivier, these aesthetic continuities were reinforced within larger national and cultural receptions. Thatcher became (and helped to reinforce her own reception as) a contemporary Gloriana figure – not a benignly inspirational young mother, but rather the indomitable ruler ‘with the heart and stomach of a king’. Enforcing that construction was the undoubted resurgence of a cultural Elizabethanism in the politicized productions of the RSC and the National Theatre, and in the cultural historicization of that earlier Elizabethan age on television. It was also to become reinforced in the florescence of dissenting responses in music, television, drama and film. That art is now more often than not associated with (and enshrined as) a vital, New Elizabethan manifestation of the innately creative instincts of an innately creative nation. That those creative instincts should continue to be inspired by a presiding Elizabethan template points to the perpetual resonance of that 37


first Elizabethan age in contemporary national mythology. It also points to the pervasive influence of New Elizabethanism itself. In 1992, the year that Thatcher left the Commons, the BBC re-screened its groundbreaking six-part play, Elizabeth R (1971), in apparent acknowledgement of Thatcher’s re-enactment of that history. The series featured Glenda Jackson, who was to become strongly associated with that role throughout the decade and arguably into her own political career. Indeed, Jackson herself later provided a performative realization of this elision between national and theatrical identities. Upon the death of Thatcher and in her capacity as a Member of Parliament, Jackson articulated one of the very few overtly negative appraisals of Thatcher in the House of Commons: ‘the first Prime Minister of female gender, okay; but a woman? Not on my terms.’98 As the Independent observed of Jackson’s ‘performance’, ‘another MP might have found the experience intimidating. But while other MPs think that they are great performers who could shine on stage and screen, [Jackson] is the only one who has the awards to prove that she could.’99 In this characteristic assessment, Jackson’s ability to perform a national role is again authenticated by her position as a theatrical – and Elizabethan – artist. This elision between theatre, national performance and cultural history was similarly suggested in 1992, when Phyllida Lloyd directed a rare revival of Gloriana for Opera North that seemed deliberately to invite comparison between the departing Thatcher and the aging Elizabeth I. According to Dobson and Watson, ‘with Margaret Thatcher’s resignation still a recent memory and with Elizabeth II now in her sixties, Britten’s opera […] suddenly made sense.’100 Lloyd reinforced such parallels further in 2011, when she directed The Iron Lady: in the film, Thatcher again resembles the Elizabeth of the Gloriana narrative as she faces death and loneliness, surrounded by the ghosts of her past, a tragic heroine at the end of her life. In 2013, this continuous reinforcement of a familiar, validating theatre of national history and art was again evident in the national performance that was Thatcher’s funeral. As Jonathan Freedland observed in language that may well have described the 1953 Coronation: This was a production of the Church of England, the Conservative party and the BBC, executed with the precision and class we’ve come to expect. The hushed [David] Dimbleby commentary, the soaring choral music, the gleaming military uniforms – it was as good as any royal occasion.101



Legacies The future is unknowable, but the past should give us hope. (Winston Churchill)102

Simultaneously elegiac and optimistic, nostalgic and knowingly rooted in an uncertain modern moment, the self-styled New Elizabethans had hoped that the informing energies of that first era might be revived and translated into an equally glorious contemporary age. Their discourse faded gradually in the years following the Coronation, and by 1972, Rowse himself had to conclude that ‘the arc of achievements which the Elizabethans began is declining to its end.’103 In the year of the Silver Jubilee, Colville was even more pessimistic: ‘the optimistic prophecies of a splendid new Elizabethan age, made with such facility in 1952, have not been fulfilled.’104 In 1980, Arthur Bryant dedicated his study of the first Elizabethan age to the present Queen, ‘who by her conduct and bearing so faithfully upholds the honour and dignity of the great name immortalised by her royal predecessor’.105 This comparison, however, no longer finds support in the performance of the nation itself: in this ‘sadder and drabber age’, the ‘colour and pageantry’ of Shakespeare’s London (and the Elizabethan nation) can only now be imagined.106 In his survey of the decade, David Kynaston dismisses the significance of the term itself; the idea was ‘essentially got up by the press’, a ‘momentarily pleasing irrelevance’ to ‘most people’.107 Despite their elegiac tone, both Rowse and Colville recognize and advocate the possible renewal of New Elizabethan ideals – if perhaps not the discourse through which they were articulated. Colville insists upon an indigenous historical pattern, where the modern age adheres to an established narrative: ‘a book such as this, written in 1583, would have been dismal reading’: ‘it was in the last twenty years of the first Elizabethan Era that fame, glory and prosperity came to the British Isles.’108 Rowse is even more emphatic in assuming a continuous, informing essence. In 1950, he identified the first Elizabethan age as being ‘in the air all round’, as ‘part of our living experience, entering into […] the secret channels of heart and blood’.109 In his later reflections, he continues to assume this immanent presence, finding hope for renewal in the architectural and cultural remnants of the first Elizabethan era. Convinced that ‘wherever we go the dust comes alive for us’,110 Rowse identifies a resilient cultural presence that promises a potential – if perhaps not immediate – return. The resonance of such cultural and historical ‘dust’ is apparent in 39


the reception and performance of Margaret Thatcher as an alternative Gloriana. Even more enduring has been a construction of national culture as the primary, performative language of national identity and history. That such expectations are no longer defined as New Elizabethan in the same terms that distinguished the years preceding the Coronation does little to dispel their contemporary resilience. In 2012, BBC Radio 4 produced a 60-part series, ‘New Elizabethans’, to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II. Giving strength to Kynaston’s assessment, the series ignored the informing ideology of New Elizabethanism itself; its aim was to present 60 profiles ‘of men and women whose actions during the reign of Elizabeth II have had a significant impact on lives in these islands and given the age its character, for better or worse’.111 Nonetheless, in his introduction to the published compilation of these profiles, broadcaster James Naughtie offers an unwitting invocation of New Elizabethanism when he compares both his own historical project and the age it investigates to a work of art: the Diamond Jubilee places the ‘age in a frame’, it encourages the fashioning of a ‘picture’ that ‘is both mirror and lamp, reflecting and illuminating’, and his collection will introduce ‘the characters who have drawn it’.112 Chosen by committee, profiled on national radio and finally inscribed in Naughtie’s publication, these historical figures are now representative ‘characters’ who ‘tell our story for us’.113 Naughtie’s collection marginalizes the royal anniversary within a project much more eager to locate the essential character of a nation apparently too long traduced into a narrative of decline. In so doing, of course, it unwittingly parallels the instincts that defined New Elizabethanism itself. For Naughtie, the most appropriate, contemporary manifestation of that character emerged in the summer of 2012, ‘when the Olympic Games opened in London for the third time in the modern era’: The summer of 2012 turned out to be a festival of confidence, stirring up memories of a time when the country had a sharper sense of itself, and when we imagine that the trains ran on time. Maybe that belief in resilience will turn out to have been another self-deception, but […] there seemed to be a surprising amount to cherish from years that could too easily add up to an age of decline.114

Ironically, where New Elizabethanism invoked Gloriana and Drake to counter an apparent national crisis, Naughtie’s implicit corrective is to associate the national self-confidence of 2012 with a return to the 40


informing instincts of the New Elizabethan era itself, a moment when the trains ran on time, when austerity was confronted with resilience and when the country ‘had a sharper sense of itself’. By aligning the realities of 2012 with a previous moment, Naughtie – again like the New Elizabethans – contains those realities within a culturally disseminated narrative of national experience. Celebrated as a manifestation of a doughty and unified popular collective, often romanticized in terms of resilience amidst deprivation, the 1950s are today enshrined in television and film as an era defined by familiar (English) types and caricatured values (stoicism, perseverance and pluck). The apparent social and cultural resonance of this moment has been further enforced in a mainstream media and consumer culture that today encourages consumers to ‘keep calm and carry on’ with designer merchandise, to grow their own (inevitably organic) vegetables, to revisit classic, simple recipes at a time of ‘austerity’ – and to look to national events as a means of cheering, uniting and performatively defining a collective, essential people into a ‘sharper sense’ of themselves. With varying degrees of self-consciousness, these contemporary responses contribute to the increasing aestheticization of the earlier ‘age’ of New Elizabethanism itself. Like the New Elizabethan invocation of Gloriana and Raleigh, they also suggest a deferential acceptance of a received, culturally disseminated (and inaccurate) narrative of social and national experience. It is telling that Naughtie does not associate the national optimism of 2012 with the athletic accomplishments of ‘Team GB’, but with the opening of the Olympics, with a national pageant whose rapturous media reception informed subsequent celebrations of the nation as a whole throughout the summer. Naughtie reads that pageant as enabling a familiar mode of national confidence, as reviving the originating spirit and ambitions of the New Elizabethan age in order to confront and embrace contemporary realities. The ceremony itself revealed similar instincts by locating its self-consciously progressive celebration of a contemporary, popular identity within a defining heritage of national stagings: Shakespeare, the London Olympics of 1948 and the Festival of Britain. Gerald Barry, Director-General of that Festival, had famously envisaged a ‘people’s show’, ‘put on largely by them, by us all, as an expression of a way of life in which we believe’.115 Over 60 years later, in an Olympic stadium decorated with the words ‘this is for everyone’, in a ceremony whose invocation of ‘Pandaemonium’ simultaneously invoked Milton and Humphrey Jennings, director Danny Boyle staged 41


what he saw as ‘a story about extraordinary people who were ordinary people, really’: ‘you can tell the history of our country and hope for the future of our country through their eyes.’116 Just as the earlier Festival had celebrated ‘the people’ by staging (and thus defining) a popular cultural heritage and identity, so too did the Olympics insist upon contextualizing ‘the future of our country’ in relation to received moments of national history and cultural expression. According to Boyle, he and writer Frank Cottrell Boyce had aimed to offer an alternative narrative to the conventional national pageant: they wanted ‘everything we do in the show to feel progressive […] that we’re forging ahead to a better world’.117 For many, this alternative emphasis on progress was most immediately signified in the event’s aesthetic foregrounding of popular music and popular culture.118 While popular culture traditionally signifies a populist, if not countercultural ideology, it is worth considering Colville’s observation in 1977 that although ‘there are no Shakespeares, Spensers or Marlowes’, Britain ‘yields to none in the arts’: ‘pop stars and pop music are the most widely-known British export in the world today’; they ‘enjoy a renown different from Francis Bacon, but they are genuine artistic innovators acclaimed by young people in all the lands.’119 In Colville’s assessment, popular music simultaneously suggests a contemporary popular expression and enables a traditionalist, nationalist language of cultural dominance. The potential New Elizabethanism of this language had in fact been recognized as early as 1964, when The Beatles participated in television celebrations of Shakespeare’s 400th birthday: Ringo Starr played Walter Raleigh, the whole group acted out the Pyramus and Thisbe scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and John Lennon was the guest of honour at a Foyle’s literary luncheon to celebrate the anniversary. Far from enabling a cultural revolution, therefore, the perceived absence of ‘Shakespeares’ or ‘Marlowes’ from the national, performative stage helped to facilitate the mainstream position of popular music as a natural continuation of that legacy. In a striking manifestation of this contemporary New Elizabethanism, plans were announced in 2012 for a musical entitled A Bard Day’s Night: The Queen commissions The Bard to ‘Play On’ giving him just ONE DAY and ONE NIGHT to write the Worlds [sic] first Musical! After struggling with severe writers [sic] block […] The Bard is suddenly dealt a lifeline, when in a Bizarre twist of fate, The Beatles are transported into his life and times.120 42


Popular music can thus signify the contemporary, the popular and by implication the countercultural. It can also, however, reinforce and participate within a very familiar ideal of national culture. This role was signalled throughout the opening ceremony, which began by invoking Shakespeare in its title (‘Isles of Wonder’) and ended with a performance by Paul McCartney. The end of the printed programme featured a two-page spread: on one side, the authors quote from Prospero’s speech in 4.1 of The Tempest; on the other they cite the final two lines from The Beatles’ ‘The End’. More than one commentator nonetheless read the opening ceremony as an alternative masque: it was nominally structured around Shakespeare’s The Tempest, but it chose to foreground Caliban; it was attended by the Queen, but she had ‘parachuted’ in with Daniel Craig as James Bond; it contained music, but it prioritized popular music over traditional or classical expressions; it celebrated the people rather than the monarch and defined that people in terms of multiculturalism, the NHS and smartphones. That such representations could be received as significantly different from traditional pageantry, however, points to a very limited definition of radicalism or revisionism.121 Ultimately, like the New Elizabethanism of decades past, the event prioritized a national pageant that invoked Shakespeare, continuity, cultural might – and that was all the while presided over by a very very tired Queen. *** Such practices point to the prevailing New Elizabethan assumption of the larger nation’s participation within a theatrical ideal, where leaders, adventurers and ‘the people’ come together to reiterate, renew and perform a familiar reading of national identity as national art. The New Elizabethan moment invoked national theatre, pageantry and metaphor as a means through which to formulate and enact the imminent (re)emergence of a confident, unified and emphatically contemporary nation. For some, that performative optimism was inspired by the social reforms of the preceding Labour government. For others, it anticipated a decisive break away from those reforms. That both of these visions have informed subsequent revisitations underlines the conflicting and often contradictory social values behind that formative discourse. Much less ambiguous, however, is the central and resilient legacy of New Elizabethanism into the present day: the continuing idealization of the contemporary and future nation as a performed – and familiar – cultural ideal. 43


Notes   1 Virginia Woolf, ‘The Strange Elizabethans’, in Woolf, The Common Reader. Second Series [1932] (London: Hogarth, 1965), 9–23: 9. Arthur Bryant, ‘The Queen’s Majesty’, in N.a., The Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2 June 1953. Approved Souvenir Programme (London: King George’s Jubilee Trust, 1953), 9. Damon Albarn, ‘The Dancing King’, Dr Dee. Soundtrack album. CD. Parlophone, 2012.   2 Tristram Hunt, ‘Queen Elizabeth II: How Will Our Age be Remembered?’, Guardian, 30 May 2012.   3 Richard Dimbleby, Elizabeth Our Queen (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1953), 25.   4 Bryant, ‘Queen’s’, 9.   5 HC Deb 11 February 1952, vol. 495, cc958-68.   6 N.a., ‘Who Will be the New Elizabethans?’ Daily Express, 11 February 1952.   7 Editorial, ‘Picture Post picks the New Elizabethans’, Picture Post, 19 April 1952.   8 A. L. Rowse, A New Elizabethan Age? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1952), 3.   9 Ibid. 10 Michael Dobson and Nicola J. Watson, England’s Elizabeth: An Afterlife in Fame and Fantasy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 231. 11 Dimbleby, Elizabeth, 179. 12 Philip Gibbs, The New Elizabethans (London: Hutchinson, 1953), 214. 13 Ernest Barker, ‘A New Elizabethan Age’, The Sunday Times, 14 May 1944. 14 Rowse, ‘Queens Made England Great’, Picture Post, 15 June 1953. 15 Tom Fleming (ed.), Voices out of the Air: The Royal Christmas Broadcasts 1932–1981 (London: William Heinemann, 1981), 73. 16 Rowse, The England of Elizabeth: The Structure of Society (London: Macmillan, 1950), 15. 17 J. E. Neale, The Elizabethan Age (London: Athlone, 1951), 36. 18 Ibid., 27. 19 Rowse, England, 1. 20 Gibbs, New Elizabethans, 19. 21 Billie Melman, The Culture of History: English Uses of the Past 1800–1953 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 222. 22 On the pageant and national culture, see Jed Esty, A Shrinking Island: Modernism and National Culture in England (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004) and Michael Dobson, ‘The Pageant of History: Nostalgia, The Tudors, and the Community Play’, Sederi 20 (2010), 5–25. The film featured Flora Robson as Elizabeth I, who was to repeat the role in a similarly propagandist appearance at the end of the Hollywood-produced The Sea Hawk 44

NEW ELIZABETHANISM (1940). For further discussion of the Elizabethan age in cinema, see Dobson and Watson, England’s Elizabeth and Jeffrey Richards, ‘The Monarchy and Film 1900–2006’, in Andrzej Olechnowicz (ed.), The Monarchy and the British Nation: 1780 to the Present (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 258–79. 23 Gibbs, New Elizabethans, 11. 24 Neale, Queen Elizabeth I (London: Jonathan Cape, 1952), n.p. 25 Ibid. 26 Neale, Elizabethan, 37. 27 Neale, Essays in Elizabethan History (London: Jonathan Cape, 1958), 124. 28 Gibbs, New Elizabethans, 123, 133. 29 Rowse, England, 3. 30 Lytton Strachey, Elizabeth and Essex: A Tragic History [1928] (San Diego: Harvest, 1969), 7–8. 31 Violet Markham, ‘The New Elizabethan Age’, Listener, 28 May 1953. 32 John Masefield, ‘Lines on the Coronation of our Gracious Sovereign’, N.a., Coronation of Her Majesty, 2. 33 Gibbs, New Elizabethans, 11. 34 N.a., ‘Everest is Conquered’, Newcastle Journal, 2 June 1953. The fact that Hillary reached the summit with Tenzing Norgay, his Sherpa companion, was characteristically ignored within these celebrations. 35 N.a., ‘The Crowning Glory: Everest is Climbed’, News Chronicle, 2 June 1953. 36 N.a., ‘Everest’. 37 N.a., ‘Crowning’. 38 Patrick Gordon Walker, MP, ‘The Crown that is Seven Crowns’, Picture Post, 13 June 1953. 39 Ibid. 40 New Elizabethanism has often been read as the last gasp of imperialism, as a blinkered, conservative refusal to engage with impending realities. See, for example, David Cannadine, ‘The Context, Performance and Meaning of Ritual: The British Monarchy and the “Invention of Tradition”, c.1820–1977’, in Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (eds), The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 101–64. 41 Gibbs, New Elizabethans, 15. 42 Fleming (ed.), Voices, 74. 43 N.a., ‘Mr Holt Proposes a Toast to the Queen at Lunch’, Sydney Morning Herald, 28 May 1953. 44 Dimbleby, Elizabeth, 117–18. 45 Rowse, New Elizabethan, 14. 46 Jan Morris, ‘1950s’, Vanity Fair, October 2013, 245. 47 Dobson and Watson, England’s Elizabeth, 224. 48 See, for example, T. S. Eliot, The Aims of Poetic Drama (London: Poets’ Theatre Guild, 1949). 45

THE NEW ELIZABETHAN AGE 49 Gibbs, New Elizabethans, 145. 50 Strachey, Elizabeth, 8. 51 Woolf, ‘Strange Elizabethans’, 9. 52 Woolf, Orlando: A Biography [1928] (Oxford: Oxford World’s Classics, 1992), 26. 53 Rowse, The Elizabethan Renaissance: The Cultural Achievement (London: Macmillan, 1972), 338. 54 Gibbs, New Elizabethans, 17. 55 Rowse, New Elizabethan, 6. 56 Gibbs, New Elizabethans, 17. 57 Marjorie Garber, Shakespeare after All (New York: Pantheon, 2004), 36. 58 Laurence Olivier, Confessions of an Actor (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1982), 97. 59 Rowse, England, 18. Robson did not give her last performance until 1968, at the unveiling of the Darnley Portrait at the National Portrait Gallery. 60 Melman, Culture, 224. 61 HC Deb 20 August 1940, vol. 364, cc1159; HC Deb 18 June 1940, vol. 362, cc51-64. 62 Neale, Elizabethan, 21, 22. 63 Gibbs, New Elizabethans, 149. 64 As Jörn Weingärtner notes, ‘whereas the most obvious motive for the beginning of state sponsorship […] was the steadying of morale on the home front, a second general aim of CEMA’s work was the democratisation of highbrow culture.’ The Arts as a Weapon of War: Britain and the Shaping of the National Morale in the Second World War (New York: Tauris Academic Studies, 2006), 9. 65 Norman Lebrecht, Covent Garden: The Untold Story: Dispatches from the English Culture War, 1945–2000 (London: Simon & Schuster, 2000), 15. 66 Ibid. 67 John Maynard Keynes, ‘The Arts Council: Its Policy and Hopes’, Listener, 12 July 1945. 68 Ibid. 69 Becky E. Conekin, ‘The Autobiography of a Nation’: The 1951 Festival of Britain (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003), 82. 70 Kenneth O. Morgan, The People’s Peace: British History Since 1945, new edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 110. This perception is reinforced in Bryant’s traditionalist, conservative collection of essays, which he asserts was inspired by the ‘Lion and Unicorn’ pavilion at the Festival of Britain: The Lion and the Unicorn: A Historian’s Testament (London: Collins, 1969). 71 Conekin, Autobiography, 228. 72 Rowse, New Elizabethan, 9. 73 Gibbs, New Elizabethans, 145. 74 In 1951, Arthur Oldham noted, ‘it seemed too good to be true that, after 46

NEW ELIZABETHANISM more than two hundred years of disillusionment, England was again to lead the world in this most complicated sphere of musical achievement.’ ‘Peter Grimes: The Music; the Story not Excluded’, in Donald Mitchell and Hans Keller (eds), Benjamin Britten: A Commentary on his Works from a Group of Specialists (London: Rockliff, 1952), 101. 75 Sagittarius, ‘The Elizabethans’, New Statesman and Nation, 7 June 1952. 76 Ralph Vaughan Williams, Letter, The Times, 18 June 1953. 77 Melman, Culture, 286. 78 See Irene Morra, ‘Gloriana and the New Elizabethan Age’, in Richard Begam and Matthew Smith (eds), Modernism and Opera (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2016); also Heather Wiebe, Britten’s Unquiet Pasts. 79 Richard Cappell, Review of Gloriana, Daily Telegraph, 13 June 1953. 80 Beverly Baxter, Review of Gloriana, Evening Standard, 9 June 1953. 81 Benjamin Britten, ‘On Writing English Opera’, Opera 12.1 (January 1961), 7–8: 8. 82 Paul Kildea, Selling Britten: Music and the Market Place (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 125. 83 Kenneth Tynan, A View of the English Stage 1944–1965 (London: Methuen, 1984), 172. 84 Michael Blakemore, Stage Blood (London: Faber, 2013), 247. 85 Ibid. 86 Olivier himself observed that throughout the war, ‘the BBC was a strong contestant’ for his services and he could not help but wonder whether his role as an actor was in fact not ‘more useful’ to the wartime nation (Confessions, 97). As a recent biography has observed, the ‘leadership qualities which were so evident’ at Olivier’s training ground of Worthy Down ‘were in time to figure to still greater effect in the National Theatre’. Philip Ziegler, Olivier (London: MacLehose, 2013), 99. 87 HL Deb 20 July 1971, vol. 322, cc858-958. 88 John Colville, The New Elizabethans, 1952–1977 (London: Collins, 1977), 283. 89 Ibid., 313. 90 Ibid. 91 Dobson and Watson, England’s Elizabeth, 251. 92 Charles Moore, Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography, vol. 1: Not for Turning (London: Penguin, 2013), 301. 93 Ibid., 414. 94 See ibid., 387; Robin Harris, Not for Turning: The Life of Margaret Thatcher (London: Bantam, 2013), 138. 95 Margaret Thatcher, Speech to Finchley Conservatives, 31 January 1976. BBC Radio News Report 2200. 96 David Goodall, quoted in Moore, Margaret Thatcher, 758. 97 Michael White, ‘Margaret Thatcher: Looking Back on the Life of the Iron Lady’, Guardian, 9 April 2013. 47

THE NEW ELIZABETHAN AGE 98 HC Deb 10 April 2013, col. 1613. 99 Andy McSmith, ‘Glenda Jackson on the Death of Margaret Thatcher: “I Had to Speak out to Stop History Being Rewritten”’, Independent, 11 April 2013. 100 Dobson and Watson, England’s Elizabeth, n.p. 101 Jonathan Freedland, ‘Funeral Designed to Elevate Margaret Thatcher Above Politics’, Guardian, 17 April 2013. Available at http://www.theguardian. com/commentisfree/2013/apr/17/ceremony-elevate-partisan-politician (accessed 1 September 2015). 102 Winston Churchill, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, vol. 4: The Great Democracies (London: Ferndale, 1958), 387. 103 Rowse, Elizabethan Renaissance, 349. 104 Colville, New Elizabethans, 16. 105 Bryant, The Elizabethan Deliverance (London: Collins, 1980), n.p. 106 Ibid., 215. 107 David Kynaston, Family Britain, 1951–1957 (London: Bloomsbury, 2010), 102. 108 Colville, New Elizabethans, 16. 109 Rowse, England, 13. 110 Rowse, Elizabethan, 351. 111 BBC promotional material. Available at b01jxs2c/features/about (accessed 1 September 2015). 112 James Naughtie, The New Elizabethans: Sixty Portraits of Our Age (London: HarperCollins, 2012), 5. 113 Ibid. 114 Ibid, 1. 115 Gerald Barry, quoted in Michael Frayn, ‘Festival’, in Michael Sissons and Philip French (eds), Age of Austerity (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1963), 317–38: 324. 116 Danny Boyle, ‘Commentary’, Disc 1. The London 2012 Olympic Games. DVD. 2entertain, 2012. 117 Ibid. 118 According to Kitty Empire, the pageant ‘[hymned] a country built by mavericks, idealists, punks and ravers’. ‘The Best Pop Music of 2012’, Observer, 15 December 2012. 119 Colville, New Elizabethans, 283, 311. See also Irene Morra, Britishness, Popular Music and National Identity: The Making of Modern Britain (New York: Routledge, 2014), 145–8. 120 A Bard Day’s Night. Webpage. Available at http://www.abarddaysnight. com/synopsis (last accessed 5 January 2012). 121 For a lengthier examination of the reception of the Olympics in relation to prevailing debates about progressive Englishness and Britishness, see Morra, Britishness, 16–30.






The ideational, polemical and performative positioning of postwar Britain as a New Elizabethan age depends on the precedent of an old Elizabethan age with which to identify. One obvious problem with that supposition is the disjuncture between Elizabeth II’s role as Queen of the United Kingdom, and Elizabeth I’s role as Queen of England. This distinction has great symbolic significance in certain quarters: to many, the uniform adoption of the style ‘Elizabeth II’ implied an understanding of 1707 as an act not of union but of subordination, and the assertion of Scottish national identity can therefore entail a conscious and sometimes violent rejection of a characterization as ‘New’ Elizabethan. The determination of the Queen’s official title also was connected to a desire to reflect the evolving nature of relations among Commonwealth countries, a concern that contributed to Scottish sentiment that the constitutional ordering of the United Kingdom itself ought properly to be reflected in the royal style. Political debates in Cabinet and in Parliament reveal an awareness of the symbolic meaning attached to such questions, while the legal case of MacCormick v. Lord Advocate1 raises less symbolic, though somewhat abstract, questions about the constitutional significance of the 1707 Acts of Union,2 about Parliamentary supremacy and about the justiciability of those issues in either English or Scottish law. 51


The Accession Proclamation of 6 February 1952 identified the new monarch as ‘Queen Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God Queen of this Realm and of all Her other Realms and Territories, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.’3 This was followed the next year by the Royal Titles Act 1953,4 by which Parliament authorized the Queen to adopt by proclamation ‘such style and titles as Her Majesty may think fit’.5 These seemingly innocuous provisions had their roots in one contentious question – the relationship among the various members of the Commonwealth – and gave rise to several others about constitutional relations within the United Kingdom. The motivation for the Royal Titles Act lay in the desire for territorial variation in the royal style.6 Previously, the same wording had been used throughout the Commonwealth, with no mention of any country other than the United Kingdom. This was no longer seen as suitable. The British Cabinet recognized that ‘Canada and some other members of the Commonwealth would expect that in any new form the United Kingdom would not be the only member of the Commonwealth to be mentioned by name’,7 and it was seen as desirable for such issues to be resolved before the Coronation.8 The language of the Accession Proclamation had avoided the implied subordination of the Queen’s other realms to the United Kingdom by omitting any specific geographic reference from the title, referring only to ‘this’ and ‘other’ realms. In the course of subsequent negotiations among Commonwealth members, the Canadian government advocated adopting this language as the official royal style. This was, however, found to be ‘unsuitable for use as a formal title for international purposes’ as it would be impractical to use ‘a formal Title without any geographical content at all’ in official and diplomatic contexts.9 Instead, the Royal Titles Act 1953, enacted by the Parliament of the United Kingdom with the agreement of the governments of the self-governing Dominions, as was required by the Statute of Westminster of 1931,10 for the first time allowed territory-specific titles to be adopted in the various parts of the Commonwealth.11 Henceforth, the Queen’s style, as it is used in each country, would include the name of that country; the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth would be mentioned as well in all the variants, providing a degree of consistency. Thus, the Queen is ‘Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith’ within the United Kingdom,12 but ‘Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom, Canada and Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of 52


the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith’ in Canada,13 and so on for Australia, New Zealand and other predominantly Christian parts of the Commonwealth. Those other parts of the Commonwealth would further vary the title by leaving out the phrase ‘by the Grace of God’ and the title ‘Defender of the Faith’.14 At the same time, the designation ‘Dominion’ was dropped in favour of ‘realm’, which was believed to denote a greater degree of equality among Commonwealth members.15 Concerns were raised at the time that this diversity of titles would contribute to a conception of the Queen’s sovereignty in terms of separate and severable Crowns, and encourage disunity within the Commonwealth.16 This emphasis on ‘divisible Crowns’ was described as ‘regrettable’,17 and it was noted that ‘the separateness of the Queen’s sovereignty over the various independent countries of the Commonwealth’ meant that it was ‘possible for some members of the Commonwealth to remain neutral in a war in which others were engaged’.18 Ultimately, however, such changes in the language merely reflected constitutional developments that had already occurred.19 Moreover, this was seen by some to be the reason for the change, rather than an unfortunate consequence of it. For instance, the Canadian government took the position that the ‘main purpose of the change in the style is to bring it in line with the present realities of the Commonwealth. The direct relations between The Queen and each of her realms [...] is now a constitutional fact.’20 Indeed, as was noted in the House of Commons debates on the issue, different parts of the Commonwealth had even, for a few days, had two different kings while the various governments formalized Edward VIII’s abdication.21 The addition of an explicit recognition of the Queen’s role as Head of the Commonwealth, largely as a nod to India’s republicanism,22 was also said to counter any divisive effects of the diversity of styles23 by emphasizing ‘the idea that the Queen is equally Queen of each of her realms’.24 All variations of the royal style identify the Queen as ‘Elizabeth II’. The style has been called historically inaccurate25 and has produced a significant degree of controversy. Elizabeth I, it should be remembered, used the style ‘Elizabeth, by the grace of God, Queen of England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, etc.’ Sovereignty of Scotland was not asserted, not even in the tendentiously symbolic way in which France was retained in the royal style, despite a long history of medieval claims to varying degrees of authority over the kingdom. Part of what is now the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador formally was claimed as an English possession under the authority of Elizabethan 53


letters patent,26 but no effective English government was there until the eighteenth century;27 assertions that Canada had a Queen Elizabeth before the current monarch are thus tenuous at best, and it was explicitly acknowledged during the debates in the British Parliament about the Royal Titles Act that ‘there is no second Elizabeth in Canada, as there was never a first.’28 The rest of the Commonwealth even more clearly was not subject to Elizabeth I’s sovereignty. Nonetheless, the style ‘Elizabeth II’ was adopted uniformly throughout the Commonwealth, not quite without discussion, but without any serious uncertainty about what the decision would be. The question was raised in Cabinet whether other Commonwealth members would object to the title. This was, however, thought to be unlikely,29 and a degree of informal approval was obtained early in the process.30 Significantly, there is no evidence of an intention to impose such an outcome, had it not been forthcoming. Indeed, it was suggested that ‘it might be possible for Her Majesty to be styled simply “Elizabeth” in the formal Title’,31 if concerns were raised about the numeral. The sensibilities and potential objections of other members of the Commonwealth to the style ‘Elizabeth II’ seem to have been considered worthy of consideration. It is also worth noting that the Cabinet showed itself to be responsive to both Commonwealth and Irish interests with respect to other elements of the royal title. The explicit recognition of the Queen’s role as ‘Head of the Commonwealth’ was added to reflect India’s continued membership after that country’s renunciation of the Crown.32 It was also thought that an initial Canadian preference for the word order ‘Queen of Canada’ could be accommodated, as it ‘could be regarded as a local variant’.33 Comparable sensitivity to regional interests influenced the language of the title to be adopted within the United Kingdom, which was informed by a perception that ‘it is politically desirable that, in view of the Irish Republicans’ pretensions to the whole of the island, the fusion of Northern Ireland with Great Britain as the United Kingdom should be recognised.’34 Winston Churchill later commented in a meeting with other Commonwealth Prime Ministers that ‘Ulster’s loyalty in the last war, and the vital help which her bases had given in the Battle of the Atlantic, made it unthinkable that Ulstermen should be affronted by the omission of all mention of Northern Ireland from the royal Title.’35 There was, however, no similar willingness to accommodate Scottish requests to omit the numeral from the Queen’s style. The Secretary of State for Scotland ‘hoped that The Queen’s attention would be drawn to the fact that “Elizabeth” would be more acceptable to opinion in Scotland 54


than “Elizabeth the Second”’.36 It was recognized that the basis for this position was the fact that ‘The Queen is the first Elizabeth to rule over Scotland or the United Kingdom.’37 Moreover, the ‘old resentment over the treatment accorded by Elizabeth Tudor to Scotland and its Queen has been revived and has stimulated the controversy’.38 Such concerns were dismissed as being the work of those ‘who would like to foment discord’.39 Anticipating objections from Scottish Members of Parliament, Cabinet correspondence and discussions identified the fact that the rest of the Commonwealth had accepted the historically inaccurate style as a point to be used in rebuttal.40 It was later noted that the ‘Governments of the other Commonwealth countries which owe allegiance to the Crown, where also Her Majesty is the first Elizabeth to reign, have accepted “Elizabeth the Second” as Her designation in their forms of the Royal Style and Title’,41 and that the ‘same argument could have been advanced by all the other Commonwealth countries. It was not pressed by them.’42 The argument was made in the House of Commons that, in light of the rest of the Commonwealth’s willingness to ignore the historical inconsistency, Scotland should do the same.43 The anticipated objections inevitably did materialize, not only among Scottish MPs, but within Scottish society more generally. A series of posters advertised a ‘£2,000 reward for information leading to the identification of Elizabeth I of Scotland, dead or alive’,44 and a variety of memorabilia celebrating the coronation of ‘Elizabeth I’ was available.45 Opposition to the royal style should not be mistaken for republicanism, as the most vehement protests were made by supporters of the monarchy. In a letter to the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Saltire Society described the style ‘Elizabeth the Second’ as ‘distasteful to Scottish sentiment and inconsistent with the facts of Scottish history’ while portraying the Society’s position as ‘entirely above party politics or current political controversy. Out of the loyalty and affection we feel for Her Majesty we make this representation in the interests of historical accuracy.’46 The Scottish Office recognized that opposition to the style was felt ‘not only by extremists [...] but also by individuals of fairly moderate opinions. [...] Almost without exception, the critics protest their loyalty to the Queen’s Person; and the campaign is clearly not directed against the Crown.’47 Less benign action was manifest in a campaign of vandalism directed against an unfortunate post box in Edinburgh. The offending pillar box was the first installed in Scotland featuring the EiiR royal cypher, and was met with immediate opposition. It was unveiled on 28 November 1952, and within two days the offending Roman numeral ‘II’ had been covered 55


over with tar. Similar ‘corrections’ were made with paint on 22 December. Both times, the postal service quickly repaired the ‘corrected’ box. Efforts to remove the ‘II’ with a stonemason’s hammer on 7 February 1953 required its temporary removal for repairs, but it was quickly replaced. More extreme methods included at least two unsuccessful efforts to blow up the pillar box, before a bomb finally did go off inside it on 12 February, destroying it.48 Reports suggest that no mail was destroyed in the explosion, as local residents had long since ceased using the box, not trusting in the safety of any mail deposited in it.49 Surprisingly little media attention was given at the time to such activities, which today would surely be considered domestic terrorism.50 Unsurprisingly, Members of Parliament were quick to dissociate themselves from such acts,51 but they nonetheless characterized them as symptomatic of popular opposition to the royal style. The Honourable Member for Edinburgh, South, in whose constituency the much-abused pillar box was located, expressed regret that his requests for a new box for the housing estate had not been met years earlier, which would have avoided the problem, as the box then would have borne Georgian rather than Elizabethan markings, but also professed himself to be ‘mystified’ by the widespread ‘neglect of Scottish public opinion’ in insisting on both the enumeration and the proliferation of the symbol.52 As that public opinion was characterized subsequently in the House of Lords as ‘some slight anxiety’,53 he might have been correct to feel ignored. One MP suggested that the cost saving alone in not having continually to repair or replace damaged letter boxes was ‘sufficient reason to try to have a title and inscription which would cause no irritation to any section of the community’,54 suggesting that being right was less important than being inoffensive. Another Member went further, calling it ‘an element of provocation’ to include the numeral II in the royal cypher and to insist on introducing EiiR pillar boxes in Scotland.55 Ultimately, the Royal Mail gave up, introducing post boxes bearing the Scottish Crown and no royal cypher whatever, for use in Scotland; this is still claimed as a ‘moral victory’ by some Scottish nationalists,56 although the real value of such symbolic issues to political campaigns for Scottish independence has been questioned.57 The accommodation of Commonwealth and Irish concerns, as reflected in the Royal Titles Act, exacerbated the Scottish objections to the use of the style ‘Elizabeth II’ in Scotland. An editorial published in The Scotsman on 27 February 1953 and read into the Parliamentary record the following week protested that ‘it is rather remarkable that adjustments should be 56


made readily when members of the Commonwealth become sensitive to the overtones of words like “Dominion”, while the Prime Minister cannot even begin to comprehend that Scottish people should have any feelings about the English enumeration of the United Kingdom’s Sovereign.’ It went on to say ‘that Scotland should be treated as reasonably and as sensibly as Pakistan and Ceylon’ and that ‘in Scotland the Queen should be Queen Elizabeth, without any enumeration.’58 Essentially, the point was that, if the royal style could be different in different parts of the Commonwealth, why could it not also be different in different parts of the United Kingdom itself? What such a proposal envisaged harkened back to the practice used after the personal union of 1603 and before the political union of 1707, and would see Her Majesty styled Elizabeth I & II, in the same manner as James VI & I. Interestingly, this suggestion did not entirely disappear; during the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations, the Scottish Nationalist Party suggested that she should adopt the style of Elizabeth I, Queen of Scots, when in Scotland.59 From a constitutional standpoint, the obvious objection to this suggestion is that it artificially conflates the personal union of the seventeenth century, in which England and Scotland remained separate kingdoms that shared a common King, and the political union of the eighteenth century, which created a single kingdom with a single Crown, and, by necessary implication, a single royal style. The suggestion is also inconsistent with established practice; William IV was so styled without recorded objection, and, while there were complaints about the enumeration of Edward VII and Edward VIII, the pattern was set.60 Significantly, there is no suggestion that only the English enumeration should be used, although as a practical matter the issue has only arisen when a higher English numeral has been involved. Rather, the rule is consistently explained by those advocating its use as the adoption of the higher numeral, either English or Scottish, whenever the two differ. The Times characterized this in 1952 as ‘common sense’.61 Churchill clearly agreed, telling the House of Commons the following year that ‘it would be reasonable and logical to continue to adopt in future whichever numeral in the English or Scottish line were higher. Thus if, for instance, a King Robert or King James came to the throne he might well be designated by the numeral appropriate to the Scottish succession.’62 A different sort of argument challenged the enumeration according to the terms of the Acts of Union of 1707. This became the basis of litigation seeking an interdict – the equivalent in Scottish law of a common law injunction – prohibiting the proclaiming of the Queen’s style as 57


‘Elizabeth II’. The claim was rejected by the Scottish court on the grounds that the petitioners lacked the necessary legal standing to be granted the remedy sought.63 But the decision in MacCormick v. Lord Advocate is significant not so much for that finding, but rather for other judicial comments that raise important constitutional questions.64 In simple terms, the argument ran that both England and Scotland ceased to exist as separate kingdoms in 1707, and a new, united kingdom was created in their place. This was a new kingdom with a new monarchy, and, therefore, there should be no continuity with either of the old kingdoms in the numbering of kings and queens.65 This point had been made previously in the House of Commons, where it was put bluntly: ‘The point is this. [...] The United Kingdom of Great Britain only started in the year 1707. There has been no Queen Elizabeth since then, and, therefore, the present Queen Elizabeth is the first Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom.’66 According to this position, the enumeration ‘Elizabeth II’ is inconsistent with the terms of the Union and illegitimately positions the United Kingdom as a continuation of one or both of the old kingdoms.67 The ‘historically inaccurate’ royal style is seen as part of a wider pattern of conflating the United Kingdom with England68 – a pattern that included the Queen’s own self-identification as the ‘Queen of England’ in her Christmas broadcast in 195369 – or of interpreting the United Kingdom as England writ large.70 The argument would see the Queen styled Elizabeth I throughout the United Kingdom, in England as well as in Scotland. In the same way that the enumeration of kings started fresh after the Norman Conquest, having, for instance, Edward I in the late thirteenth century despite there being earlier Edwards, the enumeration ought to have begun again for all British monarchs in 1707, regardless of whether there were earlier English or Scottish monarchs of the same name. The logic of the position that the enumeration of monarchs ought to begin anew in 1707 with the establishment of a new kingdom has been acknowledged by constitutional scholars. The Scottish constitutional tradition generally (but not universally) considers the Acts of Union to have had this effect; that is, that both the English and the Scottish states were extinguished and a new state put in their place. The English constitutional tradition, by contrast, typically (but not universally) sees a large degree of institutional continuity between the old English Parliament and the new British Parliament; that is, essentially, that Scotland has been added on to an existing English framework, with the fundamental powers, procedures and privileges of English Parliamentary history 58


continuing to inform the governance of the United Kingdom.71 This is all, of course, further complicated by devolution, which raises contentious questions about whether a Scottish Parliament possesses inherent jurisdiction or whether it holds only those powers delegated to it,72 and by proposals for Scottish independence.73 Nonetheless, even for those who see the Acts of Union as creating a new kingdom, the practical avoidance of confusion in the number of monarchs is generally considered to be more important in this context. Restarting the enumeration of all monarchs after the Union is thought to be too likely to result in confusion.74 This is a particular concern when dealing with statutes, since legislation is named by the regnal year in which it is enacted and the existing laws of both England and Scotland, with some few exceptions, remained in force after the Union; duplication of royal names without distinguishing enumeration would inevitably result in completely different statutes having identical legal citations.75 Similar confusion would result from using different enumeration in England and Scotland, which would cause the same law to have two different names. This point was made in 1901, significantly by the Lord Advocate, the chief Scottish legal officer: ‘I candidly confess I have tried in vain to find a Scotch grievance in the King’s designation as Edward VII. It seems to me to be really a matter of convenience of citation, and that it would lead to considerable confusion if the statutes were cited in Scotland as those of Edward I of Scotland.’76 Essentially, while it might be more historically accurate and theoretically precise to say that the current monarch is Elizabeth I of the United Kingdom, her functionally necessary title must be Elizabeth II. In addition to exposing a significant degree of uncertainty about what exactly happened in 1707 and what relationship, if any, exists among England, Scotland and the United Kingdom, the legal questions concerning the Queen’s style also raise fundamental questions about whether the Acts of Union have the status of a constitution and, if so, whether that matters and what, if anything, courts can do to enforce it. The doctrine of Parliamentary supremacy holds that Parliament can make, and unmake, any law it wants to. This explicitly includes the power to repeal any existing laws, with the necessary implication that Parliament does not have the ability to bind its successors. That is, even if Parliament says that it wants a certain law to continue in force in perpetuity, this does not actually mean that a future Parliament cannot change it. A necessary corollary of Parliamentary supremacy is that courts do not have the authority to overturn legislation passed by Parliament. Such 59


judicial powers are essential to the administration of a constitution with an entrenched bill of rights that restricts the sorts of laws the government can pass, but, even in the 1950s, the existence of such powers could not be dismissed as merely an American oddity. British judges, sitting as the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, had long experience interpreting the federalism provisions of what was then still called the British North America Act.77 Yet, despite the exceptional claims that some scholars suggest were made by Sir Edward Coke in the early seventeenth century,78 this power of judicial review was not understood as part of the legal tradition of either England or Scotland and Lord Cooper noted in MacCormick that the Court did not have the authority to provide the remedy requested. Subsequent uses of the case have been nearly as reticent, leaving open a slim possibility that it might, in some hypothetical future, extreme context, be possible for a court to overturn the will of Parliament based on the terms of the Acts of Union, but find that the cases actually before the courts did not meet that threshold.79 Nonetheless, the collection of concerns arising from the question of the Queen’s style does include a debate about the relationship between Parliament and the judiciary and about the proper scope of judicial powers. The doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty developed in the pre-Union English Parliament largely as a way of limiting royal power in the seventeenth century. It can be rationalized in a number of ways, including the formal designation of the ‘High Court of Parliament’, which logically cannot be subject to the scrutiny of other, by definition inferior, courts, and especially since the Reform Act of 1832,80 as a flavour of popular sovereignty by which the people, through their duly elected representatives, have ultimate and unlimited power.81 Concerns have also been raised that, in the absence of such ability to ignore even conscious efforts to bind itself, there would be too great a potential for a legal vacuum, in which no effective law exists to govern some new or changed circumstance and there is no power to create law because of limitations previously placed on the powers of Parliament.82 Elevating the Acts of Union to constitutional status would mean that their articles would be perpetually binding, as constitutional provisions rather than as ordinary legislation. There is no question that this was what the drafters of the Acts intended to do. It remains a contested point, however, whether it was actually in their power to do so, or whether the Acts, like any other Act of Parliament, must logically and legally be subject to alteration by Parliament, even if there might be some moral stigma that would attach to any Parliament that did so.83 60


English scholars pay limited attention to the constitutional significance of the Acts of Union or to its implications for the Parliamentary laws of the United Kingdom.84 To the extent that they do consider such questions, the prevailing English position is that the principle of Parliamentary supremacy was transferred seamlessly to the British Parliament created in 1707, despite its not having been a clearly established part of the Scottish Parliamentary tradition or, perhaps, as the author of one twentieth-century constitutional law textbook put it, because there was no existing Scottish constitutional tradition to follow.85 This has been challenged by Scottish scholars on the grounds that the Union of 1707 established a new Parliament of a new state that was created by the transfer of powers from both England and Scotland, and could only inherit those doctrines that previously had been held in both the English and the Scottish Parliaments.86 If the Union is seen as effecting the continuation only of shared Parliamentary traditions – the lowest common denominators of their respective constitutional laws – then the centrality of Parliamentary sovereignty in the United Kingdom rests on questionable footing. This is one of the reasons why MacCormick v. Lord Advocate, seeking an interdict against the Queen using the style ‘Elizabeth II’, is noteworthy. The action depended fundamentally on a rejection of the principle of Parliamentary supremacy. After all, if Parliament can do anything it wants to, regardless of any rules set by earlier Parliaments, then there can be no basis for challenging the Royal Titles Act. However, if the Acts of Union are seen as a constitution that effectively can bind later Parliamentary decision-making, then the Royal Titles Act can be seen as being invalid if it is ultra vires – outside the constitutionally defined powers of the British Parliament. And this is exactly what Lord Cooper said in obiter dicta in MacCormick: the Acts of Union constitute ‘fundamental law’ and are binding on Parliament. Moreover, he explicitly challenged the validity of the doctrine of Parliamentary supremacy itself, arguing that it was an exclusively English doctrine and that there is no reason for assuming ‘that the new Parliament of Great Britain must inherit all the peculiar characteristics of the English Parliament but none of the Scottish Parliament, as if all that happened in 1707 was that Scottish representatives were admitted to the Parliament of England. That is not what was done.’87 This was described shortly afterwards by the constitutional scholar T. B. Smith as ‘the first articulate statement in two and a half centuries of the fundamental law of the British constitution’.88 Significantly, the Lord Advocate – the Government’s representative in the case – acknowledged the point that some parts of the Acts of Union are indeed ‘fundamental and essential 61


conditions’ that could not be repealed by Parliament, resting his argument instead on an interpretation of the legislation in question as not conflicting with those constitutional requirements.89 The ‘slight anxiety’ about the Queen’s style thus became a debate about the essential nature of the United Kingdom and the scope and natures of the powers of Parliament. Of course, all of this is obiter dicta – not binding legal authority. But, since these issues tend not to come before the courts very often, and, when they do, those cases typically are decided on other, narrower grounds that do not require the courts to venture into the realm of constitutional theory, it is important obiter dicta. The seemingly straightforward recognition of the current Queen as ‘Elizabeth II’ is connected to the restructuring of relations within the Commonwealth, Scottish nationalism and some small-scale domestic terrorism within Britain, and significant juridical and theoretical speculation about the significance of the Acts of Union, the scope of judicial authority and the existence of Parliamentary supremacy. There are still more questions than clear-cut answers about most of these issues. But perhaps it can be concluded that some degree of caution is appropriate in the use of the term ‘New Elizabethans’.

Notes I would like to thank the Letter Box Study Group for kindly providing me with copies of their Newsletter, and Hazel Brewer for invaluable research assistance.   1 MacCormick v. Lord Advocate [1953] ScotsCS CSIH 2, [1953] SLT 255 [hereinafter MacCormick].   2 An Act for a Union of the Two Kingdoms of England and Scotland, 6 Anne, c.11; Act Ratifying and Approving the Treaty of Union of the Two Kingdoms of Scotland and England, Anne, c.7.   3 Supplement to London Gazette, 6 February 1952.   4 Royal Titles Act 1953, 1 & 2 Eliz. 2 c.9 [hereinafter Royal Titles].   5 Ibid., s. 1.   6 Ibid., preamble.   7 The National Archives (TNA): CAB 130/75 (26 February 1952).   8 TNA: CAB 128/24/0031 (18 March 1952).   9 TNA: LCO 2/5139 (5 April 1952). 10 Statute of Westminster, 1931, 22 Geo. 5, c.4, preamble. 11 Royal Titles Act. 12 Proclamation, 29 May 1953. 13 Royal Style and Titles Act, RSC 1985, c.R–12. 14 TNA: CAB 129/58/0010 (8 January 1953). 62

THE ‘NEW ’ ELIZABETH AND SCOTLAND 15 TNA: CAB 129/50/0005 (28 February 1952). 16 TNA: CAB 128/24/0031 (18 March 1952); TNA: CAB 129/50/0005 (28 February 1952); TNA: CAB 129/58/0014 (12 January 1953). 17 TNA: CAB 195/10/45 (18 March 1952). 18 TNA: CAB 128/24/0031 (18 March 1952). 19 TNA: CAB 128/24/0031 (18 March 1952); TNA: CAB 129/50/0005 (28 February 1952); TNA: CAB 129/58/0014 (12 January 1953). 20 TNA: LCO 2/5139 (10 April 1952). 21 Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 5th series, vol. 512, col. 196 (3 March 1953). 22 TNA: CAB 129/50/0005. 23 Editorial, ‘The Queen’s Style’, The Times, 13 December 1952. 24 Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 5th series, vol. 512, col. 197 (3 March 1953). See also Parliamentary Debates, Lords, 5th series, vol. 180, col. 1290 (11 March 1953) for similar sentiments. 25 See, for instance, Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 5th series, vol. 496, col. 1143 (27 February 1952), vol. 512 cols 203, 214, 230, 235, 249, 252 (3 March 1953), and vol. 515, col. 376 (6 May 1953). 26 ‘Letters Patent to Sir Humphrey Gilbert, June 11, 1578’, in Jon L. Wakelyn (ed.), America’s Founding Charters: Primary Documents of Colonial and Revolutionary Era Governance (Westport: Greenwood, 2006), 18–21. 27 Jerry Bannister, The Rule of the Admirals: Law, Custom, and Naval Government in Newfoundland, 1699–1832 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press/The Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History, 2003). 28 Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 5th series, vol. 512, col. 215 (3 March 1953). 29 TNA: CAB 130/75 (26 February 1952). 30 TNA: CAB 195/10/0045 (18 March 1952). 31 TNA: CAB 130/75 (26 February 1952). 32 TNA: CAB 130/75 (25 February 1952). 33 Ibid. 34 Ibid. 35 TNA: LCO 2/5139 (11 December 1952). 36 TNA: CAB 130/75 (16 October 1952). 37 TNA: CAB 21/3142 (2 March 1953). 38 Ibid. 39 TNA: CAB 21/3142 (5 March 1953). 40 TNA: CAB 128/26/0002 (14 January 1953). 41 TNA: CAB 21/3142 (2 March 1953). 42 TNA: CAB 21/3142 (17 December 1952). 43 Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 5th series, vol. 512, col. 251 (3 March 1953). 44 N.a., ‘Police Seize Posters in Scotland’, The Times, 6 March 1953; N.a., ‘Poster Pasting in Glasgow’, The Times, 25 August 1953. 63

THE NEW ELIZABETHAN AGE 45 N.a., ‘Police’; Neil MacCormick, ‘Doubts about the “Supreme Court” and Reflections on MacCormick v. Lord Advocate’, Juridical Review 3 (2004), 237–50: 239. 46 TNA: CAB 21/3142 (13 December 1952). 47 TNA: CAB 21/3142 (2 March 1953). 48 N.a., ‘Bomb in Edinburgh Pillar-Box’, The Times, 3 January 1953; Chris Williams, ‘Give them One on The Inch and You May have to Run a Mile … The Story of Scotland’s first EiiR Pillar Box’, Letter Box Study Group Newsletter 141 (2011), 27–9. 49 Williams, ‘Give’, 28. 50 Ibid., 29. 51 See, for instance, Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 5th series, vol. 512, col. 205 (3 March 1953). 52 Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 5th series, vol. 512, col. 233 (3 March 1953). 53 Parliamentary Debates, Lords, 5th series, vol. 180, col. 1293 (11 March 1953). 54 Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 5th series, vol. 512, col. 205 (3 March 1953). 55 Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 5th series, vol. 512, col. 211 (3 March 1953). 56 MacCormick, ‘Doubts’, 243. C.f. the role of the ‘symbolic’ issue of regnal numbers in the development of Scottish nationalism in response to the accession of Edward VII. Murray G. Pittock, The Invention of Scotland: The Stuart Myth and the Scottish Identity, 1638 to the Present (London: Routledge, 1991). 57 Richard J. Finlay, ‘Scotland and the Monarchy in the Twentieth Century’, in William L. Miller (ed.), Anglo–Scottish Relations from 1900 to Devolution (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 31; Finlay, ‘The Early Years: From the Interwar Period to the Mid-1600s’, in Gerry Hassan (ed.), The Modern SNP: From Protest to Power (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009), 27. Similar ‘symbolic’ concerns were raised about the coinage. The Cabinet was informed that the Royal Mint’s decision about the design of the new coins – including the wording elizabeth ii dei gratia regina fid def – was based on attention ‘solely to aesthetic considerations’ rather than ‘constitutional arguments’: TNA: CAB 130/75 (13 June 1952). The issue was raised in Parliament as one creating a ‘terrific problem’, since ‘Scots who object to this title are placed in an awful dilemma’: Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 5th series, vol. 514, col. 200 (15 April 1953). 58 Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 5th series, vol. 512, cols 204–5 (3 March 1953); see also Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 5th series, vol. 512, cols 210, 227, 230–1 (3 March 1953) for similar concerns. 59 ‘Queen Urged to Change Title’, BBC News, 22 May 2002. Available at 64



61 62

63 64 65 66 67 68 69

70 71 (accessed 1 September 2015). Editorial, ‘The Queen’s Style’, The Times, 21 February 1952; TNA: LCO 2/5139 (21 February 1952); TNA: CAB 21/3142 (2 March 1953); TNA: LCO 2/5139 (3 March 1953); MacCormick, ‘Does the United Kingdom have a Constitution? Reflections on MacCormick v. Lord Advocate’, Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly 29 (1978), 1–20: 11. The issue did not arise with the Georges or Victoria, as neither name had been used in either kingdom before 1707. It should also be noted that, while Mary II was the second Queen of that name in both England and Scotland, the enumeration depended on two different previous Marys (Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, and Mary Tudor, Queen of England). Editorial, ‘Queen’s Style,’ The Times, 21 February 1952. Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 5th series, vol. 514, col. 199 (15 April 1953). Asked to speculate on ‘what course will be followed if a future British monarch should bear the name Llewellyn’, Churchill replied, ‘I hope I may ask for long notice of that question’ (ibid., col. 200). MacCormick. MacCormick, ‘Doubts’, 242; Adam Tomkins, ‘The Constitutional Law in MacCormick v. Lord Advocate’, Juridical Review 3 (2004), 213–24: 213. MacCormick. Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 5th series, vol. 512, col. 237 (3 March 1953). MacCormick, ‘Doubts’, 240. Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 5th series, vol. 512, col. 229 (3 March 1953). David M. Walker, ‘Some Characteristics of Scots Law’, Modern Law Review 18 (1955), 321–37: 321; Finlay, ‘Scotland’, 32. This blunder resulted in at least one refusal to pay income tax in protest: Inland Revenue v. Mackintosh (Edinburgh Sheriff Court, 1954); cited in Walker, ‘Some’, 321. MacCormick, ‘Doubts’, 240. Ibid., 240–1; David Feldman, ‘None, One or Several? Perspectives on the UK’s Constitution’, Cambridge Law Journal 64 (2005), 329–51: 347. For an English argument that 1707 marked the creation of a new state, see Elizabeth Wicks, ‘A New Constitution for a New State? The 1707 Union of England and Scotland’, Law Quarterly Review 117 (2001), 109–26: 112; for a Scottish argument that the British Parliament incorporates the Parliaments of England and Scotland, which were not extinguished in 1707, see Kenneth Middleton, ‘New Thoughts on the Union Between England and Scotland’, Juridical Review (1954), 37–60: 37. Further support for the understanding of the British Parliament as a continuation of the pre-1707 English Parliament can be found in the decision in 1951 of the History of Parliament Project to study the pre-1707 English Parliament to the exclusion of the Scottish Parliament, and to not see 1707 as being 65



73 74 75 76 77 78


80 81 82 83

84 85

a fundamental break in the history of the institution: Hector L. MacQueen, ‘Two Toms and an Ideology for Scots Law: T B Smith and Lord Cooper of Culross’, in Elspeth Reid and David L. Carey Miller (eds), A Mixed Legal System in Transition: T B Smith and the Progress of Scots (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005), 44–72: 69. For an argument that the Scottish state was only partially subsumed into the new United Kingdom, and that a vestigial Scottish kingdom still survives, see Murray Pittock, ‘Scottish Sovereignty and the Union of 1707: Then and Now’, National Identities 14 (2012), 11–20: 14. Tomkins, ‘Constitutional’, 221–4; Stephen Tierney, ‘Flexible Accommodation: Another Case of British Exceptionalism?’, University of Edinburgh School of Law, Research Paper Series, no. 2013/15. MacCormick, ‘Is There a Constitutional Path to Scottish Independence?’ Parliamentary Affairs 53 (2000), 721–36. TNA: CAB 21/3142 (27 February 1953); Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 5th series, vol. 512, cols 250–1 (3 March 1953). George Winterton, ‘The British Grundnorm: Parliamentary Supremacy Re-Examined’, Law Quarterly Review 92 (1976), 591–617: 595. Parliamentary Debates, Commons, 4th series, vol. 91, col. 241 (18 March 1901); see also TNA: CAB 21/3142 (27 February 1953). The Constitution Act, 1867, 30 & 31 Vict., c.3. See, for instance, Theodore F. T. Plucknett, ‘Bonham’s Case and Judicial Review’, Harvard Law Review 40 (1926), 30–70; Allen Dillard Boyer, ‘“Understanding, Authority, and Will”: Sir Edward Coke and the Elizabethan Origins of Judicial Review’, Boston College Law Review 39 (1997), 43–93; Ian Williams, ‘Dr Bonham’s Case and “Void” Statutes’, Journal of Legal History, 27 (2006), 111–28. See, for instance, Gibson v. Lord Advocate, [1975] ScotCS CSOH 3; Lord Gray’s Motion, [2002] AC 124; AXA General Insurance Ltd. & Ors. v. The Scottish Ministers & Ors. [2011] ScotCS CSIH 31 at para. 67. Representation of the People Act 1832, 2 & 3 Wm. IV, c.45. Winterton, ‘British’, 595–6. Ibid., 599. O. Hood Phillips, Constitutional and Administrative Law, 3rd edn (London: Sweet & Maxwell, 1962), 64–5; J. D. B. Mitchell, ‘Sovereignty of Parliament – Yet Again’, Law Quarterly Review 79 (1963), 196–223; MacCormick, ‘Does’, 11–12; Michael Upton, ‘Marriage Vows of the Elephant: The Constitution of 1707’, Law Quarterly Review 105 (1989), 79–103: 103. MacCormick, ‘Does’, 6. Hood Phillips, Constitutional, 64–5. There is some Scottish authority for the existence of such a doctrine in Scotland, including the opinion of Lord Guthrie in MacCormick. See also Mitchell, ‘Sovereignty’, 208. It did not, however, have the established significance of its English counterpart: J. D. Ford, ‘The Legal Provisions in the Acts of Union’, Cambridge Law Journal 66 (2007), 66


86 87 88 89

106–41: 137. The different approach taken by Scottish courts to the issue of Parliamentary supremacy has been identified as a key characterizing feature of Scotland’s distinct legal system: C. M. G. Himsworth, ‘Devolution and its Jurisdictional Asymmetries’, Modern Law Review 70 (2007), 31–58: 36. MacCormick, ‘Doubts’, 241. MacCormick. T. B. Smith, ‘The Contribution of Lord Cooper of Culross to Scottish Law’, Juridical Review 67 (1955), 249–70: 267. MacCormick.




In the nineteenth century, Welsh nationalism was rarely republican in nature.1 In 1804, the English-born antiquarian Benjamin Heath Malkin wrote that ‘Wales yields not, in the shadow of a thought, to England, in loyalty to the reigning family. Indeed, the King seems to be the only Saxon to whom they are thoroughly reconciled.’2 When Victoria ascended the throne in 1837, the complementary relationship between Welsh nationalism and the British monarchy became further entrenched. The Welsh patriot and author, T. J. Llewelyn Prichard, exploiting the fact that ‘Victoria’ is equivalent in Welsh to ‘Buddug’, or Boudica, insisted that the Queen be known as Victoria II in his The Heroines of Welsh History (1854).3 Fellow nationalist and antiquarian John Williams (Ab Ithel) went further in extricating Victoria from her English-Germanic ancestry in a speech delivered at the 1853 Eisteddfod: Wales is strictly and emphatically independent […] Victoria is peculiarly our own Queen – Boadicea rediviva – our Buddug the Second […] We can address our English friends: we have more right in Victoria than thee, a larger quantity of Celtic than of Saxon blood flowing through her royal veins.4

Despite this adulation, royal interest in Wales was slight. Having toured Wales in 1832, visiting the Eisteddfod at Anglesey that year, Victoria seldom returned and was occasionally charged in the Welsh-language press with being ‘cold and indifferent towards Wales’.5 Yet even with little 68


patronage from the royals themselves, the Welsh cultural establishment was keen to foster connections with the Crown: Eisteddfod competitions were often arranged around royal events and personages; royal command performances by Welsh male voice choirs and harpists resulted in national celebrations in the press.6 As the mother of the Morgan family puts it in Richard Llewellyn’s How Green Was My Valley (1939), that bestselling historical romance of mining and strikebreaking: There is beautiful […] Singing before the good little Queen. I would think their voices might come to us like angels to sing for her. Pray day and night to be in good voice for her, I would.7

This chapter analyses the very different reception of three modern royal spectacles – the 1953 Coronation, the 1969 Investiture of the Prince of Wales and the 2012 Diamond Jubilee – by prominent writers of Wales. The near-ubiquitous sentimental attachment to the British royal family, not to mention its frequent articulation in relation to an ideal of Welsh national identity itself, fragmented during the course of the twentieth century into a range of diverse, often hostile responses. The Coronation attracted wildly different responses from literary Wales – indifferent silence, sacramental reverence, even sheer disgust. The Jubilee of 2012 was an unquestionably muted affair, with the royal celebrations seeming very distant to twenty-first-century Wales. In between was the 1969 Investiture at Caernarfon: a major fault-line in the political history of Wales. The event deeply divided the nation, and particularly Welshspeaking Wales, into a series of political and generational conflicts that culminated in both street parties and acts of terrorism. It also invigorated the Welsh-language movement and promulgated a new nationalist self-consciousness. Significant to that promulgation – and hitherto overlooked by contemporary historians – was the prominent, almost uniformly antagonistic response of politically engaged literary writers to the signifying importance of royal spectacle.8 That literary response (in Welsh and English), manifest primarily in the numerous cultural journals that had developed in Wales within the decade,9 was a major presence within the political discourse of that moment. It also, ironically, provided an implicit riposte to the primarily English voices of New Elizabethanism who, less than 20 years earlier, had invoked the Coronation as a means to inspire a new florescence of ‘national’ poetry and literature. Where the New Elizabethan discourse had looked to the Coronation as a symbol for the 69


birth of a new age and art, the cultural formulations of modern Welsh possibility would ultimately lie in the literature and politics engendered by a very different moment of royal spectacle, in 1969.

Wales and the 1953 Coronation As many chapters in this collection discuss, the 1953 Coronation was a centre point for many English writers who hoped for ‘a great resurgence of national life’ that would consciously imitate the first Elizabethan age – a period described by Philip Gibbs as the ‘first flowering time of genius, high adventure, and national spirit’.10 Unsurprisingly, perhaps, this particular rhetoric of New Elizabethanism, with its invocation of imminent historical parallels, was seldom echoed in Wales. In 1952, the English historian Arthur Bryant had hailed the Tudors for having ‘set England on her course’ with ‘their Welsh fire and imagination’.11 Such characteristically New Elizabethan mythologizations seem to have provoked little response in Wales itself – perhaps because the first Elizabethan age had been no golden period for the Welsh. Although Henry Tudor had made political use of his (thin) Welsh connections in his campaign against Richard III, once installed as the rightful monarchs of England, the Tudor dynasty soon obscured their Welsh affiliations, save at rare moments of cultural utility. In 1536 the Act of Union annexed Wales to the English realm, and Wales’ gentry families were swiftly assimilated into the English court. Without native patronage or other means of renewal, the ancient literary and cultural practices of Wales fell into desuetude.12 Nevertheless, Tudor enthusiasts could often be found among the historians of Wales – particularly in the nineteenth century. As late as 1905, Owen Rhoscomyl, one of the architects of the Prince of Wales’ Investiture of 1911, was able to write that the Battle of Bosworth was the endpoint of Wales’ struggle against England and that Richard III’s defeat signalled ‘the long work done, the victory won’.13 By 1953, however, such appraisals seem to have long outworn their welcome: Elizabethanism had little cultural capital in Wales and Welsh celebrations of the new monarch rarely invoked celebratory parallels with her namesake. As evident in the 1959 essay ‘The Dying Gaul’ by David Jones, by the mid twentieth century a very different historical view was in focus: It is strangely congruent with the thread of frustration and betrayal that runs throughout the Celtic story that the Tudors, with their attenuated Welsh 70

WALES AND THE CROWN connections, should have been instrumental in destroying what was left of the ancient pattern, first in Wales and then in Ireland.14

That is not to say that Wales did not celebrate the Coronation: there were the usual street parties, council-sponsored ceremonies, and official and semi-official celebrations. Contemporary issues of the English-language Western Mail seem obsessed with the minutiae of the ceremony and its preparations – particularly where they touched upon Welsh matters. A weekly ‘Coronation Column for Boys and Girls’ was written by the English children’s author Malcolm Saville, who discussed the history of the throne, the crown jewels, tapestries and the importance of youth pageants. And coverage of the forthcoming event was often front-page news, with reporters eagerly chronicling the numerous rehearsals, the arrival of various dignitaries, the planned royal tour of Wales and the use of Welsh symbols in the regalia; a particularly vexed series of letters was submitted on the design of the red dragon for the newly commissioned Royal Banner for Wales.15 The responses of the Welsh-language press were very different. They tended to see the Coronation as London-centric and as very distant from the interests and political outlook of Wales. In this they were aligned with the position of Plaid Cymru, the nationalist party of Wales. Both, however, drew the ire of the prominent poet, dramatist and political activist Saunders Lewis, who had founded Plaid Cymru in the 1920s, but who had resigned from its presidency in 1939.16 In a letter written to the Baner ac Amserau Cymru on 1 July 1953, Lewis mocked the ‘trwynsur ac annifyr a distyrllyd’ [‘sour-faced and miserable and disdainful’] reaction of both the Plaid Cymru and the Baner, terming them ‘mor phariseaidd hirwynebog’ [‘long-faced Pharisees’].17 He spent Coronation day walking amid Cardiff’s working-class, multi-ethnic communities of Butetown and Grangetown, and noted how their bunting-strewn terraced houses had become transformed into ‘fel darnau o Napoli’r Eidal’ [‘fragments of Naples’]: a phrennau megis prennau Nadolig yn llwythog gan deganau a chanhwyllau ger pob drws, doliau brenhinol yn y ffenestri, baneri o bob lliw fel pebyll uwchben, babanod o Negroaid yn gweiddi a chanu Saesneg gydag acen Cymry uniaith, morwyr o Sbaenwyr a Gwyddyl ac Eidalwyr ac ambell Gymro a Sais yn gwmnïau gyda’u gwragedd a’u cariadon yn dawnsio i gainc concertina, rhialtwch hyfryd hoffus. [and trees like Christmas trees laden with presents and candles beside each front door, royal dolls in the windows, colourful banners like tents fluttering 71

THE NEW ELIZABETHAN AGE above Negro children shouting and singing in Welsh-accented English, sailors from Spain and Irishmen and Italians and the occasional Welshman and Englishman in companies along with their wives and lovers dancing to the music of a concertina, an amiable, lovely jollity.]18

Amid the multicultural communities of working-class Cardiff, far away from the Welsh-speaking heartlands of rural Wales, Lewis welcomed the Welsh Dragon flying side by side with the Union Jack. To the chagrin of several Baner readers, he even declared his anticipation of the forthcoming royal visit to Wales, which for him remained fully consonant with his desire for a free and independent Wales: gall gwrthwynebiad cyndyn a ffyrnig i lywodraeth Seisnig ar Gymru fod yn gyson â chroeso siriol i’r frenhines ei hunan pan ddaw hi i’n gwlad, a gallwn hyderu mai yn ystod ei theyrnasiad hi yr enillir hunan-lywodraeth ac y daw Brenhines Cymru yn rhan o’I theitl […] Petaem yn ddewrach, efallai y byddem hefyd yn haelach ac yn fwy llawen. [a fierce and determined opposition to English rule in Wales can be consistent with a cheerful welcoming of the Queen herself when she comes to our country, and we can be confident that it will be during her reign that she will gain self-government and that Queen of Wales will become part of her title […] If we were braver, we would also be more generous and more joyful.]19

Lewis’ letter provoked a storm of protest from Baner readers who disagreed with the former Plaid leader.20 But Lewis, whose monarchism was as staunch as his nationalism, maintained that ‘Nid yw coroni brenhines yn bechod. Nid yw cadw gŵyl yn annaturiol. Nid yw llawenydd cyhoeddus yn ddrwg’ [‘crowning a queen is not a sin. Celebrating and feasting are not unnatural. Public jubilation is not evil’].21 Ironically, perhaps, prominent English-language writers were more equivocal in their response to the Coronation. In June of that year, the London-Welsh poet-painter David Jones was invited by the BBC’s Welsh Home Service to make a broadcast on the eve of the Coronation. His ‘Wales and the Crown’ is untypical of anything published in that year: a riposte to the English jingoism that clustered around so much of the ceremony, it places the symbols of the British monarchy in an exclusively Welsh historical context. Thus the new Queen – ‘the visible sign of that invisible thing, the Monarchy of Britain’ – becomes part of a tradition 72


that extends beyond the Anglo-centric litany of ‘Victoria, Farmer George, the great Elizabeth, sweet Richard, the Lord Edward Long-shanks, Henry Beauclerc’, back to Cadwaladr ap Cadwallon, last British king, and behind him, Ambrosius Aurelianus, even Arthur. Chief in significance is Helena, mother of Constantine, and ‘almost Britannia herself’ – ‘the eternal matriarch’, of whom Elizabeth II, for Jones, is a late, faint echo.22 Jones’ Cymreigiad (Wallicizing) of the Coronation is not, however, restricted to the broadening of traditional, Anglo-centric narratives of monarchy. While Jones acknowledges that his Coronation broadcast should reflect the ‘joyful occasion when the unity of the Island is supposed to be our theme’, his essay opens with an account that ‘was far from joyful and which is sharply remindful of disunity and otherness’.23 He refers to the slaying of Llewelyn, last Prince of Wales, in December 1282 – the traumatic event that signalled the total loss of independence for Wales and the severing of a line of princes that stemmed straight from Roman Britain. By foregrounding this event, Jones suggests that the Coronation is not merely an occasion for celebrating and feasting, but also a day on which ‘the people of Wales’ should be reminded of the ‘complex and unique tradition’ of the ‘Crown of London’ – and Wales’ equally complex relation to it.24 Where Jones’ response to the Coronation qualifies, rather than contests, celebration, Dylan Thomas was much more aggressive. Having begun broadcasting for the BBC in 1937, Thomas produced several talks on national events. ‘The most dazzling of all’, according to his friend Vernon Watkins, was his talk on the Festival Exhibition at Southbank (19 June 1951).25 An ode to the ‘authentically eccentric Festival’, Thomas’ essay was little interested in the various pavilions, displays and exhibits. Meandering around the crowd, Thomas focuses on the spectators rather than the spectacle, the ‘people without whom the Exhibition could not exist’ – and thus the people who refuse to conform to the Festival’s cohesive narrative of state-sponsored pageantry: The suspicious people over whose eyes no coloured Festival wool can be pulled […] the women who ‘will not queue on any account’ […] sharp people who have been there before […] people of militant individuality who proclaim their right, as Englishmen, to look at the damnfool place however they willynilly will […] foreigners, who have been directed this way by a school of irrepressible wits […] and real eccentrics: people who have come to the South Bank to study the growth and development of Britain from the Iron Age till now.26



‘This Festival is London’, Thomas declared, ‘and this is what London should always be like, till St Paul’s falls down and the sea slides over the Strand.’27 Two years later, Thomas was suffering ill health, weakened by alcohol and subject to an increasingly arduous workload. In 1953 he undertook two lecture tours to the United States, oversaw the publication of the American edition of his Collected Poems, made several radio broadcasts and composed several new poems, including the famous verse ‘Prologue’. He also completed his ‘play for voices’, Under Milk Wood – one of his final alterations to the text was to rename the main street of the fictional small town of Llareggub from Principality Street to Coronation Street.28 Despite the textual change, Thomas was uninspired by the Coronation itself. Thomas had never been much interested in state pageantry, and always seemed averse to the Royal Family. He had been in London in 1937 during the Coronation of George VI, attending a party at the Trafalgar Square offices of the literary journal The Courier, under which the royal cavalcade proceeded on its way to Westminster. Thomas refused to observe the procession, and sat with his back to the window until the royals had passed. His companion, Elizabeth Fusco, noted that ‘he didn’t like the pomp’, which surprised her, given his usual enjoyment of the ‘colour and gaiety and brass bands’ of such occasions.29 By 1953, Thomas’ antipathy to the monarchy and its attendant spectacles had hardened. In a letter written to Oscar Williams, he described the young Elizabeth as ‘the nincompoop queen’.30 Thomas had intended to be in London during the festivities, but lastminute had decided to remain in New York, watching the Coronation on television. He travelled home the next day. Caitlin, his wife, and many of his friends – including Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, who had provided much of the BBC television commentary on the Coronation – were still in London, attending various parties.31 But where the popular variety of the crowds at the Festival had energized, the remnants of the Coronation celebrations depressed Thomas. He wrote to his New York lover, Liz Reitell, on his return to Laugharne: ‘London was still glassy from Coronation Day, and for all the customsmen cared I could have packed my bags with cocaine and bits of chopped women. All my friends, including the Irish ones I stay with, were, early that morning, in the middle of Coronation parties that had already lasted a week.’32 In rhetoric that evokes the earlier broadcasts but in negative, putrefying terms, Thomas described his arrival in Coronation London to Williams: 74


‘queasy, purple, maggoty, scalped, I weak-wormed through festoons, bunting, flags, great roses, sad spangles, paste and tinsel.’33 Walking through ‘the city’s hushed hangover’, he found himself immersed in Miles of cock-deep orange-peel, nibbled sandwiches, broken bottles, discarded vests, vomit and condoms, lollipops, senile fish, lips, old towels, teeth, turds, soiled blowing newspapers by the unread mountain, all the splatter and bloody gravy and giant mousemess that go to show how a loyal and phlegmatic people – ‘London can break it!’ – enjoyed themselves like hell the day before.34

Ever the contrarian, he claims that he would have ‘enjoyed it too’. But the party ended with Thomas ‘alone and disillusioned […] in the chaotic middle of anti-climax. It was all too sordid.’35

‘This Erosion at the Edges’: The 1969 Investiture of the Prince of Wales The responses of Welsh writers to the 1953 Coronation were located firmly on the periphery, and in the case of Thomas, with backs emphatically turned to both ceremony and official English rhetoric. In contrast, the Investiture of the Prince of Wales, held at Caernarfon 16 years later, resulted in a loud cacophony of Welsh literary reactions. The 1969 Investiture was, to use Eric Hobsbawm’s and Terence Ranger’s still-useful phrase, an invented tradition.36 Its origins lay not in the medieval past but in 1911, when the ceremony was revived for the first time in nearly 200 years; until 1911, no English prince had ever been invested in Wales, though several medieval princes had been born there.37 Described by Kenneth O. Morgan as ‘a quaint, if picturesque ceremony’, the 1911 service had been an unqualified success.38 There were reportedly two hundred and fifty thousand spectators present to see George V’s son, Edward, made Prince of Wales at Caernarfon Castle. Designed as a specifically Welsh spectacle, the service included Nonconformist hymns, a prominent display of local gwerin (folk) customs, a major role for the Gorsedd of Bards and an extensive use of the Welsh language – including a speech by the young prince. The effect was ‘a flood of emotional and patriotic self-congratulation in the periodicals and newspapers of the principality’.39 In England, too, the Investiture’s Welsh inflections made a deep impression: the male voice choirs that performed 75


at the ceremony were invited to the Royal Albert Hall; Herbert Asquith, the Liberal Prime Minister in attendance that day, claimed to have been a ‘living witness’ to ‘an undying nationalism’.40 Buoyed by high employment rates, good wages, growing disestablishmentarianism and the people’s realization of themselves as a Liberal nation, the 1911 Investiture was a major cultural expression of a distinct Welsh identity. Taking place against the far more virulent and divisive background of Irish Home Rule, it celebrated a ‘regional’ nationalism that could happily co-exist within the British state. In John Ellis’ words: Through the ritual, symbolism and commentary of the ceremony, the British state formally recognised the cultural distinctiveness and national sentiment of the Welsh nation. Using the monarchy as a vehicle, the Liberal government expressed a sense of Britishness reconciling ethnic diversity within a multinational state. The investiture defined the United Kingdom and the British Empire as a ‘unity in diversity’, a family of distinct nations each contributing its essential talents and characteristics to the organic whole.41

A similar view was articulated by A. G. Edwards, one of the chief architects of the ceremony. As an Anglican bishop amidst a Nonconformist populace, Edwards believed that holding the Investiture in Wales would be ‘an occasion to unite and inspire the Welsh nation’.42 Afterwards he wrote that ‘it was good for Wales and for the Empire that the Investiture should no longer be a cold and clipped formality in some London palace […] and best of all that it should be in Wales, uplifted by the music and sanctified by the prayers of the Welsh people.’43 The response to the 1969 Investiture was very different – but, then, so was Wales. No longer a Liberal nation, by the 1960s Wales had become an almost impregnable Labour stronghold. At the 1966 General Election, Labour secured 32 out of 36 Welsh seats, though Plaid Cymru won its first parliamentary seat in a by-election in 1967. The economic buoyancy of the Edwardian era had long since dissipated. The depression of the interwar years had left a lasting effect on Welsh society, and the process of aggravated de-industrialization accelerated dramatically in the 1960s. In the south, coal mining – scarred by the Aberfan disaster of 1966, in which 116 children and 28 adults were killed – was declining dramatically: nearly 40 per cent of the colliery workforce lost their jobs in that decade. In the north, the once-vibrant slate quarries of Gwynedd were nearly all closed, and what activity remained did little more than provide ornaments for a growing tourist trade.44 Across Wales, rural depopulation continued unabated, contributing to the sharp decline in the use of 76


Welsh across the nation: whereas Welsh was spoken by nearly half the population in 1911, by 1969 less than a quarter of the populace spoke any Welsh.45 As promoted by the resources of the media and government, the 1969 Investiture had won extensive support. Designed by the fashion(able) photo­ grapher Lord Snowdon, the event was watched by as many as 500 million television viewers.46 They were apparently unaware of – or indifferent to – how much of the day’s planning had been ramshackle. The coronet that the Prince was supposed to wear at the ceremony was missing: Edward VIII had illegally kept possession of it after his abdication in 1936. In its place, Louis Osman designed a far more futuristic crown, topped with a gold-plated ping-pong ball.47 The young Prince Charles – towards whom no one seems to have held personal animosity – first learnt of the Investiture while watching the news at his boarding school. Secretary of State George Thomas advised Charles to spend a term at the language laboratories at Aberystwyth (to the chagrin of several Cambridge dons, including A. J. P. Taylor, who seemed to fear that the ‘impressionable’ Charles would be subject to a form of miscegenation).48 There he learnt serviceable Welsh and made several speeches that year in which he promised to defend the Welsh language – including one in which he quoted Saunders Lewis.49 At that time, however, Lewis was in Cardiff Crown Court, attending the trials of several members of the Free Wales Army (FWA), who were dedicated to the overthrow of the monarchy. Due to the unstable social and political landscape of Wales in these years, it is unsurprising that the Investiture was a site of tumultuous conflict. The 1911 Investiture had been a triumphant expression of Edwardian Welsh nationalism, with the only dissenting voices emerging from the socialist heartlands of Llanelli and Merthyr (led in the main by Labour’s Keir Hardie). By 1969, however, the political allegiances had switched dramatically. Now Welsh Labour was emphatic in its support for the Investiture. Threatened both by Plaid Cymru’s political gains and by an increasingly radicalized Welsh language movement, the Investiture became for Labour’s George Thomas ‘an opportunity to fawn on the royal family and to lambast the nationalists’.50 These nationalist responses were diverse, however, and the Welsh-speaking community was particularly divided in its reaction to the event, ‘split between fierce opposition […] and qualified support’.51 Plaid Cymru refused to acknowledge the Investiture, perceiving it as a commemoration (and symbolic continuation) of colonial oppression. Owing to the monarchist sentimentalism among 77


many of the party’s older members, it nonetheless refrained from direct criticism of the ceremony and tried to distance itself from any association with the more extreme forms of protest. In contrast to such moderated opposition, Cymdeithas yr Iaith, the youth-led society for the preservation of the Welsh language,52 was openly hostile and its magazine, Tafod y Ddraig, became the chief organ for Welsh-language opposition to the Investiture. The founder of the Urdd (Youth) Eisteddfod, Sir Ifan ab Owen Edwards, was pressured to withdraw his support for what Cymdeithas yr Iaith’s chairman, Dafydd Iwan, perceived as their ‘ymlyniad [t]aeogaidd’, or servile adherence to the Crown.53 Several radical fringe groups, including paramilitary organizations, also opposed the Investiture with a mixture of publicity stunts, threats of violence and acts of terrorism. The FWA was perhaps the strongest in numbers, if the least harmful, of these organizations. They were joined by Patriotic Front and Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru (Movement for the Defence of Wales, known as MAC), both of whom advocated – due to London’s staunchly anti-devolutionary, even anti-democratic, policies regarding Wales – ‘direct violent action in seeking Welsh freedom and independence’.54 Much of that direct action was harmless: eggs were thrown at royal carriages, banana skins were strategically placed under the feet of marching soldiers, walkouts and sit-ins were staged across Wales. At Aberystwyth, a statue of a former Prince of Wales was decapitated. But there were more extreme responses: MAC was responsible for a bombing campaign that intensified as the Investiture grew closer. Several explosions occurred in Cardiff and more in the north: eventually a policeman was killed in Caernarfon, and two young men in Abergele died when a bomb they were transporting exploded (neither was directly affiliated with MAC). A final bomb was accidentally set off several days after the ceremony, seriously injuring a young boy.55 Notwithstanding this controversial reception in Wales, the Investiture received prominent support from English poets, many of whom held ‘national’ status. Cecil Day Lewis, then Poet Laureate, had long abandoned his communist principles by the time he composed ‘For the Investiture’. His lines are filled with the clichéd images of both landscape (‘mountain, pasture, cwm, pithead, / steelworks’) and people (‘proud and fiery […] thoroughbred for singing, eloquence, rugby football’) typical of much English verse on Wales.56 Although the poem acknowledges some of the tensions inherent in the ceremony, as the people stand ‘beneath Caernarvon’s battlements / to greet and take the measure of their prince’, 78


it also celebrates, in the figure of the Prince himself, the potential to resolve that tension: May your integrity silence each tongue That sneers or flatters. May this hour Reach through its pageantry to the deep reservoir Whence Britain’s heart draws all that is fresh and young. Over the tuneful land prevails One song, one prayer – God bless the Prince of Wales.57

Day Lewis’ choice of watery image was unfortunate. In Wales, the idea of the ‘deep reservoir’ was less likely to evoke a storehouse of rejuvenating youth than the 1965 drowning of Capel Celyn, the village in the Tryweryn valley that was destroyed in order to create a reservoir to provide water to Liverpool. With Welsh politicians powerless to prevent the destruction of this Welsh-speaking community, the event had given impetus to Welsh devolution through the formation of the Welsh Office. It later became a catalyst for the Welsh-language movement of the 1960s and resulted in an accelerated use of direct action over constitutional process by various nationalist groups. ‘Cofiwch Dryweryn’ [‘Remember Tryweryn’] became an evocative slogan for the nationalist movement – but it seems the Poet Laureate had not remembered. John Betjeman, future Poet Laureate, also published Investiture verse; apparently Prince Charles preferred it to that of Day Lewis.58 Published in The Times, ‘Ballad for the Investiture’ begins in the thinly fictionalized rooms of Charles’ Cambridge tutor, Henry Williams, where the Prince demands a poem: Then, sir, you said what shook me through So that my courage almost fails: ‘I want a poem out of you On my Investiture in Wales.’ Leaving, you slightly raised your hand – ‘And that’, you said, ‘is a command.’59

And so the poem continues with some of the most execrable verse ever published for a royal occasion, before concluding with a vision of Caernarfon’s spectacle: ‘You knelt a boy, you rose a man. / And thus your lonelier life began.’60 Betjeman’s adulatory focus was in no doubt. Writing to R. S. Thomas in the July of 1969, he claimed that Charles was a ‘winner of a person. Not handsome (like you and your glorious 79


son) but humorous, sensitive to one’s feelings, and obviously good.’61 Betjeman also sent Charles a hand-written copy of Thomas’ ‘Night and Morning’ (1946), a free translation of the traditional Welsh poem ‘The Walls of Caernarfon’, in order ‘to whet [the Prince’s] anticipation’ for the Investiture.62 The response of Thomas – perhaps the finest English-language poet in Wales of the second half of the twentieth century – to this gift of his poem to the Prince is unknown. It is notable, however, that Thomas excised the often-admired verses from his Collected Poems (1990). ‘Night and Morning’ had recounted the poet’s walk along the Menai shore during a ‘night of tempest’ that gave way to the morning’s ‘hush of heaven’ and a concluding image of ‘the sun slumber[ing] on Caernarfon tower’.63 Such a transition towards stillness and resolution differed significantly from the tone of deeply political verse Thomas was writing at the time of the Investiture. In ‘Reservoirs’ (1968), Thomas’ lyrical ‘I’ again walks ‘the shore’, but he sees there only ‘the English scavenging among the remains / of our culture’.64 In ‘Loyalties’ (1968), he looks towards the following summer’s royal spectacle: The Prince walks upon the carpet Our hearts have unrolled For him: a worn carpet, I fear. We are a poor People: we should have saved up For this: these rents, these blood stains, This erosion of the edges Of it, do him no honour.65

The poet returns to these conjoined images of Welsh urban poverty and royalist servility in ‘To Pay for His Keep’ (1974). Here, the Prince dispassionately watches ‘the perspiring ranks / of ageing respectables: police, tradesmen, councillors, / rigid with imagined loyalty’, as they stand in their ‘mean streets and / pavements filthy with / dog shit’.66 ‘A few medals’ is all that is required, to the Prince’s mind, to keep them in happy servility.67 But the poem ends with a more complex image of youthful martyrdom that contrasts sharply with the image of the middle-aged respectables. Unseen by the Prince, whose vision is obscured by the ‘dust raised / by the prayers of the fagged clergy’, is that 80

WALES AND THE CROWN Far hill in the sun with the long line of its trees climbing it like a procession of young people, young as himself.68

In that image of the trees beyond Caernarfon’s walls lies a hint of Calvary, suggesting the sacrifices made for the language by the young nationalists of Cymdeithas yr Iaith and others. In ‘To Pay for His Keep’, Thomas emphasizes a political, nationalist imperative to reject centuries of imposed (and accepted) servility. ‘Shame’, published in Poetry Wales (1969) but omitted from Thomas’ later Collected Poems, is more direct still. Dealing with the activities, arrest and trial of members of the FWA, it opens: This is the botched land, The land of a few Rifles and home-made bombs. The men drill in the back-yard Of the heart, march to a dead Music69

As the FWA frequently made clear, direct action against instances of English colonialism could take the most homespun forms. In a leaflet distributed across Wales in the months prior to the Investiture, they called upon all Welshmen to organise, train and equip, to arm themselves with guns, bombs, Molotov cocktails, grenades, pikes, bows and arrows, swords, bayonets, clubs, eggs filled with sand, flour and smoke bombs, nuts and bolts, sharpened pennies […] Stock them up and bring them to Caernarfon.70

The FWA’s activites were often mocked in the national press. ‘The world / laughs’, writes Thomas, at ‘the one-eyed marksman’ (Dennis Coslett) and ‘the commandant’ with ‘toy bugle’ (Julian Cayo-Evans). ‘But the law / puts laughter away.’71 Notwithstanding its portrayal in the national press, the perceived threat of the FWA to the Investiture was made clear when nine suspected FWA members were arrested in February 1969 as part of the British state’s campaign of surveillance, interrogation and incarceration. They were kept in solitary confinement, denied bail and refused visitors while they 81


awaited trial. The resulting trial lasted 53 days and was stage-managed to conclude on the very day of the Investiture. Rather than being drowned out by the pomp and circumstance of Caernarfon, however, the trial received almost equal coverage in the British daily newspapers.72 Few in Wales showed sympathy for the accused men – certainly not Plaid Cymru, which expelled any party member with FWA connections.73 In contrast, the 76-year-old Saunders Lewis attended the trial daily.74 In ‘Shame’, Thomas simultaneously recognizes, celebrates and eulogizes a political heritage of nationalist resistance in Welsh writers themselves. The poem likens the fate of the FWA members to the imprisonment of Saunders Lewis and fellow writers and activists, Lewis Valentine and D. J. Williams, after the three men had set fire to the RAF ‘bombing school’ on the Llŷn Peninsular in 1936 – an event known in Welsh as Tân yn Llŷn (Fire in Llŷn). It is notable that Thomas’ 1968 poem ‘The Need’ also seems to reflect on the ‘reputable men’ of Thomas’ own day: the ‘makers of verse, scholars, lecturers’. Ultimately, however, these men are without power, ineffectual. None of them will ever set a bomb alight or bring disaster on England.75

Both the activists of 1936 and those of 1969 were subject to England’s ‘iron clemency’. The final shame that Thomas reveals, however, is not that which comes of an imposed humiliation, but rather of its larger, passive acceptance among many of his countrymen – the ‘striped flag’ flying in Caernarfon’s tower, ‘advertising / a nation for sale’.76 At the time of the Investiture, the forceful political focus of R. S. Thomas found a Welsh-language counterpart in the verse of his younger contemporary Gerallt Lloyd Owen. A master of formal Welsh verse traditions, Owen – aged only 25 – won the most prestigious prize at the 1969 Eisteddfod for his poem, ‘Fy Ngwlad’ (‘My Country’). Addressed to Llywelyn, the last native Prince of Wales, the poem is a lament for an independent Wales and a bitter elegy for a lost Welsh identity. Written in cywydd form (seven-syllable lines of rhyming couplets) and utilizing the ancient concepts of formal sound arrangement known as cynghanedd, the poem is deliberately reminiscent of the famous laments written to commemorate Llywelyn’s death by the medieval poets of Wales:


WALES AND THE CROWN Wylit, wylit, Lywelyn, Wylit waed pe gwelit hyn. Ein calon gan estron ŵr, Ein coron gan goncwerwr, A gwerin o ffafrgarwyr Llariaidd eu gwên lle’r oedd gwŷr. [You would weep, you would weep, Llewelyn, You would weep tears of blood if you saw this. Our hearts in the hands of a foreigner Our crown in the hands of a conqueror, A people of sycophants With obsequious smiles, who once were men.]77

Later collected in Cerddi’r Cywilydd (Songs of Shame, 1972), ‘Fy Ngwlad’ satirizes the failings of the Welsh people to defend their language and resist colonial oppression: ‘Ni yw’r claear wladgarwyr, / Eithafol ryngwladol wŷr’ [We are the tepid patriots /extreme internationalists’]. Yet a transformation is evident in the poem’s final lines: Fy ngwlad, fy ngwlad, cei fy nghledd Yn wridog dros d’anrhydedd. O gallwn, gallwn golli Y gwaed hwn o’th blegid di. [My country, my country, you will have My sword reddening for your honour. O, I could, I could spill This blood for your sake.]78

As the poem’s addressee is transformed from the dead leader to the contemporary nation, so the blood that the dead Llywelyn would weep has become the blood of the poet’s political resolve: the poem concludes with a shift from historical lament to a call to take up arms. A comparison of the work of R. S. Thomas and Gerallt Lloyd Owen reveals that English- and Welsh-language literary responses to the Investiture were not always that dissimilar and that reactions to the British royal spectacle were not solely predicated on language use. Writing against the backdrop of widespread support for the Investiture generally and Prince Charles particularly,79 both poets produced verse that excoriated what they deemed to be the servile deference to the English monarchy by the majority of their countrymen. They allied 83


themselves, at least symbolically, with those who eschewed ineffective constitutional process for sometimes violent direct action: Owen’s ‘Fy Ngwlad’ promised a reddened sword with which to memorialize Llewelyn; Thomas cried ‘Shame’ on those who failed to support the FWA. These sentiments were not exclusive to two representative poets: away from the sophisticated forms of cynghanedd and Thomas’ brittle, bitter verse, they were shared by popular anti-Investiture literature in both Welsh and English. Throughout the Welsh summer of 1969 could be heard a ballad by Dafydd Iwan entitled ‘Carlo’, a diminutive form of Charles (and also a popular name for a dog). Iwan at this time was the Chair of Cymdeithas yr Iaith, and was viewed by many as the ‘unofficial spokesperson for all those who objected to the imposition of an English Prince of Wales on the Welsh’.80 His ballad lampooned the young heir to the throne and became the soundtrack to the anti-Investiture campaign. Its first verse and chorus is typical: Mae gen i ffrind bach yn byw ym Mycingam Palas A Charlo Winsor yw ei enw e; Tro dwetha yr es i i gnoco ar ddrws ei dŷ, Daeth ei fam i’r drws a medde hi wrtha i: Cytgan: ‘O Carlo, Carlo, Carlo’n whare polo heddi, Carlo, Carlo, Carlo’n whare polo gyda dadi.’ Ymunwch yn y gân, daeogion fawr a mân, O’r diwedd mae gyda ni Brins yng Ngwlad y Gân. [I’ve got a little friend who lives in Muckingham Palace81 His name is Carlo Windsor; The last time I went to knock on his door, His mother came to the door and said to me: Chorus: ‘Oh Carlo, Carlo, Carlo’s playing polo today Carlo, Carlo, Carlo’s playing polo with his daddy’, Join in the song, all you serviles small and large, At last we have a Prince in the Land of Song.]82

‘Carlo’ made Iwan, in his own words, ‘the most hated popular singer in Wales’, particularly among the Eisteddfod’s ‘respectables’.83 While it topped the Welsh-language charts for much of the summer, it was also 84


banned from many record shops – and Iwan’s performance of the song at the Urdd in May 1969 (which followed Cymdeithas yr Iaith’s staged walkout of a speech by Prince Charles given earlier that day) ended in a near riot.84 The song’s reach extended even into England. As E. Wyn James has pointed out, Iwan’s leadership of Cymdeithas, and ‘Carlo’ in particular, ‘made the general public outside Wales aware for the first time’ that a new nationalist movement was alive in Wales.85 Equally direct – and boisterous – were the English-language poems written by the activist and folksinger Harri Webb. Though formally different, the work of Webb and Iwan has much in common, even to the level of the poets’ direct affiliations with nationalist organizations: Iwan’s leadership of Cymdeithas, and Webb’s role as adviser to Gwynfor Evans’ Plaid Cymru. Webb was instrumental in Plaid Cymru’s decision to remain silent on the Investiture.86 In spite of his advocacy of a diplomatic silence (which extended to Plaid Cymru’s official newspaper, Welsh Nation, which he edited), his contemporary verse articulates a far from diplomatic response to the Investiture. In ‘Merlin’s Prophecy 1969’, written in the midst of exploding bombs and insinuated terror campaigns, Webb sardonically wrote: ‘One day, when Wales is free and prosperous / And dull, they’ll all be wishing they were us.’87 His ‘The Red, White and Green’ assembles an alternative pantheon of Welsh heroes, including St David, Llywelyn and – inevitably – Glyndŵr, more deserving of the hoisting of the Baner Cymru than the current Prince: There are many more names to remember And some that will never be known Who were loyal to Wales and the gwerin And defied the might of the throne. So here’s to the sons of the gwerin Who care not for prince or for queen.88

Similar is Webb’s ‘Song for July’, first published in the summer issue of Poetry Wales. Referring to Gerald of Wales’ tale of how the birds of Llyn Syfaddan recognize only Gruffudd ap Rhys as the rightful prince of that country, Webb has to ‘make do’ with the music of cockerel, lark, blackbird and owl: ‘For the Birds of Safaddan are dumb; / they only sing for the rightful Prince / and he has not yet come.’89 There were other poems by Bobi Jones and Alan Llwyd and Poetry Wales encouraged the submission of satirical odes in both Welsh and English.90 Later, the English author Anthony Burgess wrote a fine satiric 85


novel on the paramilitary groups active during the Investiture, Any Old Iron (1989). But the 1969 Investiture belonged, in many respects, to the poets – to odes and laments, ballads and folksongs, traditional forms and irreverent reinventions. The Investiture brought into focus many divides in Wales and raised difficult questions about the relationship of the Welsh nation and the British state and the nature of what could and should constitute a Welsh identity. As manifest in the cumulative response of many of its poets and poet-activists, however, it also effected a seminal, unifying literary response defined not by language but by shared political convictions.

A Devolved Wales and the 2012 Diamond Jubilee Ten years after the Investiture, Wales decided on its political future in the devolution referendum of 1979. James Callaghan, then Labour Prime Minister, was moderately in favour of the establishment of a Welsh Assembly, arguing the old Liberal line that it would strengthen British unity through the recognition of national diversity; in contrast, Neil Kinnock, the Welsh MP who would eventually lead the Labour party, argued strongly against devolution.91 Stalwarts of the nationalist movement such as Harri Webb, R. S. Thomas and Saunders Lewis each urged voters in favour of a Yes vote, with Lewis the most acute, prophesying that a negative result would precipitate a Conservative government that would close the coal mines, shut down the steelworks and submerge many more valleys: ‘there will be no Welsh defence.’92 The Referendum result was a resounding failure for devolution, with 80 per cent of the electorate rejecting plans for an Assembly. As Gwyn A. Williams wrote, ‘the Welsh electorate of 1979 wrote finis to nearly two hundred years of Welsh history. They rejected the political traditions to which the modern Welsh had committed themselves. They declared bankrupt the political creeds which the modern Welsh had embraced.’93 In the process, he concluded, they may ‘have warranted the death of Wales itself’.94 Much of that Wales did die away in the traumatic, defenceless years that followed. But by 1997, devolution was firmly back on the agenda. And this time, the vote – while by no means emphatic, especially in Cardiff, future seat of power – was in favour. For the opening of the new Welsh Assembly in 1999, the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Charles visited Wales together for the first time since the Investiture. They were formally greeted by Dafydd Elis-Thomas, who had once protested 86


against the Investiture ceremony in 1969 but now, after a lifetime in politics with Plaid Cymru, was the Assembly’s Presiding Officer.95 Charles made a speech in Welsh, demonstrating that his time at Aberystwyth had not been wholly wasted. But the Royal Family were now invited guests, not the focus of literary attention or public protest. This changed relationship marked a significant shift in Welsh figurations of its national, political and cultural identity. That changed figuration can be read through a brief consideration of Welsh literary responses to a more recent moment of British royal spectacle. In 2012, much of Britain was galvanized (at least by the national media) into celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. In comparison to previous occasions, Wales’ response seemed more muted. The parades did not take place, the parties were local affairs, even the anti-royal demonstrations attracted only a handful of interested participants.96 That year, Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet Laureate, edited a collection of new poems, Jubilee Lines, by 60 UK and Commonwealth poets to commemorate the Queen’s 60 years on the throne. Each wrote on a year that was personally significant and the range of poems covered topics both intimate and political, national and international. The tone, quality and similarity of the Welsh poets’ work is significant: all of them recognize in the nostalgic nature of the project an occasion to reject traditional historical and cultural narratives that mark the very sentiments of ‘Jubilee’. Rather than entrenching that rejection as a primarily Welsh nationalist response, however, they do so from a much more internationalist perspective. Dannie Abse’s ‘Winged Back’, an imagined recollection of 1953, opens the collection. In that year, Abse was a 30-year-old poet, completing his debut novel Ash on a Young Man’s Sleeve (1954), an impressionistic account of early years growing up in Cardiff in a WelshJewish family on the eve of World War II. His Jubilee poem revisits the theme of childhood interrupted by war. But in this poem, the childhood is imagined, the nostalgia affected: the poem casts doubt on the very act of national remembrance that Duffy’s collection (and the Jubilee ceremonies more generally) promulgates. The nation of this poem is thus an idyllic England of popular myth – a land where sweet-rationing has ended, an England of ‘few thorns’ and ‘fewer thistles’, where a young boy spends his summer listening to cries of ‘Vivat Regina’ and the sounds of ‘Compton and Edrich winning the Ashes’.97 The poem’s epigraph alludes to Noël Coward’s Private Lives (1930) to signal the inaccuracy of popular sentimental romanticizations of the recent English past. In Coward’s play, 87


Amanda famously remarks, ‘Extraordinary how potent cheap music is.’98 Abse’s epigraph reads, ‘Strange the potency of a cheap dance tune.’99 The effect of the poem’s ‘misremembering’ is to reinforce Abse’s theme of ‘an England that like a translation / almost was’.100 For Abse, this sentimentalized cultural translation of lived ‘national’ experience cannot – and should not – hold. In the poem, real history intervenes within this imagined England: from Compton and Edrich, it turns to another set of ashes – ‘Troy always burning. Newspaper stuff’; ‘Famine. Murder. Pollinating fires […] And the year 1953, like the arson of Troy, is elsewhere. Ashes.’101 Ultimately, Abse’s poem echoes the anger of those poets who had responded to the national inauthenticity of the Investiture. Like those poets, he continues to urge a contemporary political awareness rather than passive submission: ‘Statesmen lit their cigars from the embers. / They still do. With every enrichment / an injury.’102 He also, however, articulates that anger in a contemporary context now less emphatically defined by the necessity of figuring those politics in relation to the relationship between Wales, England and royal spectacle. This assumption is even more apparent in the verses by other Welsh poets in the anthology. Gillian Clarke’s ‘Running Away to the Sea’ contrasts misremembered teenage rock ‘n’ roll, James Dean films and torchlight reading with a darker world in which ‘Egypt, the Red Sea, the Bitter Lakes, Suez’ become no longer the subjects of school lessons, but sites of modern conflict and political awakening.103 Again, this political awakening is phrased in internationalist terms, where the speaker participates in a world marked by ‘tanks in Budapest’, ‘Sinai bombers on the move’ – and ‘streets on the march against war’.104 Like Clarke, Owen Sheers also contrasts two very different iconographic moments in his stark poem ‘2004’, complicating the nostalgic, celebratory brief of the Jubilee Lines collection. That complication is made even more overt in the poem’s refusal to engage with memory in terms of a national experience or culture. The speaker reflects on his having met an older Janet Leigh on the dilapidated set of Psycho – a reflection instigated by her obituary in the New Yorker. Like Abse, Sheers emphasizes the limiting, pacifying nature of culturally disseminated notions of remembrance and experience to imply a more vital political imperative. And like both his fellow Welsh poets, he also locates that imperative outside Welsh national politics. The poem dwells upon a second, remembered image of a horror that is very different from that rendered iconic by American celebrities and Hitchcock films. The 88


speaker contemplates the photographs published, by the New Yorker in 2004, of tortured victims at the US Army’s Abu Ghraib prison. In one of them, ‘a young woman again / her lips spread in a smile not a scream’, poses with her thumbs up ‘beside the prone detainee’ – ‘the new starlet of American horror’.105 Unlike Duffy’s own concluding poem on 2012, wherein she imagines herself as the Thames itself ‘gargling the crown’ as the ‘Queen sails now into the sun, flotilla /a thousand proud’, the contributions of Abse, Clarke and Sheers leave no room for the signifying importance of the Elizabethan image. By 2012, Wales and its poets had moved beyond sentimental affection for the royal family, not to mention a reading of its own national and nationalist history in relation to the British monarchy. In contrast to the wistful, insular and romantic nationalist paeans to monarchy of the nineteenth century, the focus of the Jubilee poems is anti-nostalgic, internationalist and politically radical. As such, they encapsulate a larger cultural and creative shift within Wales, where royal spectacle is no longer a locus and inspiration for the exploration of a proudly contemporary Welsh identity.

Notes   1


  3   4

  5   6   7

A notable exception was the prominent and influential radical Iolo Morganwg, the self-styled ‘Bard of Liberty’ and chief architect of the modern Eisteddfod. For a recent reassessment of his radical republicanism see Geraint H. Jenkins, Bard of Liberty: The Political Radicalism of Iolo Morganwg (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2012). Benjamin Heath Malkin, The Scenery, Antiquities and Biography of South Wales, 2 vols [1804] (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1807), vol. 1, 78. T. J. Llewelyn Prichard, The Heroines of Welsh History (London: W. & F. G. Cash, 1854), 86. John Williams (Ab Ithel), quoted in John Davis, ‘Victoria and Victorian Wales’, in Geraint H. Jenkins and J. Beverley Smith (eds), Politics and Society in Wales, 1840–1922: Essays in Honour of Ieuan Gwynedd Jones (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1988), 7–28:14. Y Genedl Gymreig, 21 August 1889, quoted in Jenkins and Smith, Politics 23. John Ellis, Investiture: Royal Ceremony and National Identity in Wales, 1911–1969 (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2008), 42–3. Richard Llewelyn, How Green Was My Valley [1939] (New York: Scribner, 1997), 301. 89

THE NEW ELIZABETHAN AGE   8 Neither the Coronation of 1953 nor the Jubilee of 2012 has attracted critical attention from scholars of Welsh literature. In contrast, while the Investiture and its political significance has attracted much attention – the most important study being John Ellis’ 2008 monograph – the focus has been almost exclusively on the social history and identity politics of the period.   9 These national cultural journals, key forums for political and cultural debate over the Investiture, had not yet developed at the time of the Coronation. Keidrych Rhys’ Wales (1937–60), the first major journal for Welsh writing in English, had been on one of its periodic hiatuses and its successors Poetry Wales and Planet – as well as the premier journal of Welsh-language antiInvestiture protest Tafod y Ddraig – had not yet been founded. Dock Leaves (later to become the Anglo-Welsh Review) was still a local Pembrokeshirebased literary magazine. 10 Violet Markham, ‘The New Elizabethan Age’, Listener, 28 May 1953; Philip Gibbs, The New Elizabethans (London: Hutchinson, 1953), 13. 11 Arthur Bryant, ‘Our Notebook’, Illustrated London News, 5 July 1952. 12 Ralph Griffiths, ‘Wales from Conquest to Union, 1282–1536’, in Prys Morgan (ed.), The Tempus History of Wales (Stroud: Tempus, 2001), 107–40: 139; and Geraint H. Jenkins, ‘From Reformation to Methodism, 1536–c.1750’, in ibid., 141–74: 141–2. 13 Owen Rhoscomyl, Flame Bearers of Welsh History (Merthyr Tydfil: Welsh Educational Publishing, 1905), 251. 14 David Jones, ‘The Dying Gaul’ [1959], in The Dying Gaul and Other Writings (London: Faber, 1972), 57–8. 15 Letters, The Western Mail, 22 May 1953. 16 T. Robin Chapman, Un Bywyd O Blith: Cofiant Saunders Lewis (Llandysul: Gomer, 2006), 308. 17 Saunders Lewis, Letter to Baner ac Amserau Cymru, 1 July 1953. Quoted in Chapman, Un Bywyd, 308–9. I am grateful to Katie Gramich for drawing my attention to Lewis’ letter to the Baner, and for providing the English translations quoted here. 18 Ibid. 19 Ibid. 20 Chapman, Un Bywyd, 309. 21 Lewis, Letter. 22 Jones, ‘Wales and the Crown’, in Epoch and Artist (London: Faber, 1959), 39–48: 43–4. In drawing on Helena, mother of the founder of Constantinople, Jones was echoing contemporary British scholarly and literary interest in the Byzantine empire, as discussed by Gossedge in this volume. Helena had been the protagonist of two roughly contemporary novels by British authors: Louis de Wohl’s The Living Wood (1947) and Evelyn Waugh’s Helena (1950). 23 Jones, ‘Wales’, 39–40. 24 Ibid., 47. 90

WALES AND THE CROWN 25 Vernon Watkins, quoted in the headnote to Dylan Thomas, ‘The Festival Exhibition’, in Ralph Maud (ed.), The Broadcasts (London: Dent, 1991), 245–51: 245. 26 Thomas, ‘Festival’, 247. 27 Ibid., 251. 28 For discussion of the 20-year development of Under Milk Wood, see Douglas Cleverdon, The Growth of Under Milk Wood, with Textual Variants (London: Dent, 1969). 29 Andrew Lycett, Dylan Thomas: A New Life (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004), 170. 30 Dylan Thomas, Letter to Oscar Williams, 22 June 1953, in Paul Ferris (ed.), Collected Letters [1985] (New York: Orion, 2000), 1003. 31 Wynford Vaughan-Thomas had joined the BBC in the mid-1930s and had supplied the Welsh-language commentary on the Coronation of George VI in 1937. He played a major role in the BBC’s much-expanded coverage for the 1953 Coronation – this time supplying commentary on the service in English. 32 Dylan Thomas, Letter to Elizabeth Reitell, 16 June 1953, in Ferris, Collected, 995. 33 Thomas, Letter to Oscar Williams, 1003. 34 Ibid. 35 Ibid. 1004. 36 Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (eds), The Invention of Tradition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983). 37 An investiture is for formal purposes only; the ceremony is not required for the heir to the throne to be made Prince of Wales. 38 Kenneth O. Morgan, Rebirth of a Nation: Wales 1880–1980 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), 124. 39 Ibid. 40 Herbert Asquith, quoted in ‘Welsh Hymnody’, Cambrian Daily Leader, 3 August 1914. 41 John S. Ellis, ‘Reconciling the Celt: National Identity, Empire, and the 1911 Investiture of the Prince of Wales’, Journal of British Studies xxxvii/4 (1998), 391–418: 393. 42 A. G. Edwards, quoted in Francis Jones, God Bless the Prince of Wales: Four Essays for Investiture Year 1969 (Carmarthen: Carmarthen Community Council, 1969), 83. 43 Ibid., 84. 44 J. Graham Jones, ‘Wales Since 1900’, The Tempus History of Wales, 210–44: 236–7. 45 Hywel M. Jones, A Statistical Overview of the Welsh Language (Cardiff: Comisynydd y Gymraeg / Welsh Language Commissioner, 2012), 11 (fig. 1); Colin Baker, Aspects of Bilingualism in Wales, Multilingual Matters (Clevedon: Colourways, 1985), 1. 91

THE NEW ELIZABETHAN AGE 46 Only 90,000 turned up on the day, however – just over a third of the number of spectators at the 1911 Investiture. Jon Gower, The Story of Wales (London: BBC, 2012), 295. 47 Douglas Keay, Elizabeth II: Portrait of a Monarch (London: Ebury, 1991), 236. 48 Ellis, Investiture, 192–3. 49 Prince Charles has continued to quote Saunders Lewis in several speeches on the Welsh language and the preservation of Welsh rural societies. 50 John Davies, A History of Wales (London: Penguin, 1993), 671. 51 M. Wynn Thomas, R. S. Thomas: Serial Obsessive (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2013), 106. 52 Cymdeithas yr Iaith was established in 1962 in response to Saunders Lewis’ seminal radio broadcast ‘Tynged yr Iaith’ (‘On the Fate of the Language’). 53 Craig Owen Jones, ‘“Songs of Malice and Spite”? Wales, Prince Charles, and an Anti-Investiture Ballad of Dafydd Iwan’, Music and Politics vii/2 (2013). Available at (accessed 1 September 2015). 54 Ellis, Investiture, 208. 55 Ibid., 234–6. 56 Cecil Day Lewis, ‘For the Investiture of the Prince of Wales’, Complete Poems (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992), 725. 57 Ibid. 58 Peter Stanford, Cecil Day Lewis: A Life (London: Bloomsbury, 2007), 305. 59 John Betjeman, ‘A Ballad of the Investiture 1969’, Collected Poems (London: John Murray, 2006), 380. 60 Ibid., 381. 61 A. N. Wilson, Betjeman (London: John Murray, 2006), 286. 62 Ibid., 286. The two poets had kept up an infrequent correspondence after Betjeman had written a highly complimentary introduction to Thomas’ Song at the Year’s Turning in 1955. 63 R. S. Thomas, ‘Night and Morning’, in The Stones in the Field (Carmarthen: Druid, 1946), 18. 64 Thomas, ‘Reservoirs’, in Collected Poems: 1945–1990 (London: Dent, 1993), 194. 65 Thomas, ‘Loyalties’, in ibid., 198. 66 Thomas, ‘To Pay for His Keep’, in ibid., 257. 67 Ibid. 68 Ibid. 69 Thomas, ‘Shame’, in Tony Brown and Jason Walford Davies (eds), Uncollected Poems (Highgreen: Bloodaxe, 2013), 73. 70 N.a., quoted in Trevor Fishlock, Wales and the Welsh (London: Cassell, 1972), 114. 71 Thomas, ‘Shame’. Denis Coslett, a former infantryman with the Royal Welch Fusiliers, had established the Welsh Republican Army in response to the 92

WALES AND THE CROWN flooding of the Tryweryn valley. He joined Julian Cayo-Evans’ FWA in 1965. He lost the use of his left eye in an industrial accident while working in a small coal mine in west Wales. Cayo-Evans, leader of the FWA, served with the South Wales Borderers, and saw action in Malaya during 1950s, in which British and Commonwealth forces waged guerrilla war with the military arm of the Malayan Communist Party. Cayo-Evans remained an antisocialist. He, like Coslett, was radicalized as a result of the building of the Tryweryn reservoir. For a recent account of the paramilitary groups active at the time of the Investiture, see Roy Clews, To Dream of Freedom: the Story of MAC and the Free Wales Army (Talybont: Y Lolfa, 2013). 72 Ellis, Investiture, 228, 299. 73 Luis Da la Calle, Nationalist Violence in Postwar Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 153. 74 Meic Stephens, ‘Dennis Coslett’ (Obituary), Independent, 21 May 2004. 75 Thomas, ‘The Need’, Uncollected Poems, 67. 76 Thomas, ‘Shame’. 77 Gerallt Lloyd Owen, ‘Fy Ngwlad’, in Cerddi’r Cywilydd (Caernarfon: Gawsg Gwynedd, 1972). My translation. 78 Ibid. 79 Gower, Story, 295. It should be noted that the editor of the conservative Western Mail was on the Investiture’s planning committee. 80 Jones, ‘Songs’. 81 The Welsh rules of initial consonant mutation enable Iwan to change the ‘B’ of ‘Buckingham Palace’ to an ‘M’. 82 Iwan uses the English word ‘[P]rince’ satirically – we do not have a new ‘Tywysog’. For a full translation of ‘Carlo’ see Roger Wallis and Krister Malm, ‘Sain Cymru: the Role of the Welsh Phonographic Industry in the Development of a Welsh Language Pop/Rock/Folk Scene’, Popular Music iii (1983), 77–105: 86–7. 83 Dafydd Iwan, ‘Dafydd Iwan’, in Meic Stephens (ed.), Artists in Wales 3 (Llandysul: Gomer Press, 1977), 38–44: 40. 84 Jones, ‘Songs’. 85 E. Wyn James, ‘Painting the World Green: Dafydd Iwan and the Welsh Protest Ballad’, Folk Music Journal viii (2005), 594–618: 604. 86 Ellis, Investiture, 195–6. 87 Harri Webb, ‘Merlin’s Prophecy 1969’, in Meic Stephens (ed.), Looking up England’s Arsehole: the Patriotic Poems and Boozy Ballads (Talybont: Y Lolfa, 2000), 74. 88 Webb, ‘The Red, White and Green’, in ibid., 72–3. 89 Webb, ‘Song for July’, in ibid., 74. 90 Gerald Morgan and Gwilym Rees Hughes, ‘Gwrth-Groeso ‘69’, Poetry Wales IV (1968), 3. 91 J. Barry Jones and R. A. Wilford, ‘The Referendum Campaign: 8 February– 1 March 1979’, in David Foukes, J. Barry Jones and R. A. Wilford (eds), The 93

THE NEW ELIZABETHAN AGE Welsh Veto: The Wales Act 1978 and the Referendum (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1983), 118–52. 92 Saunders Lewis, Letter to the Western Mail, 26 February 1979. Cf. Harri Webb, ‘Webb’s Progress’, Planet 30 (January 1976), 23–8; R. S. Thomas, ‘The Creative Writer’s Suicide’, Planet xli (January 1978), 30–3. 93 Gwyn A. Williams, When Was Wales? (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1985), 295. 94 Ibid. 95 Lord Elis-Thomas’ anti-royalist tendencies had clearly softened by the time he instructed Leanne Wood AM to leave the chamber after the future leader of Plaid Cymru referred to the Queen as ‘Mrs Windsor’. See also his interview: ‘How the Prince Won Me Over’, Daily Post, 2 August 2008. 96 ‘Anti-Monarchists Protest Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee Tour in Wales’, International Business Times, 27 April 2012. 97 Dannie Abse, ‘1953. Winged Back’, in Carol Ann Duffy (ed.), Jubilee Lines (London: Faber, 2012), 3. 98 Noël Coward, Private Lives, in Three Plays: Blithe Spirit, Hay Fever and Private Lives (London: Dell, 1967), 207. 99 Abse, ‘Winged’, 3. 100 Ibid. 101 Ibid., 3–4. 102 Ibid., 3. 103 Gillian Clarke, ‘1955. Running Away to the Sea’, in Jubilee Lines, 7. 104 Ibid., 8. 105 Owen Sheers, ‘2004’, in Jubilee Lines, 116.




The idea of a new Elizabethan nation that attended the Coronation of Elizabeth II in 1953 presented itself, according to Ben Pimlott, as the ‘colourful awakening of affluence, final parade of Empire’ that heightened ‘the association of Monarchy and Royalty with youth, modernity and hope’.1 And, in 1953, the American sociologist Edward Shils – on sabbatical in Oxford – recorded how he had ‘heard an eminent man of the left say, in utter seriousness, at a university dinner that the British constitution was as nearly perfect as any human institution could be and no one even thought it amusing’.2 Yet consider this later coincidence. The year is 1977. In her Address to Parliament in Westminster Hall on 4 May, the occasion being her Silver Jubilee, the Queen inserted a personal and controversially anxious passage. She observed that the complexities of modern administration prompted the feeling that central government – the term she used was ‘Metropolitan Government’ – was too remote from the lives of ordinary people. This sense of remoteness, she observed, had revived ‘an awareness of historic national identities in these islands. They provide the background for the continuing and keen discussion of proposals for devolution to Scotland and Wales within the United Kingdom.’3 While the Queen could readily understand these aspirations – ‘I number Kings and Queens of England and of Scotland, and Princes of Wales among my ancestors’ – she added a sentence that, unusually in her case, bound together the personal and the political: ‘But I cannot forget that I was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.’4 The Queen’s fervent wish was that her Silver Jubilee would remind people of the benefits that the United 95


Kingdom had conferred on everyone in all parts of her realm. Those remarks, albeit approved by the Prime Minister, were entirely the product of the Palace. Although they are taken to refer mainly to Scotland, it is important to note as well the Northern Ireland context. On her visit in 1953, the Queen had told members of the devolved Parliament at Stormont: ‘I am now even more closely concerned with the affairs of Northern Ireland, and I assure you that I shall always strive to repay your loyalty and devotion with my steadfast service to you.’5 The year is 1977. This is the year that also sees the publication of Tom Nairn’s The Break-Up of Britain, a book that was to influence, wittingly and sometimes unwittingly, subsequent reflection upon the politics of identity in the United Kingdom.6 His was one of the articulate voices conveying a mood that the Union as a multinational association was in terminal decline and that Her Majesty was right to be anxious about the integrity of her realm. Nairn proclaimed a radical transformation in which the component nations would develop their own distinctive forms of statehood. The former Chancellor of Scotland, the Earl of Seafield, famously had said: ‘There’s ane end of ane auld sang’ – meaning, with the Union of 1707, the end of Scotland’s sovereign independence. The ending here, and the auld sang, is taken to be the Union itself. In the four decades since the Silver Jubilee, the British question has revolved around the issue of whether the Queen’s wish would be fulfilled or whether Nairn’s prophesy finally would be realized. Reflecting on those four decades, the political philosopher Lord Parekh concluded that, some notable exceptions apart, ‘the British debate on national identity remains disappointing’, and he thought that this was especially debilitating at a time of profound constitutional change like the present.7 In his view, there had been a failure to differentiate between Britishness on the one hand and being British on the other. According to Parekh, Britishness refers to ‘national character’, to ‘the kind of people we are’ and to the qualities people are supposed to share, involving psychological dispositions and temperaments.8 Being British, by contrast, refers ‘to the kind of political community we are’, to citizens collectively, has an institutional focus and is ‘a matter of collective self-definition’.9 In short, ‘British citizenship makes it easier to be British but the two are not the same.’10 The relationship between these two things is constantly changing. This is an insight that complements Parekh’s judgement that ‘a community’s identity is fashioned in the course of its attempt to meet the challenges it faces at different times in history. Being a product of history, it can and needs to be redefined and revised periodically.’11 The same 96

The Elective Affinity of the New Elizabethan Nation

point has been made by others. Thus, for Gamble and Wright, the point is ‘not that Britishness is just about membership of a political association and identity or culture is about something else, but that the distinction is important. Britishness is about both, but they are not the same.’12 Both are important, but it is the nature of the connection that is crucial.

Our Way of Life In her broadcast following the Coronation on 2 June 1953, the Queen had already identified these two aspects of her inheritance. She referred, firstly, to a tradition of social and political thought that constituted the country’s message to the world, one that had ‘sprung from our island home’.13 That tradition was the practice of parliamentary institutions – ‘a precious part of our way of life and outlook’ – which she expressed in almost sacred terms as ‘living principles’. The Queen was conscious, secondly, of the cultural variety of her inheritance, local and global, and the term she used (in conformity with her Coronation Oath) was not ‘identity’ but ‘my peoples’ with ‘their respective laws and customs’.14 One contemporary public intellectual, Sir Ernest Barker – though a self-styled ‘mid-Victorian’ rather than a ‘New Elizabethan’ – had described the country that the Sovereign inherited as a ‘mixture of unity and diversity’.15 Indeed, the organizing committee of the Festival of Britain in 1951 had intended to emphasize ‘that diversity within unity which is an essential ingredient of our democracy’.16 The Queen had conveyed this diversity within unity as ‘our way of life and outlook’, which involved contributions in language, literature and action. For example, in her Coronation Day speech, the Queen integrated religion, history and duty in what can only be described as a providential vision of the country. It is this Whiggish view of the ‘genius’ of British history, an idea – to paraphrase Seamus Heaney – that faith and destiny rhyme that no longer persuades (as Nairn pointed out), even if its enchantment has been very difficult for political leaders to shake off. But the dimming of that vision does not necessarily mean the imminent end of the United Kingdom (as Nairn went on to claim). Modification, it has been well said, does not always entail dissolution.17 But what exactly is the relation between political institutions and cultural identity and how can we make sense of that relationship when we speak of Britishness? What is required of the student of politics is to understand how revisions of meaning between the two relate to changing historical circumstances. It is also necessary to meet the challenge that 97


Parekh has identified and to suggest a more satisfying contribution to the debate on Britishness. This chapter attempts to address these issues by taking the United Kingdom to be an example of ‘elective affinity’. It proposes that nationalities that elect to stay in constitutional relationship with one another display distinctive affinities and that this election and these affinities have given, and continue to give, meaning to the term British. Although it is possible to distinguish an elective and political character from emotional or cultural affinities, in practice one cannot separate them completely and it is this paradox of choice and naturalness that has been critical for the stability of the United Kingdom. In the words of Michael Oakeshott, a tradition of behaviour – and national identity is a tradition of behaviour too – is ‘a tricky thing to get to know’, but one could, by examining the ‘underlinings’ made in its history, grasp how a society ‘constructs a legend of its own fortunes which it keeps up to date and in which is hidden its own understanding of its politics’.18 Some parts of a tradition may change more slowly than others, but none is immune from change. ‘Everything is temporary.’19 Indeed, that very inconstancy of experience was the message of Norman Davies’ bestseller The Isles: A History.20 If that book was intended to illustrate the contingency of the present United Kingdom by identifying 15 preceding states in the Isles, it is also possible to argue for an enduring British identity. An investigation of such an identity, Oakeshott thought, would likely detect ‘a flow of sympathy’ linking past and present. For individuals, this would mean feeling oneself involved with the life of a political community and, on that basis, believing it important either to maintain it or to modify it.21 A sense of choice between alternatives is often complemented by the assumption of naturalness. That paradox is commonly observed more sharply by those who are outsiders. For example, George Santayana, though he appreciated the social qualities he found in England, never had ‘the least desire or tendency’ to become British.22 Nationality, he famously remarked, was one of those things like religion and love that were ‘too radically intertwined with our moral essence to be changed honourably, and too accidental to the free mind to be worth changing’.23 In other words, despite the experience of historical change there is also the historical continuity of what Kidd termed ‘banal unionism’, a ‘form of casual and unquestioning silence on the topic’ of British identity, certainly more noticeable in others from the perspective of Northern Ireland where it is impossible to remain silent on the topic.24 98

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Talking of Britishness in this way, according to David Goodhart (who provides a contemporary version of Santayana’s observation) ‘promises a kind of “essence”, and it lends itself to lists’ even though he thought there is ‘no essence or list, that can capture the variety of ways of life across the land’.25 Similarly, Dominic Head has pointed out the ‘empirical habit of cultural commentators who resort to lists of things that might define that national character by drawing together its disparate elements’.26 A simple listing of things, events, places and people can be the starting point for a more convincing definition of Britishness. Take, for example, Vita Sackville-West’s attempt to convey the mood at the Coronation of George V at Westminster Abbey in 1911: [The whole spectacle] blended together into one immense and confused significance. It is to be doubted whether one person in that whole assembly had a clear thought in his head. Rather, words and their associations marched in a grand chain, giving hand to hand: England, Shakespeare, Elizabeth, London; Westminster, the docks, India, the Cutty Sark, England; England, Gloucestershire, John of Gaunt; Magna Carta, Cromwell, England. Vague, inexplicable epithets flitted across the mind, familiar even in their unfamiliarity: Unicorn Pursuivant, Portcullis, Rouge Dragon, Black Rod, O’Conor Don, the Lord of the Isles, Macgillycuddy of the Reeks.27

This is a very Anglo-centric list to be sure, but it also includes obscure references to Ireland and Scotland. It specifies the institutional and the cultural, but jumbles them in no particular order of merit. The list today, one expects, would be rather different, and another person – especially someone who is not English – would probably have other links in their chain of thoughts (one thinks, for example, of the different thoughts in people’s minds watching on television the English vigil service at Westminster Abbey on 4 August 2014, marking the start of World War I). Nevertheless, there are four consistent characteristics that are worth mentioning. Firstly, those things that constitute the list are mainly concrete, rather than abstract, references. They may be random, but they are not without meaning. Secondly, the relationships are implicit rather than explicit, assuming a command of relations that allows one to feel part of a culture even if one is ignorant of a large part of the whole. Thirdly, if individual concrete references in the lists do change over time, continuity of association is also evoked. Fourthly, what remains the same is the sense of personal connection with, or standing-in-relation to, others in a political community. This connection can reveal itself in unexpected ways. For example, when she was invited to a garden party 99


at Buckingham Palace, Jean Seaton made ‘one startling, observational discovery. Apparently, if you ask several thousand women from every part of the UK to a garden party, they come dressed as a herbaceous border in full riot.’28 Seaton thought it was unlikely that the flowery ‘collective frock’ look would be repeated by other nationalities in similar gatherings: ‘When reaching out for a way to celebrate themselves, the ladies of Britain found a common language. It was a way of representing ourselves grasped unconsciously and all the more powerful for that – we belonged together.’29 It is correct to say, as does John Gray, that it would be absurd to describe such lists (or even such a collective frock) as an ideology. Rather, it is a shared practice or ‘a way of life in which people with different views of things have learnt to rub along’.30 To which one may add, as Scottish and Welsh nationalists do: ‘or may no longer wish to rub along together, at least in the way in which they once did’. From the starting point of the meaningful list, one can begin to identify the distinctive political character of the United Kingdom. It is a multinational, not a nation, state or what Linda Colley recently called a ‘state nation’.31 And she states concisely the challenge to manage that association politically. There is the requirement ‘to acknowledge and protect the partial autonomy and separate rights and cultures of the various countries and regions that are contained within the state nation.’32 Simultaneously, there is the equal requirement ‘to create and sustain and nurture a sense of belonging and allegiance with regard to the larger political community.’33 The concept of elective affinity may usefully capture this two-sided challenge and bring some intellectual order to the practice of listing.

Elective Affinity There are two sources of the term ‘elective affinity’, the first from the world of literature and the second from the world of academic sociology. Goethe’s novel Elective Affinities, first published in 1809, adapts the technical terminology of eighteenth-century chemistry to explore the personal forces of attraction, temptation and estrangement.34 The romantic plot, which witnesses a marriage broken up and new partnerships formed by the arrival of two new characters, can be understood in different ways. In McKinnon’s close reading of the novel, the difference is this: ‘Elective affinity may involve similarity (upon which the principle of “like attracts like” is based) or it may not (as in the case of acids 100

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and alkali); in either case, the attraction is clearly demonstrated by the “choice” that each makes for one substance over another.’35 Elective affinity, then, involves two related interpretations which can serve the purposes of political analysis. The first political reading involves a ‘thick’ connection between institutions and cultural identity. In Goethe’s novel, comparing the basic chemical substances of oil and water to ‘social circles in which we live’, one can imagine what is ‘most similar to all these inanimate things are the masses which stand over against one another in the world: the classes, the professions, the nobility and the third estate, the soldier and the civilian’.36 Even acknowledging those references to collective division and class distinction, it is equally possible to accept that such social divisions and potentially conflicting interests may be held together ‘through laws and customs’ which act like the ‘intermediaries’ in the chemical world, binding ‘those things which repulse’ and in which potentially antithetical elements ‘seek and embrace one another, modify one another, and together form a new substance’.37 The stability of that new ‘substance’, however, is never assured, but any tendency towards disintegration is mitigated by long-standing historical connection, political interests and institutional arrangements. This association presents itself in a familiarly paradoxical way. On the one hand, it has an elective character, the knowledge that its form is chosen; on the other hand, that choice can appear as a natural, self-evident condition. When that happens, one is justified, thinks Goethe, in using the term elective affinity even when speaking of chemical reactions, ‘because it really does look as if one relationship was preferred to another and chosen instead of it’.38 Socially, it implies a meeting of minds as well as interests rather like the engagement of lovers, in which very different persons elect to be together while at the same time believing that their relationship was always somehow meant to be. Politically, this notion of natural choice may be read in two ways. In the first case, affinity is assumed to precede, logically and historically, the elective. It is also possible to conceive the reverse relationship, where the choice of polity is about confirming one’s affinity. Academically, of course, the second most celebrated reference to elective affinity is found in the work of Max Weber. It was used frequently, albeit inconsistently, by Weber throughout his life, though most famously in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, originally published in 1920.39 What does Weber mean by saying that anything has an elective affinity for anything else? As scholars have consistently observed, he never provided a systematic definition of the concept.40 For some, 101


Weber’s use of elective affinity is more of a ‘metaphorical tool’, imaginatively suggestive of social networks where ideas (or identities) and interests (or institutions) happen to coincide.41 One scholar who devoted significant attention to this question observed the paradoxical character that it shares with Goethe’s novel, namely that the ‘idea of election implies that two independent entities subsisting separately somehow “choose” each other and thereby establish a relation, whereas the notion of “affinity” implies something more deterministic, a natural tendency of like to find like’.42 Put this way, Thomas thought the notion was hopelessly selfcontradictory, such that ‘any attempt to render it consistent will founder on some other aspect of the concept’ and ultimately that it was an idea not open to clear definition (for sociologists at any rate).43 Nevertheless, one can argue that its value is the intimation of a conceptual space that allows for interesting reflection on the ways one might relate together intelligibly chance and necessity, ideology and interest, commonality and difference. Similarly, Treviño thought that it was this very paradoxical character ‘with its strange admixture of agency and determinism, rationality and irrationality’ that made it a particularly useful conceptual tool for analysing periods of constitutional change – like the present condition of the United Kingdom.44 McKinnon has suggested that ‘sympathy’ can also convey a similar meaning to elective affinity, a suggestion that calls to mind Michael Oakeshott’s use of that term.45 Just as Oakeshott tried to avoid the simplifying terms of cause and effect in evoking this relationship, so too did Weber. What is evoked is an always unfinished composition of diverse elements, open to the possibility of break-up and recombination, dependent on ‘the context of enabling or prohibiting conditions’ and yet suggestive of more than mere historical accident.46 This actually opens up a second possible reading, one involving a ‘thin’ connection between institutions and cultural identity. Politically, this requires shifting the conceptual focus of elective affinity to the crucial intersection of self-understanding and self-interest. It can take various forms, such as shared institutions, formal or informal agreements, similar policy objectives, common commitments and personal connections involving ‘election’. Nevertheless, the attendant ‘affinity’ need not be confused with ‘affection’, and there is the possibility of conceiving of the relationship in rather different terms from a ‘thick’ relationship. On the old adage that states do not have friends but only interests, it is possible to conceive of arrangements being instituted and surviving because of strategic benefit rather than complete fellow-feeling. Convenience might become conviction for a while, but, vice versa, at 102

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some point conviction may be convenient no longer, as nationalists do argue. The specific value of elective affinity is that it incorporates both elements of conviction and convenience and draws attention to the fact that, in most historical instances, to stress only one to the neglect of the other is often to misinterpret the political subject. In short, advocates of continuing Union tend overwhelmingly to stress ‘thickness’ of the relations between the parts of the United Kingdom while nationalists overwhelmingly stress ‘thinness’ of connections. The political tension here is well illustrated in the debate within Irish Unionism throughout the nineteenth century ‘between those who saw the Union as a means through which Ireland could share the advantages of the British economic and institutional apparatus and those who emphasised Protestant exceptionalism and the Reformation as the keynotes of Britishness’.47 For the first group, the value of the Union lay in ‘shared citizenship’ and not ‘the lone distinction of race’ and it implied – literally – election;48 for the second, it lay in the living truth of the reformed faith for which political institutions were incidental. In this case, of course, the elective affinity of (distinctively) Ulster Unionism, with the prospect of Home Rule and perhaps ultimately an independent Ireland, was to hang together rather than to be hung separately. Moving forward a century and assessing the contemporary state of Ulster Unionist identity, one scholar put it this way: ‘It is evident here that their Britishness is not the result of them choosing to be British – as if before deciding to be British they neutrally assessed the identities open to them and weighed up their options.’49 However, he also acknowledges that they do ‘choose to remain British, for we cannot deny them the existential freedom to choose to be something else and take on a new identity if they so wish’.50 The Ulster case has frequently been read (by English liberals especially) to be outside the parameters of the British political tradition. Roy Jenkins, for example, reflects a widespread view in his convinction that the problems of Ulster ‘had nothing to do with the rest of the UK’ and ‘the real prospect and danger was of the barbaric standards of Northern Ireland spreading to the rest of us.’51 The case nonetheless reveals sharply the complicated relationship noted by Parekh between ‘being British’ (citizenship) and ‘Britishness’ (cultural belonging). Historically, the tension was also revealed in Scotland with narratives of belonging that emphasized, to use contemporary terms, either the ethnic or the civic basis of Union. The centre of gravity of Britishness, however, lay at a more interesting location, on ‘the vast yet variegated terrain which constitutes the middle ground between the extremes of anglicising unionism 103


and Anglophobic nationalism’.52 That location marks the spot not only in Scotland but also in Wales and Northern Ireland, although it was always capable of shifting. But what can be said of England? The former editor of the Daily Telegraph, Charles Moore, wrote that the word ‘England’ is a ‘poetic’ term, but that the word ‘Britain’ is ‘fundamentally a political word’.53 Britain evokes ‘an intricate network of institutions’, not the sort of thing about which writers wax lyrical, like warm beer or pleasing landscapes.54 Although he thought it is possible to distinguish between the political character of ‘British’ and the emotional quality of ‘English’, in practice for most English people it is not possible to separate them. Unlike elsewhere in the United Kingdom, there has never been the same tension in that relationship, and the distinction-inunion of these two factors has always been critical for the state’s survival. Because of the sheer size and predominance of England in the United Kingdom, the important thing for continuity in the state is not only that the Scots, Welsh or Northern Irish should feel comfortable being British, but also that the English do not separate their national sentiment from their political attachments.55 Or, perhaps less subtly, that they continue to confuse England with Britain and vice versa, the sort of thing that always annoys the Scots, Welsh and Irish. If in the English case the British elective affinity between institutions and sentimental attachments may smack of self-love, its significance for the whole of the United Kingdom cannot be doubted. Let’s examine more thoroughly this thick meaning of British elective affinity.

On Britishness It has been a consistent proposition of those who have defended the integrity of the United Kingdom that, without prejudice to the existing traditions of nationality, a new ‘people’ had been brought into existence by the Union. Here is a recognizable political persona – the British – that transcends but does not deny particular loyalties, and one that builds on much older forms of commonality and self-awarenness.56 The assumption is that for all their differences, the nations of the multinational United Kingdom complement each other. A classic example here is Dicey and Rait’s reflections on the Anglo–Scottish Union of 1707. They argued that it had ‘destroyed everything which kept the Scottish and the English apart; it destroyed nothing which did not threaten the essential unity of the whole people; and hence, and lastly, the supreme glory of the Act, that 104

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while creating the political unity of it kept alive the nationalism of both England and Scotland.’57 It was through representation at Westminster that political unity was secured and it was through the accommodation of diverse and distinctive institutions, practices and cultures that national identities were kept alive. In similar vein, Rose argued 60 years later that the United Kingdom could be described as a union of the Mace, symbolizing the unity of multinational allegiance, and the Maze, the complex constitutional arrangements which sustained national distinctiveness. What held the United Kingdom together, he thought, was a combination of shared history, common central institutions, the familiar political culture that arises from that history and the socialization that those institutions bring to both the political elite and to the general population. There did not need to be any great collective ‘project’ or ‘mission’ to keep the nations together, and the United Kingdom would be sustained ‘as long as all partners continue to accept the authority of the Crown in Parliament’.58 In such an association, the significance of the monarchy becomes evident. That significance is constitutional in the elective or political sense and it is constitutive in the sense of affinity or common identity. Vernon Bogdanor captures the first sense when he notes, in a riposte to commonplace criticism, that constitutional monarchy ensures legitimacy and not conservatism.59 Moreover, Bogdanor thinks that it is best that ‘this symbolism lies in the hands of someone without political power and without political history, for any head of state with party ties can all too easily divide rather than unite the nation.’60 Indeed, this question of legitimacy was at the heart of defence of the monarchy. Legitimacy is a prized political commodity because legitimate regimes, like the United Kingdom’s constitutional monarchy, are little affected by the policy failures of government. They are even little affected by the defects and lack of logic in the institution of monarchy itself. What counts is not the historical authenticity of claims to authority, but that authority exists and is habitually recognized: ‘Legitimate regimes prosper on enthusiastic expressions of loyalty, but they do not insist on them.’61 The enduring popularity of the Queen seems to speak in favour of that thesis. As for the second, constitutive, sense, it has become even more relevant now that, following devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom is explicitly a multinational state. If it were a republic, ‘a president would be either English, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish – most probably English, since the English comprise 85 per cent of the population. The Queen alone can belong, not to any single one of the nationalities comprising the United Kingdom, but to all of them.’62 To 105


take one minor but revealing illustration of that fact, the bouquet that the Queen carried at her Coronation provided symbolic expression of the Union. It had comprised lilies-of-the-valley from England, orchids from Wales, stephanotis from Scotland and carnations from Northern Ireland. Her diadem had incorporated the respective national symbols: roses, thistles and shamrocks. The Crown, like that collective frock, is nothing if not affined. Complementing these constitutional perspectives, and in an interesting cultural study of what he called the ‘Brit-myth’, Chris Rojek comes close to the sort of understanding that elective affinity conveys. For Rojek, Britishness is a ‘dialectic’ of myths of genealogy – ‘unplanned’ emotional attachments – and myths of intention, which are ‘calculated attempts to use manipulation, fable, or imaginative distortion to construct a view of reality that underwrites authority and power’.63 While this construction overplays somewhat the ‘invented tradition’ perspective, Rojek captures well how ‘standing in relation’ modifies the character of the parts so related. A ‘shared history makes it pointless’, he claims, ‘to argue that England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland consist of four autonomous elements’ if only because the ‘values of each nation in the union have been formed largely through their historical, economic, political and cultural relations with the other three’.64 Unfortunately, he identifies the wrong problem. He thinks of the British question to be identifying a residual: that is, a value ‘left over after account has been taken of the enumerated, distinctive traits of the four nations’.65 Britishness is not a leftover. It is a relationship both constitutional and constitutive and symbolized by the monarch. In the Scottish referendum campaign, the name of the coalition of interests opposed to independence – ‘Better Together’ – conveyed succinctly the spirit of elective affinity. If the ‘political union’ is one of election (after all, the referendum on independence presupposed that choice), the ‘No’ campaign stressed as well the ‘social union’ of affinity that that political union both underpins and by which it is also sustained. And at the launch speech of Better Together on 25 June 2012, Alistair Darling noted how, after centuries of common endeavour, all the ‘parts mesh together. Friends, neighbours, families – across borders – share ties that bind us together.’66 It was now natural. Certainly, Scots are proud of their own nation, but, argued Darling, they understand there is something bigger: ‘By contributing to – and benefitting from – the multi-national multi-ethnic and multi-cultural United Kingdom of the years ahead, Scotland’s society and culture will be enriched.’67 The echo of Dicey and Rait is unmistakable. 106

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On Nationalism The second, thin, political reading of elective affinity has less to do with common endeavour, the ties that bind or how things seamlessly mesh together, and more to do with the confluence of self-interest. This condition resembles what Goethe called ‘a natural necessity and indeed hardly that; for in the last resort it is perhaps only a matter of opportunity.’68 Nevertheless, he believed that such opportunity ‘makes relationships just as much as it makes thieves’.69 In contrast to the positive or self-willed character of the first, the association presented here is more negatively one of necessity. In this case, it is circumstance rather than choice that has brought the parties together. This implies a political marriage of convenience in which the element of election or choice is severely qualified such that affinities appear manufactured rather than desired, mutable rather than enduring, cynical rather than compelling. Indeed, the first couple around whom Goethe’s novel unfolds were formerly in arranged marriages, a situation in which neither party was happy or fulfilled. Nevertheless, experience obliges one to accept that, romantic assumptions notwithstanding, marriages of convenience can endure and do so as long as interests can be individually and mutually satisfied. If there can be honour amongst thieves, however equivocal that honour may be, there can also develop genuine solidarity, personal and institutional, amongst those whom chance conditions have forced together. Goethe thought that the most complicated and difficult cases are the most interesting: ‘it is only when you consider these that you get to know the degrees of affinity, the closer and stronger, the more distant and weaker relationships; the affinities become more interesting only when they bring about divorces.’70 This is so for the following reason. The laws, customs and institutions that appear in the first case as at one and the same time chosen and natural do not do so in the second. Here they are understood as mere political artifices. It is this self-consciousness of political process that makes this reading of elective affinity interesting because, in truth, no political arrangement, however apparently stable, is immune from the possibility of disintegration. This is especially the case in post-devolutionary United Kingdom, for devolution has the effect of transforming both the state and the nation. Here the artifice of the Union presents itself as artificial and so unnecessary. It is this double transformation that suggested to some that a divorce between the parts of the United Kingdom is inevitable. This appears most obvious in Scotland, and provided the hinterland to the referendum on independence on 107


18 September 2014. And, as Colley observed, the change in the last 15 years has been ‘not so much a rise in Scottish nationalism, as the emergence of a different kind of Scottish nationalism’.71 Unlike the ‘nationalism’ spoken of by Dicey and Rait, secure within Union, this nationalism intends Scotland to flourish outside Union. There are two aspects to this neo-nationalism and they emphasize different sides of a changing elective affinity. The first emphasis is upon identity. This conventional interpretation can be traced in part to a simplistic reading of Linda Colley’s influential 1992 work Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707–1837, with its use of the term ‘forging’ the nation, even though Colley subsequently warned against the uncritical acceptance of ‘authentic’ nationalities (like the Scots) versus ‘inauthentic’ nationalities (like the British).72 In the neo-nationalist narrative, however, ‘British’ has become an empty label while English, Scottish, Welsh and (Northern) Irish come to mean not complementary peoples but competing identities. This narrative has been a long time in the making but has become more insistent recently. It has been argued that the United Kingdom’s present condition is a ‘union state without unionism’.73 Primordial unionism is now dead, with the one exception of Northern Ireland. If by ‘primordial’ one means Orange Order marches, sashes, flute bands, Lambeg drums and bowler hats, or if one thinks that it can only be expressed in an Ulster accent, or if British identity is taken to exclude all other identities, then the argument has substance. However, it should be noted that unionism spoken of here is an ideology and not a relationship, a distinctive political manifestation rather than a representative set of cultural practices. And there has also developed the tendency to claim that British identity always lacked substance, being mainly other-defined and outward-directed (or imperialistic), that there has been a patriotic drift such that, after a brief British sabbatical, authentic allegiance has returned home to the constituent nations. With the end of Empire, the project of internal cohesion that the idea of Britishness once secured has been reversed. It is now impossible for the ‘intellectually impoverished and seemingly atavistic reassertion’ of Britishness to be successful.74 Thus, Alex Salmond simply reversed the claims of traditional affinity discourse, arguing that ‘when Scotland becomes independent, England will lose a surly lodger and gain a good neighbour.’75 Mutual warmth comes from benign separation, which is preferable to the cold house of the United Kingdom. But, as in Goethe’s novel, separation is also a reconnection, in this case with a love of Europe. The end of the Cold War and the spread of globalization 108

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have undermined the old British order. According to Nairn, now is the ‘springtime of victorious dwarves’ and no more convincing illustration of the new ‘sliding scale’ of statehood is the experience of how Wales and Scotland are ‘queuing up to claim their places’ in this emerging European – and world – order.76 As one historian reflected, it became common for some writers ‘to believe that “after Britain” is already with us or, if not, the break-up is advanced and will accelerate’ such authors writing ‘elegies or, alternatively, liberation anthems’.77 How very different it all is from the New Elizabethan vision of 1953. The second stress of this thin reading is upon institutions. As a contemporary German political scientist put it, the old British story – the one we find in the Queen’s Coronation speech – has ‘passed from being one of the soundest properties on the international ideas market (liberal, trustworthy, decent, first among equals, “Mother-of” this-and-that, Progressive, haven, etc.) to being a down-market left-over’.78 Some claim that the value of British institutions is purely instrumental, and even that instrumentality is now seriously questioned by the new identity politics of emergent nationalism. Those whose attachment to the state is entirely instrumental may make some minimal contractual sacrifices in return for the benefits of citizenship, but such ‘fair-weather’ patriots would not make for political stability. They would only be loyal to the half-crown and not to the Crown, as Ulster unionists used say about Irish nationalists: ‘Even though a modern state can afford a purely instrumental allegiance on the part of some citizens, it may struggle to sustain itself should such an attitude become widespread.’79 In any state that is a serious political problem, but in a multinational state it is likely to be fatal, precisely why the United Kingdom now struggles to maintain itself. An ‘elective’ without ‘affinity’ is a very volatile state. From this point of view, Britain is good only if it has good consequences. It may have had good consequences in the past, but it is increasingly difficult now to sell the old order instrumentally to a sceptical, post-devolution citizenry. To be British means only to share a set of entitlements, expectations and opportunities, a business-like estimate of individual and collective welfare. What that bargain involves at any one time is always open to re-negotiation, but those assets have now diminished and no longer deliver the returns they once did. If states do not have friends but only interests, then this applies equally to the territorial parts of a multinational union. Devolution represents a new bargain between the nations, but that very bargain makes it evident that independence for the component nations is no longer 109


unimaginable but desirable. In this reading, the trend since the Queen’s Coronation has been the steady decline of the state’s political capital to such an extent that its break-up becomes instrumentally attractive. In short, the argument is that the United Kingdom can no longer muster a sustainable identity, its institutional character is revealed as artificial and this artificiality is a fatal gift now that it is challenged by real nationalism in Scotland, Wales and possibly England. Yet when one considers the Scottish debate, it is remarkable how much of the elective affinity case remains. Nationalists attempt to distinguish ‘elective’ and ‘affinity’: Scots should elect to leave, but some British affinities should continue (one of which is the monarchy). Hence the concern they have shown to avoid describing independence as separatism. And so defined, independence means ending the political union, but also continuing a social union, a union of personal affinities and institutional continuities. One might call this a very British divorce. Thus, independence (as proposed by the Scottish National Party) would involve a number of varied and overlapping unions with the rest of the United Kingdom on such matters as currency, broadcasting, personal movement and social rights. The United Kingdom should break up, but the union as a set of relationships among people should not.80 In this perspective, independence is about building a new (non-surly) relationship on the basis of equality. However, this formulation merely inverts the question that nationalists ask of the United Kingdom. In this case: what is independence for? On 18 September 2014, the majority of Scots were not convinced of the answer they had been given to that question.

Conclusion According to Lord Bew, for much of recent history, the ‘consent principle is the love which dare not speak its name in British constitutional thought’.81 The example of Northern Ireland, which might have suggested otherwise, was often cited as an exception to the rule. The exception now is the rule and the referendum on Scottish independence confirmed it. Constitutional experts agree. Robert Hazell has formulated the five ‘c’s’ of the new constitutional order – consent, custodianship, constitutionality, consistency and confidence. The first of these and the last are the substance of ‘elective affinity’. ‘The most important principle underlying the Union is consent. It is a voluntary union’, and the nations comprising 110

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the United Kingdom are free to leave if they wish.82 Confidence means that the Union rests on much broader and firmer foundations than critics realize. The United Kingdom, understood as an example of elective affinity between the various peoples in it, means that different nationalities can elect to stay in constitutional relationship with one another and that this relationship also exhibits an affinity that gives continued substance to being British even if the relationship changes over time. To put that otherwise: multinational institutions can be sustained on the basis of consent, and that is the best and most durable way of doing so. However, this consent does not entail any fixed notion of what those institutions should do or what the relationships between them should be. The No vote in the Scottish referendum represented a positive expression of Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom, something unparalleled since 1707 (and never in the era of democratic politics). However, this active consent triggers a new dynamic for change. Despite the result of the referendum, those who believe in the inevitable break-up of the United Kingdom will continue to argue that history is still moving in their favour. Noting the force of that belief, Colley enters a note of caution: ‘As a historian, I do not believe that major developments and events in the future can be preordained, or are somehow inevitable. The past matters. But, in regard to countries and peoples, the past contains the seeds of many possible futures.’83 Indeed, it is possible to argue that history is not moving in a unilinear direction at all. Oakeshott’s exploration of the flow of sympathy in a political tradition convinced him that nothing is ever completely lost. There is always a ‘swerving back to recover and make something topical out of even its remotest moments’.84 In that light, perhaps the future actually bears resemblance to a road not taken, what Bogdanor has called ‘a belated triumph for the nineteenth century liberal and radical movement’.85 However, it is always a dubious exercise to put words into the mouth of history. The New Elizabethan sentiment of the Queen’s Coronation broadcast was that her Accession represented ‘not the symbol of a power and a splendour that are gone but a declaration of our hopes for the future’.86 Some commentators may feel that there is no link to be found, no organic evolution, between the Britain of then and the Britain of now, between the splendour of the past and hopes for the future.87 The truth is more complex and more interesting. Perhaps in these more cynical times that very British combination – that elective affinity – still just holds.



Notes   1 Ben Pimlott, ‘Monarchy and the Message’, Political Quarterly lxix/2 (1998), 91–107: 97.   2 Edward Shils, The Intellectuals and the Powers and Other Essays (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972), 136.   3 The Queen’s Silver Jubilee address to Parliament, 4 May 1977. Available at 20and%20broadcasts/SilverJubileeaddresstoParliament4May1977.aspx (accessed 1 August 2015).   4 Ibid. See also Pimlott, The Queen: Elizabeth and the Monarchy (London: HarperCollins, 2002), 447.   5 Gillian McIntosh, ‘A Performance of Consensus? The Coronation Visit of Elizabeth II to Northern Ireland, 1953’, Irish Studies Review x/3 (2002), 315–29: 323.   6 Tom Nairn, The Break-Up of Britain: Crisis and Neo-Nationalism (London: Verso, 1977).   7 Bikhu Parekh, A New Politics of Identity (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2008), 69.   8 Parekh, ‘Being British’, in Andrew Gamble and Tony Wright (eds), Britishness: Perspectives on the British Question (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 32–40: 33.   9 Ibid. 10 Ibid. 11 Parekh, New, 60. 12 Andrew Gamble and Tony Wright, ‘Introduction’, in Gamble and Wright, Britishness, 1–9: 7. 13 The Queen’s Coronation Day Speech, 2 June 1953. Available at https:// and%20broadcasts/CoronationDayspeech2June1953.aspx (accessed 1 August 2015). 14 Ibid. 15 Ernest Barker, Britain and the British People (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1942), 14. 16 COM/4/A/7 Festival of Britain Committee Minutes of 31 May 1948. Transcript of Statement made by Mr Gerald Barry. I would like to thank Dr Carol-Ann Barnes for this reference. 17 J. G. A. Pocock, ‘Gaberlunzie’s Return’, New Left Review v (Sept–Oct 2000), 41–52: 46. 18 Michael Oakeshott, ‘Political Education’, in Rationalism in Politics and Other Essays (Indianapolis: Liberty, 1991), 59–63: 63. 19 Ibid., 61. 20 Norman Davies, The Isles: A History (London: Macmillan, 1999). 21 Oakeshott, 63. 112

The Elective Affinity of the New Elizabethan Nation 22 George Santayana, Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies (London: Constable, 1922), 4. 23 Ibid. 24 Colin Kidd, Union and Unionisms: Political Thought in Scotland, 1500–2000 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 302–3. 25 David Goodhart, The British Dream: Successes and Failures of Post-War Immigration (London: Atlantic, 2013), 299–300. 26 Dominic Head, ‘Julian Barnes and a Case of English Identity’, in Philip Tew and Rod Mengham (eds), British Fiction Today (London: Continuum, 2006), 15–27: 19. 27 Vita Sackville-West, The Edwardians [1930] (London: Hogarth, 1973), 341. 28 Jean Seaton, ‘The BBC and Metabolising Britishness: Critical Patriotism’, in Gamble and Wright, Britishness, 72–85: 72. 29 Ibid. 30 John Gray, ‘A Mini Version of the Hapsburg Empire’, in Matthew d’Ancona (ed.), Being British: The Search for Values that Define the Nation (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009), 115–17: 116. 31 Linda Colley, Acts of Union and Disunion: What Has Held the UK Together – and What is Dividing It? (London: Profile, 2014), 10. 32 Ibid. 33 Ibid. 34 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Elective Affinities, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1978). 35 Andrew McKinnon, ‘Elective Affinities of the Protestant Ethic: Weber and the Chemistry of Capitalism’, Sociological Theory xxviii/1 (2010), 108–26: 116. 36 Goethe, Elective, 52. 37 Ibid. 38 Ibid., 55. 39 Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (London: Unwin, 1976). 40 See the discussion in H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (New York: Oxford University Press, 1946); and Anthony Giddens, Capitalism and Modern Social Theory: An Analysis of the Writings of Marx, Durkheim and Max Weber (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971). 41 Gordon Marshall, In Search of the Spirit of Capitalism: An Essay on Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic Thesis (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), 154. 42 J. J. R. Thomas, ‘Ideology and Elective Affinity’, Sociology xix/39 (1985), 39–54: 40. 43 Ibid., 46. 44 A. Javier Treviño, ‘Parsons’s Action-System Requisite Model and Weber’s 113

THE NEW ELIZABETHAN AGE Elective Affinity: A Convergence of Convenience’, Journal of Classical Sociology v/3 (2005), 319–48: 336. 45 McKinnon, Sociological, 108–26. 46 Ibid.,123. 47 John Bew, The Glory of Being Britons: Civic Unionism in Nineteenth-Century Belfast (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2009), 197. 48 Ibid., 109. 49 Neil Southern, ‘Britishness, “Ulsterness” and Unionist Identity in Northern Ireland’, Nationalism and Ethnic Politics xiii/1 (2007), 71–102: 88. 50 Ibid. 51 Bernard Donoughue, Downing Street Diary: With Harold Wilson in No. 10 (London: Pimlico, 2005), 253. 52 Kidd, Union, 300. 53 Charles Moore, How to be British (London: Centre for Policy Studies, 1995), 5. 54 Ibid. 55 Margaret Canovan, Nationhood and Political Theory (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 1996), 79. 56 Jonathan Clark, ‘National Identity and the Historians’ in d’Ancona, Being British, 131–140: 137. 57 Albert V. Dicey and Robert S. Rait, Thoughts on the Union Between Scotland and England (London: Macmillan, 1920), 362. 58 Richard Rose, Understanding the United Kingdom: The Territorial Dimension in Government (London: Longman, 1982), 62. 59 Vernon Bogdanor, The Monarchy and the Constitution (Oxford: Clarendon, 1995), 301. 60 Ibid., 307. 61 Ferdinand Mount, ‘This Sceptred Isle’, Spectator, 16 July 1988. 62 Bogdanor, ‘The Guardian Has Got it Wrong’, Guardian, 6 December 2000 (accessed 3 August 2015). 63 Chris Rojek, Brit-Myth: Who do the British Think They Are? (London: Reaktion, 2007), 77–8. 64 Ibid., 20. 65 Ibid., 19. 66 Launch speech by Alistair Darling, ‘Better Together’, 25 June 2012. Available at (last accessed 1 August 2014). 67 Ibid. 68 Goethe, Elective, 53. 69 Ibid., 55 70 Ibid. 71 Colley, Acts, 93. 72 Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation 1707–1837 (New Haven: Yale University 114

The Elective Affinity of the New Elizabethan Nation Press, 1992); see also Colley, ‘Mongrels Looking for a Kennel’, Times Literary Supplement, 10 March 2000, 7. 73 Iain McLean and Alistair McMillan, State of the Union: Unionism and the Alternatives in the United Kingdom Since 1707 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 256. 74 Peter Preston, ‘Freedom from “Britain”: A Comment on Recent Elite-Sponsored Political Cultural Identities’, British Journal of Politics and International Relations 9.2 (2007), 158–64: 158. 75 Alex Salmond, quoted in Douglas Fraser, ‘England Loses a Surly Lodger and Gains a Good Neighbour’, Herald, 21 March 2007. 76 Nairn, ‘Globalisation and Nationalism: The New Deal?’, The Edinburgh Lectures. Available at Doc/923/0057271.pdf, 2008, (accessed 1 September 2015). 77 Keith Robbins, ‘Review’, English History Review 120/488 (2005), 1096. 78 Roland Sturm, ‘Re-reading Tom Nairn’, Scottish Affairs 45 (2003). Available at Sturm.pdf (accessed 1 September 2015). 79 Andrea Baumeister, ‘Diversity and Unity: The Problem with “Constitutional Patriotism”’, European Journal of Political Theory 6.4 (2007), 483–503: 496. 80 David Torrance, ‘It Seems That We Are All Unionists Now’, Scottish Review, 2011. Available at (accessed 1 August 2015) 81 Paul Bew, ‘Britishness and the Irish Question’, in d’Ancona, Being, 255–63: 261. 82 Robert Hazell, ‘Britishness and the Future of the Union’, in Gamble and Wright, Britishness, 101–11: 110. 83 Colley, Acts, 152. 84 Oakeshott, ‘Political’, 61. 85 Bogdanor, The New British Constitution (Hart: Oxford, 2009), 310. 86 Queen’s Coronation Day Speech, 2 June 1953. 87 Peter Whittle, Being British: What’s Wrong With It? (London: BiteBack, 2012), xx.






The focus of this chapter is the strange phenomenon of ‘New Elizabethan’ England’s peculiar and quite distinctive sacralization of its past. During the immediate postwar period, when ‘Great Britain’ was usually understood as ‘England’ writ large, the nation’s past was not only remembered but routinely mystified and often imagined as having the power to perform something like the miraculous, regenerative function of God’s caritas or grace. The composer Edward Elgar captures the idea in what he calls the ‘unending charity’ of English history. Somehow, so he feels, the nation’s past is endless in the enabling surplus or grace it offers its citizens. London as a subject for his 1901 overture Cockayne, for instance, came to him as an epiphany: ‘one dark afternoon in the Guildhall’, looking ‘at the memorials of the city’s great past & knowing well the history of its unending charity’, he says, ‘I seemed to hear far away in the dim roof a theme, an echo of some noble melody.’1 Not only is the unending charity literal, that of the city’s institutions giving sustenance to the poor, but it is also spiritual, that of the city’s past giving life to all its people. The particular gift here is the vitality of the melody; the mystical nationalism only glimpsed at in Elgar becomes insistent half a century later in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The past is of the utmost importance, says T. S. Eliot in Little Gidding [1942]: ‘A people without history / Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern / Of timeless moments.’2 It is these enabling moments drawn from the particular narrative of the nation’s past that animate and sustain him in his contemplation of the timeless, the absolute and eternal: ‘So, while the light fails / On a winter’s 119


afternoon, in a secluded chapel / History is now and England.’3 For Eliot, the past is a means to an end, the experience of religious transcendence, but for many of his very secular countrymen and women it is an end in itself. My aim in this chapter is to trace something of the contours of this cultural phenomenon and to suggest why it lost its force. Let me begin with the man many considered the doyen of 1950s Elizabethan studies, the controversial Cornish historian A. L. Rowse. Rowse is especially interesting not only because he illustrates the phenomenon so well, but because he also suggests how problematic it could be.

Rowse’s Elizabethan Fantasy One of the most obvious characteristics of New Elizabethanism is its passionate, almost obsessive, engagement with England’s past. Nowhere is this more evident than in the popular, patriotic histories of writers like Arthur Bryant or Rowse. Rowse’s much admired book The England of Elizabeth (1950) is especially interesting.4 Completed two years before the Accession of Queen Elizabeth II on ‘Empire Day 1950’, it presents its postwar audience with an expansive and wonderfully detailed survey of sixteenth-century England. It is, however, hard to think of a work that better exemplifies the dangers implicit in Benedetto Croce’s dictum that all history is contemporary history. What Croce means by this is not so much that there is absolutely no access to the alterity of the past, but somewhat more subtly that whatever limited access there is takes shape in the present interpretive activity of our minds; and if, but only if, we lose consciousness of this, all we are likely to produce is allegory – thinly veiled stories of the present, impassioned and partisan.5 What Rowse produces, despite the wealth of information he offers, is an unusually personal allegory of a once and future England, a story of England awakening to greatness. After the Armada, after an ordeal much like World War II, as he insistently reminds us, England in the 1590s is reborn. This is not simply a political resurgence but an all-embracing cultural one. For we English, says Rowse, the Elizabethan age ‘will always have the dew of morning upon it, for it was then that our people passed, in a decade, to maturity and awakening, awoke to self-consciousness and self-questioning’.6 The phrasing very deliberately recalls the birth of Adam in Paradise Lost, but this particular brave new world, unlike Milton’s, is defiantly secular; it may be paradisal but it is fervent in its contradictory commitment to social hierarchy on the one 120

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hand and the dynamism of autonomous individual agency on the other. Taken together, these commitments suggest the peculiarly conflicted way Rowse interprets the charity of English history; in this, I want to argue, he reveals one of the ways in which English culture’s ongoing secularization of grace is both highly selective and deeply fragmented. What I mean by the secularization of grace is the way the religious doctrine, central to all forms of Christianity, but so emphasized in sixteenth-century Protestantism and so ingrained in both the intellectual and everyday life of early modern English people, does not disappear, but is metamorphosed into all kinds of pointedly non-religious forms of cultural surplus. Let me give you an example from Jane Austen, where the touchstone is once again Paradise Lost. One of the things everyone remembers about Pride and Prejudice is Mr Collins’ endless, obsequious praise of his patron, Lady Catherine de Bourgh: ‘he had never in his life witnessed such behavior in a person of rank’, he protests, ‘such affability and condescension’ [my emphasis].7 What is perhaps less familiar is that Mr Collins is inadvertently quoting Adam from Milton’s great poem. As the Archangel Raphael ends his visit to the domestic bower of our first parents, Adam thanks him with these words: ‘Gentle to me and affable hath been / Thy condescension’ [my emphasis].8 It is not only the co-location of the words ‘affable’ and ‘condescension’, but Mr Collins and Raphael both being unexpected dinner guests, together with numerous other Miltonic echoes throughout Austen’s novel, that makes the allusion so distinctive. What Adam means by ‘condescension’ is the extraordinary grace Raphael shows in dispensing with supernatural hierarchy and treating Adam and Eve as though they were his equals. Animating Raphael’s act of grace is a profoundly religious conception of ‘condescension’ as the essence of God’s goodness, the ultimate act of condescension being God’s sacrifice of his Son in order to raise us up. If we are to be raised up in Christ, says St Paul, then we should not mind ‘high things’, but imitating Christ in our everyday life we should ‘condescend to men of low estate’ (Rom. 12:16). For Austen, however, certainly in Pride and Prejudice, ‘condescension’ has become an entirely secular term, divorced from its Biblical context, simply a matter of manners and social class, ridiculed in Mr Collins’ aspiring pretentiousness, but genuinely admired in Mr Darcy’s noble lowering of himself in order to raise Elizabeth Bennet up to his own social rank and so effect ‘improvement’.9 Mr Collins is condescending in the most negative sense, Mr Darcy in the most positive, but neither is condescending in the Christ-like fullness of the way Milton understands it. Austen is such 121


a subtle and complex thinker that she may well be aware of the term’s religious sense, but in the novel its relation to God’s grace has been occluded and its significance translated into the secular terms of class discourse. For Rowse and many others, something similar has happened with the past. While history as an immanent manifestation of God’s grace in the world has long since disappeared, its providential quality, so I want to suggest, has been translated into the secular discourse of nationalism and so renews itself as a potent agent of regeneration. For Rowse, a man torn between his bitter working-class origins and his privileged life as a Fellow of All Souls College at Oxford, the past is anything but inert. The Elizabethan age, he insists at the beginning of his book, is alive; it is ‘all about us’, he says, just ‘as Elgar said of music: it is in the air all around, we have only to reach out and catch it’.10 It inspires him, so he feels, just as it inspired Britain during the war: ‘when all might so easily have been lost and the country gone down for ever to destruction, people turned for inspiration to that earlier hour, and were renewed and went on.’11 They did not turn to God or religion but to their Elizabethan past: ‘it has indeed never been forgotten’, he continues, for ‘it must have some secret for our people that cannot be put into words.’12 In 1940, in what Churchill called their finest hour, they turned to their earlier Elizabethan ‘hour’ and were given life. For in that hour, he says, actually disclosing the secret he claimed to be ineffable, they first ‘saw themselves in the mirror of their destiny’; like Spenser’s Arthur in The Faerie Queene, they first discovered who they really were.13 On the one hand, the secret turns out to be something very familiar; on the other, something rather more disturbing. At its most familiar, the secret reproduces Ernest Renan’s well-known explanation of how national identity is constructed. For Renan, writing in the shadow of the Franco–Prussian War, the nation is a principle that comprises two elements: ‘One lies in the past, one in the present. One is the possession in common of a rich legacy of memories; the other present-day consent, the desire to live together, the will to perpetuate the value of the heritage that one has received in an undivided form.’14 This heritage or inheritance constitutes the surplus or grace that, according to Renan’s great successor, Benedict Anderson, enables the nation to subsume religion itself and transform ‘fatality into continuity, contingency into meaning’.15 While Renan’s definition seems surprisingly conditional and inclusive, Rowse’s understanding of it turns out to be limited and divisive, bearing the imprint of his own fractured personality. In what follows, I want to compare Rowse’s vision with two other, much less mannerist or self-consumed imaginations: those of Michael Powell 122

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and Emeric Pressburger in their now-celebrated 1944 film, A Canterbury Tale, and then very briefly that of Geoffrey Hill in his 1996 collection of poems, Canaan. But first I would like to explain more fully why Rowse’s vision is so limited, and that almost inevitably brings us back to class.

Rowse and the Burden of Class Nothing captures the intensity of Rowse’s investment in the charity of cultural memory more pointedly than some of his diary entries. Shortly after he revised the opening of The England of Elizabeth in December 1949, over the Christmas holidays in Cornwall, Rowse returned to Oxford and experienced an Elgar-like epiphany. One Sunday evening ‘as I came out into the quadrangle’, he records in his diary, ‘[I] was suddenly seized: a thrush singing, Spring in the air, making the veins in the stone from the old quarries in the Cotswolds to tingle and my heart to stop.’16 The ‘subdued murmur’ of the city out beyond the college gates, he says, seems like a distant sea at the cliffs; here are my chosen cliffs, the dark arcade of the cloister, the darkening well of the quadrangle. The quietness of Sunday brings home this happiness of being alive, this sense of ecstasy, of savouring the moments as they pass, with this edge of propitiatory fear, the shadow of angst, that lies on everything, hoping that nothing occurs to shatter or disturb or even change my life.17

This precarious moment of transcendence or plenitude of being is attributed not to the power of God or Life itself but to the past, to the living stones of the ancient College, ‘my chosen cliffs’, cliffs considerably more potent than the real cliffs of his native Cornwall: it is no accident that he begins his book with a loving description of the College’s Elizabethan remnants – the ceiling of the Old Library and the bust of Warden Hovenden in the Chapel.18 Rowse’s diaries were, however, always written to be read by others; they are the secret love of his life, ‘my beloved Diary’, as he calls them in his early autobiography, A Cornish Childhood (1942).19 It is a measure of his solipsism that they are always there, a temptation to which he longs to return. They would reveal his genius; over the years their entries are re-read, studied, edited and re-edited. Not surprisingly, then, the epiphany of January 1950 is not as spontaneous as it might seem, but its central image is a carefully crafted 123


memory of Matthew Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach’, a poem that had haunted him from his childhood.20 In Arnold’s poem, the cliffs, ‘glimmering and vast’, stand on guard for England, a futile barrier against a world losing its faith, like the ‘grating roar’ of the ebbing tide, a world whose promise of all coherence, continuity and meaning, not just religious faith, is illusory, a world of growing disorder where ‘ignorant armies clash by night’.21 In Rowse’s epiphany, the cliffs, even as they are invoked, are equally defeated. His ‘chosen cliffs’, the cultural memory whose unending charity is epitomized in the College cloisters, the promise of national continuity and meaning they are supposed to signify, is subverted by Rowse’s recurring antipathies, more than anything else by his contempt for those he left behind him in Cornwall, those whom in unrestrained outbursts the former socialist calls the ‘idiot people’, the unintelligent, the uncultured and especially the bourgeois religious. Even in his Elizabethan masterpiece, his contempt for the Chapelgoers of his childhood, for ‘the Wesleyan Chapel, that temple of the worship of money and success’,22 can be felt in his caricature treatment of sixteenth-century Puritans. He sees no difference between the two groups; the alterity of the past disappears and both groups are homogenized as a timeless type, irrational, self-satisfied and somehow profoundly un-English: in their extremism, he insinuates, they rarely exhibit ‘an English fairness of mind’ or ‘gentleness of temperament’.23 In their boldness or rather insolence, one also catches, he knowingly confides, ‘that smugness which is the characteristic smell of Nonconformity’.24 He shows neither the ability nor the grace to enter imaginatively into the lives of these people either then or in the present. Most importantly and with considerable irony, Rowse insists that the Puritans are without any real interest in either the otherworldly or history. The religious extremism of the ‘loathsome Luther’ has little to do with God’s grace but everything to do with a moral earnestness that merely masks an inordinate will to power.25 It contaminates women as much as men; there is no difference; even in a book about Elizabeth I, Rowse seems surprisingly uninterested in gender. The Puritans’ lack of any ‘historic sense’26 is as important as it is because in their self-proclaimed obsession with prevenient grace, they deny themselves access to the real grace, the secular grace of cultural memory, and so exclude themselves from the national community. Rowse’s once and future New Elizabethan England is full of those who are to be ignored or actively excluded, and in this it is not difficult to sense a certain kind of self-loathing. In his autobiography, Rowse describes how he once played the role of Shakespeare’s Malvolio in a school play. Much as he despised the 124

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character’s Puritanism, he found himself identifying with the upwardly mobile steward’s sense of alienation. Sir Toby Belch’s famous question – ‘Dost thou think because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?’ – produces the most intense sense of resentment in him: ‘Other people had their fun’, says Rowse, but ‘for me there was [only] the ceaseless strain of effort, ambition, work for distant objectives.’27 Class and the struggle to transcend it turns him against his own people and by the time he wrote England he has learned to love his fetters: ‘the hierarchical nature of that society’ was not a bad thing, he informs us; it was in fact ‘no bar, but a stimulus to creative achievement; authority, by setting bounds, gave form and channel to those energies […] ambition was admired, genius and greatness of spirit adored.’28 The more he writes, the more he sounds like the real Malvolio. This class-driven sense of alienation distorts any attempt on the part of Rowse and many others to imagine a New Elizabethan nation with any of the inclusive idealism of Renan or Anderson. The cryptic Latin epigraph for England, a quotation from the Psalms in the Vulgate, says nothing until it is re-read in the English of the Authorized Version; then it says everything about how wretchedly twisted his class struggle has made him: ‘Deliver me out of the mire, and let me not sink: let me be delivered from them that hate me’ (Ps. 69:13–14). One of those who came to hate Rowse, his upper-class colleague Hugh Trevor-Roper, considered the autobiography full of ‘shrill, vulgar, boastful, hysterical, over-dramatised, and often irrelevant outbursts’ and his vision of England itself, as he told Rowse in a private letter, full of ‘crudities’ in both ‘thought and expression’.29 For Trevor-Roper, Rowse came to represent a particularly ‘absurd’ or distasteful example of Evelyn Waugh’s lower-class Age of Hooper. After Rowse, despised and despising, Powell and Pressburger’s Canterbury Tale seems to belong to a different world. Although it shares the same sense of the past’s gifts, it seems both more genuinely charitable and more authentic in its willingness to confront the issues Rowse either could not or would not see.

Technology and a New Chaucerian England The central character of Powell and Pressburger’s film seems at first a lot like Rowse – learned, authoritarian, consumed with the past and full of prejudice. Thomas Colpeper, a gentleman farmer and local magistrate in the idyllic village of Chillingbourne just outside Canterbury, is presented 125


as a man with a mission. Not only does he want people to see the beauty around them, but he desperately wants them to understand its continuity with the past. Just like Rowse, he wants them to feel the life-giving energy immanent in England’s history – not now in an ancient Oxford College, but in the Pilgrim’s Way, the old road that leads to Canterbury Cathedral. As the story progresses, however, Colpeper appears less and less like Rowse. Played with great authority by Eric Portman, he becomes increasingly enigmatic and takes on the qualities of a magus, Prospero, Oberon, Puck of Pook’s Hill, or someone less definable. Over and again he intimates that continuity with the past is magical, a source of life-giving grace. He believes in miracles. The blessings Chaucer’s pilgrims had only hoped to gain from St Thomas Becket are readily available to all those who hear him – not from God or his martyrs, but from understanding and sharing in a timeless communion with the pilgrims themselves. This argument is triumphantly and movingly realized in the fate of the three modern-day pilgrims who fall under Colpeper’s influence, young people all caught up in the war – one an English sergeant, one an American sergeant and the third a volunteer in the Woman’s Land Army. When the story begins, despite their youth and exuberance, all three feel they have lost something: the English sergeant his vocation as a serious musician, the American his home and contact with his girlfriend, and most importantly, the young woman her fiancé, a pilot killed in action. By the end of story, all three are blessed, but this happens only after Colpeper himself has changed and his Rowse-like prejudices have been exorcized. The class antipathies that so disfigure Rowse’s vision of England are met head-on in the film with a number of very specific devices deployed to erase or ameliorate them. Like the environment of Chaucer’s pilgrims, the world of Chillingbourne is imagined as a community where the distance between highest and lowest receives little or no emphasis; it is a farming community where everyone knows each other and where everyone including its magistrate labours, often quite literally, in the fields. It is a place of peace, but alive with rhythm and energy. From the evidence of his reading material, Colpeper is a forward-looking organic farmer, a mountaineer, adventurous and sensitive long before his time to ecological issues. There is no aristocracy in Chillingbourne; no castles, grand houses, or Downton Abbeys. Besides Colpeper’s modest countryhouse, the focus is on the loci of community: the church, the railway station, the village hall and the local pub. Most strikingly for a wartime movie, there are no officers, only sergeants. The English sergeant played by Dennis Price with his sharp, upper-class accent is no senior to his 126

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friend the American sergeant from rural Oregon, or the working-class sergeant who maintains the platoon’s Bren gun carriers, or the village police sergeant with his Kentish accent, or the stiff Guards sergeant who has a relative in Montana, or the camera-toting Polish-American sergeant who has learned to love tea. The rank of sergeant is highlighted at the beginning of the film with a running joke about the way American NCOs wear their chevrons upside down. But this difference only emphasizes solidarity; the rank of sergeant is imagined as a kind of tea-drinking confraternity or union, an open space where all the engaged and leaderly, whatever their origin and including the land girl, can enter and find common ground in dialogue. When the land girl, a former shop assistant, confesses to Colpeper that her fiancé’s father had opposed their match on the grounds of class, the actress Sylvia Sim’s upper-class accent, however inadvertently, renders the objection absurd. The film capitalizes on this contingency as Colpeper remarks that the war has made considerations such as class obsolete or ‘dilapidated’. The film shows no desire to idealize social hierarchy, only a sense that the war is an ‘earthquake’ that might allow us to recover a better, Chaucerian version of ourselves, just as the bomb damage in Canterbury allows us to see the Cathedral as if for the first time. The quality of the film is evident in the wealth of first-class criticism it has elicited, especially since it was re-released in 1977. In one recent essay, for instance, Ian Christie excavates the underlying structure of the film’s origins in the imperatives of wartime propaganda.30 Besides its fundamental insistence on the obsolescence of class, three patterns are clearly visible. First, the film is meant to improve Anglo-American relations; second, to validate the role of women in the war; third, to articulate the enduring values for which the war was being fought. The greatness of the film lies in the way it transcends its origins and transmutes propaganda into something that seems meant to go beyond art. The key to the film is faith, and its focus is the relationship between Alison the land girl and Colpeper. When the American sergeant Bob confesses his sense of dislocation and despairs of his girlfriend back home for not writing, Alison encourages him to believe in her constancy, the kind of constancy she herself exemplifies. The implication of this scene for serving men and women everywhere is crucial – I know it would have been for my own father, in May 1944 when the film was first shown, a sergeant on his way to the Gothic line in Italy – for it speaks directly to the aching desire of servicemen and women to believe that their loved ones would remain faithful. Alison is so-called for a number of reasons, but one of 127


them is that in her constancy she redeems the wanton or ‘likerous’ Alison of ‘The Miller’s Tale’.31 Her effect on Colpeper is striking. The focus of Colpeper’s resentment is not class but gender, and the action of the film is triggered by his misogyny. When the film opens, he is consumed by contempt for young women as frivolous, incapable of serious work and a distraction from the great work of the war, not in defeating the Germans but in creating a new national community organically linked to the old at its best. It is an indication of how Rowse-like he can be that his opening words are a comment in praise of the past at its worst – the medieval ducking stool, he says, was ‘a very sensible instrument for silencing talkative women’.32 It is this sense of women as a distraction that precipitates his bizarre plan to keep young women indoors by surreptitiously pouring glue on their hair if they should venture out after dark. Alison is the most important of his victims. The three young people bond in their efforts to discover the identity of the ‘glue-man’, and as Alison interviews other victims, we discover the central if hardly known role of women in running the community and by inference the nation at war. They supply farm managers, agricultural labourers, publicans, bus conductors, mail carriers and railway workers – they are strong, confident, disciplined and capable. Alison is also so named because in her vitality and her willingness to work and take the lead, she recreates a chaste version of Alison, the Wife of Bath. Colpeper becomes increasingly drawn to her. Her intelligence, moral gravitas and kindness (what Milton would call her ‘sweet attractive grace’),33 all epitomized in her loyalty to her dead lover and the historic past they once laboured to recover in an archaeological dig, transforms the magistrate. Only after Colpeper has come to understand her faith does he fully announce his belief in miracles. On the Pilgrim’s Way, on Chillingbourne Hill, as Alison and Colpeper contemplate Canterbury in the distance, the film begins to develop its theme of grace as reciprocal gift-giving. It offers its audience an annunciation. The hymn that echoes throughout the film is the medieval carol Angelus ad Virginem: the angel spoke to the virgin, that is, the archangel Gabriel announced the coming covenant of grace. In ‘The Miller’s Tale’, it is the hymn the profane, ‘hende’ Nicholas sings in church to attract the attention of Alison the Reeve’s wife, but here it is restored to its original significance and redeemed in the counsel of hope Colpeper offers Alison the land girl. The climax of the film is the last brief train journey from Chillingbourne to Canterbury. In the railway carriage, the three friends confront and sit in judgment on the magistrate. Colpeper the repentant glue-man asks for their forgiveness, but he does so in such a way that makes it difficult not 128

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to feel that it is in fact they, the friends, who are really on trial. Peter, the English sergeant, proves the most hard-hearted, insisting on justice and the police. The train enters a tunnel, and in the darkness Colpeper appears to pray. When they arrive at Canterbury, Peter continues to declare his resolve, his lack of interest in mercy or pilgrimages, whether for penance or blessings. When Colpeper counters with the thought that he may not be the object but the unwitting agent of grace, he laughs: ‘I’ll believe that when I see a halo around my head.’ As he says these words, as if to emphasize the indifference of grace to all human agency, there is an epiphany: there is, in Peter Conrad’s words, ‘a sudden, blinding contre-jour glare behind him, which obliterates his body and surrounds it with white, hissing fire: the sun supplies him with a nimbus.’34 From this startling, epiphanic moment, the blessings flow freely. Bob the American sergeant discovers that his girlfriend has not deserted him but put on the whole armour of the cause and joined the Women’s Army Corps; Alison discovers that her fiancé is not dead but restored to life, rescued, alive and well in Gibraltar; Peter discovers that he has not lost his vocation but still has the skill to play Bach on the great organ in Canterbury Cathedral. The Cathedral is a sacred space that represents the enduring values for which the war is being fought; Colpeper is forgiven, Peter’s self-righteousness eclipsed and the emphasis on the Cathedral’s cedar wood-work suggests how it is being re-imagined as the Biblical Temple to which all the blessed are being gathered. The temptation is to read A Canterbury Tale as though it were truly religious, a filmic counterpart to T. S. Eliot’s poem of the same year, the complete Four Quartets, but all the blessings are secular, simply natural contingencies or accidents, however carefully orchestrated. The film is hard to resist, but the real agent of grace is not the divine but the Prospero-like film-maker and the technology of the camera. It is this machine, so superior to Prospero’s books of magic, that produces the miracles of light and so, says Powell, ‘engineers transcendence’.35 It is the magic realism of film that brings the past back to life – that gives Alison her fiancé, the aptly named Geoffrey, and us our new Chaucer. In this, we come close to the heart of the New Elizabethan moment – modern technology in the service of the past, recreating the future in the demanding image of an extraordinarily powerful cultural memory, determined to maintain the permanence or continuity of the national culture, determined that the future should not be, what present-day global corporations, banks like HSBC, now promise us; that is, that the future should not be ‘nothing like the past’.36 129


If Powell and Pressburger are far more effective in their inclusive charity than Rowse, their New Elizabethan commitment to the past is rendered untenable in the poetry of Geoffrey Hill. In 1985, Tom Paulin accused Hill of being wedded to a ‘blood and soil’ past: nostalgic, reactionary and ultimately fascist.37 Nothing could be further from the truth, for much as he appears to love and be enabled by England’s cultural past, Hill also feels it as a burden, something that both enrages him and from which he struggles to escape. Like Jim Prideaux in John Le Carré’s great reworking of Kipling’s Jungle Book in his novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Hill seems like a man who ‘had had a great attachment that had failed him and that he longed to replace’.38

Churchill’s Funeral and the Burden of the Past Hill begins his elegy, ‘Churchill’s Funeral’, one of the key poems in his 1996 book, Canaan, with the words of Elgar’s epiphany as its epitaph: ‘one dark day in the Guildhall: Looking at the memorials of the city’s great past & knowing well the history of its unending charity, I seemed to hear far away in the dim roof a theme, an echo of some noble melody.’39 The unending charity of London’s past may inspire Elgar, but Hill, unlike Rowse or Powell and Pressburger, is having none of it: ‘Endless London / mourns for that knowledge’, he says, ‘under dim roofs / of smoke-stained glass.’40 As they mourn for Churchill, the endless columns mourn for that late Victorian confidence in the grace that the city and the nation’s past is supposed to offer them. As the poem mourns Churchill, it also rebukes him. The ‘dim roofs’ with their emphasis on ‘smoke stained glass’ bear witness to London’s oppression and the tragic fallacy of Churchill’s and indeed Renan’s idealistic nationalism.41 The problem is that if cultural memory is to afford the grace or charity it claims, it has to be ruthlessly selective. ‘Forgetting’, says Renan, or indeed ‘historical error, is a crucial factor in the creation of a nation, which is why progress in historical studies often constitutes a [real] danger for [the principle of] nationality.’42 Most importantly, historical inquiry brings to light what needs to be forgotten or suppressed – the injustice, oppression, brutality and terrible violence on which national communities are so often built. This forgetting is what Hill and so many other postwar British people cannot do. It is what makes them resist the siren songs of New Elizabethan historians like Rowse or even more painfully the great art of 130

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Powell and Pressburger. Conrad is acute in recognizing A Canterbury Tale as a masterpiece, ‘a precious and beautiful testament to its time’, he says, ‘a hymn addressed to the beleaguered, impassive landscape of England and its sempiternal literature’.43 But as an accurate account of things, as a pragmatic design for how we should live, it requires too much forgetting. The bomb damage that allows us to see Canterbury Cathedral as if for the first time comes at a cost that cannot be occluded. For this reason, when Hill hears Elgar’s epiphany, what he hears is not a noble melody but something infinitely less, a cheap tune ‘that goes something like this’.44 The bathos is devastating. What the poem offers is not the memory of unending charity but catastrophe – two world wars and the grinding poverty that reaches back to Blake’s London. Eliot’s representation of the Blitz as the Pentecostal fire of God’s grace, the descent of the dove, is made to seem complacent and is confounded in Hill’s appeal to the ‘mangled voices’ of its victims and to Blake’s Los brooding over the city ‘low bended in anger’.45 Even more unrelenting, un-reconciling is ‘Canaan’ itself. It opens with a Gillray-like, cartoonish account of German aggression. As this aggression turns into that of Biblical Israel and its liberation of the Promised Land, so it becomes our aggression, the aggression of what was our culture’s most sacred text. The argument of Scripture is remembered in Cromwell’s sense of providential deliverance: his joyous cry, ‘God has made them as stubble to our swords’, is echoed in Hill’s lines: Aloof the blades of oblation rise, fall, as though they were not obstructed by blades of bone.46

Most importantly, in the Promised Land, ‘iniquity’ and ‘rectitude’ become one: in ending the horror of Moloch we enact the horror of Psalm 137: ‘Now it is / Moloch his ovens’ that are not spared; now ‘the dropped babies naked / swung by an arm / or a leg like flails’.47 Everyone remembers the beginning of the Psalm, ‘If I forget thee, O Jerusalem’, but few choose to dwell on its ending: ‘Happy shall he be that taketh [the babies of our enemies] and dasheth [the] little ones against the stones’ (Ps. 137:5, 9). The great attachment that failed Hill was cultural memory, ‘Rorke’s Drift and the great-furnaced ships off Jutland’,48 and it failed him like all of us because it required too much forgetting.



Notes   1 Edward Elgar, quoted in Jerrold Northrop Moore, Edward Elgar: A Creative Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 1984), 342.   2 T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets [1944] in The Complete Poems and Plays (London: Faber, 2004), 197.   3 Ibid.   4 A. L. Rowse, The England of Elizabeth: The Structure of Society (London: Cardinal, 1973). See also Richard Ollard, A Man of Contradictions: A Life of A. L. Rowse [1999] (London: Penguin, 2000) and Ollard (ed.), The Diaries of A. L. Rowse (London: Penguin, 2003).   5 See R. G. Collingwood, The Idea of History [1946] (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989). For more on this, see Paul Stevens, ‘The New Presentism and its Discontents’, in Ann Baines Coiro and Thomas Fulton (eds), Rethinking Historicism from Shakespeare to Milton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 133–58.   6 Rowse, England, 573.   7 Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 50.   8 John Milton, Paradise Lost, in Stephen Orgel and Jonathan Goldberg (eds), John Milton: The Major Works (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), Book 8, lines 648–9. Carole Moses, ‘Pride and Prejudice, Mr Collins, and the Art of Misreading’, Persuasions xxvi/1 (2002), n.p., notices this allusion but is unnecessarily defensive about Jane Austen’s knowledge of Milton.   9 Austen, Pride, 295. 10 Rowse, England, 27. 11 Ibid., 15. 12 Ibid. 13 Ibid., 16. 14 Ernest Renan, ‘What is a Nation?’ [1882], in Homi K. Bhaba (ed.), Nation and Narration (London: Routledge, 1990), 8–22: 19. 15 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism [1983], rev. edn (London: Verso, 1992), 11. 16 Ollard, Diaries, 137. 17 Ibid. 18 Ibid., 26. 19 Rowse, A Cornish Childhood (London: Jonathan Cape, 1942), 230. 20 See his poem ‘Winter’s Night’, reprinted in Cornish, 218. Rowse seems to have idolized Arnold not least because he considered him ‘half-Cornish’: see Rowse, ‘Matthew Arnold as Cornishman’, New Statesman, 9 August 1941. 21 Matthew Arnold, ‘Dover Beach’, A. Dwight Culler (ed.), Poetry and Criticism of Matthew Arnold (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1961), lines 5, 9, 37. 22 Rowse, Cornish, 129. 132

The Unending Charity of Cultural Memory 23 Rowse, England, 508. 24 Ibid., 516. 25 Ibid., 507. 26 Ibid., 506. 27 Rowse, Cornish, 231. 28 Ibid., England, 573. 29 Hugh Trevor-Roper, quoted in Adam Sisman, An Honourable Englishman: The Life of Hugh Trevor-Roper (New York: Random House, 2010), 107, 385. 30 Ian Christie, ‘“History is Now and England”: A Canterbury Tale and its Contexts’, in Ian Christie and Andrew Moor (eds), The Cinema of Michael Powell (London: British Film Institute, 2005), 75–93. 31 Alison’s ‘mouth was sweete as bragot or the meeth, / Or hoord of apples leyd in hey or heath’ … and ‘sikerly she hadde a likerous eye’ (‘The Miller’s Tale’, lines 3261–2, 3244), in F. N. Robinson (ed.), The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, 2nd edn (London: Oxford University Press, 1957). 32 Michael Powell and Emerich Pressburger, directors, A Canterbury Tale, General Film Distributors, 1944. 33 Milton, Paradise Lost, in Orgel and Goldberg (eds), John Milton, Book 4, line 298. 34 Peter Conrad, To Be Continued: Four Stories and Their Survival (Oxford: Clarendon, 1995), 31. 35 See ibid., 30. 36 The ubiquitous HSBC advertisement announcing that ‘the future will be nothing like the past’ seems to greet you whenever you board an international flight. 37 See Andrew Michael Roberts, Geoffrey Hill (Tavistock: Northcote House, 2004), 51. 38 John Le Carré, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy [1974] (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002), 16. 39 Geoffrey Hill, ‘Churchill’s Funeral’, in Canaan (London: Penguin, 1996), 43. 40 Ibid. 41 Ibid., 44. 42 Renan, ‘What’, 11. 43 Conrad, To Be, 24. 44 Hill, ‘Churchill’s’, 45. 45 Ibid., 47. 46 Hill, ‘Canaan’, in Canaan, 10. 47 Ibid., 12. 48 Hill, Speech! Speech! (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2000), 3.




In the first volume of the Oxford History of England (1936), R. G. Collingwood wrote that King Arthur was ‘the last of the Romans […] and the story of Roman Britain ends with him’.1 In Collingwood’s mythopoeic historiography, Arthur was a sub-Roman military commander who temporarily repelled the Saxon invasion and who maintained, for a time, the values and civilization of the Empire. Appealing as this figure was, in the years that followed, this historical Arthur was renewed and rewritten – in literature, history and political discourse – into a very different imperial narrative. Rather than reading Arthur in relation to a Gibbonian narrative of Roman decline and fall, the informing trend was to align Arthur with the Empire’s continuation in the form of that second Rome – Constantinople, centre of the Byzantine Empire. And while the cross-fertilization of Arthurian myth and Byzantine history was both extensive and multifaceted, it has not been noted in previous accounts of mid-century Arthurian literature.2 This intersection of mythic Camelot with historic Constantinople was encouraged by the contemporary flowering of Byzantine studies in Britain. Until the 1930s, Byzantine history had tended to be neglected by the British academy or characterized as either a chronicle of degeneracy or, more romantically, a long season of twilight. The major figure in shaping the field of Byzantine studies was Steven Runciman, whose 134


work was quickly embraced by contemporary poets and novelists selfconsciously responding to the many social and political challenges to Empire, class and ‘culture’ in the decades that preceded the New Elizabethan age. For some, this interest in Byzantine history only enforced a wider contemporary fascination with civilizational collapse. Most of the Byzantinist fictions in these years, however, turned away from narratives of Constantinople’s decline to focus on what Runciman had identified as a cosmopolitan melting pot of different traditions, cultures and languages. Some writers (Charles Williams, Evelyn Waugh and, in Ireland, W. B. Yeats, for example) focused on Constantinople’s position as a site of religious belief. Others (Robert Graves, John Masefield and John Cowper Powys) were more overtly focused on political similarities between sixthcentury Europe and Europe in the modern age. Consistent to all was a reading of Byzantium as a centre of European civilization: a repository of European learning, a hub of multicultural activity and a bulwark against non-Christian Europe and Asia. Equally central was a tendency to draw a poetic British history into its civilizational orbit, a history in which Arthur was to claim a prominent representative role. In years of war and threatened invasion that saw Churchill invoking a fearful ‘abyss of a new dark age’,3 in postwar years that saw the imminent collapse of Empire and threats to civilization in social reform and mass culture, Arthur became the native analogue, and occasional rival, to Byzantium’s role as the glittering light of Christian Europe’s ‘dark ages’. Thus, while Arthur embodied Roman imperial heritage, Byzantium came to represent the endurance of that heritage for another thousand years through a model of interconnectedness. In the context of mid-century anxieties, this model was to both reinforce the dream of postwar British reconstructionists – and to hold up Britain as the Commonwealth to Rome’s Empire.

Arthur Reborn: Collingwood’s ‘Great Man’ During the first Elizabethan age, the Arthur of history, under the lens of humanist scholarship and later Protestant prejudice, was examined, challenged and sent back to the realm of myth. For three and a half centuries he existed in a historiographical Avalon, with no writer seriously persuaded of his actual existence. By the beginning of the second Elizabethan period, Arthur was rarely realized as anything other than an historical personage, complete with modern biography, verifiable bibliography and appealing personality. The key figure in this historicizing 135


process was R. G. Collingwood, philosopher, historian and archaeologist, who unveiled his ‘great champion of the British people’ at the end of his Roman Britain, the first volume in the Oxford History of England.4 Writers before Collingwood had not been much interested in the Arthur of history. Tennyson, so influential in determining the nineteenth century’s view of the Once and Future King in both literature and art, never conceived of Arthur as a historical subject; indeed, his final summation of his hero was as a timeless Platonic ideal: ‘Ideal manhood closed in real man.’5 Writers after World War I treated the Arthurian story as a series of motifs and allegories, which they increasingly divorced from their traditional narrative structures. The Arthurian mythos was mined by numerous modernist writers, including T. S. Eliot, David Jones and Mary Butts, for potent symbols of devastated waste lands, disappointed Grail quests and limited spiritual redemptions. Such folklorist and anthropological scholars as Jessie L. Weston and Roger Sherman Loomis, who inspired so much of the modernist interest in the Arthurian legends, studiously ignored almost all historical contexts. For these, the roots of the Arthurian legend lay in fertility rituals and vegetation rites, and its origins lay among Phrygian, Mithraic and Eleusian cults of the ancient Mediterranean world, not the sub-Roman period of British history. Ultimately, for all of these writers – creative and critical – the Arthurian stories were primarily symbolic: their major motifs were the corrupted vestiges of earlier traditions and beliefs. The Arthur of history and the history of the legend were almost always ignored.6 Collingwood’s historicist mythmaking fundamentally altered the way Arthur was conceived by generations of historians and creative writers. Drawing on little more than Arthur’s suggestively Latin name and the famous list of 12 battles that the Historia Brittonum (c.830) claims Arthur to have fought in the sixth century, Collingwood re-imagined Arthur as a Romanized Celt. Of ‘a good family in one of the civitates of the lowland zone’, this Arthur with a ‘mobile field army’ had fought the Germanic invaders in a series of battles that spanned nearly the whole of Britain. He had operated in ‘a country sinking into barbarism, where Roman ideas had almost vanished’, and had been the only man ‘intelligent enough to understand them, and vigorous enough to put them into practice’.7 Collingwood closes his eulogy to Roman Britain by hailing Arthur as ‘the last of the Romans: the last to understand Roman ideas and use them for the good of the British people. The heritage of Rome lived on in many shapes; but of the men who created that heritage Arthur was the last, and the story of Roman Britain ends with him.’8 It was a characterization that 136


was suffused with the anxieties of an Empire in decline. It also idealized the potential for a great individual to emerge who would be capable of stemming, even temporarily, the consequent tide of barbarism. Collingwood’s thesis has had a long afterlife. Described by Philip Bagby as one of Collingwood’s most ‘extensive flights of the imagination’, it essentially provided historians, politicians, and literary writers with a new Arthurian legend, constructed ‘out of a minimum of facts […] worthy to stand beside the inventions of Tennyson and Geoffrey of Monmouth’.9 Subsequent historians greatly extended Collingwood’s suggestively brief and potent thesis. Robert Graves, who had penned several Arthurian poems as a soldier in World War I, showed a clear indebtedness to Collingwood when he described the historical Arthur in 1962 as ‘a heroic British cavalry general named Arturius’ who led a unit of ‘mobile commandos’.10 Popular scholarly works of the 1960s and 1970s by the historians Geoffrey Ashe, Leslie Alcock and John Morris all essentially reworked Collingwood’s Great Man version of Arthur – and at everincreasing length: Morris’ Age of Arthur (1973) ran to an exhausting 665 pages of archaeological research, literary speculation and increasingly implausible conjecture.11 Even Collingwood seemed moved by his own mythopoeia, and became fond of telling a story (apparently with a smile and a lump in his throat) of how an old fieldworker once came up to him while he was visiting an archaeological dig at Glastonbury and asked him whether he was ‘going to take away the king?’12 One of the most significant manifestations of this reception of Collingwood’s thesis – both as a myth and as a potential model for a postwar, post-imperial age – is Winston Churchill’s History of the EnglishSpeaking Peoples (1956–8).13 A valediction of Empire and validation of its civilizing mission, the underlying thesis of his English-Speaking Peoples was Britain’s contribution to ‘the growth of freedom and law, of the rights of the individual, of the subordination of the State to the fundamental and moral conceptions of an ever-comprehending community’.14 In his acutely individualist historiographical model, Churchill presented Arthur as the first of a series of Great Men who came to shape, through willpower and intelligence, the destinies of Britain and, later, the world. For Churchill – who took much from Collingwood, and added a great deal of romantic rhetoric – Arthur loomed ‘large, uncertain, dim but glittering’: ‘a great British warrior, who kept the light of civilisation burning against all the storms that beat, adding that behind his sword there sheltered a faithful following of which memory did not fail’.15 The fact that there was no evidence for such a personality was hardly a problem. For while he 137


acknowledged the timidity of many modern historians’ arguments on the historicity of Arthur, Churchill himself was resolute: ‘It is all true, or it ought to be; and more and better besides.’16 Indeed, he presented his own belief in Arthur as an act of heroic, imaginative willpower that resounded within that ‘historical’ reading: Let us then declare that King Arthur and his noble knights, guarding the Sacred Flame of Christianity and the theme of a world order, sustained by valour, physical strength, and good horses and armour, slaughtered innumerable hosts of foul barbarians and set decent folk an example for all time.17

A. L. Rowse, professional historian and Churchillian sycophant, certainly understood the resonance of these sorts of constructions. He also included within this nationalism a reading of Churchill himself as historian and man of historical will. As early as 1943, Rowse wrote that ‘the historian cannot feel a deep satisfaction that at such a fateful moment as the present the nation has found a leader of uttermost courage, whose vision is rooted in the historic sense of our past.’18 In 1952, at the height of the New Elizabethan optimism, Rowse furthered this reading when he wrote of the then Prime Minister as ‘a man who is already in his own lifetime an historic figure.’19 The point was clear: Churchill was himself Arthur reborn, and more and better besides. Certainly, Arthur and Churchill were the earliest and latest examples of the type of British heroism that the statesman-historian foregrounded in both his English-Speaking Peoples and in his earlier war memoirs (1948–53). As both apologist for the British Empire and forger of the new Commonwealth, Churchill had configured British domestic and imperial history ‘as a wonderful unconscious tradition’ of opposing tyranny.20 In particular, it had ‘preserve[d] the liberties of Europe [and protected] the growth of its vivacious and varied society’.21 Always opposing ‘the strongest, most aggressive, most dominating Power on the Continent’, Britain – latterly with the assistance of the Empire nations and the United States – had protected everywhere ‘justice, wisdom, valour and prudence’.22 And Britain’s role as a civilizational bulwark did not end in 1945. In his famous ‘Iron Curtain’ speech at Fulton, Missouri, in 1946, Churchill called for a reinvigoration of the ‘fraternal associations of the English-speaking peoples’, with the Commonwealth and America acting as the ‘sheriffs and constables’ of a new world order. Together, they could keep in check the forces 138


of modern ‘barbarism’ – communism and fascism – that threatened to bring a new ‘dark age’ upon the world.23 It was within this context that Arthur, ‘a great captain [who] fought the barbarian invaders to the death’ was to be remembered: And wherever men are fighting against barbarism, tyranny, and massacre, for freedom, law, and honour, let them remember that the fame of their deeds, even though they themselves be exterminated, may perhaps be celebrated as long as the world rolls round.24

As Churchill was to acknowledge, postwar Britain, along with the United States and the (white) Commonwealth, was shifting – from being, in his view, ‘the authors, then the trustees’ of liberal, democratic ideals, to the new generation of ‘armed champions’.25 In this context, belief in Arthur became a matter of nationalist pride. When the historical Arthur first came to be worked into the novel form between the late 1930s and early 1950s, his imperial, civilizational context shifted. In a variety of genres, the fictional works of Graves, Masefield, Williams and Powys moved the historical Arthur away from Collingwood’s receding Roman Empire and towards the enduring Empire of Byzantium. In so doing, they performatively enacted the transformation of the British Empire into the Commonwealth of Nations.

Steven Runciman and the Birth of British Byzantine Studies Again, it was an historian – Steven Runciman – who led the way in reshaping the myth for later creative writers. Runciman combined historical research with an aristocratic adventurism: he played duets with the last Emperor of China, read tarot cards for the King of Egypt, was made an honorary Whirling Dervish, lived in a peel tower in Dumfriesshire and once tipped wax on the bald head of Field Marshall Montgomery at the Holy Fire ceremony in Jerusalem.26 He trained as a classicist, published as a medievalist and became Britain’s major authority on Byzantine history, culture and religion. In 1942 he took the Chair of Byzantine Studies at the University of Istanbul at the request of the Turkish government. He may have been a spy – he always denied it; but the Italians nonetheless regarded him as ‘molto intelligente e molto pericoloso’ [‘very smart and very dangerous’].27 He was certainly on 139


the borders of intelligence work: he was on government service in Sofia, Cairo and Jerusalem between 1940 and 1942, with his first position secured for him by Guy Burgess.28 He was also considered for the role of assistant director of the supposed ‘spy school’, the Middle East Centre for Arab Studies in the Lebanon, along with Abba Eban.29 After leaving Istanbul in 1945, Runciman took up no further university posts, and, freed from the confines and demands of academic life, published a great number of monographs in a very wide range of areas. Runciman is now perhaps chiefly known as an influential historian of the Crusades – especially for his three-volume A History of the Crusades (1951–4), a self-consciously grand narrative that was written against the popular notion of the Crusades as romantic, doomed adventures. For Runciman, they were the final manifestation of the barbarian invasions: ‘The Holy War itself was nothing more than a long act of intolerance in the name of God, which is the sin against the Holy Ghost.’30 But his most constant and most original contribution to knowledge was in the field of Byzantine studies. He was not the first English-language historian of the Eastern Roman Empire: important work at the turn of the century had been undertaken by O. M. Dalton, W. G. Holmes and, especially, J. B. Bury, Runciman’s tutor at Cambridge; and a great deal of rigorous scholarship was emerging in Paris, particularly that of Charles Diehl.31 Runciman’s work eclipsed them, at least in English. Remarkably, he was the best-selling author for Cambridge University Press throughout much of his career.32 Runciman was working against generations of English historians who had perceived Byzantine history as little more than ‘a short sinister unbroken decline’.33 As he wrote at the opening of his first book on the subject: Ever since our rough crusading forefathers first saw Constantinople and met, to their contemptuous disgust, a society where everyone read and wrote, ate food with forks and preferred diplomacy to war, it has been fashionable to pass the Byzantines by with scorn and to use their name as synonymous with decadence.34

Runciman re-inscribed the ‘Byzantine’ signifier. Rather than being the site of corruption, decline and stultifying bureaucracy, the Eastern Empire was presented by Runciman as ‘the most centralised organisation of such a size the world has known’.35 Urban, ceremonial, universally educated and complex, Constantinople was the centre of commerce, a 140


major producer of luxury goods and a major shipping portal. It was also a deeply religious empire, where ‘cities were crammed with churches; everywhere there were relics and icons to worship […] [and] teeming monasteries.’36 It was also, argued Runciman, a far more meritocratic society than that which developed in the West: promotion was available to all, especially in the religious, martial and bureaucratic professions of Byzantine life. And women were accorded much greater opportunities than they were in Western Europe (women’s housebound status notwithstanding).37 The Imperial Court was in charge of everything – from public order to theological politics, from the mint to the purchase and distribution of corn. ‘In no Empire’, he wrote, ‘were so many different nationalities gathered together, speaking one language, following one religion and obeying one government.’38 In 1933, Runciman moved away from purely academic publications and produced his Byzantine Civilization, which brought the Eastern Empire to a wider reading public. With it came the bolder assertions that would be picked up by later writers and historians. ‘Throughout its whole existence’, he wrote, ‘the Empire continually exercised an active influence on the civilisation of the world’; and Constantinople ‘was the unquestioned capital of European civilisation.’39 After the war, his more poetic passages took on a para-Churchillian tone. In the introduction to his History of the Crusades, Runciman defended the role of the plucky British historian within the academic arms race that was seeing American money finance research on an unparalleled scale. Setting his ‘British pen’ against the ‘massed typewriters of the United States’, he extolled the value of the individual British historian’s ability to produce work of ‘an integrated and even epical quality that no composite volume can achieve’.40 The result was, in Christopher Tyerman’s words, the ‘classic twentieth-century account of the subject’, which recalled Macaulay’s histories in its grand narrative sweep and ‘judgemental confidence’.41 The work also recalled Macaulay in its insistence on a Manichean relationship between barbarism and civilization. No longer just ‘the capital of Christian civilization’, Byzantium was configured here as ‘the guardian of Europe against the infidel East and the barbarian North. She had opposed them with her armies and tamed them with civilization.’42 Such civilizational rhetoric chimed with the writings of that other imitator of Macaulay’s narrative history, Winston Churchill. It also chimed with the anxieties and creative instincts of such writers as Robert Graves and John Masefield who, threatened by a sense of the decline of social hierarchies, cultural ‘standards’ and the remission of their nation’s 141


imperial power, found implicit strength in Runciman’s elaboration of the Late Roman / Byzantine Empire. In their early writings on Arthur, these authors had already shown themselves to be invested in the exploration of an ideal of civilizational resistance to barbarism through mythical and historical models.43 It was now their self-appointed task to blend this new-born native tradition with the greater story of Byzantium’s thousand years of ‘Commonwealth’.

Mid-Century Arthurian Literature and Empire The newly uncovered history of Byzantium appealed to a great range of writers, four of whom are of particular relevance: Robert Graves, John Masefield, Charles Williams and John Cowper Powys.44 Robert Graves was, in many ways, thoroughly part of the establishment: growing up in an affluent, artistic household, he attended public school and became an officer in the Royal Welch Fusiliers before going up to Oxford after World War I. His poetry was widely admired, his novels praised by fellow writers and statesmen alike. John Masefield had different beginnings: he spent his early adulthood in the merchant navy before jumping ship in New York, where he read widely and became a self-fashioned man of letters and, later, the longest serving Poet Laureate after Tennyson (1930–67). Like Graves, he was both a pacifist and a nationalist who could intensely admire and valourize soldiers and other men of action: he served with the Red Cross in the Dardanelles, and later published a book on the disastrous Gallipoli campaign. Each chapter was significantly prefaced with a quotation from the French medieval epic of warfare and doomed heroism, La Chanson de Roland.45 The working-class Charles Williams was a similarly self-fashioned writer. Intensely religious from a young age, he combined his interest in the occult with his devotion to the Anglo-Catholic faith in numerous ‘spiritual potboilers’ that were liked by both T. S. Eliot and C. S. Lewis. Williams became close friends with the latter, who invited him along to the weekly gatherings of the Inklings at Oxford (where Tolkien thought he never quite fitted in). And finally there is John Cowper Powys, the writer of perpetual re-invention. After Sherborne and Cambridge he became an academic, largely working in the United States, and published very widely. In later life he moved to north Wales, and became a self-elected Welshman, producing several historical novels set in Wales as well as a collection of essays on Welsh/British identities, Obstinate Cymric 142


(1947). Whereas the other creative writers here discussed were all somewhat conservative, Powys was always firmly, if idiosyncratically, on the left, and moved – quite violently – between state-centric socialism and anarchism several times during his lifetime. In spite of their varied social origins, political perspectives and religious beliefs, each writer was drawn to Byzantine history, and each constructed the conflation of Arthurian and Byzantine narratives in different ways. For Masefield and Graves, Byzantium was a system of reassuring political order; for Williams and Powys, Constantinople was the centre of a unified Christian Europe. The Arthurian story fitted into these images of empire and city in different ways.

Byzantium’s Suppliant: Robert Graves and John Masefield’s Historical Fictions Robert Graves was the first writer to bring Arthur and Byzantium into close proximity. The poet, novelist and critic had a deep interest in the Matter of Britain that never quite found full literary expression. While an officer in the trenches, he wrote Arthurian verses; in 1962 he penned a thoughtful introduction to Keith Baines’ edition of Malory’s Morte Darthur; and he made extensive use of early Welsh Arthurian literature in his poetic meditation on comparative mythologies, The White Goddess (1948, 1961). By the time he published his 1938 novel Count Belisarius, he had already established himself as a writer of classical historical novels. In this Byzantine fiction, Graves presents the eponymous hero as a contemporary and cultural parallel of King Arthur. Clearly aware of Collingwood’s Roman Britain, Graves describes Arthur as ‘a petty British king, a commander of allied cavalry, whom the Romans left to his fate’ when they withdrew from Britain in the early fifth century.46 Arthur’s story, had it been recorded ‘properly’, would have been that of a ‘gallant attempt to preserve a remnant of Christian civilization in the West Country against the pressure of heathen invasion’.47 As it was, recorded in saga, folktale and ‘monkish mysticism’, the story of the real Arthur had become lost amid tales of ‘ogres and fairy ships and magicians and questing beasts’.48 Whereas later writers would perceive this historical lacuna to be a space for their own historical imagination, Graves – following on from the success of I, Claudius (1934) – preferred to work with firmer sources. And so he abandoned Arthur in the foreword to his novel, and turned to another military leader who had not only repelled barbarian 143


invasions, but who had managed almost to double the boundaries of the empire he served. The life of Belisarius, Byzantium’s greatest military leader, was documented extensively by classically trained historians and eyewitnesses, the most important of whom was Procopius, who produced both official histories of the age (the Wars of Justinian and Buildings of Justinian) and a salacious and sometimes hysterical set of anecdota, known to modern readers as the Secret History.49 In Count Belisarius, Graves refashions this general into the hero of a disappearing age that is as much that of a diminishing British Empire as it is of the late Romans. The novel is a lengthy bildungsroman of heroic individualism. Like those hundreds of nineteenth-century schoolboy protagonists that followed in the wake of Tom Brown’s Schooldays (1857), Graves’ hero spends his days playing football, wrestling and swimming, as well as engaging in several violent, but ultimately good-humoured japes. Afterwards he becomes – like so many Victorian schoolboys, fictional and real – a devoted servant of Empire. ‘Tall and magnificently muscled’,50 as well as tactically astute and devoted to the civilizational mission of the Byzantine Empire, Graves’ Belisarius offered a perfect historical translation of the ideal of an aristocratic, public-schooled leader of nations and empire. The novel was a firm favourite not only with Churchill, but also with other wartime generals, who were apparently known to ask when making tactical decisions, ‘What would Belisarius do?’51 Central to Belisarius’ appeal seems to have been his heroic individualism – both as a military strategist and as a man loyal to the Empire, even if that Empire was sometimes marred by licentiousness and court intrigue. The overall effect was to re-establish Byzantium itself as the centre of a pan-European Empire, making the fall of the (Western) Roman Empire an aberration, ‘a momentary nightmare out of the dream of universal security’.52 Whereas Graves had fashioned a hero to save an Empire (and had pointed to Arthur as a British analogue in his foreword), his friend John Masefield was far less optimistic about the British Empire’s ability to renew itself. Like Graves, Masefield was intrigued by the potential to enforce parallels between his own age and that of Justinian’s Byzantium. His three Byzantine novels – Basilissa (1940), Conquer (1941) and Badon Parchments (1947) – developed many analogies between wartime Britain and the threatened Byzantine Empire. His habit of political allegorising got him into trouble in 1940 when the Social Credit Party – popularly known as the Greenshirts – recognized 144


themselves in Basilissa’s plot about rival Blue and Green factions fighting and rioting in the streets of sixth-century Constantinople, and demanded financial redress.53 Less defamatory was his characterization of the Empress Theodora, whom he modelled on Wallis Simpson. Whereas Edward Gibbon had slyly noted that Theodora’s ‘strange elevation’ from a stage dancer, whose sexual feats were legendary, to an Empress could hardly ‘be applauded as the triumph of female virtue’,54 Masefield whitewashed her character completely. She begins the novel as a would-be nun who becomes, through her virtue and chastity, a brave, politically astute and sympathetic ruler of a people who are often suspicious and ungrateful. Although Wallis Simpson – ‘our Theodora’ as he called her in private correspondence55 – was rejected by the British establishment, her fictional counterpart exerts a lasting influence on Masefield’s version of British history, after she makes a brief though decisive intervention. When Theodora is first invited to the imperial palace, she meets there a tall, pale foreigner, with a strange accent and in whom she perceives ‘courage and beauty balanced and made something divine’.56 The man is Arthur, here Count Atorius, who has come to the Byzantine Emperor to ask for military aid much in the same way that contemporary Britain was benefitting from American aid. Although the Emperor initially rebuffs him, Theodora successfully intercedes on his behalf, and Arthur returns to Britain with shipwrights, horses and trained cavalry tacticians to secure its people against the threat of Germanic invaders. Arthur’s Byzantine connections are more fully developed in Masefield’s Badon Parchments, his final Byzantine work and the earliest English novel fully to develop the historical Arthur. The novel takes the form of a series of epistles – the parchments of the title – written to Justinian and Theodora by Origen, an envoy of the Empire (and the narrator of the earlier Conquer), reporting on the state of Britain and the deeds of Arthur, as he attempts to stem the tide of pagan invasions. Besieged by the Saxons (known here only as ‘pirates’ and ‘heathens’), Masefield’s Britain is replete with images of division – linguistic, ethnic and political – as it teeters on the brink of collapse. No longer ‘prosperous and splendid’ as it was under Roman occupation, it has not quite yet entered another dark age. Rather, Britain is caught between two epochs (‘between the blackthorn and the whitethorn’) and two barbarisms: ‘the native barbarism surviving from before the [Roman] subjugation, and the Heathen savagery of the pirates and robbers from over sea’.57 For the Byzantine narrator, the value of the land resides only in its imperial echo – and certainly not in its aboriginal British identity: 145

THE NEW ELIZABETHAN AGE To one accustomed to The City, the land seems of the rudest simplicity, yet, even after more than two generations of Heathen raiding, Aurelian’s kingdom preserves some semblance of memory of civility. The roads and posts of the Provincial time have been preserved; here and there, a noble still uses the bath; the citizen is to some extent trained in the use of arms, and the army still wears something like the lorica, and is divided into what are still called legions, at any rate in popular speech.58

Only Arthur, the Emperor’s suppliant, is truly worthy of the Imperial inheritance. Borrowing freely from Collingwood, but with an admixture of detail from Runciman’s works, this Arthur plans to use light cavalry armed with bows, defended by supporting lancers who are to keep off counter attacks – the tactics which the historical Belisarius had used in Italy and North Africa to devastating effect.59 The Britons largely reject Arthur’s tactics and plans for military escalation and refuse to listen to his long, intensely patriotic speeches in favour of appeasement with the German pirates (Masefield is nothing if not clear in his allegory). Nonetheless, enough intelligent men can be found to form a small mobile field army: and so the victory at Badon Hill – against enormous odds – is achieved. Yet the tone of this book is austere and anxious. The Byzantine narrator notes the Britons’ aboriginal charm and tenacity: ‘they do not live by reason, like other men: they have a way of their own, and what their silly way will be no man can foretell.’60 Nonetheless, the book ends with a plea to Arthur that he keep ‘this Province within [his] Empire’, for the Britons are incapable of governing themselves.61 It was an argument that had been used many times by envoys of that later world Empire – and that still had currency among those contemporary Imperial apologists who would build new bulwarks against modern barbarisms.

Charles Williams’ ‘Holy City of Byzantium’ Perhaps the most idiosyncratic conflation of Byzantine history and Arthurian myth occurs in the verse-cycle Taliessin through Logres (1938), by Charles Williams. Already the author of several learned and somewhat eccentric essays on the Arthurian legend,62 Williams had also published several spiritual novels, including War on Heaven (1930), a supernatural thriller that centred, like so many fictions of the interwar period, on the reappearance of the Grail in twentieth-century England, where it is sought after by Satanic publishing assistants and kindly rural priests. Published in the same year as Graves’ Count Belisarius, Taliessin 146


through Logres and its companion volume Through the Region of Summer Stars (1944) consist of a series of 34 poems that retell the entire story of Arthur from the establishment of his kingdom to its destruction at the battle of Camlan. Complex in form and theological scope, the sequence was highly praised: Richard Barber described the cycle as ‘one of the great works of Arthurian literature’; C. S. Lewis claimed that it was ‘among the two or three most valuable books of verse published in the century’.63 In the Taliessin cycle, Arthurian Britain, or Logres, is an outpost of the Empire, which has its centre at Byzantium. The Empire is not a political territory, but represents, geographically, Christendom and, symbolically, the workings of Christ in the world. Although Williams denied it, Yeats was probably a major influence on his conception of the Empire, and particularly the city.64 The poet’s writings on Constantinople – the oftenanthologized ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ (1928) and ‘Byzantium’ (1933), as well as references to that Empire in his prose work A Vision (1926) – set the tone for several later writers’ idealization of the city as the spiritual centre of a passed or passing world. In ‘Sailing to Byzantium’, an aged protagonist, fleeing the sensual, worldly preoccupations of modern Ireland (‘no country for old men’), sails to ‘the holy city’ of Justinian’s reign, ‘into the artifice of eternity’.65 In the later ‘Byzantium’, which realizes the city at the end of the first millennium, Yeats expanded upon the idea of Constantinople as a city of perfect and complete art, in which ‘blood-begotten spirits come / and all complexities of fury leave’ in the transformative fires of the ‘golden smithies of the Emperor’.66 Like other contemporary writers, Yeats understood Byzantium to be ‘the centre of European civilization and the source of its spiritual philosophy’ – specifically during the time when Ireland had reached its highpoint of medieval artistic maturity (around 800 when the Book of Kells was produced).67 But he saw in Constantinople a more specific vision, a complete ‘Unity of Being’ as he wrote in A Vision: ‘I think that in early Byzantium, maybe never before or since in recorded history, religious, aesthetic and practical life were one.’68 Williams transposed Yeats’ city of perfect and spiritually perfecting art into the heart of his Arthuriad. He elucidated the meaning of the Byzantine Empire in several works and included an illustration by Lynton Lamb as the frontispiece to the first volume of the Taliessin cycle. The image is that of a reclining female figure, with each province corresponding to parts of her body: Logres is the head, and Camelot (‘London-in-Logres’) its mouth; Gaul forms the breasts of the body; Italy represents the hands celebrating Mass; Jerusalem is the womb; 147


Byzantium is the navel – the centre of the Empire. In his notebook, Williams defined that Empire as ‘(a) all Creation […] (b) Unfallen Man; (c) a proper social order (d) the true physical body.’69 When all of Europe is working in unison, the body is whole. Byzantium, at its navel, represents the organic body singing together, and from it spring the dialects of the world. The central figure of the sequence is not Arthur, or the traditional knights of the Round Table, but Taliessin. Although ‘Druid-sprung’, the pagan Taliessin, already a great poet, hears rumours of Christianity and travels to Byzantium where he comes to understand Britain’s historic role as a theological outpost for Byzantine civilizational Christianity.70 When he returns to Britain, Arthur has established his kingdom by overthrowing the feeble and effeminate tyrant, Cradlemas, who has allowed the discontented poor to take up the ‘hammer and sickle’ in place of their agrarian tools of ‘mallet and scythe’.71 Taliessin acts as poet and chief counsellor, replacing Merlin’s traditional role. He imposes the Byzantine system on the kingdom, before it flounders at the end. Various forms of disorder threaten Britain’s place within the Empire, including materialism, atheism and Islam. But it is the corruption within the court itself (Guinevere’s marital infidelity, Arthur’s secular values as king and Mordred’s rebellion) that results in Britain’s expulsion from the Empire. Although Britain’s place within the Empire is only temporary and never fully realized, Taliessin nonetheless offers Britain partial salvation, through his machinations that bring about the quest for the Holy Grail. Thus the Grail, in Williams’ account, becomes more central to the Arthurian story than at any time since the thirteenth century.

‘Gods and Governments Perish!’: Anarchism and The City in John Cowper Powys’ Porius For the Anglo-Catholic Williams – as for Roman Catholic Evelyn Waugh in his 1950 novel Helena – Byzantium of the fourth to sixth centuries was the centre of a united Christendom, free from schism. For John Cowper Powys, Constantinople (or Caer Cystennin as it is known in early Welsh) offered not the memory of a now-fragmented Unity of Being, but a spiritual alternative to the Augustinism of the sin-obsessed and centralized Church of Latin Europe. In his long novel Porius (1951), Powys also developed the ‘astonishing resemblances’ he saw between his own postwar age and ‘the epoch of Arthur’s Battle of Badon’ more emphatically than any other 148


writer discussed here.72 The events of Porius take place over the course of a single week in the last year of the fifth century. The eponymous hero – an intensely religious Welsh prince – begins the novel contemplating whether or not to join Arthur in his struggles against the Saxons before travelling to Byzantium to help the Emperor, Anastasius, reopen ‘the ancient Pelagian controversy’ and anathematize the Pope.73 Like Masefield’s Badon Parchments, Porius takes much from the work of contemporary historians – Powys’ Arthur is very much Collingwood’s half-Roman commander, ‘a man’, in Powys’ words, ‘of undiluted generalship, practical and competent […] a superlative master in the art of war, a trained military tactician’.74 But Powys establishes the Romano– Byzantine influence in other, non-military ways: British nobles read Ovid and Aristophanes, they sit for lengthy periods discussing the religious controversies that will eventually lead to the Great Schism. Powys was also aware of the tradition, established by the forger and antiquarian Iolo Morganwg in the early nineteenth century, of the Welsh being descended from the original inhabitants of Constantinople, long before it was settled by Constantine.75 But the Byzantine influence on British life in the late fifth century is part of a much wider strategy of constructing Britain as a multicultural country: among the novel’s main characters are Romans, Welsh, Irish, Jews, aboriginal Britons and even giants. They hold varied political views and follow numerous religions, including several disparate strands of Christianity, Mithraism, Druidism and Judaism. In his wartime philosophical book Mortal Strife, Powys had suggested that the multi-racial mixture of contemporary Britain would help them in the fight against the more racially pure Germans.76 But the later, postwar Porius is at pains to construct a fifth-century Britain that is fully enmeshed in a wider cultural matrix. The historical Britain that emerges here is far more similar to the 1950s rhetoric of a multiculturalist Commonwealth. While Britain’s religious connections with Constantinople are at the heart of Porius, the novel rejects the construction of Byzantium as the locus of imperial order as expressed by Masefield and, less directly, Williams. As Victor Golightly has discussed, Porius also marks Powys’ shift from the advocated state socialism evident in his pre-war fiction in favour of individual anarchism.77 The chief spokesperson for this political shift is Myrddin (the Welsh spelling of Merlin), who in one speech towards the end of the novel says: Nobody in the world, no body beyond the world, can be trusted with power, unless perhaps it be our mother the earth; but I doubt whether even 149

THE NEW ELIZABETHAN AGE she can. The Golden Age can never come again till governments and rulers and kings and emperors and priests and druids and gods and devils learn to unmake themselves as I did, and leave men and women to themselves! […] But none of them last forever. That’s the hope of the world. The earth lasts and man lasts, and the animals and birds and fishes last, but gods and governments perish!78

Charged with this vision of an anarchistic utopia, the novel ends not with a plea to the Byzantine Emperor, or a crushing victory against the Germanic invaders, but with the protagonist facing the unknown, and, eventually, the epochal shift of the Saxon invasion. It was a sense of historical upheaval that Powys perceived in his own time: ‘Never since the Dark Ages has the world seemed so full of the powers of evil’, he wrote in 1947.79 In the preface to Porius he further elaborated: As the old gods were departing then, so the old gods are departing now. And as the future was dark with the terrifying possibilities of human disaster then, so, today, are we confronted by the possibility of catastrophic world events.80

Thus the Arthurian story – so optimistic for a while – took on darker, more pessimistic tones as the 1950s began. Porius, at the end of this epic novel, chooses not to go sailing to Byzantium. It was a fitting conclusion: the Arthurian / Byzantine conflation was a brief moment of cultural fusion. It defined a particular national moment of imperial anxieties. But as Britain no longer had an empire, it lost view of Byzantium: the tensions that would dominate Arthurian literary production for the next few decades would become increasingly internally focused.

The ‘Dreams and Dust’ of History 1953 witnessed not only the New Elizabethan Coronation, but also the 500-year anniversary of the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman army commanded by Sultan Mehmed II. It was commemorated by a major international conference organized by Runciman at the School of Oriental and African Studies, as well as a collection of edited essays.81 The BBC produced a commemorative radio documentary.82 The Times not only published several articles marking the event, but also covered the elaborate festivities held in Istanbul that celebrated the Turkish conquest.83 The Listener carried a lengthy article on the history of Byzantium in the 150


May Coronation issue.84 Arthur was also noticeable around the time of the Coronation. But it was Dryden and Purcell’s King Arthur – not the Arthur of the historical mythmakers – that came to the fore. A large-scale (and drastically redacted) performance of the 1691 semi-opera was staged by Anthony Bernhard in this year to wide acclaim. It was ‘a flagship event’ of the Coronation week, and Dryden and Purcell’s ‘Fairest Isle, All Isles Excelling’ featured prominently at the ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ concert given on Coronation Day itself. The day after the Coronation, the BBC’s Third Programme even produced a dramatic reading of a short story about King Arthur’s ascent to the throne at Pentecost.85 King Arthur was suitable for such a celebratory occasion not simply because it was ‘highly regarded as a very British piece in both composition and subject matter’ or because the opera was treated ‘as a national icon’ throughout the British music revival of the first half of the twentieth century.86 Its primary significance to the Coronation lay in its being that most rare manifestation of the Arthurian story: a major work on Arthur that concludes with a happy ending. In the opera, the Saxons are repulsed by the Britons (who ‘brook no foreign Power/ To lord it in a land, sacred to freedom’)87 before a series of choruses and masques look forward to a glorious imperial future. The opera fitted the 1953 moment of optimism precisely because it was free from the legend’s new-found historicism. In contrast, the historical Arthur – however potent his contemporary representation as an icon of militarist valour and British independence – was still fixed firmly in tragic mode. His association with Byzantium could hardly be exploited in terms of civilizational endurance in the year that marked Constantinople’s final and complete collapse. The British popular fascination with Byzantium receded in the later 1950s: the city of holy fires, unified Christianity and hub of European civilization imagined by Yeats, Williams and others became, once again, little more than the site of licentious romantic novels and lurid histories with salacious titles like Pierson Dixon’s Secret Memoirs of the Court of Justinian (1958), or Stella Duffy’s Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore (2010). However much English authors and historians had sought to create that Empire as a system of religious and/or political order, Byzantium ultimately proved too unstable a symbol for those who wished to use it as such. As an English signifier, Byzantium is too complex, the site of too many contradictory ethnic, national, religious, linguistic and cultural currents. Only Powys, of all the writers discussed, seemed to realize this multivalency in his literary output – and he found the same contradictions in a tiny corner of North Wales in the year 499. In short, 151


Byzantium is too Byzantine for these cultural inventions and re-inscriptions – lost amid what Vladimir Nabokov, in a review of Masefield’s Basilissa, called the ‘dreams and dust’ of history.88 If Powys’ Porius was the most extensive treatment of the Arthurian and Byzantine intersection, it also happened to be the last. In the 1950s, the Arthur of history came of age: the historical novel dominated subsequent Arthurian literary production and remains perhaps the myth’s most popular generic mode. While the increased output on the legend seems to indicate that the myth of the Once and Future King was rejuvenated by the renewed royalism that accompanied the 1953 Coronation and the insular optimism of New Elizabethanism, the fiction remained austere and preoccupied with grim survival and embattled tenacity. Closest to Collingwood and Churchill were the masculinist, violent novels of such writers as Henry Treece (The Great Captains, 1953), Victor Canning (The Crimson Chalice trilogy, 1976–8) and, more recently, Bernard Cornwell (The Warlord Chronicles, 1995–7). But the historical turn to Arthurian literature also enabled British women writers, often excluded from the Arthurian canon, to make, in Diana Wallace’s words, ‘a radical appropriation and reinterpretation of a dominant male narrative’.89 Rosemary Sutcliff’s Sword at Sunset (1963) is perhaps the best-known work of this form. Her much-praised novel eschewed, in her words, the ‘rainbow colours of romance’ in order to reveal – in full Churchillian mode – ‘the figure of one great man […] a Romano-British war-leader, to whom, when the Barbarian darkness came flooding in, the last stuttering lights of civilisation seemed worth fighting for’.90 These writers did not need the Byzantine framework of imperial order. Arthur again became a purely insular figure – and one who was defined by his heroic tragedy. Dreams of Empire had faded; it was enough, as the Cold War years began and Britain entered a sustained period of economic stagnation, to keep the darkness away from Britain’s own shores.

Notes   1 R. G. Collingwood and J. N. L. Myres, Roman Britain and the English Settlements (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1936), 304. Collingwood wrote the first four books of the volume; Myres wrote the fifth.   2 See, for example, Beverly Taylor and Elisabeth Brewer, The Return of King Arthur: British and American Arthurian Literature Since 1800 (Cambridge: Brewer, 1983), 290–320; Raymond H. Thompson, Return from Avalon: A 152

DREAMING THE COMMONWEALTH Study of the Arthurian Legend in Modern Fiction (Westport: Greenwood, 1985); Tom Shippey, ‘Historical Fiction and the Post-Imperial Arthur’, in Helen Fulton (ed.), A Companion to Arthurian Literature (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007), 449–62.   3 Winston Churchill, HC Deb 18 June 1940, vol 362, cc51–64.   4 Collingwood, Roman, 304.   5 Alfred Lord Tennyson, ‘The Passing of Arthur’, Idylls of the King (London: Penguin, 2004), line 38.   6 Even more conventional literary scholars and historians only allowed for the possibility of Arthur’s historicity; they searched for nothing more. See, for example, J. D. Bruce, The Evolution of Arthurian Romance, 2nd edn, 2 vols (Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith); E. K. Chambers, Arthur of Britain (London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1927).   7 Collingwood, Roman, 320–4.   8 Ibid., 324.   9 Philip Bagby, Culture and History: Prolegomena to the Comparative Study of Civilizations (London: Longman, 1958), 68–9. 10 Robert Graves, ‘Introduction’, Keith Baines (ed.), Le Morte Darthur (New York: New American Library, 1962), xi–xx: xiv. 11 See, for instance, Geoffrey Ashe (ed.), The Quest for Arthur’s Britain (New York: Praeger, 1968); Leslie Alcock, Arthur’s Britain: History and Archeology AD 367–634 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971); John Morris, The Age of Arthur (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1973), especially at 97–140. David Dumville offered an exhaustive critique of the work of Ashe, Alcock and, in particular, Morris, in his review essay ‘Sub-Roman Britain: History and Legend’, History lxii (1977), 173–92. 12 Fred Inglis, History Man: The Life of R. G. Collingwood (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011), 202. 13 For a detailed account of the writing and reception of Churchill’s History of the English-Speaking Peoples, see Peter Clarke, Mr Churchill’s Profession: The Statesman as Author and the Book that Defined the ‘Special Relationship’ (London: Bloomsbury, 2012). 14 Winston Churchill, Letter to Maurice Ashley, 12 April 1939, in Martin Gilbert, Companion Volume 5 Part 3, ‘The Coming of War’ 1936–1939 (London: Hillsdale College, 2009), 1445. 15 Churchill, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, 4 vols (London: Cassell, 1956–58), vol. 1, 46. 16 Ibid., 47. 17 Ibid. 18 A. L. Rowse, The Spirit of English History (London: Longmans Green, 1943), 132. 19 Rowse, A New Elizabethan Age? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1952), 3. 153

THE NEW ELIZABETHAN AGE 20 Churchill, The Gathering Storm (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1986), 187. 21 Ibid. 22 Ibid., 186–7. 23 Churchill, in Robert Rhodes James (ed.), Winston S. Churchill: His Complete Speeches 1897–1963, 8 vols (New York: Chelsea House, 1974), vol. 7, 7285–93. 24 Churchill, History, 43. 25 Churchill, Letter 12 April 1939, quoted in Martin Gilbert, Churchill and America (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008), 170–1. 26 For biographical details, see Steven Runciman, A Traveller’s Alphabet (London: Thames & Hudson, 1991); Averil Cameron, ‘Runciman, Sir James Cochran Stevenson (1903–2000)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004); Anthony Bryer, ‘James Cochran Steven Runciman (1903–2000)’, in Elizabeth Jeffries (ed.), Byzantine Style, Religion and Civilization: Essays in Honour of Sir Steven Runciman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), xxxix–lv; and his obituary in the Telegraph, 2 November 2000. 27 Runciman, Traveller’s, 59, 64. 28 Bryer, ‘James’, li. 29 Ibid., xl. 30 Runciman, A History of the Crusades, 3 vols [1951–4] (London: Peregrine, 1964), vol. 3, 480. 31 O. M. Dalton, Byzantine Art and Archaeology (1923); W. G. Holmes, The Age of Justinian and Theodora (1905); J. B. Bury, A History of Later Roman History, 2nd edn, 2 vols (1923). The work of Diehl is extensive; among his most influential works are Justinien et la civilisation byzantine au VIe siècle (1901); Théodora: impératrice de Byzance (1904); and Figures byzantines (1909). 32 Bryer, ‘James’, xli. 33 Runciman, The Emperor Romanus Lecapenus and his Reign (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1929), 9. 34 Ibid. 35 Ibid. 36 Ibid., 22. 37 Ibid., 19–21, 31. 38 Ibid., 31. 39 Runciman, Byzantine Civilization (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1933), 277. 40 Runciman, History, vol. 1: xii, xiii. 41 Christopher Tyerman, God’s War: A New History of the Crusades (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2006), xiii. 42 Runciman, History, vol. 3, 123, 130. 43 See Graves, ‘Babylon’ [1917], in Beryl Graves and Dunstan Ward (eds), 154

DREAMING THE COMMONWEALTH Complete Poems of Robert Graves, 3 vols (Manchester: Carcanet, 1995), vol. 1, 28; John Masefield, Midsummer Night and Other Tales in Verse [1928], in Collected Poems (London: Macmillan, 1932), 793–908. 44 Other prominent writers who took up Byzantine histories during this period include Naomi Mitchison, whose Anna Comnena (1928) is a novelistic biography of the famous Byzantine historian and princess, and Evelyn Waugh, whose Helena (1950) recounted the eponymous British heroine’s retrieval of the True Cross at Jerusalem, and her son’s founding of the city of Constantinople. 45 John Masefield, Gallipoli (London: William Heinemann, 1916). 46 Robert Graves, Count Belisarius [1938] (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2006), 7–8. 47 Ibid. 48 Ibid. 49 See Procopius, Works, trans. H. W. Dewing (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1914–1940), 7 vols. 50 Nancy Rosenfeld, ‘Graves, Robert’, in Brian Shaffer (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century British and Irish Fiction (Oxford: Blackwell, 2011), 159–60: 160; Adrian Fort, Archibald Wavell: The Life and Times of an Imperial Servant (London: Jonathan Cape, 2009), 421. 51 Graves, Count, 170. 52 Erwan Lagadec, Transatlantic Relations in the Twenty-First Century: Europe, America and the Rise of the Rest (London: Routledge, 2012), 7. 53 John W. Errington, John Masefield: The ‘Great Auk’ of English Literature: A Bibliography (London: Oak Knoll Press, for the British Library, 2004), entry on Basilissa. The Greenshirts, now almost wholly forgotten, were a major presence in marches and disruptive political gatherings of the 1930s. Combining economic theories of social credit and guild socialism with para-scouting youth movements, paramilitary uniforms and stage-managed political stunts that resembled those of Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts, they were, as Andrew Marr has described, ‘the most effective street performers in the turbulent politics of the thirties’ (Making of Modern Britain (London: Macmillan, 2009), 289). They heckled communists and fascists alike, but reserved their real hostility for the Treasury and Bank of England. Their leader John Hargrave was once thrown out of the Boy Scout Association over the obscure charge of ‘over-zealous Red-Indianism’. See Matthew Hilton, Consumerism in 20th-Century Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 96–9. 54 Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 8 vols (Paris: Beaudry’s, 1840), vol. 5, 36–7. 55 John Masefield, Letters of John Masefield to Florence Lamont (London: Macmillan, 1979), 227, 232. 56 Masefield, Basilissa (London: William Heinemann, 1940), 120. 57 Masefield, Badon Parchments (London: William Heinemann, 1947), 2. 58 Ibid., 4. 155

THE NEW ELIZABETHAN AGE 59 For a recent analysis of Belisarius’ military career and battle tactics, see Ian Hughes, Belisarius: the Last Roman General (London: Pen and Sword, 2009). 60 Masefield, Badon Parchments, 140. 61 Ibid. 62 Posthumously collected by C. S. Lewis in Arthurian Torso, by Charles Williams (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1948). 63 Richard Barber, King Arthur: Hero and Legend (Cambridge: Boydell, 2004), 194; C. S. Lewis, ‘Preface’, Essays Presented to Charles Williams (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1947), vii. 64 Charles Williams, ‘The Making of Taliessin’ [1941], in Anne Ridler (ed.), Image of the City and Other Essays (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1958), 179–93: 181. 65 W. B. Yeats, ‘Sailing to Byzantium’ [1928], in Daniel Albright (ed.), The Poems of W. B. Yeats, 2nd edn (London: Everyman, 1994), 239–40. 66 Ibid. 67 Yeats, quoted in Alexander Norman Jeffares, A Commentary on the Poems of W. B. Yeats (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1968), 217. 68 Yeats, A Vision, 2nd edn (London: Macmillan, 1937), 175, 279. 69 Williams, ‘Notes on the Arthurian Myth’, Image, 175–9: 178. 70 Williams, ‘Taliessin’s Return to Logres’, in Taliessin through Logres, and The Region of Summer Stars (London: Oxford University Press, 1950), 3–5. 71 Williams, ‘The Calling of Arthur’, in Taliessin, 14–15. 72 John Cowper Powys, ‘Pair Dadeni or The Cauldron of Rebirth’, in Obstinate Cymric: Essays 1935–47 [1947] (London: Village, 1973), 85–112: 94. 73 Powys, Porius: A Romance of the Dark Ages [1951] (London: Village, 1974), 31, 276–7. 74 Ibid. 75 The basis for this tradition rests in the fourth triad of the Triads of the Island of Britain, a collection of Welsh mnemonic devices that record historical, poetic and other instructive material. While many are genuine medieval texts, many others were forged by Iolo Morganwg. The fourth triad recounts how Hu Gadarn led the Britons from ‘Gwlad-yr-Haf’ (the land of summer, usually identified with Somerset) to the Isle of Britain. For original text see Trioedd Ynys Prydain, in the Myvyrian Archaiology, ed. Owen Jones, Edward Williams [‘Iolo Morganwg’] and William Owen Pughe (Denbigh: Thomas Gee, 1870), 400–11: 400. For an account of Iolo’s forgeries and alterations to earlier triads see Rachel Bromwich, ‘Trioedd Ynys Prydain’, Welsh Literature and Scholarship (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1969). 76 Powys, Mortal Strife (1942) (London: Village, 1974), 11, 13, 14, 237. 77 Victor Golightly, ‘John Cowper Powys and Anarchism’, H. Gustav Klaus and Stephen Knight (eds), ‘To Hell with Culture’: Anarchism and TwentiethCentury British Literature (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2005), 126–40: 136. 78 Powys, Porius, 268. 156

DREAMING THE COMMONWEALTH 79 Powys, ‘Pair Dadeni’, 112. 80 Powys, Porius, 18. 81 Runciman and C. H. Philips (eds), The Fall of Constantinople: Conference Proceedings from the Symposium Held at the School of Oriental and African Studies (London: University of London Press, 1955). 82 Seton Lloyd, ‘The Fall of Byzantium’, BBC Third Programme, 11 September 1953. 83 ‘500 Years Since Fall Of Constantinople’, The Times, 29 May 1953; ‘Ceremonies in Istanbul’, The Times, 30 May 1953; ‘Constantinople Since 1453’, The Times (3 June 1953). 84 Norman Baynes, ‘The Fall of Byzantium’, Listener (28 May 1953). 85 Roger Simpson, Radio Camelot: Arthurian Legends on the BBC, 1922–2005 (Cambridge: Brewer, 2008), 26–7. 86 Ibid., 27. 87 John Dryden, King Arthur, in Alan Lupack (ed.), Arthurian Drama: An Anthology (London and New York: Routledge, 1991), 67–115: 108. 88 Vladimir Nabokov, ‘Mr Masefield and Mr Clio’, New Republic, 9 December 1940, 808. 89 Diana Wallace, The Woman’s Historical Novel (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 167. 90 Rosemary Sutcliff, Sword at Sunset (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1963), vii.




At midcentury in Westminster, Government and Crown were both heavily invested in building a new vision of Britain that also looked back to the past. The New Elizabethan rhetoric that anticipated and celebrated the crowning of a ‘second’ Elizabeth necessarily invoked the immanence of the past to the envisioning of a national future. As manifest in governmentsponsored art, architecture and pageantry, however, it also built upon many of the established instincts that had defined the medievalism of preceding decades. This chapter considers the continued relevance of medievalism in postwar Britain as a distinctive historicist reaction to the pressures of recovery, austerity and the transformation of monarchy. In particular, it analyses the high-stakes completion of Giles Gilbert Scott’s new House of Commons in 1950 following its destruction by bombing in 1941, and the production of medieval spectacle and ritual for the Coronation in 1953. Such medievalist production – selectively marshalling aspects of the Middle Ages and deploying them in new cultural circumstances – was not merely a sign of conservative nostalgia, but was part of a wider phenomenon in which the Middle Ages could and did draw attention to the pressing problems and values of the present. These backward glances were not escapist, but firmly engaged with articulating a new story about Britain’s polyvalent identity at a time of much social and political debate about the postwar nation. The turn, return and selective investment in the art, architecture and ritual of the Middle Ages that characterized much of the completion of the 158

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House of Commons and the spectacle of the Coronation looked to enact future stability through nostalgic return. As manifest in the work of four twentieth-century architects who also designed textiles, metalwork and interior fittings (Giles Gilbert Scott, Keith Murray, Ninian Comper and Stephen Dykes Bower), this instinct could also incorporate progressive and even subversive notions. These architects and designers engaged with medievalism with an energy and freshness not seen on such a grand public scale since the high Victorian period. All four had very different ideas about what it was to be modern, and of what could be gained from exploring the Middle Ages as a resource for architecture and the decorative arts. For these New Elizabethan artists, medievalism contained the potential to unify and effect a cultural coherence through the very nature of its perceived flexibility. Instead of supporting one hermetic ideology or advancing a single narrative of nationhood, it could be offered as all things to all people, as a productively vague vehicle that yoked idealism to the figuration of a hopeful, if uncertain, national future.

Ashes and Neon: The House of Commons During World War II, the Palace of Westminster was damaged no less than 14 times. One of the most destructive incidents occurred on 10 and 11 May 1941, when both the House of Commons and Westminster Hall were subject to bombing. As it would not have been possible for fire fighters to save both spaces, the medieval Westminster Hall was saved, and the House of Commons was all but completely destroyed. From 1941 until 1950, the Commons convened in the Lords Chamber, with the Lords meeting in the Robing Room. These arrangements were kept secret until the war ended.1 Meanwhile, plans for the rebuilding of the House of Commons took shape. Following the fire of 1834 that had completely gutted the old Palace of Westminster, the government had established a competition to assess potential designs for a new palace, stating only that it should be either Gothic or Elizabethan in style. The Select Committee eventually chose Charles Barry who, along with his project partner A. W. N. Pugin, advanced a Perpendicular ideal for the new set of buildings. This style of late Gothic architecture was not only distinctively English, but also particularly suited to the site as it allowed Pugin to make direct reference to the adjacent Henry VII chapel of Westminster Abbey. In 1944, however, the idea of a similar competition was rejected. The chamber’s existing 159


Gothic style would be retained and, in the interests of efficiency, a single architect – Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (aided by his brother Adrian Gilbert Scott) – was selected to undertake the restoration and refurbishments. Giles Gilbert Scott (1880–1960) trained as an architect in the office of Temple Moore from 1899, and won the competition to design Liverpool Cathedral in 1902 at the age of 22. He designed libraries for both Oxford and Cambridge, as well as the distinctive K2 telephone box in 1925. He won the Royal Institute of British Architecture (RIBA) Gold Medal in the same year, going on to become President of RIBA in 1933. Scott was appointed to the Order of Merit in 1944 and awarded the Royal Society of Arts’ Albert Medal as a ‘builder of lasting heritage for Britain’ in 1949.2 Among Scott’s numerous ecclesiastical and civic commissions, the House of Commons project came between two distinctly metropolitan central London commissions: Waterloo Bridge, of 1937–40 and Bankside Power Station (now Tate Modern), begun in 1947 and completed in 1960. He was also invited to repair the bomb-damaged Guildhall in the City of London, for which he designed a controversial Gothic-style roof using materials that broke with traditions used by the Victorian neo-medievalists in the previous century.3 In 1935, Scott laid down his core ideology regarding contextual design and architectural coherence, ever-concerned with the relationship between style and identity, particularly in high-profile public projects. He claimed that ‘the influence of surroundings on the choice of materials and the technique of their use’ was a key aspect of successful architectural design. Attempting to find a path that would transcend stylistic sectarianism, Scott explained, ‘my plea is for a frank and common-sense acceptance of those features and materials which are practical and beautiful, regardless as to whether they conform with the formula of either the modern or the traditional school.’4 In 1953, this cornerstone of Scott’s architectural thinking was underscored in an interview about his designs for Trinity College’s chapel at the University of Toronto, in which he explained that ‘[s]tyle should mean the way in which a man expresses his intent. A copy can be dead: the intent of a living man, never.’5 Scott’s justification for his House of Commons design was acutely self-conscious. Strenuously claiming that he was not a Gothic revivalist in the Puginian or even broader Victorian sense, Scott presented himself as a pragmatic modern architect keyed in to rather than tied down by historic stylistic precedent. Many were as critical of Scott’s design as Scott himself was of Pugin and Barry’s Victorian approach to the House of Commons. Robert Lutyens complained about the ‘Gothicism which 160

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renders its appearance so ridiculous’.6 More remarkable, perhaps, is the negative view taken by E. H. Gombrich in his best-selling survey of art and architecture, The Story of Art. First published in 1950, the year that the new House of Commons opened, Gombrich’s account of the design boldly suggested that Scott’s approach ‘nearly killed’ architecture.7 Gombrich identifies Scott’s medievalist solution to the House of Commons’ destruction as not only backward but also fatal. The parallel between the site’s actual history of physical damage and trauma and Gombrich’s claims regarding its rebuilding as an architectural near-death experience is striking. It is not too strong to claim that Gombrich misunderstood Scott’s aim and the project’s wider context. Scott aimed to create a balance of contextual sensitivity and modern effectiveness in both space and facilities. The beginning of the 1944 Report from the Select Committee on House of Commons (Rebuilding) emphasized that ‘no attempt has been made to follow the design of the old woodwork or stonework, though the same style of architecture has been adopted, viz., late Gothic.’8 Scott followed this claim – notably conflating the Gothic Revival and the late medieval forms to which it referred – by digging into the matter of both style and construction. He criticized the destroyed House of Commons, claiming ‘the design of the wood and stone detail in the old building was not satisfactory.’9 In the Committee report on the rebuilding, Scott suggested that the demolition work and temporary making-good to stabilize the bombed site could take up to six months, and that further building works would take over four years to complete.10 The complexity of building into a restricted and sensitive site was part of the motivation for a long timescale despite the urgent need to rebuild and restore order to the site in a time of war. One of Scott’s key principles throughout his mature design practice was the importance of evolutionary rather than fragmentary approaches to style and architectural identity. As David Lewis argues, Gilbert Scott’s overarching belief was in the articulation, and sometimes even preservation, of a community’s ideals through carefully calibrated architectural planning.11 As Scott explained, he saw the Victorian era as a ‘period of individualism and revival of past traditional styles. There was no longer the binding influence of a common line of thought, common ideals and slow evolution; every artist thought for himself and works of art became expressions of individuals rather than expressions of a period.’12 The wages of individualism were the death of a coherent identity. Although Scott struggled to separate himself from his own heavily Gothic architectural genealogy (he was the grandson of George Gilbert Scott, and 161


son of George Gilbert Scott Jr), he believed that a distinctively modern approach to architecture must grow out of what had come before or else die on the vine. A product of his Victorian forebears and their medievalist vision, Giles Gilbert Scott suggested that much of the architecture he saw around him in the 1940s was too enamoured with machine aesthetics and not tied sufficiently closely to nature, ‘which has always been, and surely must always be, the basis of all art’.13 Scott railed against a modern architecture that was then in its infancy, and which ‘lack[ed] depth and quality’.14 In his contribution to the report on the Commons restoration and refurbishment, Scott seems to argue that Gothic is not a preferred style, but that in a climate marked by machine aesthetics and a general absence of aesthetic coherence (or consensus), it was simply the lesser of an array of possible architectural evils. The Report concludes: The Gothic detail of the old Chamber was lifeless and uninteresting, and the richness was spread evenly over the whole area without relief or contrasts. It has been our endeavour to remedy this, with the result that, though still Gothic in style, the effect will be entirely different from what existed before.15

This focus on the ‘endeavour’ of creating something sensitive yet truly different was reflected in the response of no less a figure than Winston Churchill, who remarked on the new design for the House of Commons, ‘We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us.’16 As Gavin Stamp explains, Churchill saw a strong foundation of political as well as aesthetic continuity in committing to a medievalist design.17 Scott’s reworking of the Perpendicular Gothic Revival aesthetic that made Pugin and Barry’s Houses of Parliament so distinctive constituted no less than a reinvention of the style for a postwar age. The project used efficient strip lighting that could not have been more different from Pugin and Barry’s mid-Victorian vision, though each lighting solution was state of the art for its time. Giles Gilbert Scott’s method of lighting the chamber earned it the epithet ‘neon-Gothic’, playing on the neo-Gothic which had gone before. In the new House of Commons, Scott was perpetuating a medievalist set of associations with governance and tradition through interior detail.18 The type of wood was also debated. While much of it was oak, the use of a variety of woods from across the Commonwealth to graft a post-colonial set of national affiliations materially into the building proved difficult to incorporate to any great extent. The new House of 162

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Commons nonetheless contained numerous furnishings provided by different Commonwealth countries. The project was criticized hotly at the time and thereafter for adhering conservatively not only to the style but also to the exact footprint of the old Barry and Pugin House of Commons; it apparently offered no distinctive architectural advance on the Victorian structure and its key elements beyond surface detail. Nonetheless, the project made numerous changes to the earlier House of Commons and not all were minor. Notably, the Press seats were increased from 93 to 161 and the Strangers’ seats were increased from 259 to 326. Vision from the Strangers’ seats into the chamber was significantly improved and the plans also promised ‘improved access to all parts of the House’.19 Compared to a potentially radical modernist architectural plan, these changes were relatively minor. They did, however, reflect a growing prioritization of wider public and journalistic access to government processes. In his extensive research on the contribution of Giles Gilbert Scott to modern British architecture, David Lewis offers an evocative description of the interlacing of modern and Gothic within the chamber: On the floor above the chamber, Gothic detailing broke out only occasionally in what was otherwise a standard set of mid-century corridor offices: florescent tubes on the ceilings were wrapped in bronze fret-work, windows were framed in stone […] It was as if the Gothic Revival Palace had grown into the new office block, wrapping itself around and punching through the walls like tough old ivy.20

At the new House of Commons, Scott was invoking and negotiating multiple Gothic histories. These histories were those not only of recent generations of Gothic revivalists who had reached back to Pugin’s mid-nineteenth-century practices, but also of the architectural history of the Middle Ages themselves. Within the Palace of Westminster, the medieval hall remained and dictated the architectural character of the new complex. Across Parliament Square, Westminster Abbey also imposed its medieval and modern layers of architectural and cultural history upon the skyline. This effect invokes comparison with Elias Canetti’s claims regarding architecture, monumentality and death in his 1960 publication Crowds and Power. Canetti produced this book as a means of grappling with the fluctuating psychology of crowds in the wake of Nazism and World War II. He suggests that architecture is an accumulation of 163


materials – indeed, as Andrew Ballantyne phrases this idea, ‘a crowd of stones’.21 Canetti postulates that these stones are an index of cultural meaning and its complex cohesion: In their oldest form, each separate stone stands for the man who has contributed it to the heap. Later the size and weight of the individual stone increases and each can only be mastered by a number of men working together. Such monuments may represent different things, but each contains the concentrated effort of innumerable difficult journeys […] They represent the rhythmic exertion of many men, of which nothing remains but indestructible monuments.22

Ultimately, this observation resonates with Scott’s straining at the reins of medievalism. He was attempting to provide something innovative with which to respond to his location, and to assert its signifying national importance through undeniably Gothic language.

Revivalist Spectacle: Westminster Abbey and the Coronation When designing the new Speaker’s Chair for the House of Commons, Giles Gilbert Scott called upon the expertise of two artisans working for the notable neo-medievalist design company Watts and Company.23 Watts and Company itself was a crucial aspect of mid-twentieth-century medievalism. It was founded in 1874 by three Gothic Revival architects: George Frederick Bodley, Thomas Garner and Giles Gilbert Scott’s father, George Gilbert Scott Jr.24 By the 1930s, the Depression had taken its toll, as had changing tastes. In 1946, Graham Hoare, the husband of Giles Gilbert Scott’s niece Elizabeth Hoare, took over the running of the company. By the 1950s a new era of fresh life for Watts’ neo-medieval aestheticism had begun. The company was a key part of the aesthetic presented in the Coronation at Westminster Abbey in 1953, particularly through the designs of Watts’ chief designers Keith Murray and Stephen Dykes Bower. Their free interpretation of medieval technique and ecclesiastical traditions partnered a distinctly mid-twentieth-century feel with a multifaceted yet resolutely idealistic medievalism. To mark the Coronation, Dykes Bower designed a blue altar frontal for Westminster Abbey. The orphreys depict the bread and wine of the Eucharist, the rose of England, the thistle of Scotland, the Welsh 164

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daffodil and the Plantagenet symbol of broom (the Latin name for which is planta genesta). The sacrament images, emblems of the United Kingdom and symbols of the monarchy’s lineage terminate on either side with bands of tulips and carnations finished with intricate stitching. The superfrontal, a thin strip of cloth running along the top of the frontal, was embroidered in gold thread with a Latin inscription from the first verse of Psalm 122, which in English reads, ‘I was glad when they said unto me, we will go into the house of the Lord.’ These words had been set to music and featured in coronations since that of Charles I. In 1902, Charles Hubert Parry wrote the well-known modern version of this anthem for the Coronation of Edward VII. It was this version, altered to include the name of Queen Elizabeth, that was used in 1953. Thus, Dykes Bower’s frontal and superfrontal design united the common musical, artistic, theological and royal heritage of the particular rituals and meanings of the Coronation within a medieval framework, including golden-threaded Gothic script. The gift of a luxurious frontal to the Abbey as part of an extended Coronation ritual was part of a wider tradition of thanks-offering in relation to power. Of course, the practice of gift-giving to signal imperial and Commonwealth ties is not unique to medievalism nor to the institutional giants of Parliament and Church. In his lecture on the Coronation robes at the Victoria and Albert Museum on 4 February 1953, the historian Lawrence Tanner explained that among the types of regalia associated with the monarch, one of the least known is the armills, bracelets that ‘hang in the manner of a stole about the neck’.25 The tradition emerged at the time of Edward II, and this item symbolized ‘sincerity and wisdom and is a token of God’s embracing defence against enemies’.26 Tanner described the new armills as a length of embroidered cloth featuring emblems of the Empire and the Commonwealth. Speaking prior to the Coronation, he could only speculate about whether or not this item would in fact be used in the ritual, noting that it was ‘certainly used at the Coronation of Elizabeth I’.27 In the Westminster Abbey archives that house a copy of Tanner’s lecture, a marginal note states: ‘they were.’28 Dykes Bower also supervised the production of Murray’s designs for a series of five copes for the canons and dean of Westminster Abbey. Also produced to mark the Coronation, Murray’s copes are as bold and vivid as the Dykes Bower frontal is restrained and simple. Murray’s design features broad orphreys with a rampant lion in gold and an equally animated unicorn in silver. Their eyes are picked out in shining red garnets.29 The blue silk background is punctuated by gold floral and 165


ogival motifs, their regularity contrasting with the flaming s-curve of the lion and unicorn tails framing and extending the bodies of the animals. Schoeser describes Murray’s approach to textile design as ‘a vigorous interpretation of a broader history of ceremonial and heraldic garments and [a] move away from the use of “religiosity” as previously prevailed in church vestment design’.30 Featuring the signs of the Crown at their most active and whimsical, the copes of the canons and dean unified a Festival of Britain aesthetic of strong bold colours and curving lines with the revival of medieval vestments that had taken hold a century before. Murray kept the orphreys relatively thin and of a slightly lighter fabric than earlier Watts Coronation copes, so that the folds of the fabric around the body would flow more freely. The tradition of cope hoods as embroidered flat and shield-like in shape was revised by a modernist return to first principles. The cope’s shield shape had evolved in the history of dress from an actual hood to a flattened space suited to ornamental iconographic embellishment. Even as Keith Murray produced an intensely vigorous and innovative response to royal heraldic imagery and ecclesiastical traditions of celebratory dress, so too did he return to an earlier precedent when designing the cope, connecting the legacy of the Victorian Gothic Revival with the renewal of far earlier historical forms of ecclesiastical liturgical dress. *** In 1953, The Times reported that the Coronation of a young queen signalled ‘dedicating the future by ancient forms’, in which ‘we declare our faith that life itself rises out of the shadow of death, that victory is wrested out of the appearances of failure.’31 The Perpendicular Gothic style itself was a bridge between notions of what was medieval and what was Elizabethan. In the New Elizabethan age, this late Gothic aesthetic offered a dialogic space within which one could look forward as well as backward through time. This was a question of continuity as much as one of revival.32 One of the most canonical images associated with the Coronation is the portrait of the Queen by Cecil Beaton. One of a series, this representation places the Queen’s body at the crux of a medieval modern world. Power and queenship in the royal flesh and blood of the ruler’s feminine body is paired – and indeed effectively contrasted against – the theatrical caprice of Beaton’s theatrical studio environment. Here, Henry VII’s Perpendicular Gothic chapel fades into a soft stage set, evidently a backdrop that abruptly meets the carpeted floor in the background of the 166

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image, as the Queen sits prominently with orb and sceptre in hand. In Beaton’s portrait, the Queen occupies a neo-classical chair with Grecian detail. Her surrounding furniture, emblems of status and position, her dress that encompasses embroidery and ermine, signal a blend of styles, times, places and identities. Chairs were an important element of the Coronation and one of the key aspects upon which the Queen herself gave explicit comment and instruction. On 24 February 1953, the report on the Coronation chairs outlined the Queen’s desire that the throne’s legs and stretchers be based on chairs at Kimbolton Castle, and that the bespoke design should be a composite of the details she preferred out of a range of examples drawn from Macquoid’s Dictionary of English Furniture.33 Textile, architecture and metalwork are key glinting signifiers here, connecting the cultural significance of Westminster Abbey with the particular historicist hybridity of 1953 as a key moment for the monarchy and for Britain. In Beaton’s portrait, the Queen’s location – in the Abbey and not in the Abbey – invokes both the Coronation and the artifice of portraiture. As such, the image resonates with John Betjeman’s reflections on his own experience of the Coronation at the Abbey. Ritual is the core subject of his discussion: ‘I could see the Throne itself on the “theatre” which is a golden carpeted space at the crossing of the Transepts.’34 He continues, ‘For all its splendour and solemnity the Coronation service is simple and full of meaning. It is not pageantry, unless you call the sacraments of our old Church of England pageantry.’35 Betjeman connects the here and now of the Abbey in 1953 to a much more expansive meaning of regal and national power that is playing out on ‘this space of golden carpet which is soon to be, for all of us at any rate who are gathered here, the heart of the world’.36 In May 1954, Stephen Dykes Bower reinforced this reading of the representative significance of the Abbey and its national pageantry. In a lecture for broadcast on the BBC, he noted that the Abbey had recently been the site of much splendour and outpouring of national pride and confidence. Like many who had contributed to that royal pageant, he also stressed the importance of the perpetual upkeep of what was a central site of national identity and theatre: Now – and only just in time – through the success of the possible to put in hand the work of saving Westminster handing it on, we may hope, in sounder condition as well beauty to future generations. Because there is probably no 167

appeal, it is Abbey, and as enhanced one building

THE NEW ELIZABETHAN AGE that has such a unique place in the affections of the whole English speaking race, no building could be more worth saving.37

Medievalist Afterlives In 1958, Betjeman, Nikolaus Pevsner and a cluster of other influential voices in architectural history founded the Victorian Society. Reflecting ruefully upon a common interwar attitude to the Gothic revival as a horrific failure, Betjeman suggested that the value of heritage in contemporary architecture be re-acknowledged. Betjeman wrote, ‘It is only by using our eyes in our own streets and deciding what we like and what we don’t like in them that there is any hope of clearing up the mess which theorists, remote from life and taking vague global views about architecture, have left for us.’38 In his study of the cultural legacies of medievalism, Michael Camille engages with Walter Benjamin’s theories of history to account for the ‘transmission’ of a Gothic monument’s meaning over time without slipping into the murkiness of nostalgia.39 He suggests that Benjamin’s notion of ‘dialectical images’ can assist in the formation of clearer interpretations of what is meant when we explore the heft of heritage. Benjamin asserts, ‘Only dialectical images are genuinely historical – that is, not archaic – images. The image that is read – which is to say, the image in the now of its recognizability – bears to the highest degree the imprint of the perilous critical moment on which all reading is founded.’40 The monuments and sites too frequently given that lazy label ‘iconic’ are often not as pristinely coherent as users, viewers and commentators might desire. The specificity of their crowd of stones, built and decaying over time in cycles of construction and destruction, are shifting in meaning and expressions of cultural significance over time. This was part of the problem that beset the rituals of the Coronation and the rebuilding of the House of Commons. How would it be possible to make these stones sing with an ancient and a modern song when the sites themselves simply could not be relegated to a mere fantastical nostalgia? As Benjamin points out and as Camille’s exploration of the uses and abuses of Gothic style in modern culture confirms, ‘the destructive impulse is just as strong as the saving impulse. From what can something be redeemed? Not so much from the disrepute or discredit in which it is held as from a determined mode of its transmission. The way in which it is valued as “heritage” is more insidious than its disappearance could ever 168

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be.’41 When new and old are so closely entwined, their fragments form a meaningful and functional future replete with rich symbolism. In the case of both the Abbey and the new House of Commons, and even in the reiterations of ritual surrounding the body of the monarch, new and old are palimpsestically interlaced and in perpetual confrontation. The Abbey itself is a vessel infused with holy tradition, inviting constant reiterations of medievalism. The postwar House of Commons, destroyed but never forgotten, haunted the public memory and informed Giles Gilbert Scott’s canny approach to the rebuilding project. Looking back and striding forward, Scott’s House of Commons was neither a painstaking reconstruction nor a melancholy echo. A Gothic ethos stripped to its leanest possible symbolic programme, its modern use of neon and lifts was as important as its expressive rhythm of Gothic arches and heraldic motifs.

Notes   1 ‘Bomb Damage’, available at (last accessed 1 November 2014).   2 N.a., ‘Obituary: Giles Gilbert Scott’, Journal of the Royal Society of Arts cviii/5045 (April 1960), 374.   3 N.a., ‘Plan for Guildhall Roof Approved’, The Times, 23 January 1953.   4 Giles Gilbert Scott, ‘Modern Ideas in Architecture’, The Times, 21 June 1935.   5 Ibid., quoted in Pearl McCarthy, ‘Architect Visits His Handiwork for First Time’, Globe and Mail, 28 October 1955.   6 Robert Lutyens, quoted in Gavin Stamp, ‘“We Shape our Buildings and Afterwards our Buildings Shape Us”’, in Christine Riding and Jacqueline Riding (eds), The Houses of Parliament (London: Merrell, 2000), 149–66: 157.   7 E. H. Gombrich, The Story of Art, 16th edn (London: Phaidon, 2010), 499–500.   8 Report from the Select Committee on House of Commons (Rebuilding): Together with Photographs, Plans and Sections (London: H. M. Stationery Office, 1944), 8.   9 Ibid. 10 Ibid.,13. 11 David Lewis, ‘Modernising Tradition: The Architectural Thought of Giles Gilbert Scott, 1880–1960’, DPhil thesis, Oxford University, 2014. 12 Report from the Select Committee (Rebuilding), 8. 169

THE NEW ELIZABETHAN AGE 13 Ibid. 14 Ibid. 15 Ibid. 16 HC Deb 28 October 1943, vol. 393, cc403-73. 17 Gavin Stamp, ‘We Shape’, 149. 18 Ibid., 159. 19 Report from the Select Committee (Rebuilding), 5. 20 Lewis, ‘Modernising Tradition’, 2014, 301. 21 Andrew Ballantyne, Architecture Theory (London: Routledge, 2005), 158. 22 Elias Canetti, Crowds and Power (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973), 88. 23 Mary Schoeser, English Church Embroidery 1833–1953: The Watts Book of Embroidery (London: Watts, 1998), 90. 24 See Stamp, An Architect of Promise: George Gilbert Scott Jr (1839–97) and the Late Gothic Revival (Donington: Shaun Tyas, 2002); Michael Hall, George Frederick Bodley (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014); Ayla Lepine, ‘On the Founding of Watts & Co., 1874’, 2012. Available at http:// (accessed 1 November 2014). 25 Lawrence Tanner, ‘Coronation Robes’, lecture delivered at the Victoria and Albert Museum, 4 February 1953, Westminster Abbey Archives, 63500X, 19. 26 Ibid. 27 Ibid. 28 Ibid. 29 Westminster Abbey Archives, Watts and Company papers, 63332, 28 May 1953. 30 Schoeser, English, 90. 31 The Times, 6 April 1953, quoted in Heather Wiebe, Britten’s Unquiet Pasts: Sound and Memory in Postwar Reconstruction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 109. 32 For an assessment of perennial qualities in relation to Pre-Raphaelitism, medievalism and modernism, see Elizabeth Prettejohn, ‘Pre-Raphaelite Legacies’, in Tim Barringer, Jason Rosenfeld and Alison Smith (eds), Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde Exhibition Catalogue (London: Tate, 2012). 33 Coronation Chair Report, Westminster Abbey Archives, Z/1/3/6/120. 34 John Betjeman, ‘The Queen’s Coronation: In the Abbey’, Country Life, 1953. Available at (accessed 3 January 2015). 35 Ibid. 36 Ibid. 37 Stephen Dykes Bower, ‘BBC Transcript’, Westminster Abbey Archives, Dykes Bower papers, 5/3/1. 38 Betjeman, ‘No Longer the Vogue’, Spectator, 24 January 1958. 39 Michael Camille, The Gargoyles of Notre Dame: Medievalism and the Monsters of Modernity (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 347. 170

Postwar Revival: Elizabethan Medievalism at MidCentury 40 Walter Benjamin, Arcades Project (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002), 463. 41 Benjamin, quoted in Camille, Gargoyles, 347.






No one kno wot to do about anything at the moment so they say the future is in the hands of YOUTH […] All the same we are young elizabethans and it can’t be altered … (Molesworth)1

Scenes from a film: An apocalyptic London landscape. Children repeatedly smash a man’s head against a stone. Hundreds of youths pour down steps onto The Mall, a few hundred yards from Buckingham Palace, heading for a violent fight already started by hundreds more, overwhelmingly male, youth on the banks of the Thames by Southwark Bridge. This dystopian vision of violent children in a postwar urban wasteland is from the closing sequences of the first great Ealing Comedy, Hue and Cry, filmed in 1946.2 Those film scenes offer vibrant images of the potentially disruptive energies embodied by the postwar young. Set in and around the Blitzravaged docks near Southwark Bridge, Hue and Cry centres on a group of mainly working-class children and teenagers foiling a gang of fur thieves. Scripted by ex-police officer T. E. B. Clarke, its most memorable scenes show hundreds of young people swarming through London to ambush the gang’s rendezvous in the rubble by the river. The scenes take place not just on Bankside and in the East End, but on the steps down from the Duke of York Memorial onto the Mall, in an unmistakeable homage to Eisenstein’s revolutionary scene on the Potemkin Stairs. The hordes of children, enough to swamp the crooks by sheer weight of numbers, seem to come from all over the city, drawn by 1946 versions of social media. 175


It is a comic-strip narrative in which a group of more-or-less self-managing young people perform acts of hearty, socially sanctioned violence. After they repeatedly smash the head of a crook against a stone, the boy hero later puts his crooked nemesis out of action by leaping from a height onto his ribcage, rendering him unconscious. In spite of its conservative conclusion (the crooks are conquered), the film also seems to hint that all these young energies might need either taming or harnessing. Indeed, the film’s final images in church confirm this containment: the choirboys first seen in the opening shots of the film, now bruised, bandaged and plastered from their worthy crime-fighting, find their potential for anarchic self-management safely reined in as they chorus, ‘O, For the Wings of a Dove’. Something was released into the dust-laden air of the bombed cities, and whatever that energy was, the Arts Council began to acknowledge. In 1945, the Arts Council of Great Britain had been created out of the wartime Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA). Young people were not central to that founding, but the Council slowly awoke to a growing pressure to fund drama for young people, and, in so doing, stirred into life a series of debates about the financial mechanisms and political justifications for spending the money of taxpayers on drama for and by the young. Already in 1942, the Ministry of Information had commissioned a documentary, C.E.M.A.,3 to promote the organization’s work in raising morale and keeping up the spirits of wartime Britain. Children appear in it twice. There are scenes from a rehearsal and performance of a touring production of The Merry Wives of Windsor in which a child actor plays Page. There is also a very potent sequence earlier in the film that shows the Reginald Jacques Orchestra rehearsing in an ordnance factory. Workers stream out of the factory, and four boys peer through a gap in the factory fence. To the sound of the orchestra, they mimic the flute and violin they supposedly hear. The sequence is clearly rehearsed, and the whole film is carefully constructed to convey the essence of what the wartime government intended its audience to think about CEMA. Young people have clear roles: they are either quasiprofessionals or they are larky voyeurs, good-naturedly parodying adult pretensions. A meeting of the Board of Education on 18 December 1939 was to result in the founding of the prototype for the postwar Arts Council of Great Britain. A memorandum stated: This country is supposed to be fighting for civilization and democracy and 176

The Arts Council and the Young Elizabethans if these things mean anything they mean a way of life where people have liberty and opportunity to pursue the things of peace.4

In that memo, the arts are identified as corpuscular carriers of instrumental ‘goods’ in the national bloodstream, including civilization, democracy and liberty. Undoubtedly some of the thinking influencing those broadly social democratic aims would have constituted, by 1939, a recognition that both Soviet communism and National Socialism had captured the arts for their respective ideologies and bound them to the state apparatus, with prohibitions and highly directive artistic policies. (The memo was written not just after the declaration of war but in what must have been a gloomy awareness of the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact signed earlier that summer.) Both regimes had encouraged significant youth drama activity; the Soviet Union in particular drew on a rich tradition of youth theatre stretching back to Stanislavsky. The 1946 Royal Charter, remoulding CEMA into the Arts Council, made no specific provision for young people. It also used the term ‘fine arts’ deliberately to exclude the amateur and semi-professional work that CEMA had instigated under wartime pressures and priorities. In the move from CEMA to the Arts Council, the key transformational policy of that great helmsman of the early Arts Council, John Maynard Keynes, was to privilege, in a period when state funding was very tight, established support for professional arts over anything that still smacked of CEMA’s proto-community arts remit. In that climate, theatre for the young was always going to fight for status. Mary Glasgow, a key figure in CEMA before she became in 1951 the first Arts Council Secretary-General under Keynes’ chairmanship, had also been a Schools Inspector before working for CEMA, and was one of the first Arts Council members to raise the possibility of the Arts Council taking children seriously at all. She observed that there was nothing in the Council’s Charter that limited interest to adults. This potential welcoming of the young, however, then retreats into an anxiety that conflates common reflections on teaching practice at the time with purely arts matters: An advertised connection with education, such as the phrase ‘sponsored by the Great Whoopington Education Committee’ on a concert poster is not always helpful. Any suggestion of ‘welfare’ or ‘improvement’ may be fatal to the success of a venture and the Education Committee does not always enjoy the highest possible local prestige.5



At the same time as his Secretary-General was opening up the idea of the Arts Council as at least thinking about the young, Keynes cast his personal chill over the whole prospect of a policy to fund young people’s theatre. Keynes’ choice of language in his final published writing, The Arts Council: Its Policy and Hopes, is powerful in its wish to distance itself not just from the instrumentalist idealism of CEMA, but specifically from the classroom: The artist walks where the breath of the spirit blows him. He cannot be told his direction; he does not know it himself. But he leads the rest of us into fresh pastures and teaches us to love and to enjoy what we often begin by rejecting, enlarging our sensibility and purifying our instincts […] But do not think of the Arts Council as a schoolmaster. Your enjoyment will be our first aim.6

Set against this vision of artists as passive victims of their artistic impulses is the dread of any kind of inculcation, preaching or propaganda. Such distaste is understandable from the bombsites and trauma of a war still being fought against a totalitarian state even as the words were broadcast. Keynes accomplishes two things. He has fun at the expense of an easy target – teachers – but at the back of his imaginings is also the sense that to admit any instrumental purpose to art is off limits. Already in the documentary C.E.M.A., children are cheeky outsiders staring in at an adult world. After the war, other media began to look ahead to the world those outsiders and their brothers and sisters would create and be created by. Humphrey Jennings’ 1945 documentary, A Diary for Timothy, is one manifestation of this postwar visioning of the young. It scans many of the events of the war from the perspective of a newborn baby whose father is serving abroad. Its script, co-authored by Jennings, Dylan Thomas and E. M. Forster, looks forward to the postwar world with a questioning optimism. Michael Redgrave’s concluding voiceover to a wide-awake baby asks: Will it be like that again? Are you going to have greed for money or power ousting decency from the world as they have in the past? Or are you going to make the world a different place? You, and the other babies?7

In the exhausted moment of imminent victory, A Diary for Timothy’s anxious optimism signalled an important question. One answer culturally for some young people was to be identified by their elders as New Elizabethans, essentially a cult of youth, even if it was in practice largely 178

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middle-class youth. If the Festival of Britain was ‘A Tonic for the Nation’, the New Elizabethan brand provided a bottle of pop and lashings of ginger beer for its supposedly patriotic youth; its head was the monarchy, its state-sponsored pageant was the 1953 Coronation and its house journal was the Young Elizabethan magazine. This publication was the home of he whom Philip Hensher has identified as the great antihero of the postwar world.8 Eclipsing Alan Sillitoe’s Arthur Seaton, John Osborne’s Jimmy Porter, or Samuel Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon, Nigel Molesworth, the Curse of St Custard’s, was a schoolboy created by a survivor of the Japanese slave labour camps, Ronald Searle, and by a sailor who had fought in the Battle for Crete, Geoffrey Willans. Their creation emerges as the ultimate 1950s social critic, close to the centres of public school power but deeply cynical about its tribes and strategies. The cast of dysfunctional, violent teachers in the Molesworth stories would have reflected the unavailability of their functional counterparts after the war. There is, beneath Willans’ schoolboy satire, a tone of apprehensive melancholy that speaks to a sense of powerlessness: Wot I mean is, we are YOUTH chiz chiz whether we like it or not and as every weed who come to give us prizes sa – The Future is in yore keeping. N.b. it is no use saing We don’t want it. You can keep it etc. Nobody wants the future and we are left holding the baby.9

That wild energy suggests not just a chiming with the middle-class optimism of the Young Elizabethan magazine and its ordered reconstruction of battered Britain, but also a foreshadowing of some of the problems a generation down the line. If the Arts Council shunned the overtly educational, it had yet fully to embrace the provision of young people’s theatre (hereafter YPT) in its modern guise as an instrumental contributor to programmes of social cohesion and individual self-realization. The popular arts, film especially, were quicker off the mark to register a shift from Jennings’ cautious hope to a sense that the young were beginning to be a source of worry, a challenge to old ideas about authority. The Blue Lamp, released five years into peacetime and also scripted by Clarke, brings to the surface a characteristic anxiety of the immediate postwar years – the fear of a cohort of working-class youth, damaged by the ruptures of war and their effects on family life, who would turn from petty crime to murder. After a scene in which a fraught mother surrounded by noisy children complains about her teenage daughter Diana staying 179


out two nights running, its authorial voice-over is explicit in its contextualizing warning: The case of Diana Lewis is typical of many. A young girl showing the effects of a childhood spent in a home broken and demoralized by war. These restless and ill-adjusted youngsters have produced a type of delinquent which is partly responsible for the postwar increase in crime.10

The fictional Hue and Cry and The Blue Lamp and the quasi-documentary A Diary for Timothy, products of the immediate postwar world and of mainstream production organizations, all offer potent representations that question how the postwar world is going to manage the young generations that follow. Fran Abrams cites Golding’s influential 1954 (and therefore Cold War-influenced) novel Lord of the Flies as another indication of rising anxiety about the young Elizabethans. She describes the 1950s as ‘an age of plenty for children’ but continues: Yet this was also an age in which the young were vilified, perhaps even more so than they had been in earlier eras. And the old, pre-enlightenment idea that children were born evil, needing strict discipline in order to drive out the devil from them, was having a resurgence.11

As Golding’s novel suggests, the nexus of anxieties and debates about how authority (particularly as invested in state institutions) is to deal with the energy and creativity released by the arrival of peace would soon be tempered by the gathering storm of an even more apocalyptic war, wishfully thought of as ‘cold’ by commentators. However, something was stirring in the Arts Council as its clients became conscious of their obligations to, and ambitions for, young people. Other streams flow into this New Elizabethan pool of influence. During the war, the Army Bureau of Current Affairs (ABCA) had been set up to counter uninformed rumour amongst serving soldiers, to educate the ordinary soldiery about political and philosophical issues connected to the war they were fighting and also to educate them for the postwar world of (hoped-for) peace. The Bureau’s Director was William Emrys Williams, whose career continually linked the worlds of arts and education. Before the war, he had participated in the Arts for the People scheme; after the war, he was Secretary-General at the Council from 1951 to 1963. Williams’ connection with Allen Lane at Penguin Books earned him the nickname ‘Pelican’ Bill, after the imprint Penguin had 180

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instituted to broaden the availability of key scientific, intellectual and cultural texts. ABCA itself produced a pamphlet, The Artist and the Public, by the newspaper cartoonist Ronald Giles. The work articulates a view of the future of the arts that captures a sense of the possibilities open to the whole of the postwar arts world: The public is waking up. The standard of appreciation is improving. I think the war has made people more alive to situations and environments, and what is more important, to other people’s situations and environments.12

A short propaganda film made for ABCA, The British and Current Affairs, contains scenes in which roomfuls of soldiers take part in ABCA discussion groups. The clear indication of the film, judging by the accents of the participants, is that the scheme is to be run by officers for the benefit of other ranks. Through both General Adam at ABCA (and later the British Council) and Williams at ABCA, CEMA and the Arts Council, a powerful ethos emerged to support the arts as significant parts of peacetime British social experience. As the ABCA film concludes: We recognise that a new world is in the building now. ABCA is helping to win the war by giving the soldier the weapon of truth and understanding. It is also laying the foundations of an enlightened society which will one day enjoy the peace.13

It is certainly possible to discern in the adult and military education streams personified by Williams and Adam the dim outline of ideas about participation and interaction that would come into clearer focus in a whole range of YPT work from the 1960s on and in the Community Arts field, frequently a placeholder for much YPT work. There is also, swimming in this still militarized stream, a suggestion of creative challenge to authority. Culturally, in the immediate postwar period, young people and youth had little independent identity and did not have many powerful institutions (other than educational ones, or quasi-educational ones like Scouts and Guides) to speak for them or allow them to speak for themselves. The Arts Council, having early set its face against the amateur, saw little need directly to subsidize the Christmas pantomime, a major revenue-earner of the commercial theatre. Thus, for most of the Council’s early history, the status and standards of YPT were intricately wound into the Council’s problematic relationship with notions of the amateur. The notable 181


exception to this tendency is the encouragement given to a Children’s Theatre at Glyndebourne Opera and the Old Vic, high status houses with elements of YPT included in their programmes. If the amateur-professional was one source of tension in early Arts Council discussion and advocacy, another tension was that between Art and Social Service. In a sense, Keynes’ own strictures about school culture had laid the ground for this friction, but there is also a strong relationship between the wartime culture of state provision for arts and entertainment and other perceived necessities of postwar reconstruction. Amongst these were the provision of council housing, the nationalization of railways and power, and the establishment of the NHS. Arts Council officials began to use terminology that either implicitly or directly invoked the arts as a social service. This tendency opened up the possibility of a purpose, a ‘social good’ along the lines laid out in that 1939 memorandum, to the work being subsidized on behalf of the nation. It also suggested a useful set of evaluative criteria for the worthiness of a project to receive the nation’s limited money. A 1946 paper, ‘Drama Policy’, written by the Drama director Michael MacOwen, argued for a ‘complete overhaul’ of Arts Council dramatic policy and the work of the Drama department. He identifies two fundamental issues – whether to create new structures or to improve existing ones – and then what he defines as ‘The solution of the Quality/Quantity equation’: This is far more difficult in the theatrical field than in music or art, mainly because there are practically no accepted standards in the theatre; and also because the theatre in this country is really a branch of the entertainment industry. Another way of stating the problem is to say that in the Drama Department it is difficult for us to see whether we are an Arts Council or a Council of Social Service.14

This ‘difficulty’ may well have been resolved in the writer’s mind and the organization’s policy in favour of the arts, but his articulation of a zeitgeisty opposition offers a useful insight into the newborn Arts Council’s grasping for its identity.

New Elizabethan Lobbyists: Pioneer Practitioners The pressure wave to establish YPT as legitimate territory for state funding, sometimes in the face of insecurity about indoctrination modelled by the 182

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Nazi and Stalinist states, was articulated by a number of enthusiasts. The ones offered here are representative only of an embryonic lobby.

George Devine – The Old Vic Children’s Theatre Company Between 1947 and 1951, three directors, George Devine, Glen Byam Shaw and Michel Saint-Denis, set up the Old Vic Theatre Centre to run a drama school (Byam Shaw), a children’s theatre (Devine) and what was for the time an experimental theatre (Saint-Denis). The project had begun in the autumn of 1946, when the Young Vic Company was established. That year saw the staging of two productions with young people directly in mind, The Black Arrow, adapted from Robert Louis Stevenson, and The Snow Queen, by Hans Christian Andersen. The project’s integration of a range of activities – from being a de facto National Theatre (at least in embryo), to training new talent in acting and direction, to acknowledging an audience close to the education sector, made for a remarkably coherent and prescient modern scheme. Unfortunately, the outcome of the many conflicts, personal and artistic, between board and directors of the Old Vic, was the resignation, in 1952, of Devine and his two colleagues. With that event and Devine’s championship of an idea of children’s theatre unfulfilled, there was a hiatus in his advocacy for YPT until he animated the birth of the English Stage Company at the Royal Court and became part of the original team to work, briefly, on the Arts Council’s Young People’s Theatre Enquiry of 1964–6. Devine was one of the first nominees to the Arts Council’s Young People’s Panel, and would certainly have taken a prominent role in its development had it not been for his illness and premature death in 1966.

John Allen – Glyndebourne Children’s Theatre Like Devine, Allen had worked before the war with Michel Saint-Denis and like other key members of the Arts Council, he was a lecturer for the Workers’ Education Association. In 1941, he joined the Glyndebourne opera company to oversee its Children’s Theatre. Glyndebourne remained unsubsidized by the Arts Council save for the exceptional Festival of Britain year (1951), but it gave Allen an experience that he later took into the Arts Council as a panel member. In 1961, he was appointed 183


HM Inspector of Schools with national responsibility for drama and dance, and from that position became, on joining the Young People’s Theatre Panel of the Arts Council, a powerful advocate for funding of YPT. Allen also sets out his own, loose contextualization of the work of his Glyndebourne company: It was all part of a widespread attempt to realize certain social ideals that had been embodied in the Health and Education Acts of 1948 which helped to earn for the country the ‘sobriquet’ of ‘the welfare state.’15

An identification of the welfare state with artistic activity (and the challenging of that idea over the following five decades) is a recurring theme through much of what follows.

Brian Way – Theatre Centre A pioneer of the idea of active learning through drama, Brian Way set up Theatre Centre, which toured plays – they were not yet what Theatre in Education (TiE) practitioners called programmes – into schools, sometimes paid for by the school and sometimes by the local education authorities. Unlike Jenner’s model, Way’s principle was to perform and work with one class at a time, allowing a greater depth of engagement and participation from audience-collaborators. Way had been strongly influenced by the pioneer schools drama theorist Peter Slade, and through Slade’s influence, the evolution of pure performance display into a hybrid that combined action with spectatorship laid the basis for the TiE movement. Theatre Centre became another powerful locus for recognition of YPT at the Arts Council.

Caryl Jenner – Unicorn Theatre for Children Jenner’s company Mobile Theatre operated a mixed economy of touring adult and children’s theatre within a model that was a hangover from the wartime touring of the CEMA companies. The Arts Council had an on/off affair with Jenner’s Mobile Theatre company and its subsequent manifestation as Unicorn Theatre for Children. Jenner was a persistent contributor to Arts Council debate particularly when she had turned her company over completely to work for young people. She lobbied the Council for 184

The Arts Council and the Young Elizabethans

a building-based National Youth Theatre, parallel with the postwar lobby for a National Theatre.

Michael Croft – National Youth Theatre Croft, with his teacher colleague Kenneth Spring, founded the National Youth Theatre. Like Jenner, he frequently acted as a wasp in the Arts Council’s jam jar. The Council’s distaste for the amateur was always going to be problematic for the Youth Theatre movement because the theatrical product it delivers is not professional (though frequently pre-professional). What Croft did have on his side, however, was his own formidable energy and an enthusiasm that led him to raise money and celebrity support from a variety of charitable and personal sources from within the theatre profession. An advocate, like Jenner, for a building base for YPT, Croft’s pressure on the Arts Council was, panel minutes suggest, often resented. He was able to recruit the likes of Sir Ralph Richardson to Arts Council meetings, but this celebrity backing was thought suspect by some panel members. Education authorities had already begun from the prewar period to appoint specialist drama inspectors, some of whom later became members of Arts Council YPT panels. The theoretical work of Lev Vygotsky, John Dewey and Jerome Bruner was making its mark on teacher training. Colleges of Education, particularly Bretton Hall near Leeds and Rose Bruford in Kent, were increasingly influential in promoting drama and its importance for the young. The cutting edge of educational theory and practice evolving in these institutions was moving the perception of young people as empty vessels to be filled with examinable knowledge into one of them as participants, along with their teachers, in learning. The new emphasis on active learning, on doing rather than absorbing regurgitated fact, is clearly related to the territory of drama, and made some common cause with the likes of Michael Croft and the other advocates for the YPT movement. *** With the welfare state as a model in which young people were provisioned with free orange juice, milk and vaccines and free national educational provision, in the theatre world and in the education world many now began to see a possibility for a universal provision of theatre art for young people, linking the theatrical and the educational worlds. 185


The stage was set, a little over a decade from the beginning of the New Elizabethan era, for an Arts Council enquiry into provision of theatre for the young. With debates about comprehensive education and child-centred learning active, the almost contemporaneous government white paper A Policy for the Arts arrived in 1964, nominally authored by the Right Honourable Jennie Lee. The Labour government’s appointment of Lee as the first ever Minister for the Arts speaks to an optimism (tinged with anxiety) engendered by the arrival to adulthood of the first baby-boom cohort. The first Wilson government had to work with a majority of only four seats. The use of a circular requesting preparation for comprehensivization, rather than a direct enactment in law, was a recognition that opposition should not be carelessly stirred up at a critical moment when the government’s majority was slight. This served to engender caution on the educational planning front and allowed a set of workarounds for opponents of comprehensive education similar to those that Aneurin Bevan, Lee’s deceased husband, had encountered with opponents of socialized medicine in the NHS. The question hovering around the arts agenda set out in Lee’s A Policy for the Arts is to what extent parallel compromises with the realities of power would be made. Within that document, however, were doors and gates that were to prove practical for the encouragement of YPT funding: Nor can we ignore the growing revolt, especially among the young, against the drabness, uniformity and joylessness of much of the social furniture we have inherited from the industrial revolution. This can be directed, if we so wish, into making Britain a gayer and more cultivated country.16

There is a recognition in this wording, an intuition that something new is stirring. The language is indicative – ‘revolt’ is sharper than ‘complaint’, and the phrase ‘social furniture’ astutely conflates the material with the conceptual. Lee was a cleverly iconic appointment not just because of her inherent abilities, but also because of the powerful symbolic charge she brought with her as Bevan’s widow. Lee’s appointment brought with it something of the same democratizing idea of provision across class barriers of the arts, analogously with health. Lawrence Black characterizes Lee’s paper thus: It asserted that ‘in any civilized community the arts […] must occupy a central place’, and welcomed the prospect of ‘increasing automation bringing more leisure.’ […] In 1964 Labour promised ‘generous support 186

The Arts Council and the Young Elizabethans for the Arts Council, the theatre, orchestras, concert halls, museums and art galleries’, and the 1966 manifesto regarded ‘access for all to the best of Britain’s cultural heritage’ as a ‘hallmark of a civilized country.’17

In 1965, the Labour Education secretary Antony Crosland sent out the circular requesting local authorities to move to a system of comprehensive education. Taken together with the Newsom Report in 1963 and the Plowden Report in 1967, government initiatives that tackled respectively ‘average and below-average’ children and the primary school sector, this move signifies one of the highpoints of what became characterized as progressive education. In 1964, the Arts Council set up an enquiry under the chairmanship of Hugh Willett. It lasted two years and by then the first TiE team, funded by a partnership of Local Authority and Council money, had been established at the new Belgrade Theatre in Coventry (1965). Most significantly, TiE provision was envisioned as an all-year-round provision with a permanent team organization, perhaps the closest to a pure milk and orange-juice model of arts provision. The 21st Annual Report, 1965–6, of the Arts Council contains a report on the conclusion and the provisions of the YPT Enquiry: The Young Peoples Theatre Panel is exceptional in its gathering together of people from the two differing – though allied – worlds of drama and education. This friendly confrontation combined with a close and critical interest in the matters under discussion has already germinated ideas of the greatest value to the Arts Council.18

By 1965, we had come a long way from the CEMA kids larking about outside the canteen back door. Yet the new sense of purpose around YPT funding allowed in newer contemporary anxieties, articulated by the Arts Council’s Chairman Lord Goodman in his speech to the House of Lords in 1967: I believe that young people lack values, lack certainties, lack guidance […] and need it more desperately than they have needed it at any time in our history […] I believe that once young people are captured for the arts they are redeemed […] I believe that here we have constructive work to do.19

What is surprising is that Goodman, perhaps unwittingly, now thinks there might actually be an instrumental purpose for YPT, but it is a defensive one. His language, conflating the religious (‘redeemed’) with 187


the military (‘captured’), seems haunted by the feral kids of Hue and Cry out of control on the bombsites. Goodman does not say that YPT will keep the young off the street and out of the borstals, but he seems to imply it. The phrase ‘juvenile delinquents’ came into fashion in the postwar years. Elements of the conservative right and the socialist left made common cause in identifying it as something to do with the corrupting effect of the vulgar, cash-rich United States, whose servicemen had so recently been over here, overpaid and oversexed. Keynes’ oft-quoted ‘Death to Hollywood’ and the elements of the left that resisted American pop culture as corrupting were symptomatic of a parochial reversion to an imagined past. Whatever hangover of heroism there might have been at the end of the youth of the second Elizabethan era were now to be involved in either the ultimate nihilism of all-out nuclear war – unwinnable by any but the cockroaches – or party to a number of small, dirty, under-reported colonial wars: Cyprus, Malaya, Kenya, each with their own narrative of little-spoken-of atrocities. Some of these young men, amongst them major playwrights John Arden, Edward Bond and Arnold Wesker, were called up into the postwar forces. All formed ideas about class from their experiences as conscripts, and the military featured prominently in some of their key works. Perhaps given the inevitable trauma, often unacknowledged posttraumatic stress disorder, widowhood and common knowledge about concentration camps and atomic weapons, it is not surprising that the children of the returnees, as a cohort, should have been prey to unresolved tensions about their place in the world. Any dreams of a socialist society – utopian or not – were eroded by a reversion to capitalist norms, amplified by Cold War paranoia that certainly played into anti-socialist agitation. Cuba in 1962, and its frightening flirtation with actual apocalypse, is still within my notional New Elizabethan frame. When, as a consequence of the Enquiry, the first YPT Panel was set up, its membership consisted mainly of English and Drama officers from local education authorities, with a smattering of personalities from the worlds of publishing and broadcasting. By the time the YPT presence was deemed to be so embedded that it no longer required its own panel structure in 1975, the membership consisted largely of people doing the work, in attached TiE companies or in independent companies. The Young Elizabethans had arrived, from the teacher training colleges, from the comprehensive schools, from drama training, and began to occupy the Arts Council’s territory and sit in at its meetings. 188

The Arts Council and the Young Elizabethans

A generation on from war’s end came a responding dramatic literature that reflected the postwar crisis, especially for the young. There are two very important plays in their own right that also bear the imprint of what it meant to be young and then adolescent in the postwar world. Ann Jellicoe’s 1958 The Sport of My Mad Mother and Edward Bond’s 1965 Saved gave theatrical form to much of the war’s disruptive effect on postwar adolescents. The Sport of My Mad Mother is, among other things, a processor of adolescent energies in the mid-1950s, expressed in Jellicoe’s transliteration of the rituals and instincts of the London streets in which young working-class people live their lives. Though not a naturalistic play, it draws on the street culture of contemporary young people in vivid and rhythmic terms. There is violence, gang mentality and a sense of unleashed energy with no socially acceptable outlet. These young people are in some ways the fictional counterparts, ten years on, to the kids in Hue and Cry who beat up the fur-robbers and end up contained, singing in church. The play ends with a birth and a death, and an injunction to the audience to clear out because the theatre is about to be blown up. Saved is also a play about the violent social world of working-class London. The church referred to in that play is only good for housing a youth club in which young men can pick up girls. Two sections of the play register the generation-old war and its colonial aftermaths. In the park, the young men around Fred and Len include Barry, who claims to have ‘done blokes in’.20 Assuming these aren’t empty boasts, Barry has been a soldier in the anti-communist war in Malaysia, in which the British Army took part. Later in the play, Harry comes in to Len’s room dressed in white combinations and a white bandaged head. Len is 21 and Harry is 68; he is an ex-soldier from wartime, a father-figure to his daughter’s boyfriend Len and now a ghost in his own house. These plays represent the world that peace had bequeathed. In both, young people and newborns are powerful presences, and the timeframe they inhabit, from 1958 to 1965, holds the adolescence and early maturity of that first New Elizabethan generation. Both Jellicoe and Bond went on to produce work for and with young people, and both experienced a moral panic over YPT through their work with the Royal Court’s YPT group, The Activists. Whether that theatre was glossed as optimistic about the future or as fulfilling an ancient atavistic urge to fill the human ranks depleted by disaster, there was a new audience out there that some thought should be acknowledged, be that as the future buyers of tickets, 189


or more idealistically, as citizens of an optimistic new order of free, cultured and democratic young citizens. Humphrey Jennings’ newborn baby in his 1945 cot is asked if he is going to make the world a different place, free from greed and violence. In Saved, Pam and Fred’s baby does not leave their South London park alive. Violent authority in the postwar world, whether exercised by young men in a civic park or by the nuclear-armed states in which they live, is clearly unable to respond to the challenge offered to Jennings’ baby and his cinema audience. The rich history of Arts Council funding for children and YPT contains a narrative that is far more than a subset of political and social policy-making in the New Elizabethan era. It is in some ways a lens that focuses many of the most troubling and hopeful concerns of the period, concerns that are with us still. I began with the Curse of St Custard’s and I end with him, largely because this rebel icon of the Young Elizabethan era offers, in his inimitable way, a vision of a genuinely challenging postwar future for the young: Here we are at st custards poised between past and future. How far along the road hav we travelled? […] Who cares? This is the present and it is up to us to make it as beauteous as possible.21

Notes   1 Geoffrey Willans and Robert Searle, Molesworth (London: Penguin, 2000), 214.   2 Charles Crichton, director, Hue and Cry, Ealing Studios, 1947.   3 Alan Osbiston and others, directors, C.E.M.A., Strand Film Co./Ministry of Information, 1942.   4 Memorandum, Board of Education Meeting, 18 December 1939, quoted in Andrew Sinclair, Arts and Cultures: The History of the 50 Years of the Arts Council of Great Britain (London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1995), 26–7.   5 ACGB Council Paper 213, 17 June 1946, EL4.   6 John Maynard Keynes, ‘The Arts Council, Its Policy and Hopes’, Listener, 12 July 1945.   7 Humphrey Jennings, director, A Diary for Timothy, Crown Film Unit, 1945.   8 Philip Hensher, ‘Introduction’, in Willans and Searle, Molesworth, ix–xv.   9 Willans and Searle, Molesworth, 295. 10 Basil Dearden, director, The Blue Lamp, Ealing Studios, 1950. 11 Fran Abrams, Songs of Innocence: The Story of British Childhood (London: Atlantic Books, 2012), 164. 12 [Ronald Carl] Giles, ‘How it Looks to the Cartoonist’, in James Boswell, John 190

The Arts Council and the Young Elizabethans Piper and Giles, ‘The Artist and the Public’, Current Affairs 96, 2 June 1945, 1–20: 19. 13 Director uncredited, The British and Current Affairs, ABCA/Periscope Films, 1944. 14 Michael MacOwen, ‘Drama Policy’, 1946, ACGB 35/304. 15 John Piers Allen, Drama in Schools: Its Theory and Practice (London: Taylor & Francis, 1979), 2. 16 Jennie Lee, A Policy for the Arts: The First Steps (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1965), 20. 17 Lawrence Black, ‘“Britain a Gayer and More Cultivated Country”: Wilson, Lee and the Creative Industries in the 1960s’, Contemporary British History xx/3 (2006), 323–42: 324. 18 ACGB, Annual Report, 1965–6. 19 Lord Goodman, quoted in Brian Brivati, Lord Goodman (London: Richard Cohen Books, 1999), 163. 20 Edward Bond, Saved (London: Methuen, 2014), 29. 21 Willans and Searle, Molesworth, 222.




In June 1953, most children’s comics and magazines produced Coronation editions and Coronation-themed covers. Only one, however, changed its name: Collins Magazine for Boys and Girls became the Young Elizabethan (renamed The Elizabethan from 1958). It interpreted both the Coronation and the ‘New Elizabethan’ theme differently from most contemporary media, whether for adults or children. This young people’s magazine illustrates surprisingly clearly some of the contemporary debates and alternatives concerning the Coronation’s image of national identity. Using the particular examples of the magazine Young Elizabethan and Puffin books, this chapter looks first at representations and controversies concerning the Coronation and then at the not-unrelated issue of the achievements and limitations of publishing for children in the 1950s, its postwar sources and some aftermaths.

Viewing the Procession Many children’s papers featured the Coronation procession on their cover, typically showing the publication’s chief hero and heroine contriving somehow to be a spectator. Dandy’s Korky the Kat resourcefully turned pillowcases into banners and (being a Kat) shinned up to watch the procession from high above the route. Chips’ veteran characters Weary Willy and Tired Tim find a ticket-tout’s ill-gotten gains and buy themselves 192


tickets to watch the procession from a stand, complete with a slap-up feast. Knockout’s heroes got themselves in their car lifted up in a crane, then crash-landed in front of the procession. Beano’s cheeky tramps contrived to climb a fence to watch. In contrast, the Girl and the Young Elizabethan Coronation covers depicted characters in the ticket-only stands (£6 and £4, depending on whether they had weather protection), who neither had to view the procession illicitly nor (like most real-life spectators) camp out to watch at street level.1 Girl’s cover shows its main serial’s boarding-school heroines taken to watch the procession: this trip is their reward for rescuing an aristocrat’s jewels from a sinister foreign thief, who turned out to be the scion of a lordly family in disguise. Cheering together with an ecstatically united crowd, they are thrilled by the procession and especially by one horse, whom they compare to their own.2 Boarding schools, horses, stolen jewels, sinister foreigners and aristocrats were long-standing staples of children’s fiction. Girl, sister-paper to the Eagle, was 4½d a week when many comics were 3d; the Young Elizabethan was 2s a month. The target and actual readerships of Girl and the Young Elizabethan were very similar in class, literacy and career expectations, although the Young Elizabethan put much more emphasis on high-quality new fiction and Girl had a distinctive strand of educational material and stories of inspirational women. The 1953 Young Elizabethan issue announcing its new name declared that ‘young Elizabethan’ befitted ‘bold and adventurous young people, excitedly entering into your glorious new era.’3 The slogan articulates idealism and confidence in relation to the young people themselves, not simply to the era and certainly not to the display of grandeur, power and traditions of a social hierarchy that were imaged by the Coronation procession and most media coverage, and which have been seen by social historians as part of a wider programme of returning Britain to respect for traditional elites.4 If the magazine’s renaming arouses the Rowsean conservative projection of ‘New Elizabethanism’, its appropriation of that term for young readers and much of the style of that magazine’s content and visuals dispel that expectation. The May issue’s cover is in the unmistakeable quirky style of John Verney. A regular contributor, Verney produced over a hundred humorous covers. His design aligns 1953 with the golden age of the first Elizabeth in a spirit of fun and anarchic energy. It sparkles with wit, idiosyncrasy and a confidence that its young spectators will appreciate these qualities. Liberating and independent, not awed and 193


reverential like mainstream media royal tributes, the tone of this cover offers a playful attack on dignity. The marginal animals – misbehaving, disrupting order – attract the viewer’s eye equally with the Queen, herself not central but pushed along, hemmed in and harassed by the design that surrounds her. She looks apprehensive, glum, constrained and liable to be unseated by an impudent thrust of an attendant who wishes her to go faster. The Queen’s progress across this page is no triumphant royal progress. Besides the exuberant originality of this take on the national celebration, the new Queen Elizabeth and fashionable ‘New Elizabethan’ slogan, there is irreverence: everything is biting or lowering the dignity of something else. The overall effect is an anti-establishment homage to the royal event. Analogously, the June Coronation cover of Young Elizabethan conveys a sense that the nation and the Coronation could be perceived differently from the official version promoted by the government and media. Verney’s scene is respectfully, royally, golden and sunny, yet casts its gaze not towards the procession but towards the people. That people is not a unified mass carried away in simple awe, but is highly individualized. And though the crowd includes the military, who lined the actual route in their thousands, their dignity is dislodged by the representation of a child’s attack from demotic weaponry, a catapult. With the design’s lines going in every direction rather than directed towards the (absent) procession, offstage left, Verney’s people are mostly joyfully cheering, but not caught up en bloc in undifferentiated adulation. Their diverse behaviour fills the scene. One boy exuberantly waves his cap, halfway up a post. A child pours her drink into a lady’s hat, a boy puts his hand over his dad’s cheering mouth, the soldiers are not all straight, thanks to the cheeky attack. The scene is lively, chaotic and jolly, with individuals deciding to look wherever they choose, at each other or even at a Young Elizabethan magazine (a mise en abyme joke found on other Verney covers), not necessarily towards the royal pageantry. There is no religion of monarchy here. Nor does it appear inside. The issue does have a respectful portrait of the Queen, but announces, ‘We have not made this Coronation issue a conventional one, full of pictures of pomp and regalia. Instead we have tried to show some other aspects.’5 These aspects include a piece on laureate poets and how pleasing royalty had not always been an easy task for artists, another on the Westminster Abbey bells and four pages on Benjamin Britten. This children’s magazine’s response to the Coronation contrasts with that of Punch, which stuck almost entirely to a 194


whimsical reverence. Punch seems to be proffering an almost conspiratorially benign tribute from an old establishment gentleman to the young Queen, much as the design of the Coronation festivities and procession offered a re-creation of traditional and quasi-imperial pomp and power.6 The Young Elizabethan editorial stance – earnest yet determinedly focused on culture, insisting that there were alternative ways of marking the occasion – steps aside from the saturation in the pageantry of sacralized power that characterized other papers and magazines. It reminds us of the presence of widespread debate before the Coronation, especially but not exclusively from the arts and the left, about how the celebration might be approached.7 It is not an image of the myth found in some media and sociological comment of the day and later, of the Queen’s nation as subjects fused en masse in rekindled respect for traditional hierarchies and their symbols, even in an entranced state of national para-religious ‘communion’.8 Given the procession’s prominence in the Coronation’s planning and TV coverage, it is unsurprising that it dominated the covers of children’s comics. The 1953 procession was bigger than the 1910 and 1937 Coronation processions, when imperial power, though waning, had been greater. Apart from the monarchy and foreign rulers, it centred overwhelmingly on the military, the Empire and Commonwealth: the full list of processing figures and contingents reveals the extent of its presentation of national identity in terms of military and world-dominating power.9 That emphasis appears a striking throw-back – striking given its design in an era acutely conscious of the loss of imperial and overseas power – to the style procession designed for Queen Victoria’s 1897 Diamond Jubilee, whose predominantly imperial and military imagery had attracted controversy and hostility from socialist and anti-imperial voices.10 The procession undeniably made a powerful statement of confidence in the idea of the Commonwealth. Yet given the economic difficulties of 1952–3, the appalling debt to the United States after the War, housing shortages, loss of life in the east coast floods, 4,000 deaths caused by the Great Smog of the past winter, continuing British military involvement and troubles in Korea, Egypt, Malaya and Kenya, and developing Cold War tensions, the expense of such a Coronation display aroused considerable doubt or dissent. The focus on London and England further undermined the media picture of a nation wholly united by the event. Örnebring observes that one in six respondents in a Mass Observation survey voiced some degree of criticism or dissociation with regard to 195


the event, mostly about the cost but also about its Londoncentricity, and he cites the axiom of modern media studies that ‘media events become a […] self-fulfilling prophecy, where the media construct an event that does not necessarily correspond to the event as witnessed by physically present spectators.’11 That distinction had already been represented in Verney’s spotlight on ‘physically present spectators’: on individuals only partially melded into a united experience of gazing and cheering at the procession and readily manifesting subversive gestures. Verney’s people are not mesmerized. Verney’s cheerful, youth-oriented cartoon resonates with David Low’s infinitely more aggressively critical cartoon for the 3 June Guardian. In Low’s representation, the nation, like neglected toddlers, awakens, alert and alarmed, to see a tag with ’£100,000,000 SPREE’, still surrounded by litter from the Coronation party (including militaristic yet miniature toy drum and cornet, flags, drunken adults and books about a Fairy-Tale Princess). The television that showed the previous day’s event is now showing a stern face of Britannia, tiara-crowned with the word ‘Reality’, emphasizing the falsity of the imperialist, goldly magnificent and securely traditionalist mythologies promoted on 2 June. Seeing was central to the narrative of national unity recorded by media and commentators. Verney and Low’s pictures, one cheery and the other grimly warning, both focus on viewing, but both show the people as independent, capable of detachment from a visual narrative in which many commentators liked to assume they were simply united and entranced.

Young Elizabethans While many artists and writers in the 1940s had hoped for a new, postwar literary and artistic dawn and strove to provide access to culture for all, others feared that the democratization of art would lead to a downwards levelling – a lasting blight to British high culture.12 Both visions are discernible in New Elizabethan writings and visions as well as in antipathies awakened over Coronation planning. Central to the massdisseminated discourse of New Elizabethanism was a definition of this incipient Golden Age in cultural terms. With its simultaneous promotion of Benjamin Britten and Shakespeare, Christopher Fry and Marlowe, New Elizabethanism positioned some of the period’s young(ish) Elizabethans at the formative centre of a revived definition of national identity focused simultaneously on cultural strength and youthful expression. 196


The Young Elizabethan implicitly responded to this contemporary ambience by offering two innovative attractions not found in other young people’s papers of the time. One was an interactive policy: it encouraged readers to send in their writing and artwork, much of which it would publish. It also boasted a lively readers’ letters page, book reviews and a Young Elizabethan Club with trips and a newsletter that acted as an early forerunner to Kaye Webb’s very successful Puffin Club (1967–87). Art and writing competitions with respectably high money prizes attracted many who later had professional adult success. Examples include Lucius Shepard, later a prolific author of fantasy and science fiction (he published the first of several pieces, fiction and non-fiction, in 1953, aged 9), the playwright Alan Ayckbourn and historian Ben Pimlott. The magazine’s other creative innovation was to emphasize visual excitement: it was a treat for the eyes. Although occasionally offering articles on art or art history, its real gift to the visually curious child was its changing monthly design and a diversity of sophisticated illustrators, including (besides Verney and Ronald Searle) Edward Ardizzone, Quentin Blake, E. H. Shepard, Shirley Hughes, T. W. Burnard and Geoffrey Whittam. In contrast, illustrators of other comics, although highly skilled in their own genre (a notable example is Frank Hampson of Eagle and Girl) were adept at producing recognizable, standard house styles that changed little over the decades on both sides of the Atlantic. Ironically, it was precisely that traditional comic style that drove the Pop Art of the late 1950s and early 1960s, clearly reflected in the work of Lichtenstein and Warhol in the United States and Hamilton and Paolozzi in Britain. The more varied, amusing, often attenuated or soft-wash, visual offerings of the Young Elizabethan looked refreshingly modern in the 1950s. The Coronation covers discussed above assumed that young readers could appreciate a stylish and irreverent humour of Punch quality. Much of this irreverence was rooted in the wartime and social experience of the seminal creative voices that informed that magazine. John Grigg, that ‘subversive’ (his own word) Conservative journalist, bought the Young Elizabethan in late 1953.13 In 1952, he had complained in the National and English Review, the progressive Conservative monthly he edited, that the Abbey congregation and procession would be disproportionally filled with British aristocracy compared with representation from the Commonwealth nations and from the House of Commons.14 Grigg repeated his concerns that the Queen was missing the opportunity to represent all her subjects in 1957, complaining that she was restricted by an entourage that was upper-class, all-white and in many 197


cases second-rate. Speeches written for her made the Queen sound ‘like a priggish schoolgirl’.15 Later, he argued that, around the time of the death of George VI and the Coronation, ‘Something uncomfortably like Japanese Shintoism […] a degree of blandness and servility quite alien to British traditions’ developed in British attitudes towards monarchy: loss of world power was being replaced by regard for ‘hieratic aspects of monarchy’.16 Royal advisers took Grigg’s points seriously: the Royal Family’s image was modified during the late 1950s.17 Thereafter they aimed to appear both ‘ordinary and extraordinary’.18 Much about John Verney similarly captures a mix of privileged background and independent outlook, qualities also often discernible in the 1950s Young Elizabethan. He succeeded to a baronetcy in 1959 and his children’s books, beginning with Friday’s Tunnel (1959), depict children in middle-class Bohemian country families. Their plots, however, feature topical political themes: anarchism, environmental protests and, in Friday’s Tunnel (1959), the children’s thwarting of a ruthless Conservative MP’s plot to risk another world war to make money from nuclear bomb chemicals. Verney had been a prisoner of war in Italy and escaped.19 Other cartoonists published in the magazine included George Adamson, an RAF navigator and official War Artist, and John Le Witt and George Him (‘Lewitt–Him’), the Polish refugee cartoon duo who had worked on wartime government posters. Scepticism about authority and the establishment reflected the recent formative experiences of illustrators who had been wartime servicemen and in many cases worked for Punch or the satirical Lilliput. Lilliput, whose contributors included anti-fascist GermanJewish cartoonists and writers and international socialist authors such as the American Upton Sinclair, presented sharp yet cheery satire, making it widely popular during the war. A junior strand of the same spirit sometimes appears in the 1950s Young Elizabethan. The obvious example is the work of Ronald Searle, who had been a Japanese POW between 1942 and 1945, together with George Sprod, another Elizabethan cartoon-contributor.20 Searle drew for Lilliput, Punch, Le Canard enchaîné and, while producing Elizabethan art work and overseeing much of its design as the 1950s went on, his meteoric career as a cartoonist and journalist also included his Rake’s Progress, satirical observations of contemporary British types. Although his Japanese prisoncamp drawings did not appear till 1986, savage indignation styles his children’s illustrations as much as those for adults. He famously illustrated Geoffrey Willans’ monthly ‘Molesworth’ satire. The first book, Down with Skool, published October 1953, was a Christmas bestseller, and a 198


three-page Molesworth piece (‘Guide to Gurls’) with cartoons appeared in the magazine in February 1955. The Molesworth satires attack and mock the form of bondage to authority and oppression most familiar to children: school. Searle had already created his wildly successful St Trinian’s cartoons (the first book appeared in 1948, first film in 1954). Like Molesworth, these pieces derided schools and the genre of boarding-school fiction. Their savage fantasy presented the schools as thinly veiled covers for gangsterism, scams and criminality. Molesworth’s school is presented by its fictional young chronicler with an unquestioning acceptance that is itself central to the satire, as a cynically corrupt private school filled with poor teachers (drunkenness a particular problem), a fiendishly sadistic headmaster and financially dodgy characters who give the prizes at prize day.21 In contrast to other children’s fiction in books and comics, the stories in Young Elizabethan rarely depicted school life (and almost never boarding schools). Verney had already provided a series of anti-school cartoons, ‘Dr Gilchik’s Academy’, for Young Elizabethan. Verney’s cartoons depict often startlingly – even murderously – delinquent children. Without employing Searle’s overtly savage drawing line, Verney routinely portrays the relationship between children and adults as silent total war.22 Verney’s children in fact unexpectedly resemble those in D. G. Thomson’s Beano and Dandy, which have also been seen as breaking subversively out of the usual expectations of the period: schoolteachers, policemen, officials of any kind were usually figures of ridicule to be thwarted at every opportunity […] the Thomson papers pushed the situations much further than the older comics and provided a satisfying escapist dream to appeal to children. Occasionally authority turned the tables. When this happened savage punishments were meted out with exaggerated ferocity.23

One Searle–Willans piece, ‘Molesworth as a New Elizabethan’, appeared in January 1955, republished in Whizz for Atomms (Puffin, 1956). Rather than focusing solely on authority figures, the piece explicitly lampoons the New Elizabethan idea. Molesworth was a plump, grubby, belligerent and intransigent schoolboy, a character hilariously suited and unsuited to swashbuckling Elizabethan swagger. When Searle and Willans garbed this inky-fingered self-styled ‘Terror of St Custard’s’ and ‘goril of 3B’ in Elizabethan doublet and hose, the joke partly lay in 199


their exposition of the fragility of the attempted link between the 1950s, the creative potential of contemporary youth and a nostalgic, traditionalist reading of a perceived Elizabethan Golden Age.

Young Readers The Young Elizabethan’s contents admitted touches of healthy independence towards established authorities as well as encouraging individual creativity and a sense of participation in the arts of discovery. In so doing, they offered in their own minor way a reflection of the diversity of postwar formulations of national identity, citizen participation and national culture that came to a head around the New Elizabethan moment. Yet children’s reading was not a wholly minor matter when revolutionary changes in educational provision and opportunities for participation in the arts and culture constituted central postwar government policies. Perhaps even more indicative of such an engagement – and its contradictions – was the culture of children’s book publishing. Both a success story and a missed opportunity in representing and helping to define how we might ‘see ourselves’, to use one useful and broad definition of culture, children’s publishing had solid foundations in postwar reforms in education and in arts funding and provision. Ultimately, however, it was to offer only an incomplete realization of the social vision that those movements had sought to encourage. The spirit of children’s publishing in the 1940s and 1950s has been called ‘altruistic’.24 The old, often family run, publishing houses (including Collins and Alan Lane’s Penguin) were not yet subsumed within massive international conglomerates; this was ‘the age of the editors’, not yet ‘the age of the accountants’.25 Government policies, most obviously those of the 1944 Education Act, the Arts Council (preceded by CEMA) and other state-funded organizations for the arts, science and culture, marched together with hopes that rebuilding Britain would mean improving quality of life as well as living standards. The market and economics too favoured new publishing ventures. The popularity of reading increased before the war and that continued, together with expanded provision, funding and use of public libraries, with new government spending for books and libraries in schools.26 The high quality of much writing for children’s radio, BBC Schools broadcasts and increasingly children’s television was joined by a revolution in publishing for children: high-quality paperbacks.27 200


Prewar children’s books had typically been hardbacks, including classics, prizes, and annuals.28 Penguin’s Puffins began in 1940, followed in the 1950s and 1960s by children’s paperback fiction, a development in which other publishers soon joined.29 Puffin produced inexpensive books, often new publications by top illustrators and children’s authors. Commissioning new titles circumvented the early reluctance of hardback publishers to give up bestselling authors to a cheap paperback imprint, a problem later removed by the success of Puffin and the willingness of school librarians to buy such quality paperbacks with their new government-provided funding. The launch of Puffin was able to capitalize on Penguin’s economic success and cultural prestige: even during wartime, the publisher had benefited from low paperback costs and valuable commissions.30 Despite their origins within a nascent spirit of cultural New Elizabethanism, Puffin and Penguin published no Coronation-themed titles. Indeed, 1953 Coronation books were mostly illustrated souvenir publications. Rare examples of less conventionally conceived publications include a story with pop-up illustrations, about two children going to London to see the Coronation, which announces that ‘this new Elizabethan age’ is going to bring ‘inspiration and encouragement for the young’, and the enterprising procession-inspired A Pageant of the Highways: A Coronation Picture Book (1952) from Dunlop Tyres, picturing the evolution of carriages to modern vehicles with rubber tyres.31 Book-length Coronation fiction was curiously rare: Paul Gallico’s widely popular Coronation, recounting a patronizingly depicted working-class family’s joys and mishaps on their London Coronation trip, appeared only in 1962. Angela Thirkell’s What Did It Mean? (a breezy satire about village Coronation committee and pageant) was published in 1954. Yet Coronation fiction, for both children and adults, has proliferated recently. This phenomenon has perhaps been stimulated by the nostalgic celebrations of the 2012 Jubilee, which saw the 1950s commemorated as a time of community values, national celebration and working-class solidarity (all of which are encoded in the trope of the street party, which has acquired something like mythic status). Adult fiction has included Kay Brelland’s Coronation Day (2012), Lizzie Lane’s Coronation Wives (2013) and Margaret Pemberton’s Coronation Summer (2015), all centred on the experience of women characters; Lesley Pearse’s Without a Trace (2015) is a mystery novel whose action takes place in both rural Somerset and the East End of London. Allan Ahlberg’s The Boyhood of Burglar Bill (2008) was written for children; centring on street football 201


rather than a street party, it contextualizes the Coronation in relation to the one-off Coronation Cup football tournament held in honour of the new Queen. Many Elizabethan writers and illustrators also worked for Puffin. With her extraordinary social charm and dynamism, Searle’s wife Kaye Webb knew everyone in the 1950s worlds of the arts and journalism, actors and other celebrities, cajoling many into contributing in one role or another to the magazine and later to Puffin. The magazine achieved a unique position as a creative and high-quality children’s paper, with respectably high circulation up to the early 1960s.32 Webb worked even longer-lasting magic for Puffins in terms of quality, sales and prestige. Katherine J. Wright shows that her marketing flair, ahead of its time, built, as with the Young Elizabethan, on interactive events, a newsletter and public exhibitions, to encourage readers to feel involved as a literary community: ‘Four decades before Harry Potter, Puffin was bringing together thousands of readers at the annual Puffin exhibition. Keen puffineers also queued in the streets, sometimes in fancy dress, to participate in book-based activities.’33 Like her journalist, socialist, father, Webb supported Labour. Her passionately held mission was to present the best of reading to children, but she ignored class issues or stories centred on problems.34 That blinkered perception of providing for the child in general while implicitly envisaging that child as middle class, emerges both in the Puffin list and the Puffin Club, one of whose competitions was to ‘Draw Your Cleaning Lady’!35 Puffin’s first editor, Eleanor Graham, built up its list with a pioneering respect for child readers and for high standards in writing for them. Its 1950s and 1960s lists reveal a wealth of imagination-expanding children’s fiction. The lists concentrate on fantasy, adventure stories (often with settings historically and geographically distant), stories about animals and classics.36 These are fictional worlds, however, that tend to preclude portrayal of contemporary ordinary life or of realistic problems often faced by families and children. One can discern intellectual backgrounds to this mid-century attention to quality in children’s books regardless of social inclusiveness. It indirectly reflects attitudes among many twentieth-century critical and educational opinion-formers best exemplified in the influential views of F. R. and Q. D. Leavis. For the Leavises, good writing, especially about emotions and interpersonal relationships, had a moral and psychological benefit. This doctrine was informed by an apprehension about modern mass-produced popular culture and its possible effects on minds and 202


imaginations.37 F. R. Leavis’ Mass Civilization and Minority Culture (1930) had declared a crisis in modern culture, marked primarily by the ‘disastrous’ effects of film. Leavis identified beneficial effects of good literature while declaring, ‘In any period it is often on a very small minority that the discerning appreciation of literature depends.’38 Although Leavis’ ideas are clearly reflective of typical early twentieth-century fears about ‘mechanical’ and ‘mass’ phenomena in society and culture, and his prescriptive, negative and elitist manifesto may seem to fail to engage deeply with problems and complexities within his subjects, his assertions address deep dilemmas and still-urgent debates about pressures from commercial and elite forces – not to mention the questions of ‘Whose culture?’ and ‘Whose discernment about quality?’ Another influential critical belief, pioneered by Paul Hazard early in the century, advocated fantasy and folktales in the belief that children’s imaginations differed from adult rationalism. Lucy Pearson links this conviction to the tendency, as with the selection in the 1950s–60s Puffin list, to promote fiction that might feed that imagination, rather than mirror contemporary everyday experience.39 Eleanor Graham and Kaye Webb had, in the 1940s and 1950s, other challenges even apart from that of being innovative female editors in a postwar publishing world that no longer readily gave women opportunities: Graham called Puffin a ‘counterblast to Angela Brazil and Enid Blyton’, which, she felt, many people assumed represented children’s books when she started Puffin.40 The aim Graham and Webb set themselves was to give children the best writing. They also helped to make children’s writing highly respected. But, by the 1960s, it was clear that another challenge had been disastrously ignored in British children’s publications: the dearth of fiction reflecting ordinary contemporary lives and – perhaps even more damaging – a predominance of fictional middle-class children and their worlds as if they represented the norm. Already in a sharp and witty book in 1948, Geoffrey Trease had argued that children’s books should present excellent writing (and exciting illustration) and that they should represent the wide contemporary reality of economic and social Britain.41 He exposed the snobbishness and racial and national stereotyping in much children’s literature; its imaginative and linguistic shallowness; and its reluctance to acknowledge young people’s awareness of their own and others’ sexual identities and relationships, family conflicts or problems.42 Incidentally, Trease, who carefully provides examples of rare exceptions to such blinkered and injurious worldviews in children’s comics and novels, singles out Collins 203


Magazine (the Young Elizabethan’s pre-1953 incarnation) as providing quality fiction but also, in avoiding crude ‘blood and thunder’ adventures, as falling into the other, cultured and middle-class extreme. It became ‘a magazine received with glee in North Oxford and indifference in the North of England’, a reservation repeated in his 1964 revised edition.43 In 1958, the periodical The Author published a forum discussing the narrow social visions of contemporary children’s fiction. E. W. Hildick, a prolific author of exciting boys’ books and a secondary-modern school teacher, wrote, ‘hitherto the British juvenile novel has been largely the preserve of the middle classes. Year after year […] well-spoken child protagonists have goshed and golleyed their way through holiday adventures where the Broads are OK but Blackpool and Butlins are unmentionable.’44 The jacket of his Jim Starling and the Colonel (1960) says it is for ‘tough modern kids like the ones I teach’.45 The 1950s Elizabethan magazines did sometimes step outside middleclass backgrounds: they told stories about a boy with a paper round, a family living on a barge and a child who benefits from the government scheme for supplying free musical instruments. Some Elizabethan and Puffin authors had a consciously socialist vision: Trease is the obvious example, much of his writing career showing how historical fiction could be shaken free from conservative ideology. Science fiction provided, superficially if not at a deeper level, classless settings, and one exciting sci-fi writer in the magazine was John Kippax (John Hynam). Yet there was still a tendency to depict children whose families owned horses, boats, romantic country houses, or nannies and other ancient retainers: a world where difficult parents are merely eccentric inventors. Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, most children’s papers were gendered (except Dandy and the like): the Elizabethan’s assumption that boys and girls enjoyed the same topics was, in one sense, extremely positive. Its stories’ protagonists, whether pre-teens or teenagers, are often boy–girl siblings or friends. But it avoided romantic or sexual relationships and emotions in its fiction and non-fiction, and handled fashion and pop rarely and clumsily even in the late 1960s. Whether Larkin was right (in 1967) that sex began in 1963, it was certainly clear that teenage interest in and anxiety about boys was what sold girls’ papers. Produced by large commercial publishing conglomerates, Jackie, Honey and others, unlike earlier girls’ comics, focused on pop music, boys, clothes, appearance, teenage anxieties and problem pages. Although their material was often sensible, they presented, especially in their fiction, a narrow outlook for their young female 204


readers. Britain lacked anything like Seventeen (began 1944, price 15c), a lively, glamorous, American girls’ paper, which treated its readers as intelligent, humorous and confident, interested equally in current affairs, fashion, careers, high-quality fiction and boy-meets-girl. Despite its name, its real and target readership was aged 11–15. Like the Elizabethan, it proffered an interactive, empowering relationship with readers and encouraged participation: youthful contributors included Sylvia Plath and Eve Kosofsky.46

Incomplete Vision The Elizabethan died in June 1973: a dramatically presented final issue featured a skull and crossbones on the cover and a bitter, exhausted, message from its then editor: We regret to announce the death of Elizabethan, June 1973, aged 26. It should and could have lived on. A magazine for the literate cannot survive without regular support from literary publishers. We had a chance to live – by reviewing pornographic books and films. We chose to die.47

By now a magazine explicitly ‘for the literate’, it looked dull and sounded conservative, even Conservative. That last issue also included a letter of praise of the magazine and its editor from Margaret Thatcher, then Minister for Education. External forces in the 1960s – TV, teenage culture, pop music, psychedelia – led to a decline in reading for pleasure. But in the 1950s there was a contradiction between the impressive standard of much children’s writing for children plus the new availability of inexpensive high-quality books, and a failure to provide adequately for the majority of the nation’s young people. This tension arose largely from contradictions and failures in the postwar vision for education and the arts, not least the divide between grammar and secondary modern schools. Research and official reports already voiced concern in the 1950s: the grammar school did not greatly extend opportunities or social mobility for children of semi-skilled and unskilled parents; the proportion passing the exam was low and the proportion leaving school early with poor qualifications was high.48 The fallaciousness of IQ tests and the increasingly proven correlation between family background and grammar-school entry and success soon showed ideas about wholly meritocratic entry and large-scale social mobility to 205


be myths. However good the individual secondary modern, that division at 11 and its effects, social, professional and psychological, damaged countless postwar lives not only economically, but also in terms of identity and imaginative consciousness.49 And fiction, which plays a large part in both of these, remained staggeringly lacking in depictions of and engagement with working-class images and experience.50 If a nation is an imagined community, the imaginative experiences offered to British children in the 1950s by books and magazines contrast strikingly with those offered in Canada and the United States, countries with a long tradition of children’s literature that portrays families with low or moderate incomes and with problems to overcome. The 1963 Newsom Report highlighted the inadequacy of education for the majority of students (i.e. non-grammar school) between 13 and 15 and linked this to a call for young people’s literature to contribute to a widening of horizons.51 Yet Newsom flounders, well-meant yet ultimately vague, at the dilemmas central to provision of reading for young people – issues that after 1963 became increasingly shadowed by the commercial interests controlling magazine publishing and teenage entertainment, as well as exclusive and elitist perceptions of culture. C. P. Snow’s famous 1959 ‘Two Cultures’ lecture included the condemnation that ‘The old pattern of training a small élite has never been broken, though it has been slightly bent.’52 The grammar–secondary modern divide was arguably more damaging to British society and intellectual and cultural life than the arts–science divide Snow so famously pilloried as an intellectual impoverishment of Britain compared with either the United States or Russia. The problem was not simply the prevalence of boarding-school adventures, still regularly featured in comics and books read by a far wider demographic than the Elizabethan magazines attracted. The boarding school can be enjoyed by children who never set foot in one, as an admittedly superficial fantasy of an enclosed world within which exciting dramas can be played out. Eve Garnett’s Carnegie prize-winning The Family at One End Street, originally published in 1937 (never appearing in the magazine, though republished by Puffin, 1942) gave a painfully patronizing, clichéd picture of working-class brothers and sisters. No Tracey Beakers or Adrian Moles appear in 1950s Puffins or the Elizabethan magazines – no children struggling with poverty, inadequate parents or inadequate housing, yet described with an air of sympathetic normality and humour (and not with tragedy – unlike analogous Dickensian child victim characters). Few such worlds 206


appeared anywhere in British children’s literature in the 1950s. Football heroes, space heroes and war heroes appeared often but mostly in boys’ comics, and were not uncommonly officer-class in fact or outlook (the ‘Dick Barton Special Agent’ 1950s children’s BBC radio series provides a widely popular example: an ex-officer whose fellow crime fighters regularly called him ‘sir’). For adults, from the late 1950s and through the 1960s, there appeared a prominent expansion of novels, plays and films with consciously and assertively working-class protagonists – albeit often conceived from a narrow base. No such instinct marked literature for children. Questions, and deep problems, about inclusiveness, about which, and whose, culture(s) are central to the nation’s identity, and about how, and by whom, they are presented to us by printed publications, have run through this chapter, beginning with issues visible in representations of the Coronation. They are questions of particular importance with regard to children. The disaster of the inadequate vision of the 1944 Education Act and the grammar–secondary modern divide had sad parallels in the contradiction within 1950s publishing. In that world, cheap paperbacks, well-funded libraries, new respect for the professions of children’s writer or illustrator and a still-buoyant market for books and magazines all provided an opportunity unrivalled in the history of writing for children. Sadly, however, too few writers and publishers paid imaginative and creative attention to the worlds of experience in which most 1950s young people lived.

Notes   1 Some in the House of Lords questioned whether the public should have been charged, especially as Lords sat in the Minster free. See HL Deb 16 June 1953, vol. 182, cc935-6.   2 The artist was Ray Bailey. Frank Hampson in the 1950s Girl and Eagle used photogravure to create brighter colour illustrations without the thick black outlines customary to British children’s comics.   3 Editorial, Young Elizabethan, April 1953.   4 See Frank Mort, ‘Scandalous Events: Metropolitan Culture and Moral Change in Post-Second World War London’, Representations xciii (Winter 2008), 106–37: 120.   5 N.a., Young Elizabethan, June 1953.   6 Striking the New Elizabethan note, Punch also featured a delicately illustrated ‘Madrigal for June’ in honour of the Queen. 207

THE NEW ELIZABETHAN AGE   7 See the wide-ranging survey in Heather Wiebe, Britten’s Unquiet Pasts: Sound and Memory in Postwar Reconstruction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 109–49.   8 See, notably, Edward Shils and Michael Young, ‘The Meaning of the Coronation’, Sociological Review I/2 (1953), 63–81.   9 N.a., ‘The Household Cavalry: The Coronation Procession of HM Queen Elizabeth II – 1953.’ Available at crowning.html (last accessed 1 September 2015).   10 The Irish socialist James Connolly called it a ‘Feast of Flunkeyism’ and participated in counter-happenings disrupting the Jubilee procession in Dublin (C. Desmond Greaves, The Life and Times of James Connolly, 2nd edn [London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1961], 89–90). Keir Hardie commented, ‘Empire means trade and trade means profit, and profit means power over the common people’ (quoted in Kate Williams, Young Elizabeth: The Making of Our Queen [London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2012], 16).   11 Henrik Örnebring, ‘Revisiting the Coronation: A Critical Perspective on the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953’, Nordic Research on Media and Communication Review, xxv/1–2 (2004), 175–95: 177, 188–9. 12 Alan Sinfield traces both beliefs in Literature, Politics and Culture in Postwar Britain (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989), 45–56. 13 Valerie Grove, So Much to Tell: The Biography of Kaye Webb (London: Viking/Penguin, 2010), 99, 118. 14 Lord Altrincham, ‘The Queen’s Opportunity’, National and English Review, August 1952. 15 Altrincham, ‘Elizabeth II’, National and English Review, August 1957. 16 Altrincham (as John Grigg), The Monarchy Revisited, W. H. Smith Contemporary Papers 9 (London: W. H. Smith, 1992), 4. 17 In direct response, the recently revived Debutante celebrations, typical of a conservative programme of reinstating high-society national culture, were abolished the following year. See Fiona MacCarthy, Last Curtsey: The End of the Debutantes (London: Faber, 2006), 1, 17–18. 18 Ben Pimlott, The Queen: Elizabeth II and the Monarchy, Golden Jubilee edn (London: HarperCollins, 2002), 282–8. 19 See his interesting and modest Going to the Wars (London: Collins, 1955). 20 On Webb’s life and career see Grove, So Much. 21 Willans’ original, unillustrated, Molesworth diary had first appeared in Punch in 1939. Its phantasmagorically grotesque private school caricatures of schools and teachers had been even more the norm before the war. 22 His July 1953 cover depicted Black Rock swimming pool at Brighton with children (a) pushing a lady off a cliff, (b) sawing a diving-board in two, (c) laying banana-skin before a walking man and (d) breaking through the fence. Reproduced in Collins Magazine Annual, 7 (London: Collins, 1954). 23 George Perry and Alan Aldridge, The Penguin Book of Comics, rev. edn (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971), 51. 208


Lucy Pearson, The Making of Modern Children’s Literature in Britain: Publishing and Criticism in the 1960s and 70s (Farnham: Ashgate, 2013), 200. 25 Michael Lane, quoted in Stuart Laing, ‘The Production of Literature’, in Sinfield (ed.), Society and Literature, 1945–1970 (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1983), 121–72: 125. 26 On postwar public library funding and provision, see Stuart Davies, Taking Stock: The Future of Our Public Library Service, 7–10. Available at http:// (accessed 1 September 2015). 27 On the paperback revolution generally and the 1950s peak in the purchasing of magazines, newspapers and books, see Laing, ‘Production’, 125–31. 28 There were small-sized paper-cover magazine-books: pulp-fiction adventures and, for girls, The Schoolgirls Own Library series (8d). This children’s market declined after the war and could not compete with the combined attractions of television and the paperback book publishing revolution. 29 The Penguin-like Welsh paperback series Llyfrau’r Dryw included children’s books between the early 1940s and the 1950s. 30 Penguin had had a commission to sell in Woolworths from the 1930s, and a wartime one to provide Books for Forces, which gained the publisher a relatively generous government paper allowance. For public reactions to Penguins and Puffins see Sussex University Library Social Collections, Mass Observation Box 9. 31 N.a., Long Live the Queen! (London: Juvenile Publications, 1953), n.p.; N.a., A Pageant of the Highways: A Coronation Picture Book (London: Dunlop Rubber Company, 1952). 32 Grove, So Much, 119. 33 Katherine J. Wright, ‘The Puffin Phenomenon and its Creator, Kaye Webb’, PhD dissertation, Newcastle University, 2011, 23. 34 Grove, So Much, 158–9. 35 Ibid., 268. 36 A database of the Puffin Story Books, complete with covers, is available – along with all other series published by Penguin – at (accessed 1 September 2015). 37 See, for example, F. R. Leavis, The Great Tradition (London: Faber, 1948), The Common Pursuit (London: Faber, 1952). 38 Leavis, Mass Civilization and Minority Culture (Cambridge: Minority, 1930), 3. 39 Pearson, Making, 43–5. 40 Sheila G. Ray, The Blyton Phenomenon: The Controversy Surrounding the World’s Most Successful Children’s Writer (London: Deutsch, 1982), 28. 41 Geoffrey Trease, Tales Out of School (London: Heinemann, 1948), 150–5. 42 Ibid. 43 He acknowledges ‘great advances in children’s literature’ in the 15-year interim and increasingly loud demands from writers, teachers and librarians 209

THE NEW ELIZABETHAN AGE for books that recognize the lives of most children. See Trease, Tales, 2nd rev. edn (London: Heinemann, 1964), ix, 65–6. 44 E. W. Hildick, quoted in ibid., 153. 45 Hildick, Jim Starling and the Colonel (London: Heinemann, 1960). 46 Jane Hu, ‘When We Were “Seventeen”: A History in 47 Covers’, The Awl. Available at (accessed 1 September 2015). The first editorial of Seventeen summons its readers: ‘You’re going to have to run this show […] in a world that is changing as quickly and profoundly as ours is, we hope to provide a clearing house for your ideas.’ One problem with 1950s Seventeen was that its image of the American girl was exclusively white. 47 Editorial, Elizabethan, April 1973. 48 The 1954 Gurney–Dixon Report showed that of 16,000 English grammar school pupils from unskilled backgrounds, about 9,000 failed to get even three subjects at O Level and around 5,000 left school at 16. Only around 10 per cent of grammar school pupils came from unskilled backgrounds. See Early Leaving: A Report of the Central Advisory Council for Education (England), Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (1954). Available at www. (accessed 1 September 2015). 49 The 1959 Crowther Report, focused on provision for the 15–18 year range, exudes a sense of a national failure to offer full and empowering educational opportunities to the majority of Britain’s teenagers, those who failed the scholarship. 50 Coronation Street began in 1960. While it signalled a recognition of working-class Britons as fictional subjects and as TV audiences, it also packaged a primarily clichéd and economically comfortable depiction of northern working- and lower middle-class life. 51 See discussion in Wright, ‘Puffin’, 106–7. 52 C. P. Snow, The Two Cultures (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1959), 32.




On 6 February 1953, the Yorkshire Post marked the first anniversary of George VI’s death with an orotund editorial: The whole nation hopes that this date […] will mark in history the opening of a new Elizabethan age, as famous and as splendid in achievement as that to which the first Elizabeth gave her name […] We remember that it was under the leadership of another Queen of the same name that the people of this island found courage to confront and overcome formidable enemies and to win renown for their country in poetry and music.1

The editor goes on to warn that ‘we must avoid seeking to draw too close a parallel between the age that is long past and the age that is dawning’,2 having just done precisely that. Overall, the insecurities are more telling than the confidence. One year after the Queen’s Accession, the arrival of the New Elizabethan age is still only a hope. As for music, its ancient fanfare of renown, coming so close behind that of poetry, is immediately silenced by subsequent omission. ‘Queen Elizabeth II’, the article continues, ‘would certainly smile if some enthusiast were to suggest that because she was a woman and her name was Elizabeth our poets would shortly be rivalling the fire and eloquence of Shakespeare.’3 There you have it: music, too speedily dressed for a role, has been quietly and quickly ushered offstage in the embarrassment of an inability to specify what that role might be. No agreed identity ever was found for New Elizabethan music and probably no one expected it to be. Ernest Bradbury, the Yorkshire Post’s music critic, clearly felt he had to suggest something when he reported 211


from ‘London, Monday night’ the first performance of the madrigal collection A Garland for the Queen on the eve of the Coronation.4 ‘The Cambridge University Madrigal Society, with the professional Golden Age singers’, he wrote, ‘were the new Elizabethans leading us, perhaps, into a new era in which music will again become a private thing and an art belonging to the home.’5 But his ‘perhaps’ speaks volumes, and he cannot really have believed that in the age of record players, television and rebellious teenagers, family music-making was going to return as the comprehensive, class-crossing concern which, as a result of the opening conversation in Thomas Morley’s dialogic Plain and Easy Introduction to Practical Music of 1597, it was fondly imagined to have been three and a half centuries earlier. Self-conscious New Elizabethanisms in music were either crass or tenuous. An example of the former is a 1953 advertisement in the Dundee Courier for a new English piano, ‘the New Elizabethan Challen’, which ‘will be one of the outstanding pianos of this historic year’.6 Compositions that merely traded on the term, such as Ken Round’s ‘The New Elizabethan Waltz’ of 1953 and Norman Gilbert’s The New Elizabethan, 12 partsongs published by Novello in 1962, were few and unimportant. The one exception was Ronald Binge’s runaway success, ‘Elizabethan Serenade’. The title of this most famous of light music compositions had been altered by Binge in 1952 from ‘The Man in the Street’, and it had been first performed under yet another title, ‘Andante cantabile’.7 The truth is that by 1953, English culture had already been steeped nostalgically for more than a century in the musical archaisms, stylistic signifiers and contextual topics that one might label ‘Tudorisms’ and was tired of them, just as the public was by then tired of the halftimbered house (though not yet of the half-timbered car, witness the Morris Traveller). They were fit only for the devastating satire of Kingsley Amis in Lucky Jim,8 and they do not even feature in Binge’s emollient composition. Clearly, manifest New Elizabethanism in music would have to be not a continuation of neo-Elizabethanism, but a different brand. As history has shown, nobody was able to define or produce this brand recognizably for the public at large. But how can a moment, a place, a group, a nation and its selfpresentation be characterized? The brand may be easier to see than to hear. We are likely forever to associate the colour sky-blue with the 1950s, because it appeared so pervasively on cars, milk jugs, formica counters, dresses and Coronation trays. Its application, whether conscious or unconscious, and its de facto meaning will not have 212

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been entirely arbitrary (there is a strong correlation between domestic happiness and family affluence), while at the same time hardly applying to everything (certainly not to policemen’s uniforms). In other words, it tells us something about what was taken for granted while laying down a firm trace of connotation. It also suggests what may have been firmly outside its applicability, and why. The United States may not have been any less sky-blue than Britain at this period, but when it comes to sound, a brand divergence appears obvious, while not without overlaps. The difficulty is in finding materials and tools with which to investigate, define and assess the brand. First, there is some virtue, and a growing amount of interest, in considering sound as an entity, beyond but including music, within the specifics of time and place.9 This kind of thinking began with the Canadian composer and ecologist R. Murray Schafer, who coined the term ‘soundscape’ and whose book The Soundscape is still the starting point for many aspects of sound studies.10 Schafer posited two elements of an environmental soundscape with theoretical leverage: a community’s keynote sounds and its soundmarks. Keynote sounds are those so intrinsic to the environment that its inhabitants may not notice them – running water, rustling leaves, traffic. Soundmarks, by analogy with landmarks, are the opposite, unique sounds that stand out by virtue of special, imperative meanings. I should like to add a fourth term to these three and apply the word ‘soundtrack’ to the capturing of soundscape elements by the media – radio, film, television, the stage – for the purpose of creating an indicative package of aural elements. It is easily forgotten just how fundamental and specific the structural interplay of sounds is to any place and time, and to the representation of these, such as on stage or screen. In Chekhov’s play The Cherry Orchard, for example, what everybody remembers is the periodic sound of the axe chopping down the trees in the last act. But the whole of the previous act is also structured by sound: that of the Jewish band playing for the ball in the background. Act II also has formal underpinnings in music, for it is book-ended by the ‘melancholy tune’ of Yepihodov’s guitar. Acts II and IV are linked by the mysterious, unexplained sound heard once in each, ‘like […] a string snapping, slowly and sadly dying away’, which Feers, the ancient retainer, links gloomily with the freeing of the serfs, and which closes the play alongside the final iteration of the axe.11 Not all sounds in multimedia forms of art or entertainment are as overtly symbolic as this, but all are semiotic, contributing to the ‘message’ being sent and received. In a play such as The Cherry Orchard they will include, as well as the sound effects and incidental music, contrasting patterns of 213


intonation in the speech of different characters, the different rhythms of discourse, and the structure that derives both from verbal repetition and silence. If the soundtrack of The Cherry Orchard tells us indicative, even unique things about the condition of Russia as Chekhov saw or rather heard it on the eve of revolution, so too perhaps does that of New Elizabethan Britain as laid down in the media that reached the masses or was taken to represent the nation as a whole. The obvious outlets to scrutinize would be opera, for its cultural authority; radio and television broadcasting, for their public reach; the West End musical, as the apogee of live metropolitan entertainment; and cinema, the paying entertainment of choice for the greatest number and spread of people. Such an analysis does not yet exist; the observations in the remainder of this chapter aim at an initial exploration. The representation of a national soundscape requires agency. The BBC’s construction of what the sounds of Britain would or should be exists in its mountain of memos, committees and policy documents. No doubt somewhere in the BBC Written Archives at Caversham could be found observations or directives about what comes across to us now as the somewhat nervous breeziness and patronizing accent of announcers, interviewers and commentators of the period; about the assurance embodied in Richard Dimbleby’s voice and speech; about the proliferation of musical genres, styles and content, popular through serious; about the acceptability, balance and juxtaposition of these for the listening public; about the role of background, incidental and light music; about the quality and significance of a West End show or a current star for purposes of review and broadcast exposure; and about the quality and aim of what and who the Corporation might commission into existence. Production teams in film and on stage are also the agents of sound, and again, the archives might speak, if not about what those teams wanted and aimed for, at least about what they were willing to pay and to what effect and with what perseverance they achieved their result. And of course the public itself is the agent of sound reception. Here, the Mass Observation archive would illuminate what the public thought about speech, voice, accent, noise and music in all its manifestations and roles. While there is much in all this for the social historian, the musicologist will want to point out that many of these elements of the soundscape had to be interpreted – turned into a soundtrack – by musicians, who were the agents not just for the performance of sound but, in the form 214

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of composers, for its creation as a web or network of chosen semiotic code. We may have failed to realize just how many decisions about sound, and in particular how many musicians, were required for a radio broadcast in the years before the routine use of tape recording. A BBC publication of 1948, Broadcasting in the West, helps us understand this latter model. The final section of the booklet interweaves an account of the audition of a fictitious young actress (‘Pitch – mezzo. Tone – clear, warm, flexible. Normal accent – neutral. Dialects – authentic Somerset, stage cockney […] diction a bit untidy in emotion […] has attack and a well-varied range of feeling’) with that of the making of a radio documentary about the equally fictitious M32 moon rocket project.12 The documentary’s producer goes through various decisions about sound, and there follows a lengthy, comprehensive account of the rehearsing, co-ordination and performance of the aural components (covering three studios and two outside locations): live music, location speech and noise, scripted text and effects discs. The producer, describing in some detail what is required, has commissioned a score from a composer: ‘I want a slow build-up, heavy, rather ominous […] then you start to swell up […] to a triumphant peak. Full-throttle, brassy, elated – and cut out fairly sharply, I think.’13 Playing this live on-air is the regional studio orchestra, ten of whose heads can be seen in a photograph, though there will have been quite a few more. Music was as deeply implicated in this fabricated slice of life as speech and noise, and much more expensively so. The fictional rocket was doubtless based on the development of the Bristol Brabazon aircraft, actually pictured within the booklet. Nonetheless, the historical Brabazon was to remain almost as fictitious as the documentary. After spending millions of pounds on it and razing an entire village to extend the runway at Filton Airfield for the one prototype that ever flew, the British government scrapped the project one month after the Coronation. Both behind and ahead of its time, the plane was as big as a Jumbo but, like a flying boat, carried 100 luxury passengers or fewer. It generated no airline orders, and the Brabazon joins the Comet and the Airspeed Ambassador as a New Elizabethan emblem of heroism, enterprise, failure of corporate will and ultimately tragedy. As for the Comet, it needs to be remembered that for a period in the earlier 1950s, Britain was leading the world in the development of passenger jet travel. But all its aviation projects were subject to mistiming or misplacement, to a brilliance of conception flawed by the inability to reconcile or override contradictions and ultimately to bad luck. And they 215


undoubtedly had their musical counterparts: composers themselves can be seen to have been both involved with and figured within this heroic but failed attempt to construct a New Elizabethan age. What, then, was the New Elizabethan ‘condition of Britain’, to borrow Thomas Carlyle’s phrase, and to what extent did its artistic soundtracks scrutinize and depict it? The remainder of this chapter will examine a sample of musical products and their interaction with other sound elements covering three genres – opera, the stage musical and film – with a view to ascertaining why none of them managed to crystallize a New Elizabethan brand, and how close they may have come to doing so. Opera is represented here not just by Benjamin Britten’s Gloriana, written for the Coronation with a libretto by William Plomer, but also by several of the works with which it might be compared. Popular musical theatre is scrutinized by consideration of The Water Gipsies (1955), with music by Vivian Ellis and script and lyrics by A. P. Herbert. Popular culture of the more emergent kind raises questions about cultural authority and fracture in the film The Lady Is a Square (1959), whose incidental music was supplied by Wally Stott. Finally, two British films with music by Malcolm Arnold, No Highway (1951) and The Sound Barrier (1952), return us to the world of aviation, perhaps the best place to look for that elusive thing, a New Elizabethanism in sound.14 Gloriana, the story of Elizabeth and Essex set to music, was considered to be Britten’s greatest failure. Produced at Covent Garden on 8 June 1953, it portrayed an ageing queen, frequently irascible and even grotesque, prey to inappropriate love and jealousy while pursuing her obvious if sometimes refractory duty. It is hardly surprising that the audience and the press disliked a work whose strongest moments are those depicting private anguish and some of whose weakest consist of over-long attempts at pageantry. But the failure was implicit in the commission, for Britten simply did not have a contract for sound with the public at large. As distant from the popular mood and its expression as the much-depicted white-coated scientist of the time – it is symptomatic that one of the first books on Britten, published in 1952, was subtitled ‘a commentary on his works from a group of specialists’ – Britten was, in musical terms, almost on a par with the boffin of whose cleverness the person in the street was suspicious, probably because since the end of the war so much more of the cleverness was being sponsored by the taxpayer.15 It was Elgar who in 1905 had said that modern English music had ‘no hold on the affections of the people’.16 The phrase was telling, 216

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having been applied a great deal in nineteenth-century historiography to monarchs and governments. In other words, the English soundtrack had no legitimacy. This situation, thanks to the works of Elgar himself, followed by those of Vaughan Williams, Walton and others, had changed considerably by the time of Britten, and one sees this most in the ubiquity of light music for background and ceremonial purposes. Sky-blue music of the 1950s if ever there were, light music was compounded largely of marchor hymn-like reverence and witty if slightly overdone nervous jollity, with the odd amorousness of a waltz or the moral licence of jazz thrown in. It was, or was thought to be, the means to reach the affections of the public, and seems to have been the keynote sound of the whole period, not even noticed until challenged. As such, it should not surprise us as much as it surprised me, while watching and listening to the Peter Grimes newsreel of 1945, to hear light music maundering away in the background of the feature. Nothing could be more incongruous with the sounds of Grimes itself, heard as source music when Britten plays his own score at the piano. At least by the time of Gloriana, British Pathé had learnt not to feature Britten’s actual music at all in its coverage of the premiere.17 And this leads to the question: has Britten’s music ever been co-opted in order to evoke an aural Englishness on the big or small screen, or on the radio? Walton’s, yes. Tippett’s, yes. Berkeley’s, potentially yes, for the opening of his Serenade has the comfortable light touch, though the work turns stern thereafter. But Britten’s, no, beyond possibly some passage for choirboys or the Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (whose theme is by Purcell). One might as well expect Brecht to be affectionate. It is worth briefly comparing the openings of three operas of the New Elizabethan time. Lennox Berkeley’s Nelson had a disappointing history. Having been submitted to the Festival of Britain opera competition sponsored by the Arts Council, it was rejected by the judges, only Constant Lambert’s stubborn advocacy preserving it for consideration within the Council’s broader remit. It was eventually produced by Sadler’s Wells in September 1954, before any of the winning entries of the competition and, better than they did, ‘most nearly fit] the requirements of popular opera and national celebration’.18 The opera’s opening is stormy and terse, but one hears the possibility of cadential resolution after struggle within its symphonic building blocks, whose determination propels dramatic anticipation not unlike the imaginary credits of some sophisticated but mainstream film, getting the job done quickly and efficiently. Tippett’s The Midsummer Marriage, completed in 1954 after a long gestation and produced by Covent Garden early the following 217


year, successfully negotiates between the quotidian and the sublime in its frame of reference – the characters range from a secretary, a tycoon and a mechanic to mysterious He- and She-Ancients – and draws on a remarkable fund of positive energy throughout its substantial and radiantly attractive score. The sustained bustle of its opening sounds the familiar keynote of light music, but soon leads to hieratic soundmarks such as the chorus’ madrigal to the sun and the Ancients’ memorable entry dance. The opera is elevated and abstracted in its overall artistic premises, which one might compare with those of Henry Moore’s King and Queen or Eliot’s The Cocktail Party and to which one feels that the New Elizabethans ought to have wanted to respond, turning them into something broadly emblematic. But the public and the pundits were not sufficiently confident in each other or were too impatient with the times to do so, and elements in The Midsummer Marriage akin to what in later decades would be embraced as magic realism received a rough ride. ‘Too airy-fairy’, opined the Daily Mail, continuing to assume philistinism as the British keynote.19 Yet the music was loved, and this is more than can be said for Gloriana, whose opening establishes the tone for the rest of the work, seeming almost to spite rather than encourage the listener. Cold, steely and brilliant, the soundtrack for the tournament certainly invites parallels with Tippett’s opening scene in its use of brass, fanfare and a concertante texture, but coercive and rebarbative elements infiltrate the occasion all too soon and too insistently, both in the plot and in the music. (Firth goes so far as to call the opera ‘dark, tragic, sordid’; Heather Wiebe characterizes it as ‘an opera about failure and decay’.)20 This opening scene is, like those of Tippett and Berkeley, an excited dramatization of something happening offstage or about to happen to an expectant mass of loyal people. It does not thrill, however, and the opera, like the queen herself within it, rarely lowers its guard thereafter. Britten, then, while unquestionably the nation’s leading composer in the 1950s (and the sole composer to warrant one of James Naughtie’s 60 portraits in The New Elizabethans),21 emphatically did not compose a New Elizabethan soundtrack. Did more popular musical dramatists? Here we may observe how little notice has been taken by cultural historians of what was being presented on the West End ‘lyrical’ (i.e. musical) stage at the time of the Accession and Coronation and in the following year or two. Perhaps this has been with good reason, for the British musical had long been in the doldrums, having fallen decisively behind the imported American model at the end of World War I,22 a situation only 218

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exacerbated after World War II when Oklahoma! inaugurated another American invasion.23 The situation closely paralleled the odds against British films, although the outcome was different. Three creative figures of the British musical stage had done their best to hold the fort over a lengthy period, perennially besieged as it was, but by 1953 one of them, Ivor Novello, was dead; another, Noël Coward, was living abroad for tax reasons, savagely criticized for doing so; and only the third, Vivian Ellis, was still pursuing the creative challenge in West End musicals with some sense of obligation towards what was contemporary.24 Forty-four commercial London theatres were listed in The Times on 1 June 1953, in addition to three subsidized venues offering opera and ballet. Today’s total would not be greatly different, and most of the same theatres are still in operation, though some have changed their names. Only seven of the theatres were presenting musicals in 1953, as opposed to the 20 or so one might expect now, though there were half a dozen revues as well, plus Italian opera at the Stoll, one assumes on a commercial basis. Of the seven musicals, all recent and in their initial run, four were American: South Pacific, Guys and Dolls, Paint Your Wagon and Love from Judy. The three British musicals, The Two Bouquets (by Eleanor and Herbert Farjeon), Happy as a King (featuring and partly written by the comedian Fred Emney) and The Glorious Days (a pageant-like concoction starring Anna Neagle with music by Harry Parr Davies), have sunk with little or no trace; indeed, Happy as a King lasted only three weeks. The next year unexpectedly saw two hits: Sandy Wilson’s The Boy Friend, a 1920s pastiche, and Julian Slade’s Salad Days, an affectionate look at gilded youth. The Glorious Days and The Two Bouquets both incorporated traditional and superannuated popular songs.25 Together with the two hits of 1954 (which ran for four years or more), this made for the wholesale reliance on a keynote of nostalgia against which it is difficult to isolate any real soundmarks at all, unless they were of camp. (The liberating magic piano in Salad Days has been taken as a gay symbol.)26 Was nobody wrestling with the sounds of the time and their meanings? It is disappointing to observe the limited effort and success with which The Water Gipsies attempted to do so. No one should have been better placed than its librettist and lyricist, A. P. Herbert, to have laid out the elements of a meaningful New Elizabethan soundtrack. As an independent MP (Oxford University) and lively campaigner on issues of public interest of many years’ standing, and as a novelist and theatre librettist with equally extensive experience, his head and his heart were 219


in the right place to balance affection with criticism, respect for tradition and a conservative mass public with the recognition of imminent, necessary and drastic change. As Snelson points out, Ellis and Herbert were the closest thing to Rodgers and Hammerstein that Britain could offer.27 Rodgers and Hammerstein had always managed to balance contemporaneity with tradition, or dramatize the conflict. But Herbert was now in his sixties, and it did not help when he chose the slowest known form of transport, horse-drawn canal barges, as the subject for his new musical with Ellis, with never an acknowledgement of its drastic opposite: the noise, stress and supersonic possibilities of jet travel. If this stance was deliberate, it was bound to fail, and ‘Clip Clop’, the onomatopoeic title and lyric of the main musical number allotted to Fred, the leading man in The Water Gipsies, is no blueprint for a renovated society, its music as sleepy as its protagonist. When Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein had evoked such a sound and a comparably lazy idyll in ‘The Folks who Live on the Hill’ in the musical film High, Wide and Handsome (1937), they had done so to suggest a fantasy that the restless pioneer couple with the oil gusher on their land knew they would never stop to fulfil. In The Water Gipsies, this idyll seems to be a prescription. Even light-music bustle is incriminated in the B section of ‘Clip-clop’, when Fred imitates the motor boats’ hurried ‘Tutter Tutter Tutter’ with disdain. Herbert did update certain things from his 1930 novel and the 1932 British film of the same title. The very first words of the opening chorus, ‘God bless the Queen / And God forgive the Government’, sound like a promising summation of New Elizabethan popular feeling, reinforced when Mrs Higgins, the pub landlady, and her widowed wooer Mr Bell continue: They can tax you, till it cracks you. And they do a bit more when you die. It’s unnatural! It’s unethical! Yes, and then they start raving, ‘Here why aren’t you saving.’28

But even here, the obsession with austerity and rationing seems to obtrude. It had been a major reference point in earlier musicals such as The Glorious Days and Her Excellency,29 but 1955 was a bit late to be harping on about it still, when money was beginning to be liberally spent and, more important, made by the young in other spheres. As if in recognition of this, Herbert built up the generation gap as embodied in 220

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Lily, the younger daughter of Mr Bell, so that she now hates her name; this was not in the novel or the film. In her first number, ‘Why did you call me Lily?’, she unrolls a long verse section professing that ‘It’s very sad how Mum and Dad can wreck their children’s lives’ by giving them names that will prove inappropriate.30 ‘You might have asked me first’, this liberated character states in the second line of what is a splendidly witty song, sung by Dora Bryan who emerged overnight as the show’s star, epitomizing the good-time girl.31 Names Lily would have preferred include ‘Nicotine, or Columbine / Or Atom Bomb or Bubblywine, / Or Aspirin or Iodine’, amply up-to-date even if the music is nothing more modern than a music-hall two-step.32 Lily does not want to marry her boyfriend Bunny, and their Act II duet is suitably rebellious in its rock ’n’ roll blues formation, harmonically speaking, though it ends up sounding like a conventional Broadway rag such as ‘Anything You Can Do’ from Annie Get Your Gun (1946). One must credit Ellis with attempting to encompass not just youth’s emergent subculture but the opposite end of the spectrum of taste and musical expression in the other number of the leading man Fred, ‘Little Boat’, which aspires to English art-song status with its deft pastiche of Roger Quilter or ‘Linden Lea’ and includes a couple of harmonic dissolves as if reaching out to ‘scientific’ stylistic progress. But this song and its treatment were lifted from the earlier film, and the overall calibration of these idiomatic contrasts remains all too obviously restricted by an operetta sensibility, just as the nightclub syncopations and muted trumpet instrumentation imposed on old-fashioned musical material in the overture sound rather desperate.33 Perhaps Ellis and Herbert were confident that their sensibility was an accurate reflection of how decorum and compromise would continue to prevail in New Elizabethan England. But three years later, the spectrum of musical taste and the personal values it represented had simply fallen apart. Angry young men reigned on the spoken stage and on screen, blatantly sexy young men on the musical platform, having Americanized and racialized popular music into the youth culture of subaltern defiance it has remained ever since. Art-school jazz and the rise of skiffle may have been preparing the way for this, but the sheer scale of music industry success now achievable by the young, comparable only to that of film stars in the preceding decades, was something new. The film The Lady is a Square recognizes this and represents the popular music industry as honestly as it can, with Frankie Vaughan as the rising star, more or less playing himself. But it betrays its residual New Elizabethanism in trying to close the culture gap through a heroic effort of communal will that will 221


leave the notion of elevation of taste, and therefore also the notion of cultural paternalism, intact. In this her last film, Anna Neagle, still representing reliable traditional values (in The Glorious Days she had played Queen Victoria, among other people), portrays a London society widow continuing her husband’s work of sponsoring classical orchestral music. In something of an echo of the Robert Mayer concerts, Neagle’s character, Mrs Baring, promotes the National Youth Orchestra, which actually appeared and was heard in the film, conducted by Walter Susskind. This was indeed one of Britain’s great new cultural assets, and has remained so, but the attempt to resolve its relationship with the other, dominant new youth culture of pop music is forced in the extreme, both in the plot and in musical execution. Vaughan’s character, Johnny Burns, inveigles himself into Baring’s house and the affections of her daughter. It turns out that Baring is close to bankruptcy, and Burns secretly finances her concerts out of his fabulous earnings. He appears on stage with his latest hit, but finally shows that he can ‘be classical too’ by singing Handel to the accompaniment of the youth orchestra. Vaughan’s performance of ‘Ombra mai fu’ on screen is something else; the music is fine, but the Italian accent, or rather the lack of it, is excruciating. It must have been a deliberate decision to keep his enunciation vernacular, so as not to compromise his English masculinity, perhaps the last crumbling bastion of a New Elizabethan ideal in this context. Yet that is precisely what this representation does, and one cannot help noticing further elements of camp in the film. Vaughan’s jaunts through the capital are accompanied by saucy light music supplied by Wally Stott (later to have a sex change and to become Angela Morley), and there is a gag about butlers going to Tibet in the afternoons. Sonic reverence as manifest in the Coronation and Richard Dimbleby always did acknowledge its cheeky or irreverent obverse: the banana skin in the procession, as it were. But in a film like The Lady Is a Square, operating in such cultural earnest, camp is apt to break out under the pressure, whether or not abetted by the light music keynote of a society too tired or too frightened to comport itself confidently without such sonic cushioning. It has to be said, though, that Stott’s discreet background score is superb, building as it does on the melodic motifs of Vaughan’s hits (composed by other songwriters). If anybody could bring the two cultures together, he could. One would probably not accuse Malcolm Arnold of being camp, but above all other musicians of the time he seems to have recognized that a deflationary humour was so deeply embedded in the sceptical 222

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English psyche that no heroism, triumphant or defeated, would subsist without it. Hence the ‘calculated flippancy’ that he cultivated to a disapproved-of extent in his symphonies, but which served him uniquely well in his film scores.34 It was in Lean’s film The Sound Barrier that Arnold made his contribution to a soundtrack – in both its technical and my more extended sense – perhaps more revelatory of the New Elizabethan problematic than any other artefact one could single out. The film, released five months after the Accession, won an Oscar for Best Sound Recording, and that surely is the point: music, speech and noise interact on celluloid with visuals to define and question the tenets and possibilities of a culture to a level and with a clarity unique to the medium. Arnold had already contributed one film score, his first, on the theme of aviation. This was No Highway, based on the novel by Nevil Shute (himself the founder of the Airspeed company) and starring James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich in addition to a host of British actors. Arnold’s own view that there should be no music apart from the opening and closing credits prevailed.35 This was negative composition, for what there was was noise: the roar of the test-flown aeroplanes above the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) at Farnborough; the hum of the long, tense flight of the Reindeer across the Atlantic; the strange musical rhythms and intonation of Stewart’s classic speech patterns; and the noise of silence, particularly representative in a scene in which Stewart’s character Honey and his British colleague Scott discuss the education and character of Honey’s daughter Elspeth without her uttering a word. Above all is the monstrous pounding, periodically recapitulated, of the machine that is testing the Reindeer’s tail to destruction in the RAE hangar. Rarely can a more concise multimedia finale have been achieved than in the final two minutes of this film. News comes in of the two tail failures in Canada, and the crystalline fracture of the huge tail in the shed finally occurs, to a ghastly splintering sound. The tail crashes to the hangar floor with another extraordinary noise, Arnold’s music fades in under all this sound and the camera cuts to the thermometer (‘BRITISH MAKE’) wobbling in Honey’s office because of the tail’s impact. Honey realizes that he had failed to incorporate a temperature co-efficient into his calculations, and the end title wells up at the vindication of science. A strange triumph, this, one muses in retrospect, merely to have proved mechanical design failure, but crucial to the advancement of society and perfectly in accord with the young Arnold’s troubled, sometimes angry genius. 223


No actual fatigue failures had occurred in passenger air travel at the time of No Highway, and life was grimly imitating art when the Comets crashed three years later. The Sound Barrier, an altogether darker film, was also premonitory in not just anticipating but questioning the ultimate human purpose of supersonic passenger travel. ‘Where is it all going to get us, when we can fly to New York in three hours?’ – to paraphrase the many distraught and antagonistic conversations Susan has with her dreadful father, especially after she has lost both her brother and her husband in flight. She is the daughter of the aircraft manufacturer John Ridgefield, played by Ralph Richardson with what appears to be a Borders accent and surely a nod towards the BBC’s paterfamilias John Reith, as though the time had finally come to confront that institution’s unbending values too. Questioning progress through British pre-eminence in technology meant to put in doubt the very notion of national striving and competition – branding indeed – and thus strain the New Elizabethan nostrum yet further. To have ventured this degree of problematization was uncanny, for Terence Rattigan, who wrote the screenplay, was not to know that such travel would in time eventuate with the Anglo-French Concorde, only to disappear again 30 years later as though it had never been, all within the same Queen’s reign. Where did it get us, indeed? As Jan Swynnoe has observed, The Sound Barrier was sonically original from its first moment. When a soldier lounging on a cliff lazily plays a mouth organ, the opening music is thus a diegetic (‘source music’) cue, leading swiftly to the far more ominous one of an off duty fighter pilot’s plane ‘buffeting as it hits the sound barrier’ high above the cliffs.36 Arnold’s first incidental music enters between these two cues, and only after the buffeting does it lead into his title theme, a ‘danger’ motif that explains the significance of the ‘real’ sounds that have just been heard: when life seems sky-blue, humankind will discover or create some new problem and turn it into a challenge. Swynnoe goes on to demonstrate how the motif transforms itself into a ‘siren’ lullaby, the quest of Susan’s husband luring him away from her like a mistress. But in some respects all this incidental music, which the viewer will hardly notice, is simply the emotional keynote of adventure films of the period, and does no more than repeat or parallel what the characters’ gestures, demeanour and speech and the director’s viewpoint choices are already doing (this is a frequent criticism of the Wagnerian tradition). What stands out from the keynote is the soundmark of noise, which is cleverly plotted. The first we know about the top secret wartime development of jet engines is their noise, ironically impossible to hide. When Susan’s new husband Tony is 224

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let in on it, he says, ‘I think it’s the most exciting sound I’ve ever heard.’37 A terrifying scene follows in which we observe him and Ridgefield standing in the chamber where the engine is being tested, as it warms up to full power – a quite deafening sound, requiring them to put on earmuffs (there is a notice to that effect on the wall, increasing the sense of danger and thrill experienced by the viewer). Already the demonic enticement of very loud noise, in the process of overtaking both serious and popular music as well as industrial technology, is amply evident. The noise is music to the ears of these heroic males; conversely, the ‘modernistic music’ that Susan’s mother loved, as does she, is scorned as mere noise by Ridgefield. This ironic interchangeability is made brilliantly clear in the scene in which the prototype Comet takes off from Cairo. Arnold’s three trilling piccolos immediately follow the firing of the jet engines in a manner such that one can scarcely tell where the ‘source music’ screech leaves off and that of the musical instruments takes over. The piccolo, much more ambivalently, stands in equally effectively for the engine on the first test flight of Ridgefield’s supersonic jet, the Prometheus. Cleverest of all is the film’s dramatization of how the noise of the jets increasingly has an opposite effect on Susan – sound as menace. ‘When Tony’s flying […] I try to go to the cinema’, she says.38 ‘You can’t hear the sound so clearly in there’: a neat piece of self-reference. There is precious little comic spirit in The Sound Barrier, so it would be wrong to seek all things New Elizabethan in Arnold’s substantial score and the film’s soundtrack.39 But his next score was for a comedy, David Lean’s Hobson’s Choice (1953), as were other assignments such as The Belles of St Trinian’s (1954), so it would be equally right to seek in his overall emotional range some correlation with that of the New Elizabethan public in its cinema-going habits. If his film work rubbed off on his abstract music, we might look for the evidence in his symphonies. The Second Symphony, completed in February 1953 and premiered the month before the Coronation in Bournemouth, whose orchestral society had commissioned it, offers such evidence.40 Arnold’s range, at least within a single work, is much wider and more unpredictable than that of most of his British predecessors and established contemporaries, as indeed one would expect from an artist who strongly admired Berlioz and Mahler. But it is also less integrated. The word that best sums up Arnold’s music in the Second Symphony and elsewhere is ‘disconcerting’ – a pointed quality in relation to the idea of a concert or the received meaning of ‘concerto’, as ‘striving together’. His world is volatile and unstable, little concerned with the niceties of taste and by no means 225


confident of resolving conflict. The Symphony’s finale switches between something approaching slapstick in its main theme and brutal, perhaps tragic, effort in its straining fugal episodes. The effect is worrying indeed, as is the succession of odd things that seem to happen in the varying surroundings of the restful, innocent tune of the first movement between each reappearance. It is almost as though the ambit of the individual subject runs parallel with some other world, perhaps of crime or secret activity or un-grasped knowledge, only partially sensed and then ignored for safety’s sake or through lack of authority. This is not a comfortable, secure universe.41 The disconcerting quality in Malcolm Arnold’s symphonic music is indeed how it undermines assumptions of sincerity, of an agreed consensual formula. Whether couched in anger or humorous deflation, anxiety or slick confidence, there is much in his contributions to the culture of the 1950s – not forgetting his Oscar for The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) – to suggest that Arnold’s very frustrations with and protests against expectations, nostra and norms could keep art on its toes and the public on the edge of its seat. Perhaps it was a good thing that there was no agreed New Elizabethan soundtrack and he could instead pursue the contradictions and perplexities of being ‘an honest composer’, which was how he wished to be remembered.42 But let it not be thought that Arnold’s music was the New Elizabethan soundtrack. Such a thing, contingent upon a constitutional moment, the accession of a monarch, was never going to be mysteriously immanent in a whole population, shared by the people, reflected in the arts. It would have to be a brand, carefully constructed and marketed, around which elements of a national culture could then be conveniently arranged. Branding requires authority, opportunity and will. As we have seen, none of these was efficacious. Whether the presence of a monarchy actually impeded the development of a brand, an agreed soundtrack, would be a point worthy of debate. Perhaps Clifford Longley has put his finger on the necessary terms of that debate: ‘No English person really believes in everything the coronation stood for: many now believe in none of it. Every American believes in everything the American constitution stands for.’43 The idea of a New Elizabethan soundtrack would, accordingly, have been one of increasing insincerity.


The New Elizabethan Soundtrack


1 N.a., Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 6 February 1953. 2 Ibid. 3 Ibid. 4 For more information on A Garland for the Queen, see Rolf Jordan, ‘“Operation Gloriana”: A Garland for the Queen’, and Katherine Firth, ‘“Bright Flower breaks from Charnel Bough”: Commissioning the Arts of Peace for the 1953 Coronation’, Finzi Journal II (2014), 67–89 and 90–117.   5 N.a., Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 2 June 1953. See also the South East Scotland Electricity Board’s advertisement in the 1953 Edinburgh Festival programme, reproduced in Jordan, ‘Operation’, 68.   6 N.a., Dundee Courier, 10 February 1953.   7 When reggae discovered ‘Elizabethan Serenade’, its laid-back glide and persistent backbeat figure revealed a new Elizabethanism of a multicultural dimension undreamed of by the pundits of the early 1950s.   8 See Stephen Banfield, ‘Tudorism in English Music, 1837–1953’, in Tatiana C. String and Marcus Bull (eds), Tudorism: Historical Imagination and the Appropriation of the Sixteenth Century. Proceedings of the British Academy Series (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 57–77.   9 Manifestations of sound studies as a growing subject would include David Hendy’s 30-part prime-time BBC Radio 4 series of March–April 2013, published as Noise: A Human History of Sound and Listening (London: Profile, 2013); Trevor Pinch and Karen Bijsterveld (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Sound Studies (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011); Jonathan Sterne (ed.), The Sound Studies Reader (Abingdon: Routledge, 2012), and seminars on the anthropology of sound such as that of Stefan Helmreich at MIT in Fall 2010. 10 R. Murray Schafer, The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World (New York: Knopf, 1977). 11 Anton Chekhov, Plays: Anton Chekhov, trans. Elisaveta Fen (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1959), 398. 12 Anon., Broadcasting in the West (Wembley: BBC, n.d.), 34. 13 Ibid., 38. 14 No Highway’s American title was No Highway in the Sky. 15 Donald Mitchell and Hans Keller (eds), Benjamin Britten: A Commentary on his Works from a Group of Specialists (London: Rockcliff, 1952). 16 Jerrold N. Moore, ‘Sir Edward Elgar as a University Professor’, University of Rochester Library Bulletin vi/3 (1960), 29–39: 34. 17 British Pathé newsreels, ‘Peter Grimes is Born’ (1945). Available at http:// (accessed 1 September 2015); ‘Royal Opera night’ (1953). Available 227

THE NEW ELIZABETHAN AGE at (accessed 1 September 2015). 18 Nathaniel Lew, Tonic to the Nation: Making English Music in the Festival of Britain (forthcoming 2016). 19 Keith Spence, ‘“Midsummer Marriage” and its Critics: A Topical Retrospect’, Musical Times cxii (1971), 28. 20 Firth, ‘Bright’, 106; Heather Wiebe: ‘“Now and England”: Britten’s Gloriana and the “New Elizabethans”’, Cambridge Opera Journal xvii (2005), 141–72: 155. 21 James Naughtie, The New Elizabethans (London: HarperCollins, 2012). 22 Noël Coward, ‘Introduction’, The Essential Noël Coward Song Book (London: Omnibus, 1980), 9–17: 9–11. 23 A. E. Wilson, quoted in John Snelson, ‘The West End Musical 1947–54: British Identity and the “American Invasion”’, PhD dissertation, University of Birmingham, 2003. 24 Coward’s Coronation season offering was to act in Shaw’s The Apple Cart; his last musical to premiere in the West End, After the Ball (1954), was based on Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan and thus neither new nor Elizabethan. 25 See Snelson, ‘West’. 26 Ibid., 253–5. 27 Ibid., 141. 28 There is no sign of this number in either of the play scripts in the Lord Chamberlain’s Play Collection (LCP 1955/29), and clearly the show went through quite a few changes prior to publication of the vocal score and issue of the recording. These scripts do, however, contain other up-to-date references, for example to television. 29 A. P. Herbert and Vivian Ellis, ‘Why Did you Call me Lily?’, in The Water Gipsies, 1955. 30 Ibid. 31 Ibid. 32 See Snelson, ‘West’. 33 The original cast recording can be heard on the World Records LP SH 228, which has been reissued on various CDs 34 Peter Evans: ‘Instrumental Music I’, in Stephen Banfield (ed.), The Blackwell History of Music in Britain: The Twentieth Century (Oxford: Blackwell, 1995), 179–277: 237. 35 Piers Burton-Page, Philharmonic Concerto: The Life and Music of Sir Malcolm Arnold (London: Trafalgar Square, 1994), 53. 36 Jan G. Swynnoe, The Best Years of British Film Music, 1936–1958 (Woodbridge: Boydell 2002), 59, quoting Roger Manvell and John Huntley, The Technique of Film Music, rev. edn (New York: Hastings, 1975), 135–6. 37 David Lean, director, The Sound Barrier, London Film Productions, 1952. 228

The New Elizabethan Soundtrack 38 Studio simulation of the sound of the jet engines by vacuum cleaners would appear to have been taken up by Arnold as a locus of sonic irreverence when he composed his ‘A Grand, Grand Overture’ for organ, three vacuum cleaners, floor polisher, four rifles and orchestra for the first of the cartoonist Gerard Hoffnung’s music festivals in 1956, but the implications of such observations lie beyond the scope of this chapter. 39 Ibid. 40 Margaret Archibald, booklet notes, Arnold: Symphonies nos 2 and 5; Peterloo Overture, CD, 7243 5 66324 2 4 (EMI Classics, 1987), 3–7: 5. 41 It should perhaps be added that this is not a reading shared by other commentators. See Burton-Page, Philharmonic and Hugo Cole, Malcolm Arnold: An Introduction to his Music (London: Faber, 1989). Paul R. W. Jackson, The Life and Music of Sir Malcolm Arnold: The Brilliant and the Dark (Aldershot: Scolar, 2003) specifically links the Second Symphony with the opening of a sunny new Elizabethan age (61). 42 Burton-Page, Philharmonic, 162. 43 Clifford Longley, Chosen People: The Big Idea that Shaped England and America (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2002), 56.




In the years that anticipated and celebrated the dawning of a New Elizabethan age, aviation and space travel provided imaginative playgrounds in which to confront and celebrate an emerging peacetime. This chapter considers three responses to this phenomenon: the Brabazon Committee tasked to plan for postwar civil aircraft production, the valorization of the test pilot (particularly as represented in David Lean’s 1952 film The Sound Barrier) and Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass drama trilogy for BBC television, first transmitted in 1953. All of these projects are New Elizabethan in their recognition of the essential myths that converged around the moment of the Coronation, engaging simultaneously with optimistic formulations of modernity, technological adventure and the informing potential of an increasingly mythologized past. The postwar United Kingdom was characterized by a surprising mixture of idealistic visions and austere realities. Underlying the cultural expressions of this moment were the hard contradictions of new political and economic realities. Although the nation was struggling to reconcile state control (essential in wartime and expanded by the postwar Labour administration) with the flair and inventiveness deemed necessary for a productive future, not every field pitched state bureaucracy against entrepreneurial private enterprise. Sometimes the state apparatus dreamed dreams. 230


In the years 1942–3, the wartime coalition government began a series of brave imaginings. From an assumption of eventual victory, the Beveridge Report established the basis for the NHS and the social policies that constituted the welfare state; the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts prepared the ground for state funding of the arts by its successor body the Arts Council of Great Britain; and a 1943 White Paper, ‘Educational Reconstruction’, laid the ground for the 1944 guarantee of state education for all. These were visionary acts to imagine and shape the postwar world. They were rooted in a wartime set of cultural parameters, but looked forward to engage with a projected modernity of a time then unknown and uncertain.

Wartime Blueprints, Postwar Peace While the arts, schools and health services were being shaped in imagination, in other Whitehall rooms, equally imaginative and important visions for the postwar future were being created. The Civil Aviation Committee on Post-War Transport (1943) was set up to plan for the future of British civil aviation after victory. It was more commonly known as the Brabazon Committee after its Chair, John Brabazon, later Lord Brabazon of Tara. A member of Churchill’s War Cabinet, he had made the first British recognized aeroplane flight in 1909, flown in the Royal Flying Corps during World War I and become a Conservative MP in 1918. Initially opposed to a second war with Germany, he flirted with the idea of international agreements not to re-arm. His 9 March 1939 statement in the House of Commons has a Wellesian tone to it: The competitive system of armament building of the aeroplane type is so fantastically absurd that it must end eventually in the League of Nations idea embodied in some other stronger body, like a combined international force. If we could get Germany, ourselves and the United States together we could stop today every form of war throughout the world. The three of us could be the policemen of peace for ever.1

In 1941, Brabazon became Minister for Aircraft Production in the War Cabinet, following on from the Canadian newspaper magnate Lord Beaverbrook, who had made a controversial name managing a swift increase in military aircraft production, particularly of fighter aircraft. In 1943, Brabazon was sacked from the War Cabinet because he 231


was overheard to say, at the time of the battle of Stalingrad, that he hoped Nazis and Communists might wipe each other out. This diplomatic faux pas ruled him out of Cabinet, but meant that Churchill was able to use his talents in other ways that focused on the anticipated postwar peace. The Brabazon Committee began work in 1943, initially composed of senior civil servants, later supplemented by figures from the aircraft industry.2 Wartime understandings with the United States determined that Britain concentrate on fighter and bomber aircraft, leaving the Americans to design heavy bombers and transport aircraft. Brabazon’s Committee attempted to right this imbalance postwar. However, the de-commissioning of American transports, notably the Douglas DC3 and DC4, demonstrated the problems faced by British industry at war’s end. The Brabazon outcomes in actual flying machinery were to be characterized by a combination of futuristic engineering and the lingering clouds of prewar imperial politics hanging over postwar economic reality. Over 62 meetings between 1943 and 1944, the Committee’s reports created core specifications for a range of aircraft. They are listed here with their eventual products: Type I for the transatlantic route: the Bristol Brabazon Type IIA for European routes: the Airspeed Ambassador Type IIB also for European routes: the Vickers Viceroy Type III for what were still called ‘Empire’ routes: the Avro Tudor Type IV – a ‘High speed transport’ that started as a transatlantic mail carrier but evolved into the de Havilland Comet, the world’s first pure-jet airliner.3

The new crop of transports seemed destined to pick up the baton dropped during wartime of a nomenclature evocative of Empire and the ranks of its upper-class agents. (The last big prewar British airliner design had been the Armstrong–Whitworth ‘Ensign’.) ‘Brabazon’, ‘Ambassador’, ‘Viceroy’ and ‘Tudor’: these aircraft names suggest an attempt to reflect monarchical and establishment glamour on a colourless postwar era. The launch customer for the Ambassador British European Airways even renamed them as the ‘Elizabethan Class’. Individual aeroplanes had pseudo-maritime and Elizabethan names such as ‘RMA Elizabethan’, ‘RMA Sir Francis Drake’ and ‘RMA Christopher Marlowe’. The modernization of that glamour was also suggested by the ‘Princess’ flying boat, manufactured by Saunders-Roe (a contemporary 232


of the Bristol Brabazon, and brought under the aegis of later Brabazon committees). The role of the Princess, whose capacious interiors were seen as immediately appropriate to an upper-class clientele, was to service the old Empire routes. Only de Havilland’s company struck out with more forward-looking names: its small civil transport was the elegant Dove and its response to Brabazon Type IV was the beautiful Comet, the world’s first turbojet airliner.4 Of the Brabazon, Tudor, Ambassador/Elizabethan and Britannia (a late outcome from the Brabazon committees), only the Viceroy under its new name of Viscount, ostensibly less evocative of imperial glory, and de Havilland’s Dove were commercially successful. Both were harbingers of a new and demotic phase of airline flying: the Viscount went on to be the backbone of European and American domestic routes, and the Dove had modest success as a smaller feederliner aircraft and a basis for private company use in the United States. The Ambassador, though an elegant and competent design, is largely remembered for the 1955 crash that killed Manchester United’s Busby Babes. The huge flagship Brabazon itself, designed for the rich and leisured, first flew in 1949 and barely survived into the New Elizabethan age: it was scrapped in October of Coronation Year. The titular recipient of its name later spoke to his fellow Lords, regretting the attachment of his name to such a failure: I cannot say that I enjoy very much being associated with its extraordinary career, because altogether this was a sorry tale and the machine was eventually broken up ‘un-honoured and unsung.’5

That little excursion into building an aeroplane cost the taxpayer just over £12 million. In 1949, the Comet made its maiden flight and began airline service with BOAC in 1952. Since February of that year, Britain’s new monarch had been the young Queen Elizabeth, and the ever-alert de Havilland publicity office took full advantage of a supposed conjunction of youth, monarchical glamour and technological optimism by taking the widowed Queen Mother and her daughter Margaret on a 1,800-mile outing around southern Europe and back. The pilot on that occasion, entertaining the royal couple in the cockpit, was one Group Captain John Cunningham, de Havilland’s chief test pilot and already an iconic figure from wartime newsreels.



New Elizabethan Hero ‘Got myself giving the old intro to him, you know, “one of England’s most famous test pilots, DFC and bar DSO.” All the old ex-Spitfire bull.’ (The Deep Blue Sea)6

Terence Rattigan’s Freddie Page in The Deep Blue Sea (1952) recognizes that, for a decade straddling the Coronation year, the test pilot became a symbol of heroism, patriotism and success, trailing a glory generated by the government’s wartime publicity machine into the postwar period. Press and newsreels made much of the night-fighter ace John ‘Cat’s-Eyes’ Cunningham as chief test pilot on the Comet, and military test pilots such as Neville Duke for Hawkers, Mike Lithgow for Supermarine, Bill Waterton for Gloster and John Derry and Geoffrey de Havilland Jr for de Havilland kept this mythology alive. In peacetime, this small band of jet-powered brothers was figured culturally and commercially as the new ‘few’ of the postwar era, facing a new enemy of compressibility and shock-wave that rendered aircraft uncontrollable as they flew closer and closer to the speed of sound. The actual reality for all pilots, including the test pilot elite, was that the war had trained huge numbers for whom there was little employment. As Rattigan’s play dramatizes, the ex-RAF type looking for work in the postwar employment market was up against a glut of his fellows, just as the actual airliner market was over-stuffed with surplus American transport aircraft. Only the lack of dollars to buy these surplus DC3s and DC4s made the development of a British equivalent worth contemplating. Although valorized in the newsreels and press, the industry itself was often careless with the conditions and even the lives of its test pilots, who were under continuous pressure to do their job as practical researchers, but also had to act as salespersons for their employers’ products. The experience of Canadian ex-RAF pilot Bill Waterton included participation in the world speed record team in 1947, flying the Gloster Meteor fighter and, against his better judgement, flying the untried Gloster Javelin prototype in the Coronation flypast on 3 June 1953. His memoir The Quick and the Dead (1956) and his journalism for the Daily Express caused much industry hostility by exposing in lucid prose and from hard experience the organizational muddle behind many industry and state decision-making processes.7 Notwithstanding Waterton’s critiques of the aviation industry and a complacent bureaucracy engendered by war-work, Lean’s The Sound 234


Barrier offered a more indicative dramatization of the New Elizabethan ethos around both aviation and the heroic figuration of the test pilot. The film was inspired loosely by the de Havilland test pilots Geoffrey de Havilland Jr and John Derry, who had both died in crashes near the speed of sound. Rattigan’s script sets the technical challenge of testing the limits of technology into a human context of the single-minded autocracy typical of aircraft companies of the time. The actual aircraft flown supersonically in the fictional film was not a de Havilland product but a troubled descendant of the Spitfire, the Supermarine Swift. Adrian Smith discusses how attempts on the world speed record (in competition with the United States) and the annual Farnborough Air Show (the latter for British and Commonwealth aeroplanes only) acted as powerful public relations exercises at the beginning of the New Elizabethan era, with urgent commercial and political interests at stake.8 Both events served to promote sales and stimulate a collective cultural imagination that celebrated an optimistic British engineering future. In 1952, however, de Havilland suffered a blow that eerily recalled that depicted in Lean’s film. Two months after the film’s premiere, de Havilland’s DH110 all-weather fighter prototype disintegrated in the middle of its Farnborough air display, killing its pilot John Derry, his navigator and 31 people in the spectating crowd. Although Derry had created a sonic boom minutes earlier, the accident was unrelated directly to supersonic speed but caused by a faulty design of the wing’s leading edge that caused violent manoeuvres and over-stressed the airframe. Nevertheless, the event was also to fix in the public imagination a combination of test pilot sang froid, comradely respect and ruthless salesmanship when Derry’s friend Neville Duke, watched by Derry’s widow of less than an hour, took off to demonstrate the Hawker Hunter fighter, including a sonic boom, even as ambulances collected human remains from the hill into which one of the de Havilland’s engines had torn. Lean’s film was a box-office success in both Britain and the United States. In her assessment of the film, Janet Moat places it transitionally between Lean’s domestic and literary focus in This Happy Breed (1944) and Great Expectations (1946) and his later valorization of individual British heroes in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and Lawrence of Arabia (1962).9 The Sound Barrier also transitions between wartime flying against human opponents and peacetime testing of technological enemies. In the final frames it links to the next logical step for the future test pilot: spaceflight. The company director, who has lost both a son 235


and a son-in-law to accidents, looks at the moon through a telescope as his widowed daughter and her child enter. The scene suggests that the next challenge will be space travel. As the humans leave the room, the camera swings up to a view of the night sky and a model of a futuristic new machine aiming starward.10

England’s Other Oppenheimer ‘I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.’ This line from the Bhagavad Gita came to Robert Oppenheimer as the world’s first nuclear explosion bloomed into deadly life over the New Mexico desert. Oppenheimer became an icon of the stricken conscience of many who had eased the birth of nuclear weapons. Britain in the postwar years had no obvious equivalent: William Penney was the one atom bomb scientist characterized as England’s Oppenheimer when he led the team to develop a British atomic bomb. The British way was to be secretive as it grew its own atomic weapons culture, not least because Attlee’s Labour government, within a secret Cabinet sub-committee of which the decision was made, contained opponents of a British weapon.11 Perhaps because Britain had no publicly recognized figure like Oppenheimer to embody scientific conscience, he had to be invented. His name was Professor Bernard Quatermass and his creator was the screenwriter Nigel Kneale. When, in 1953, BBC staff writer Nigel Kneale approached staff director Rudolf Cartier with ideas for a new drama series, he had a trilogy of Quatermass stories already mapped out in his mind. His troubled hero is a rocket scientist leading a kind of quango to launch a manned spacecraft, the first of its kind in the world. This was a mere eight years after V2 rockets had destroyed parts of London and the very idea of a ‘rocket scientist’, epitomized by the V2’s designer Werner von Braun, carried with it a dark, threatening glamour. The United States and Soviet Russia had missile development programmes based on developed versions of the V2 system, but any kind of actual manned spaceflight was still eight years away. Kneale’s masterpiece was the Quatermass tetralogy, primarily three serials written and created for the BBC between 1953 and 1979.12 The first, The Quatermass Experiment, was transmitted live in 1953 from Alexandra Palace in London, just one month after the Coronation. The royal event had been a catalyst for the increased sales of television sets, 236


and the series clearly benefited from that. An average viewing figure of 3.9 million viewers included a figure of 5 million for the final episode. At the heart of the Quatermass trilogy are two thematic emphases. One is the future that is to be created, perhaps obliterated, by science. Apparently, morally neutral science had been compromised by the development and explosion of the atomic bomb. Coincident with the case of Robert Oppenheimer, that theme is dramatized through the figure of a scientist troubled by his conscience. The second emphasis is the role of the state in mediating science. The trilogy refers implicitly to the legacy of the Nazi concentration camps, where experiments were also performed. Rather than confining a reading of that legacy to the politics of the Nazi government, however, Kneale dramatizes the destructive implications of any structure of indifferent bureaucracy that has been constructed to make an inhuman science. At the start of The Quatermass Experiment, the over-reaching, hubristic science has been initiated by Quatermass himself. His British Experimental Rocket Group (BERG) has produced a three-man orbital vehicle, anticipating the Apollo vehicle that finally made it to the moon in 1969, to be flown by three of the new breed of test pilot researchers, one each from Britain, Australia and Germany. The focus of the 1953 fiction, however, is the friction between the romantic individualists of the private enterprise BERG, and the institutions of the state. British society had been transformed by the demands of fighting World War II. The centralization of power into government hands coincided with the temporary embedding of military culture at the heart of wartime society. With a great proportion of the nation focused on achieving victory, the state had been able to direct and control resources, both human and material. At war’s end, many of those structures stayed in place, but became inflamed by the new paranoia of the Cold War. The looming sense of something apocalyptic in the air, powerfully felt and expressed in Kneale’s storylines, was cranked up still higher in Coronation year, when Russia exploded its first thermonuclear weapon. These fears meant that a state bureaucracy controlling everything meshed all-too-cosily with the necessity of keeping secret great swathes of the activities of the scientific and military communities.13 From 1953 to 1958, throughout the first three Quatermass series, there is an ongoing tension between unimaginative, defensive and morally compromised state bureaucracies, and urgent, conscience-stricken and morally sensitized mavericks represented by Quatermass and his tiny handful of colleagues.14 237


The plot of the first Kneale/Cartier Quatermass series is based on the idea that any spaceflight might bring back with it viruses or other contaminants to our ecosphere. For a non-scientist like Kneale to intuit this fundamental piece of scientific lore is remarkable alone; his representation of the problem in largely human and existential terms lifts it above mere space opera. Pragmatically, the limited special effects resources available to Kneale and Cartier forced the focus onto human relationships and actions. Even when the special effects budgets grew over subsequent series, however, Kneale never lost that focus. In that first series, the overdue three-man spacecraft returns to Earth and crash-lands in south London. To everyone’s astonishment, the rocket contains only one astronaut, the Briton Victor Carroon, and he is in a poor way. It becomes clear that not only has he been drastically altered at some molecular level (Crick and Watson’s paper on DNA was not yet part of popular culture), but also that he has somehow absorbed his two fellow astronauts, both their molecules and their personalities. To cap it all, he is mutating into a terrifying plantlike state. The tragic figure of Carroon now contains the entities of his two fellow astronauts. A self-replicating organism, this human-plant hybrid now threatens to transmute and engulf the world. The moral structure of what is described in the onscreen titles as a ‘thriller’ rests on the growing sense of responsibility, mutating into guilt and fear, that Quatermass feels for what he has unwittingly caused. In the powerful last scene, the scientist puts his own life on the line by following the now wholly plantlike form of Carroon and his two colleagues into Westminster Abbey. Many viewers new to television had first encountered the location live in the Coronation transmission. Now, however, it was the site in which Quatermass the scientist was to hold off the military’s desire to blast the plantlike thing to bits – an action that would guarantee its rapid, deadly dissemination. In a speech that invokes the mass hysteria of the Nazi years, Quatermass appeals to the still sentient scientists somehow alive in their now completely vegetable state: You will overcome this evil. Without you it cannot exist upon the earth […] it can only know by means of your knowledge […] understand through your understanding […] With all your will and mine joined to yours […] you must dissever from it […] send it out of earthly existence! You […] as men […] must die!15

His call to resist an inhuman and rapacious enemy, even at the risk of death, would have resonated powerfully in that postwar moment. It 238


also suggests an appeal to the scientific community through the scientistpilots to resist a comparable perversion of their idealistic quest for new knowledge. Robert Oppenheimer had to distance himself from the horror of what he had helped to create, and he was rewarded with ostracism by the American establishment. The Soviet hydrogen bomb scientist Sakharov, in turn, was later to feel the same fate from his government. By the early 1960s, even Eisenhower, a war hero, was warning of a ‘military-industrial complex’ that threatened to subvert politics and corrupt science by militarizing both. As this episode only begins to suggest, Kneale was not only scientifically but also politically prescient. Kneale did not work alone: one of his fellow-writers in the BBC Script Unit was Judith Kerr, whose family had fled Germany in 1933, the year Hitler was elected. She became Kneale’s wife the year after The Quatermass Experiment screened. Furthermore, Cartier was himself an emigré from Austria, and a man who had sided with the Allies against totalitarianism. His ambition, learned prewar in the Berlin film studios of Universum Film AG, was to challenge the stagebound dullness of cameras pointed at dusty, creaky and/or worthy dramas that largely passed for drama on the BBC. ‘Radio with pictures’ was how Kneale characterized the culture of the time.16 Cartier was also not a film man looking to use television as a stepping-stone to the big screen. He wanted to work in the new medium and he was prepared to challenge the arbitrary rules imposed by Kneale’s ‘sad men from radio’.17 According to Cartier, he ‘was determined, if [he] had the chance, to make it all different, to make TV a subject for emotions, for thoughts’.18 Cartier filled the screen with action whenever he could, even though that screen was a mere nine inches in people’s front rooms. He used telecine inserts to suggest narrative urgency and to allow time for actors to get from one cramped set to another. Even though drama was always transmitted live, Cartier took huge risks with the continuity of narrative. For this he needed experienced performers, and in Reginald Tate, Isobel Dean and Duncan Lamont he chose actors who radiated a powerful intensity even in the compromised technical situation of small studios at Alexandra Palace in north London. Two episodes of The Quatermass Experiment survive, and in the restored DVD release it is possible to see why the piece worked so powerfully on the millions who watched. Precisely because the image is of poor definition and the camera movements lack polish, the audience has to become actively involved in imagining the material surroundings. The cameras in use at Alexandra Palace in 1953 were the same hefty 239


Emitrons that were in use when television broadcasts had briefly arrived prewar. The heat from valve-driven cameras, powerful lighting and the humidity of summer 1953 would have made life hard for actors and technicians alike, but there is a tragic intensity, particularly to the three lead performances, that can still be experienced in a DVD viewing. The Brabazon Committees, the mythos of the test pilot and Kneale’s TV masterpiece dramatize collectively how optimistic New Elizabethan visions of the future were compromised by a postwar inability to shed inhibiting traditional structures, both organizational and psychological. The Brabazon Committees were analogous to the NHS and the Arts Council in many forward-looking ways, but were finally still rooted in a class-bound and imperialistic mindset that prevented them from being properly progressive. The test pilot-as-hero construction created icons from an often exploitative workplace. The fictional astronauts in Nigel Kneale’s TV masterpiece were (like many of the first actual astronauts), test pilots. Furthermore, Bernard Quatermass was, like his real-life counterpart Robert Oppenheimer, the clear-eyed conscience-driven scientist struggling against postwar bureaucracy and authoritarianism.

A Ghostly Coda The most significant Brabazon Committee aeroplane to escape pseudomonarchical associations in its name, the Comet 1, was also the most adventurous technically and striking aesthetically. Powered by four de Havilland Ghost jet engines, the aircraft haunts both Kneale’s television drama and Lean’s film. In the film, the test pilot and his wife hitch a lift home from Egypt on a BOAC Comet 1. The pilot, unseen but namechecked in the script in recognition of his celebrity, is Cunningham. In The Quatermass Experiment (1953), the wife of the missing Australian astronaut is flown back from the rocket-base in Australia by the quickest means possible: a scheduled if fictional Comet flight, seen in a brief telecine insert. The fictionalized normality of these radically fast journeys in beautiful works of British engineering began to unravel in 1954, however, when two aircraft on scheduled services disintegrated in mid-flight. All Comets were grounded and subjected to a long and unprecedented series of tests. The cause was found to be metal fatigue in the very thin skin at the corners of windows and hatches. By the time that the Comet 4, structurally sound, larger and powered by more powerful Rolls-Royce 240


Avon engines, re-entered service in 1958 with BOAC, the even larger Boeing 707 and Douglas DC8s had arrived and began to sell in greater numbers. The mythos of the Comet, as of the lone test pilot, the maverick scientist and perhaps even of the Coronation itself, now took on a melancholy and uneasy cast. Postwar realities, in particular the existential threat to all life posed by the unstable Cold War, darkened the decade.

Notes   1 HC Deb 9 March 1939, vol. 344, cc2379-508.   2 Most prominent was Geoffrey de Havilland Sr, whose eponymous company created the outstanding Mosquito fighter-bomber and whose presence on a committee later to recommend his own company’s Comet jet airliner was a cause of friction.   3 Useful in-depth histories are provided by Mike Phipp, The Brabazon Committee and British Airliners 1945–1960 (Stroud: Tempus, 2007) and David Edgerton, England and the Aeroplane: Militarism, Modernity and Machines (London: Penguin, 2013).   4 See also Graham M. Simons, Comet! The World’s First Jet Airliner (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2013).   5 HL Deb 1 February 1956, vol. 195, cc720-63.   6 Terence Rattigan, The Deep Blue Sea, in Rattigan Plays: Two (London: Methuen, 1985), 28.   7 For a lengthier treatment of this subject, see James Hamilton-Paterson, Empire of the Clouds: When Britain’s Aircraft Ruled the World (London: Faber, 2011).   8 Adrian Smith, ‘Dawn of the Jet Age in Austerity Britain: David Lean’s The Sound Barrier (1952)’, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television xxx/4 (2010), 487–514.   9 Janet Moat, ‘The Sound Barrier: Introduction.’ Available at http://old.bfi. (accessed 1 September 2015). 10 Apparently a wind-tunnel model of the delta-winged Avro 707, a flying testbed for the Vulcan nuclear bomber that first flew in 1952 a month after the film’s London opening. 11 Penney had walked the ruins of Nagasaki and was fully alert to the potential horror of what his British bomb would do, but his interpretation of patriotic duty overrode any reluctance. See also Graham Farmelo, Churchill’s Bomb: A Hidden History of Science, War and Politics (London: Faber, 2013). 12 The fourth and final series, entitled Quatermass, was made for Euston Films in 1979 and transmitted on ITV. 241

THE NEW ELIZABETHAN AGE 13 Even the civil aircraft proposals embodied in Brabazon were deemed top secret, a decision that would not have improved their sales potential. 14 The theme of inspired if eccentric individualism against dull-brained formality is also reflected in comedies of the era made by Ealing Studios, and in the films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger such as The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943). 15 Nigel Kneale, The Quatermass Experiment (London: Penguin, 1959), 191. 16 See James Chapman and Nicholas John Cull, Projecting Tomorrow: Science Fiction and Popular Cinema (London: I.B. Tauris, 2013). 17 Kneale, quoted in Andrew Pixley, ‘Viewing Notes’, The Quatermass Collection (BBC Worldwide Ltd DVD, 2005), n.p. 18 Rudolf Cartier, quoted in ibid.




Over 60 years after the founding of the Royal Ballet (and 80 after its incipient foundation in the Vic–Wells Ballet), dance and ballet continue to be passed over, if not ignored, in scholarly re-assessments of the cultural New Elizabethanism that preceded and immediately followed the Coronation.1 Yet ballet was a key New Elizabethan art form, and many rhetorical formulations of a New Elizabethan age and productions of that period positioned the aestheticized performing body in relation to both the monarchy and an English theatrical tradition. In 1957, with tongue firmly in cheek, Ninette de Valois (born Edris Stannus, 1898–2001), founder and first director of the Vic–Wells, later Sadler’s Wells Ballet, and later still the Royal Ballet, recalled that early audiences had shaken their heads ‘over that sad, bad thing – the hopeless case of the English Ballet’.2 Her statement reminds us that, at the beginning of the twentieth century, there was no such thing as English ballet; by 1931 England had its first home-grown ballet company and by 1956 that company had a royal charter.3 In 1947, de Valois laid the foundations for the State Ballet of Ankara in Turkey.4 In 1949, the company seemed to have conquered America, where, according to Time magazine, ‘In four weeks, Margot Fonteyn and Sadler’s Wells had restored as much glitter to Britain’s tarnished tiara as any mission the English had sent abroad since the war.’5 By the 1950s and 1960s, graduates of the company and school had started national companies in Canada and Australia. The speed and ascendancy with which English 243


ballet took over the nation and then the world is astonishing. As Jennifer Homans observes, ‘[b]y the mid-twentieth century […] English ballet – with Margot Fonteyn as its reigning queen – would become Britain’s most venerated and representative national art and the Royal Ballet an undisputed world leader in dance’ [emphasis added].6 These appraisals, offered in the context of larger histories of twentiethcentury dance, unconsciously acknowledge the resonance between the position of British ballet at midcentury and the emphasis on cultural excellence, modernity, spectacle and monarchy that characterized the discourse of New Elizabethanism. For its founders and proponents in the media and the arts, British ballet at midcentury demanded and received the world’s attention: though it did this most spectacularly through its recreation of ballet’s imperial past, it also sought to create a company and school that would both share in New Elizabethanism’s ‘high moment of collectivism’7 and leave an enduring national institution for a new era. Supported by a lively critical, interdisciplinary and cosmopolitan culture, de Valois worked actively to position ballet not only as a contemporary national tradition, but also as an art that was at the forefront of a contemporary national theatre. That theatre would be marked simultaneously by its international standing as a centre of excellence and by its distinctly English ballet company and school. By 1948, the realization of these ambitions was already implicit in appraisals such as that by theatre director and manager Norman Marshall, who identified de Valois as one of the few ‘creative geniuses’ to emerge in the theatre since Shaw: ‘It is of her work in creating a great English ballet company that I am thinking.’8 For Marshall, this now ‘over-written, over-photographed and over-applauded company is the sanest and healthiest organisation in the whole of the English theatre’.9 Two years later, Ernest Reynolds expressed similar sentiments: The triumph of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet has been, in brief, one of the most striking features of the twentieth-century English stage. […] It has added a new chapter to the history of the English theatre. We should, however, note the fact that its success has not been confined to Britain. […] It is, indeed, one of our major cultural ambassadors, and as such is entitled to a high place in the history of our stage.10

That ballet at this time could have been envisioned as part of the very fabric of the national theatrical scene only underlines the considerable redefinition and confinement of an ideal of ‘national theatre’ that now 244


seems to characterize dominant histories. The collaborative energies and intermedial explorations that marked the career of de Valois herself provide an indicative glimpse into a moment of interwar theatrical development marked by various cultural, aesthetic and social energies. From humble beginnings as the Vic–Sadler’s Wells Opera Ballet Company – operating under the auspices of Lilian Baylis’ Old Vic theatre company (1931–41) – to a later permanent identity as the Royal Ballet (1956–), the successful establishment of a ballet company and school in Britain can be attributed largely to de Valois. She began her career dancing in the popular theatre which, before the Russians burst on the scene, was seen as ‘light entertainment or the thing that made opera tolerable for the non-musical’.11 The arrival of Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes (1909–29) and Anna Pavlova and her touring company (1910–31) revivified interest in and respect for the ballet; Diaghilev’s collaborative artistic ethos and company of traditionally trained dancers in particular came to define modern ballet. De Valois’ subsequent experience performing with the Ballets Russes in Europe would prove to be formative. From Diaghilev, de Valois learned the efficacy of a progressive, interdisciplinary approach as well as the importance of traditions and continuity. As Richard Cave and Libby Worth observe, she was consequently ‘at pains to insist on the essential connections between all the arts and the necessity of this for the vitality of ballet’.12 Clement Crisp similarly identifies a resultant ‘sense of theatrical vision’: ‘a vision of theatre as a place of […] decorative and of musical excitement as well as dance excitement’.13 This interdisciplinary training further informed de Valois’ own choreographic works; two of her choreographic masterpieces were based on the work of English artists: The Rake’s Progress (1935), from Williams Hogarth’s series of paintings, and Job (1931), from William Blake’s work. She also used numerous British composers over the years: Arthur Bliss composed the music for Checkmate, Gavin Gordon for The Rake’s Progress, and Ralph Vaughan Williams for Job. De Valois was to find strong support for these collaborative, creative instincts in the experimental literary theatre of Ireland and England between the wars. In the latter half of the 1920s, she collaborated with W. B. Yeats on his production of Plays for Dancers (in which she also performed), and also founded a ballet school in Dublin with him. She worked with her cousin, Terence Gray, on his productions at the self-consciously experimental Cambridge Festival Theatre in the 1930s. Her own (and many) literary writings consisted of poetry, memoirs and trenchant articles and books about the place of dance in Britain. These 245


writings themselves allude to a wide range of authors, from novelists to poets. They also allude to the aesthetic theories of those such as John Ruskin and Constantin Stanislavsky, who similarly influenced many of the artists and literary figures with whom she collaborated.14 De Valois, on the other hand, identified this particular literary investment as necessary to the national formulation of a relatively new art when she wrote that: ‘[p]erhaps it has been a little understandable that a country with no balletic history has turned, in its first efforts, to its literature rather more than its individual folk dance for inspiration.’15 For many then and now, this literary tradition also defined national theatrical expression. In 1952, de Valois’ acknowledgement of the established, ‘indigenous’ position of the literary arts was reiterated in an article in the Daily Mail, from a very different perspective: In this second Elizabethan Era the Coronation is a great opportunity for our theatre to recall its past glories and display its present talent. It is known that a gala performance will be given at Covent Garden and that the Queen will attend. But even this does not seem to have set the theatre moving, though ballet and opera have far weaker roots in our national life than the stage.16

Such an assessment contradicts Marshall’s earlier reading of the prominence of the national ballet, as well as the position that de Valois had established for her company during the war.17 It has nonetheless been reinforced in subsequent cultural histories and mainstream discourse more generally. Within the dominant, national discourse around the ‘value’ of contemporary cultural expression, ballet is more often than not associated with an elitist, nostalgic and foreign tradition. The very dominance of that characterization points to the resilience of many of the assumptions of New Elizabethanism, a discourse engendered by what Holderness identifies as ‘a postwar cultural crisis in which there was a pressing need for the development of a new sense of national identity’.18 Ultimately, that moment entrenched what persists as a strong divide between the critical recognition of the ballet’s national and international standing, and any valuation of that standing within an ideal of national, New Elizabethan theatre. De Valois, the prominent dance critic Arnold Haskell and others mounted a concerted campaign to gain a place for ballet as a state-funded, national arts institution: in all of their writings, it is evident that such an outcome was not a given. Indeed, in 1962, de Valois was remarking upon the exclusion of ballet and dance both from academic studies of the arts as a whole and from consideration as 246


a vital contemporary art form: ballet may be the ‘newest of our theatrical arts’, she averred, but ‘[a]fter thirty years of growth in the theatre it is possible now that the art of ballet deserves some attention from faculties of music, literature and drama, and the fine arts.’19 The validity of her complaint continues to be borne out in contemporary studies of national art. This chapter is the first to make explicit the connection between the rise of English ballet and the postwar New Elizabethan moment. Likewise, this book is the first to include a serious consideration of the cultural significance of ballet in the early and mid-twentieth century alongside discussions of other art forms and modes of expression. To paraphrase Clare McManus, twentieth-century ballet, like the seventeenth-century masque, may be an art form that evinces ‘pure aesthetic pleasure’, but it also conveys meanings that demand ‘serious consideration’.20 No one was more acutely aware of this than de Valois, who throughout her career made a strong case for the recognition of ballet as a vital, contemporary and representative mode of national theatre. This theatre was ‘conservative’ in its focus on traditional style and in its insistence on cultivating an audience educated in the language of that tradition; it was ‘progressive’ in its very manifestation of an ideal of collectivity in aesthetic practice and institutional structure. De Valois and her many critical supporters were explicit in articulating these ideas, and the cumulative effect was to ensure a rhetorical alignment of this new, indigenous and established modern ballet with New Elizabethanism. With its simultaneous invocation of monarchy and people, modernity and tradition, however, that larger national discourse posed an inherent challenge to an art-form steeped simultaneously in heritage and a contemporary cultural nationalism. In The Sleeping Beauty (1939, 1946) and Homage to the Queen (1953), the company mounted two signature productions to introduce both the New Elizabethan age and the role of ballet therein. Ultimately, those productions would provide a seminal manifestation of the very aesthetic and social contradictions that characterized the rhetoric of New Elizabethanism. *** De Valois consistently stressed the importance of a cross-fertilization and collaboration among the arts and among artists. Important, too, was the constant embedding of ballet in a larger national narrative of artistic excellence and collective appreciation. That excellence would be marked by the emergence of a national, if not indigenous style: as de Valois herself acknowledged, the deaths of Diaghilev (1929) and Pavlova 247


(1931) ‘gave English Ballet an odd sense of release and the sudden loss of a hopeless feeling of inferiority’.21 English style and excellence, however, could only be developed through the cultivation of a national audience for a national ballet. For de Valois, this audience was not elitist, but ‘drawn from all ranks of the people who take their theatre as seriously as the routine of everyday existence’.22 Beth Genné has shown that much of the initial and long-term success of English ballet was established through de Valois’ innovatory repertory planning and programming for a national ballet that must also ‘[represent] standard and quality as opposed to popular demand’.23 De Valois’ model, Genné argues, was the repertory theatre, the orchestral repertory, the art museum with a continually growing modern wing – past and present, classical and modern. This was an entirely new goal in the history of dance – and, in a sense, one of the most revolutionary of her attitudes. It […] can be linked with a growing perception of dance as a high art form in its own right and with its own history.24

In practice this meant that de Valois encouraged repertory variety in the form of full-length ballet ‘classics’; modern, shorter pieces; one-act ballets (a Diaghilev inheritance) and, finally, full-length ballets choreographed by home-grown talents. Later, she expressed a desire to integrate national folk dances into the training and repertoire of Royal Ballet dancers. As Genné’s research makes clear, de Valois is responsible for the now widespread practice of offering full-length classics interspersed with mixed programmes. For de Valois, these classics were critical benchmarks not only in the training of her dancers, but also in re-establishing ballet’s classical and international roots for a national, ‘special audience drawn from all ranks of the people’.25 This investment in a contemporary national ballet had received both implicit and explicit support in a series of new books and journals about the past, present and future of ballet. Arnold Haskell’s The National Ballet: A History and a Manifesto (1943), offers a useful summation of these publications.26 As he notes, when the first number of the Dancing Times, edited by Philip Richardson, appeared in 1910, it ensured its important role ‘in founding our ballet’.27 By 1926, de Valois herself had published her first essay in the same journal, ‘The Future of the Ballet’. Two years earlier, A. P. Oppé and the folk musicologist Cecil Sharp had collaborated on The Dance: An Historical Survey of Dancing in Europe to again align the history and development of dance with an inherent 248


cultural nationalism. That same year saw numerous other works on both the history and technical aspects of ballet.28 All of these publications suggest a concerted effort to historicize, theorize and promote British dance in relation to a larger established tradition. If ballet was finding its footing in the 1920s, by the 1930s, this critical and creative investment was such that Richardson, Haskell and Edwin Evans were inspired to form the Camargo Society – de Valois called it a ‘fairy godmother for English Ballet’ – to support and promote ballet in London.29 A year later, Lilian Baylis gave the Vic–Wells Company a home at her Old Vic theatre and therefore a ‘shared’ place in repertory theatre in Britain.30 In addition, at least 30 ballet books, covering everything from children’s fiction to private press productions, poured out of various presses, culminating in Haskell’s Ballet (1938), the first in Penguin’s ‘Pelican Specials’ series, which purported to treat ‘subjects of “topical importance” in the arts and sciences’.31 Haskell’s text sold so quickly that, after its initial run of 50,000 copies, it was printed again in the same month. Further editions in 1940, 1943, and a revised edition in 1945 attest to its ongoing popularity.32 Like de Valois (to whom he dedicated the book), Haskell was a tireless champion of ballet as a democratic art form. Echoing de Valois in his claim that ‘ballet is the greatest shop-window for a nation’s art’, he insists on defining that ballet as both high art and as democratically representative, even utilitarian: On the Continent today England is thought of as being backward in music and painting. […] The ballet, better than a hundred concerts or exhibitions of painting opened by epigrammatic ambassadors, can convince people to the contrary. They will be learning without conscious effort. […] [The appeal of ballet] is no longer restricted to the courtier, the specialist, or the snob.33

Haskell himself eschews a technical approach in his study and focuses instead on the social and aesthetic history of ballet, emphasizing the accessibility and implicit anti-elitism of ballet.34 With its music, décor, drama and dancing, ballet, he argues, provides entertainment for everyone.35 Haskell’s advocacy for the recognition of de Valois’ company as the national ballet was the culmination of almost 30 years of supporting, critiquing and popularizing ballet. As de Valois notes, while he always had English ballet at heart, ‘He absolutely refused to become its patriotic godmother. […] He went on praising the organisations flourishing 249


abroad, until he aroused a fighting spirit in us.’36 The success of this instigation was such that, by 1938, Haskell was claiming that de Valois was ‘an animator of the Diaghileff–de Basil type’ and that ‘she has founded a truly national ballet that is important enough to be considered internationally.’37 Haskell’s 1943 ‘manifesto’ was even more explicit. The book argued for the recognition of a company that had done its national duty and consequently deserved a status as national: At a period when our theatre seems almost bankrupt of ideas, the Sadlers Wells Ballet [sic] […] has shown a policy so constructive and far-sighted that it has become possible to talk of a national ballet and to visualise its position as an artistic force in the postwar international theatre world. As a medium of propaganda for our national artistic ideals its importance cannot be overrated.38

This statement is built as much on the national, formative potential of ballet as it is on its established ability to signify cultural excellence to an international audience. As such, it implicitly positions ballet as a New Elizabethan art for a New Elizabethan age. Nonetheless, in 1949, in the New Statesman, J. B. Priestley published an excoriating list of all that was wrong in a Britain mired in social complacency, and ballet did not come out well: [w]e are revolutionaries who have not swept away anything. […] We are Socialists busy creating peers and cheering pretty princesses. We are a dreary self-righteous people with a passion for gin, tobacco, gambling and ballet.39

Both Robert Hewison and Heather Wiebe quote Priestley’s words in their cultural surveys of the period, implicitly endorsing a critical reading of ballet as embodying the worst excesses of a privileged middle class. In these readings, ballet is inauthentic to a moment that must recognize the postwar reality of social challenge and change; it has also done nothing to establish itself as a contemporary, representative tradition. Any critical acceptance of that summation, however, ignores the fact that England had had no national dance company and no choreographic tradition to draw upon at the dawn of the new century. British ballet and, more importantly, the British balletic tradition were created and promoted in the very decades that had also seen the pronounced articulation of the socialist ideals embraced by Priestley. 250


These varying social responses to ballet point to some of the fundamental difficulties faced by its proponents as a national art for a New Elizabethan age. Ballet itself is not a new form: it has strong historical links to the court masque and embodied expressions of aristocratic power.40 Furthermore, those links had been perpetuated in a ‘foreign’ art form that had only recently been adopted and transformed by de Valois’ company. Ballet, of course, also has origins in national folk dances and the professional theatrical tradition, and, therefore, a contrastingly collective and popularist past.41 The balletic tradition defined by de Valois and her contemporaries incorporated many of these traditions and inherited their differing social connotations. The famous Sadler’s Wells production of Marius Petipa’s nineteenth-century ballet, The Sleeping Beauty (1890), offers an indicative manifestation of the tensions that would result from their intentions to revive, rehearse, adapt, adopt and, ultimately, repurpose ballet for a new age and in a new national idiom.

The Sleeping Beauty In 1921 Diaghilev mounted a full-length production of The Sleeping Beauty – renamed The Sleeping Princess – at the Alhambra Theatre in London. Relying on the combined knowledge of Maryinsky stars then in his company and Nicolai Sergeyev (the former régisseur of the Maryinsky theatre), his production introduced Petipa’s choreographic masterpiece to the West. Based on the French fairy tale by Charles Perrault, La belle au bois dormant, the story tells the tale of the birth of a new royal princess, the curse placed upon her by the evil Carabosse and how the Lilac Fairy turns the princess’ death into a sleep that will end through the kiss of a prince. It is the perfect tale of grace, majesty and good triumphing over evil. It is also widely acknowledged as the epitome of the high classical style. Diaghilev’s Western audience was, unfortunately, used to his avantgarde theatre and the production flopped. Despite this unpromising legacy, de Valois decided to mount a production of the ballet for the Vic–Wells (she kept the Diaghilev title, The Sleeping Princess) and it premiered on 2 February 1939. She and her collaborators repeatedly emphasized the links they made with the French and Russian sources: de Valois invited Sergeyev, ‘complete with his notation books that contained the Petipa ballets in full’, to teach the ballet to the company.42 Nadia Benois, the set and costume designer, described her creative process as one of recovery, of ‘not helping in the 251


creation of a new ballet, but in the revival of an old one’.43 In the same tome, Haskell noted that the Russian theatre under Petipa had escaped the romanticism that had taken hold in France, where ‘music, décor, and choreography were subordinate not only to the theme but to the personality of the “divine ballerina”.’44 Instead, the Russians had gone to the other extreme and emphasized production values: lavish sets, costumes and dance for dance’s sake. Petipa’s Sleeping Beauty was, according to Haskell, ‘the greatest event in the life of the Imperial Ballet’.45 Haskell’s veneration of Petipa’s style was grounded in his belief that it was Petipa who had inherited the classical tradition as first practised in France in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He was most interested, therefore, in emphasizing the classicism of The Sleeping Beauty. He defined this complex concept as ‘pure dancing that is based on the five positions, that produces long graceful lines, that is neither acrobatic, violent, nor lacking in dignity.’46 Haskell’s definition of classical dance stems from his knowledge of the origins of the five ballet positions in the court of Louis XIV. Likewise, in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century court masques, the acrobatic elements of the dance would have been performed by professional dancers, not aristocrats.47 By emphasizing classical ballet technique as the antithesis of acrobatic technique, Haskell does not just stress the purity, dignity and grace of the true dancer, but also emphasizes the aristocratic legacy of that ideal.48 He also implicitly expects the audience to recognize and value that legacy, as ‘without a grounding in the classics no audience can truly understand the ballet medium.’49 As promoted by Haskell and de Valois, and as manifest in the style of the 1939 Sleeping Princess itself, ballet is a courtly and hierarchical art form rooted in the past. There are no recordings of the 1939 production, but in 1942 the photographer Gordon Anthony, de Valois’ brother, published a commemorative selection of camera studies. The publication also included the contributions of Benois and Haskell, quoted above, as well as an essay by Constant Lambert, the company’s musical director. What is striking about Anthony’s images is the degree to which the shots capture the classical ethos that Haskell highlights in his essay. According to Anthony, he was trying to capture representative ‘action’ poses from the various solos, pas de deux and pas de trois in the ballet. Almost all of the solo ‘action’ shots are posed en pointe, with the dancers’ legs raised in a version of attitude or arabesque and showing appropriate épaulement effacé or croisé; in other words, textbook classical positions. There are also full stage pictures of each of the main scenes that give a sense 252


of Benois’ French-inspired sixteenth- and seventeenth-century sets. The strong perspective backdrops reveal more stereotypical classical preoccupations, with a statuary hall and Apollo guiding his chariot in the final ‘Apotheosis’ scene. The production was a success with audiences and the company was invited to give a command performance for the French President in March 1939; however, there is a lack of both assurance and grace in many of Anthony’s portraits of the dancers. Anderson describes the production as a ‘first sketch’ for both the eight-year-old company and the 20-year-old Margot Fonteyn; de Valois admitted ‘that we were not really ready’; and, according to Time magazine, Frederick Ashton recalled a ‘belowstairs version’ where ‘Everything was puny and skimped; the king and queen looked like the cook and butler dressed up.’50 Six years later, de Valois was again planning a production of The Sleeping Beauty (with the original title reinstated), in a very different context: ‘at the start of the war, the Vic–Wells Ballet was still a fledgling company. By 1945, it had become a beloved national institution.’51 This position was due in large part to the ballet’s ‘populist’ wartime practice of touring the length and breadth of the country and putting on hundreds of performances with a significantly reduced company. As a result, the company was now in a position to reopen Covent Garden theatre, and the Royal Family was expected to attend the performance. Interestingly, though the move to Covent Garden was due in large part to the company’s new popularity, the change of venue and consequent status also meant a different kind of audience. The opening night of The Sleeping Beauty, though it heralded a new ballet and a new art, also signalled the return of ‘society’ culture. De Valois recalled that ‘[i]t was a gala that smelt bravely of mothballs: perhaps the first occasion that made postwar London shake out its evening apparel of 1939.’52 The choice was apt in many ways, both for its implicit staging of a New Elizabethan aesthetic ideal for dance, but also for its apparent resonance with larger national themes, not least the centrality of aristocracy and the monarchy to the symbolic figuration of a national aesthetic. A year later, John Colville reflected on the national significance of the marriage of Princess Elizabeth by invoking a ‘sleeping beauty’ metaphor: [f]or the first time since the end of the war a little colour and pageantry were restored to a country, and indeed to a world, in the grey grip of austerity. […] Suddenly romance returned: a beautiful young Princess was marrying a handsome Prince and all the stories in the Fairy Tale books were coming true.53 253


The dancing, design and plot elements of The Sleeping Beauty gave English audiences an aesthetic vision of a brighter future based on a fabled past. It also exemplified in grandest terms the idea of a shared national theatre. For this revival, de Valois hired Oliver Messel, whose grandiloquent backdrops and colourful costumes were an immediate success. Roy Strong observes that ‘[a]fter years of gloom and devastation the curtain rose on a spectacle of courtly magnificence of a kind no one had seen for years. It was a revelation.’54 He continues, ‘[Messel made] what was a Russian Imperial ballet into one that could only ever belong to a visual tradition that was essentially British.’55 Messel’s designs were emblematic of ‘English neo-Romanticism with its nostalgia for an aristocratic dreamworld’.56 This imaginative revivification of a distant but glorious English past was helped by the plot device of a hundred-year sleeping spell. As Benois noted in her essay on the designs for the 1939 production, this demanded a shift in dress style from the first acts to the final wedding scene.57 Her own production shifted from the sixteenth to seventeenth century; Messel’s production utilized a range of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century elements to stage – if only implicitly – the presiding, aesthetic continuity of aristocratic splendour. This ‘nostalgia’ for aristocracy was also, on a much lesser scale, implicit in the movement away from an ideal of collective creativity to the rhetorical figuration of Margot Fonteyn as the ballet’s representative dancer. Recalling Fonteyn’s appearance in the ballet in 1951, de Valois exploited the fairy tale’s metaphors to the full. Fonteyn, she wrote, was the Sleeping Beauty whose role in real life was reversed – she was to awaken London’s golden Opera House from its long sleep, a sleep which had lasted through the grimmest sequence of nights that it had known. […] As she stepped on to the stage that night in February, 1946, she was not a stage princess celebrating her birthday but a great dancer celebrating her birthright. It had taken English ballet just fifteen years to prove its worth. Fonteyn, who had never wavered in her integrity, her hard work, and her loyalty towards the institution that can proudly claim to have made her, was there to lead her companions to triumph.58

One can get a sense, in a passage like this, of the sense of hierarchy, loyalty and shared endeavour that de Valois expected of her dancers, but also of her own persistent fixation with the idea and ideal of a national balletic ethos. Central to that ideal was a remediated English classicism supported by the ‘aristocratic’ emergence of Fonteyn in the foreground of Messel’s regal designs. 254


This alignment of an idealized, aristocratic past with a contemporary national aesthetic is similarly evident in the remediated choreography of The Sleeping Beauty.59 The opening scene of the ballet, the christening of Princess Aurora, takes place in the castle of King Florestan and his Queen. The entries of various courtiers, Catallabute (the master of ceremonies), the king and queen, and the fairy godmothers and their attendants constitute one long series of reverences: no other ballet presents such a sustained re-enactment of courtly proceedings. Even in the abbreviated version created for a BBC live broadcast in 1959, the reverences take up well over the first minute of airtime.60 The ballet ends on a similar note. In a specially produced programme, Cyril Beaumont describes the final apotheosis scene as a mirror image of the opening. Detailing both the décor and the dancing, he notes how ‘The Prince and Princess walk together towards the fairies and greet them, then, as the royal couple turn to face the vast assembly, courtiers, officials, pages, kneel as one in homage.’61 In the sixteenth century, lowering the body in a reverence was a gesture of respect to a dance partner but, importantly in the context of masques, was ‘an expression of the sovereign’s elevated status’ and its use in dance was ‘a bodily affirmation of the social order’.62 Bookended by such overt displays of courtly etiquette, and no doubt reinforced by the presence of the King, Queen, and princesses at the 1946 premiere, The Sleeping Beauty embodied a graceful and unqualified acceptance of hierarchical structures. It also suggested a contemporary expansion of those structures. The choreography throughout The Sleeping Beauty contains textbook examples of seventeenth-century classical dance positions brought to life. Many of the steps in the various fairy variations, the Rose Adagio and the grand pas de deux in the final act are all examples of dance at its most traditional: many of the steps are the building blocks of standard classroom exercises.63 Beaumont’s programme took advantage of this fact, highlighting the distinctive but standard steps in each variation in notes that implicitly acknowledged Haskell’s goal of creating a national audience educated in balletic tradition. At the same time, the ballet also perpetuated the distinctively English national style, developed under de Valois and first fostered by Lilian Baylis at the Old Vic, that emphasized dramatic expression.64 An experienced actor and a gifted ballet dancer, Robert Helpmann was the ballet’s first Prince Charming and was later to become one of its most famous Carabosses.65 Helpmann had already played Oberon opposite Vivien Leigh’s Titania in Tyrone Guthrie’s 1937 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a production that 255


also featured Messel’s designs and de Valois’ choreography. He had also choreographed and starred in his own ‘interdisciplinary’ ballets based upon Shakespeare’s Hamlet (1942) and Milton’s masque, Comus (1942).66 The collaborative experience of de Valois, Helpmann and Messel in the larger (spoken) theatre world helped to ensure that Sadler’s Wells productions integrated and continued to register a more recognized national theatrical heritage. The Sadler’s Wells version(s) of the ballet marked the beginning of a distinctly English style with regards to the classics and a self-conscious positioning of that style in relation to the monarchy, national theatre and a modern national audience. In 1953, that style was to make its case as a New Elizabethan art much more explicitly in the production of Homage to the Queen, with choreography by Frederick Ashton.

Homage to the Queen In 1933, de Valois recognized that she needed a resident choreographer besides herself, and hired Ashton (1904–88) for the job. He would go on to produce over 100 ballets and direct the company after her own retirement. Ashton is known for his lyrical classicism, for choreographing many of Fonteyn’s signature roles and for creating the so-called English style. As Geraldine Morris points out, ‘[b]etween 1946 and 1956, the repertoire was dominated by Ashton works; he created fourteen new works.’67 Indeed, the company’s ‘dance style was influenced more by Ashton than anyone else and probably contributed most to the bodily aesthetic of the era’.68 Ashton brought this style to bear in the ballet that the Sadler’s Wells company performed on the night of Elizabeth II’s Coronation. The Sleeping Beauty contains sequences of reverences that obliquely suggest royal homage. As its deferential title suggests, Homage to the Queen was much more literal in making obeisance to the new Queen. It was also about displaying the full company ‘at its best’69 and realizing an ideal of communal creativity in the ballet as a whole. Although much of the choreography has been lost, David Vaughan provides a vivid account of the genesis of the ballet. According to Ashton, his first thoughts about the ballet were focused on an ideal of community, where everyone in the company could pay their individual homage to the Queen and have their contribution to a larger organization choreographically acknowledged.70 This philosophy was also a direct result of the makeup of the company at that time. Ashton had four main ballerinas and he had to find a way 256


of dividing the ballet into four parts. The working draft of the ballet that he gave to Malcolm Arnold, the composer, divided the ballet into four sections based on three famous past queens (Elizabeth I, Anne and Victoria), plus the future Elizabeth II. Only later did he finally decide on a division based on the four elements (earth, water, fire and air), with an apotheosis scene in which the first Elizabeth transfers her orb and sceptre to the new queen. Messel was chosen as the designer for the piece. Given the number of drawings of Elizabeth I – many in painstaking detail – and his notes describing an elaborate opening procession, Messel was clearly fixated with the Elizabethan connections that could be developed.71 Messel’s notes are focused on the spectacle of an Elizabethan masque: in addition to the main ballerinas, his opening procession featured Gloriana, St George and the Dragon, Una and the Lion from the Faerie Queene, and the figures of Juno, Minerva and Venus, who should ‘vie for selection as in the Judgment of Paris’ – a configuration he claimed was inspired by the painting of Elizabeth I and the Three Goddesses by Hans Eworth (1569) at Windsor. Following all of these representations would be the young queen ‘[i]n White carried high & shrouded in a veil […] representing youth & hope for the future. Spring & all that.’72 He then directs: ‘The Queen of the Past. Elizabeth I. hands the choice to the Young Queen.’73 Messel’s sense of the visual and literary allusions that could be made to the sixteenth century clearly embraced a notion of national performance as rooted in the first Elizabethan age. In his review of the ballet for the Dancing Times, Walter Rummel was, as might be expected, very complimentary about the company’s endeavour ‘to honour the Monarch and to point to future hopes’.74 However, while he commended Messel’s ability to ‘catch the festive mood’ and likewise acknowledged Arnold’s ‘superbly danceable’ score, his most fulsome praise was reserved for Ashton’s choreography.75 Clearly fascinated by Ashton’s ability to differentiate the elements through a limited selection of representative classical steps, he dwelt at length on the aesthetic of each section. For ‘Earth’, danced by Nadia Nerina and her consort Alexis Rassine, he observes that Ashton gave them ‘quick terre à terre steps, batterie, sauts sur les pointes and strong poses very often sur la pointe with the supporting knee bent. This lends their dance a very down to earth quality.’76 Of Violetta Elvin’s ‘Water’ he describes how ‘very soft bourrées, pirouettes, temps levés and lovely ports-de-bras’ suggested ‘cool running water’.77 He concluded that ‘everyone should study these dances’, for the ‘ballet is a feast for dance-lovers’.78 Indeed, 257


the only device that Rummel found disappointing was the apotheosis, when Elizabeth II paid homage to Elizabeth I and received the royal sceptre and orb: the most explicitly New Elizabethan moment of the ballet.79 Rummel’s assessment points to the established emphasis of de Valois, Haskell and Ashton himself on the formulation of a modern national ballet (and a modern national audience) in relation to classical traditions. It is perhaps telling, however, that although Vaughan argues that ‘Messel’s designs in general did the ballet a disservice’, it is Messel’s conception of the ballet as an Elizabethan masque that has persisted in stronger terms than Ashton’s choreography.80 In her brief paragraph on the ballet, Wiebe does not mention the nature of the dance at all, but rather Messel’s ‘frothy, colorful fantasy’ that suggested ‘an easy understanding of the New Elizabethan vision, if not an earnest embrace.’81 In so doing, she implicitly enforces Priestley’s earlier dismissal of ballet as ideologically inauthentic, as catering to a complacency that must be challenged in a postwar age. In the 1953 Coronation year, Elizabethan masques functioned as shorthand for a dramatic and performative legacy of national excellence. The evidence of Messel’s archive suggests that his remediation of this historical form was a nod to the glory of Elizabethan spectacle and literary production. The BBC took a similar approach: on 17 November 1953, it broadcast a tongue-in-cheek recreation of a day in the life of the 1590s that featured, as its closing number, a ‘Masque for a Queen’s Embarkation’, choreographed by the dance historian Belinda Quirey. Quirey’s choreography attempted to recreate authentic Renaissance dance steps and included an anti-masque, but the emphasis of the production overall was on humorous parallelism (an Elizabethan fashion display, cooking show, newscast, etc.). The description in the Radio Times noted, however, that the choice of masque was closely connected with the choice of the date for the entire diversion. [November 17 is the anniversary of the Accession of Queen Elizabeth I] […]. On November 23 Her Majesty the Queen leaves at the end of Coronation Year for her first visit as Queen to her Dominions overseas […] The masque tells, in spectacular allegorical fashion, of the departure of Gloriana.82

For the BBC, the masque was the allegorical set-piece meant to elevate the tone. The masque/dance was aristocratic, emblematic and patriotic: 258


it explicitly linked the original Elizabethan age with the present, a present in which the national ballet company had recently performed their own ballet/masque for the Queen’s Coronation. Four years after the Coronation, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Royal Ballet, de Valois revisited the Elizabethan theme of the masque to locate the newly ascendant English ballet within a native theatrical tradition. ‘It has often struck me’, she noted, ‘that when the masques […] disintegrated, the English dance fell by the wayside. […] Let us now realise what has happened: the ballet has at last acquired in England a status of equality in the theatre with that of drama and music.’83 De Valois’ easy insertion of ballet, via the masque, into a ‘native theatrical tradition’ speaks to the efficacy of New Elizabethan ideas and imagery in the establishment of classical ballet as a modern, British art form. It also reminds us of the vexed legacy such associations have left behind. Indeed, despite the subsequent and continuing successes of the Royal Ballet, the experiences of de Valois and her contemporaries of ballet as an integral part of national theatrical life are no longer in evidence in the twenty-first century. Together, the classicism and traditionalism of balletic style and training have only helped to reinforce the dismissal of ballet as elitist and ‘foreign’.84 So too has the contraction of that initial, educated audience composed of ‘all ranks of people’. Although these first proponents and artists of the Vic/Sadler’s/Royal Ballet succeeded in establishing a distinctly modern ballet tradition in Britain in the early twentieth century, this tradition is now relatively ignored, if not dismissed, outside dance circles. Paradoxically, the reason ballet is so often overlooked is because of its problematic association with New Elizabethan ideals that, while they stressed national, communal and indigenous art forms, also reinforced hierarchical and imperial legacies. As de Valois herself reflected in 1977, the emergence of ballet as a modern, popular and national tradition in the decades before the Coronation had positioned it as an ideal art for the New Elizabethan age. Ironically, however, that very success, its art rooted in a heritage both aristocratic and foreign, had also ensured its problematic reception in social terms: when our public shake their heads in despair over the “Establishment” (in other words the Royal Ballet) they are paying us a great compliment. For who would have thought that in such a short space of time we would be old enough, solid enough, tough enough and enough in the way to be debunked in so distinguished a fashion?85 259


As thus bemusingly acknowledged by de Valois, the postwar fate of ballet only underlines the inherent contradictions that informed the superficial confidence of the New Elizabethan moment.

Notes   1 An exception is the work of self-confessed balletomane Roy Strong: see The Spirit of Britain: A Narrative History of the Arts (London: Hutchinson, 1999). Ballet does not feature in Robert Hewison’s influential The Heritage Industry: Britain in a Climate of Decline (London: Methuen, 1987) or Cultural Capital: The Rise and Fall of Creative Britain (London: Verso, 2014). It is likewise absent from Philip Gibbs’ The New Elizabethans (London: Hutchinson, 1953) and only Margot Fonteyn earns a place in James Naughtie’s The New Elizabethans: Sixty Portraits of our Age (London: HarperCollins, 2012).   2 Ninette de Valois, Come Dance with Me: A Memoir, 1898–1956 [1957] (Dublin: Lilliput, 1992), 119. Despite her Irish heritage, but in keeping with the practice of most of her contemporaries, de Valois often used ‘English’ and ‘British’ as interchangeable terms.   3 The first full programme was given at the Old Vic on 5 May 1931. See Zoë Anderson, The Royal Ballet: 75 Years (London: Faber, 2006), 37.   4 See her account in de Valois, Step by Step: The Formation of an Establishment (London: W. H. Allen, 1977), 165.   5 N.a., ‘Coloratura on Tiptoe’, Time, 14 November 1949.   6 Jennifer Homans, Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet (London: Granta, 2010), 396.   7 Frank Mort, ‘Fantasies of Metropolitan Life: Planning London in the 1940s’, Journal of British Studies xliii (January 2004), 120–51: 122.   8 Norman Marshall, The Other Theatre (London: John Lehmann, 1948), 140, 141.   9 Ibid., 142. 10 Ernest Reynolds, Modern English Drama: A Survey of the Theatre from 1900 (Westport: Greenwood, 1950), 107. 11 Arnold L. Haskell, The Ballet in England (London: The New English Weekly, 1932), 9. See also Jane Pritchard, ‘From Bad Fairy to Gramophone Girl: Ninette de Valois’ Early Career in English Popular Theatre’, in Richard Cave and Libby Worth (eds), Ninette de Valois: Adventurous Traditionalist (Alton: Dance Books, 2012), 4–12. 12 Cave and Worth, ‘Editors’ Introduction’, in Cave and Worth, Ninette, xv– xvii, xv. 13 Clement Crisp, ‘Ninette de Valois and Diaghilev’, in Cave and Worth, Ninette, 13–17: 16. Crisp cites McKnight Kauffer’s design for Checkmate (1937), Chiang Yee’s for The Birds (1942) and Edward Burra’s for Miracle 260

ENGLISH BALLET in the Gorbals (1944) as significant highlights of de Valois’ tenure. See also Helena Hammond’s chapter in the same collection: ‘Ninette de Valois, the Bloomsbury Group, and the Role of Visual Culture in the Formation of the Early Royal Ballet’, 183–92. 14 See, for example, her chapter epigraphs throughout Come and Step. 15 de Valois, Step, 87. 16 Unsigned editorial, Daily Mail, 19 August 1952. 17 See Dancing in the Blitz: How World War 2 Made British Ballet. BBC4 television, aired 11 March 2014. Available at record/206314 (accessed 5 June 2015). 18 Graham Holderness, Visual Shakespeare (Hatfield: University of Hertfordshire, 2002), 4. 19 de Valois, ‘Introduction’, in Peter Brinson (ed.), The Ballet in Britain: Eight Oxford Lectures (London: Oxford University Press, 1962), 1–8: 1. 20 Clare McManus, Women on the Renaissance Stage: Anna of Denmark and Female Masquing in the Stuart Court 1590–1619 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002), 21. 21 de Valois, Come, 119. 22 de Valois, Invitation to the Ballet (London: John Lane, 1937), 79. 23 Ibid., 79. Beth Genné, ‘Creating a Canon, Creating the “Classics” in Twentieth-Century British Ballet’, Dance Research: The Journal of the Society of Dance Research xviii/2 (2000), 132–62. Arnold Haskell recognized the importance of de Valois’ repertory building as early as 1943: ‘It is in the building of the repertoire that the Wells showed their initial skill’; ‘As the home of the classics Sadlers Wells [sic] had not only a new prestige, but had given itself a tradition in the only possible way’. In The National Ballet: A History and a Manifesto (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1943), 28. See also de Valois, Invitation, 75–92, 113–15, 125–6. 24 Genné, ‘Creating’, 153. 25 de Valois, Invitation, 79. 26 Haskell, National, 73–7. 27 Ibid., 73. 28 See list in ibid., 73–7. 29 Anderson, Royal, 20. 30 Ibid., 17. 31 Genné, ‘Creating’, 147. 32 Ibid., 148. 33 Arnold Haskell, Ballet (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1938), 14–15. 34 Ibid., 17. 35 Haskell, National, 66. 36 Ibid., 1. 37 Haskell, Ballet, 130. 38 Haskell, National, 4. 39 J. B. Priestley, New Statesman (July 1949), quoted in Hewison, In Anger: 261

THE NEW ELIZABETHAN AGE Culture in the Cold War, 1945–1960 (London: Methuen, 1988), 4, and Heather Wiebe, Britten’s Unquiet Pasts: Sound and Memory in Postwar Reconstruction (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 4. 40 Haskell, ‘Ballet is essentially an art of tradition, a tradition that is a living force.’ Ballet, 13. See also McManus, Women, on the masque. 41 De Valois incorporated training in English folk dances into the Royal Ballet School curriculum. 42 de Valois, Step, 29. 43 Gordon Anthony, The Sleeping Princess: Camera Studies. With Text by Nadia Benois, Arnold Haskell and Constant Lambert (London: George Routledge, 1940 [actually published 1942]), 29. 44 Ibid., 39. 45 Ibid. 46 Ibid., 40–1. 47 Peter Brinson, ‘The Social Setting’, in Brinson (ed.), Lectures, 9–29: 15. See also McManus, 24–36. 48 ‘I applaud the acrobat because she stresses difficulties overcome; I applaud the dancer because she convinces me that for her there are no difficulties’ Haskell in Anthony, Sleeping, 41. 49 Ibid., 42. 50 Anderson, Royal, 65; de Valois, Come, 120; and Time, ’Coloratura’. 51 Anderson, Royal, 69. 52 de Valois, Come, 168. 53 John Colville, Footprints in Time (London: William Collins, 1976), 218. 54 Strong, ‘Oliver Messel: The Often Unsung Designer who Created a Landmark Royal Ballet Production’, 20 February 2014. Available at: http://www. (last accessed 5 June 2015). 55 Ibid. 56 Ibid. 57 Anthony, Sleeping, 31–2. 58 de Valois, Step, 69. First published as the introduction to Studies of Margot Fonteyn, by Gordon Anthony (New York: Phoenix House, 1951). 59 Though Sergeyev was hired to teach the ‘original’ choreography, de Valois later acknowledged that she and Frederick Ashton contributed significant portions. See de Valois, Come, 111–12. 60 Margaret Dale, director, Fonteyn ’59: Sleeping Beauty, BBC4 television, aired 7 March 2014. Available at media_id/208595 (accessed 7 July 2015). 61 Cyril W. Beaumont, The Sleeping Beauty, as Presented by The Sadler’s Wells Ballet, 1946 (London: C. W. Beaumont, 1946), 16. 62 McManus, Women, 25–6. 63 Pointe classes in the Vaganova tradition, for example, often culminate with one of the fairy variations. 262

ENGLISH BALLET 64 In 1933, de Valois noted that ‘English dancers have no love or understanding of the theatre. It is here Miss Baylis has done so much at Sadler’s Wells’, in ‘Modern Choreography’, Dancing Times (January 1933), 434–37. By 1957 she was claiming that ‘in [the English dancer’s] dramatisation of a scene is shown a strong sense of detailed characterization’ (‘The English Ballet’, a paper read to the Royal Society of Arts on 29 May 1957 and reprinted in de Valois, Step, 82–90: 87). She repeated this piece in a slightly revised form as the introduction to Brinson, Lectures. 65 An Australian, Helpmann joined the Vic–Wells in 1933 and became Fonteyn’s main partner from 1937. 66 Kathrine Sorley Walker draws attention to his ‘overall importance as a memorable man of the theatre’ in her three-part consideration of his career, ‘Robert Helpmann: Dancer and Choreographer’, Dance Chronicle xii/1 (1998), 1–72; xii/2 (1998), 229–83; and xii/3 (1998), 411–80. 67 Geraldine Morris, Frederick Ashton’s Ballets: Style, Performance, Choreography (Binsted: Dance Books, 2012), 132. 68 David Vaughan, Frederick Ashton and His Ballets (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1977), 8. 69 Ibid., 270. 70 In an interview Ashton stated, ‘If you want to keep a company happy, you can’t always look after the talented dancers, the ones with gifts – you have to look after people who’ve been loyal, who’ve been useful, who happen to be good partners, good mimes – they all have to be considered.’ Quoted in ibid., 270. 71 Oliver Messel, set and costume designs for Homage to the Queen (1953), GB 71 THM/321/Series 11/Files1–7, Victoria and Albert Museum. 72 Messel, Sketches of figures on stage for Homage to the Queen (1953), GB 71 THM/321/Series 11/File 6, ROT 966. 73 Ibid. 74 Walter Rummel, ‘Homage to the Queen’, Dancing Times 514 (1953), 597–8: 597. 75 Ibid., 597. 76 Ibid. 77 Ibid. 78 Ibid., 598. 79 According to Ashton, the scene never quite worked; the lighting apparently obscured the audience’s ability to see the exchange. See Vaughan, Frederick, 271. 80 Ibid., 272. 81 Wiebe, Britten’s, 125. 82 N.a., ‘An Evening’s Diversion’, Radio Times, 17 November 1953. 83 de Valois, Step, 82–3. 84 According to the Warwick Commission Report, the absence of cultural education and a lack of diversity in arts audiences are two significant issues 263

THE NEW ELIZABETHAN AGE for the arts in Britain. See ‘Enriching Britain: Culture, Creativity and Growth’, The 2015 Report by the Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value (Coventry: University of Warwick, 2015). Available at http://www2. warwick_commission_final_report.pdf (accessed 7 June 2015). 85 de Valois, Step, 195–6.






Between 1957 and 1965, BBC Television offered to the nation an unprecedented cluster of productions of Shakespeare’s eight central history plays. From The Life of Henry the Fifth in late December 1957 to the broadcast across three evenings in the spring of 1965 of the RSC’s The Wars of the Roses, the plays of the two ‘Henriad’ quartets were adapted for television across 25 programmes. The 15-part cycle An Age of Kings (1960) is especially notable in this sequence, since it produced each of the histories, apart from Henry VI Part 1, in two 60- to 75-minute-long episodes. In no other eight-year span has there been anything close to the same concentration on Shakespeare’s histories by British television.1 In the 13 years after 1965 leading up to The BBC Television Shakespeare, for example, the only British television production of a Shakespeare history play was the studio presentation of the Prospect Theatre Company’s staging of Richard II with Ian McKellen (1970). Remarkably, too, given how much television has been lost from the 1950s and 1960s, all of the 1957–65 adaptations, apart from a series made for schools, have survived in the archives. Such fortune is perhaps indicative of the significance attached to the productions both at the time and in later years. This cluster of adaptations in the late 1950s and early 1960s aligns with a moment when both the medium of television and the nation as a 267


whole were working through their understandings of and relationships with the ‘new Elizabeth’. In part at least this process involved a consideration of the nation’s – and the medium’s – distance from the monarch. In the early 1950s, television had kept its literal as well as figurative distance from the monarch, and while aspects of this practice remain today,2 by the time of the broadcast in 1969 of the intimate documentary portrait Royal Family,3 most television viewers felt that they were as close to the Queen and Prince Philip as they were to their next-door neighbour. The BBC’s productions of Shakespeare’s history plays contributed to the process of ‘getting closer’ to the monarch, to developing a presumed intimacy with the second Elizabeth and to working through a national relationship with her and the institution she represented. In the post-Suez moment that marked the effective end of the British Empire, as the United States asserted its political and cultural dominance globally, these television histories can also be seen as elements in what Irene Morra has identified as the performance of modern monarchy and national identity through cultural achievement. ‘In an age marked by myths and counter-myths of Britain’s international decline’, Morra writes in this volume, ‘the New Elizabethans turned emphatically to English culture – its literature, its drama, its music, its art – as the most authentic, lasting manifestation of the nation’s Elizabethan spirit and contemporary potential.’4 An Age of Kings, The Wars of the Roses and the other television histories of the years 1957–65 were produced for the most modern of media and broadcast to a national audience far larger than had ever experienced them before. They constitute key presentations of the New Elizabethan ideal and a central positioning for a New Elizabethan art in television itself.

A Small Screen Queen Television and the monarchy established a close relationship in the years between the medium’s first encounters with Princess Elizabeth, the Coronation in 1953 and the 1969 Royal Family documentary. As Roy Strong has suggested, this relationship built upon that established between monarch and the mass media earlier in the century, when newsreels, much of the press and radio were unquestioningly supportive of royalty. ‘The monarchy also owed its survival to […] the media’, Strong has written. ‘That alliance only began to break down at the close of the 1960s, but for the period covered by the four coronations between 268


1902 and 1953 it was intact.’5 From early in her adult life, the ‘new Elizabeth’ was a media monarch who was expected to share with the nation not only her Coronation but many other experiences, and often in close-up too. On the occasion of her 21st birthday on 21 April 1947, Princess Elizabeth broadcast a radio message to the youth of the Empire. Her wedding on 20 November 1947 was among BBC Television’s most significant outside broadcasts in the immediate postwar years. Four days before the wedding, television’s documentary scrutiny of the future monarch began with the half-hour film H.R.H. Princess Elizabeth, in which ‘viewers see Her Royal Highness taking part in a variety of both public and informal occasions which include scenes from the BBC film of the Royal Tour of South Africa.’6 On the day itself, cameras caught the royal comings and goings at Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey, although the small screen’s appropriate distance from the monarch was established by sound broadcasting alone being permitted to relay the service inside the Abbey. From the late 1940s onwards, television as an increasingly confident and assertive medium was working through quite how deferential it should be towards the monarchy. One manifestation of this uncertainty was the question as to precisely how far television should position itself from their Royal Highnesses. Questions of proximity and the privacy of the Princess were raised by Reginald Pound in an article for the Listener in June 1951. Discussing live coverage of Royal Ascot and the Trooping of the Colour, Pound felt that the contribution of the recently introduced zoom lens ‘was not so impressive as we had expected’ and could best be described as ‘experimentally promising’. He also recognized that there were significant implications to this new technology in its bringing the viewer closer to its subject, especially if the object of scrutiny was royal: To be ‘zoomed’ unknowingly into screen prominence will not invariably be a happy experience for the victims, however enthralling to the viewers. […] What was Princess Elizabeth saying to her uncle Gloucester as they rode together towards the parade ground for the Trooping of the Colour? There may be inmates of institutions for the deaf who could answer that question.7

By 1953, there were still influential voices arguing that, as at the 1947 Royal Wedding and the funeral of George VI on 15 February 1952, television should be kept out of Westminster Abbey during the Coronation ceremony. Neither zoom lens close-ups nor shots of the 269


climactic anointing ceremony were permitted. Nonetheless, the ultimate decision that the Queen should be crowned ‘in sight of all the people’ was triumphantly vindicated – for both the monarch and for television. Fifty-six per cent of the adult population in Britain watched at least half an hour of the service, compared with only 32 per cent who experienced it via sound broadcasting; as David Kynaston has written, ‘overall, there is little disputing the conventional wisdom that the Coronation “made” television in Britain.’8 Basking in this success, television throughout the mid-1950s was content to carry coverage of state visits and of the Queen launching ships. Later in the decade, members of the Royal Family began to recognize the importance of participating in the medium. In June 1957, the Duke of Edinburgh related the story of the International Geophysical Year ‘at the invitation of the Royal Society’ for the 75-minute live broadcast The Restless Sphere. In British television’s first programme presented by a member of the Royal Family, the Duke stood at a studio lectern and, speaking confidently to camera, introduced filmed items about scientific explorations from around the world and at the edge of space.9 In October, the Queen herself made a much-praised broadcast during her state visit to Canada (a tele-recording of which was shown in Britain). Writing in The Sunday Times, Sir Beverley Baxter, MP, described her speech in breathless terms: [T]he Queen achieved a complete, personal success that is at once difficult but pleasing to describe. She was radiant and her voice had vivacity that was entirely charming […] I must state that the Queen’s television broadcast at Ottawa was the biggest personal triumph I have seen since television ended the remoteness of statesmen and monarchs.10

Back home, on 25 December 1957 the Queen again embraced the intimacy of the small screen by speaking directly to the Commonwealth from Sandringham in her first televised Christmas broadcast. ‘I very much hope’, she said, ‘that this new medium will make my Christmas message more personal and direct […] I welcome you to the peace of my own home.’11 Ten years earlier, the ‘lookers-in’ (as the audience was known in those days) had been kept out of Westminster Abbey for the Queen’s marriage. Now, in what was widely recognized as a historic broadcast, viewers were ushered into a Sandringham parlour. Television critic Maurice Wiggin lauded the Queen’s achievement of ‘that warm, close contact which is the essence of television’, noting that this had 270


been facilitated by a spatial arrangement for the two cameras ‘“getting behind” the formal desk’.12 At the end of 1957, the monarchy and most especially the nation’s ‘new Elizabeth’ continued to be regarded with the greatest respect by the majority of Britons. Writing 50 years later, Michael Billington recalled ‘the way royalty-worship became a new form of secular religion’: The Queen’s endless peregrinations around the Commonwealth were treated with the reverence once accorded to religious pilgrimages. And in the press no forelock went untugged […] What Princess Diana was to a later generation, the Queen was to the majority of her subjects in the Fifties: in a way even more so, since Elizabeth Windsor was surrounded by a supposed aura of sanctity.13

Notwithstanding such worship, in the later months of 1957 two public figures expressed criticism of the Queen, albeit in a manner that in both cases was somewhat oblique. In the August issue of the small-circulation National and English Review, the magazine’s editor, Lord Altrincham (later John Grigg), published an article in which he observed that the Queen in her speeches came across as ‘a priggish schoolgirl, captain of the hockey team, a prefect and a recent candidate for Confirmation’.14 Particular opprobrium was reserved for the ‘tweedy’ entourage that surrounded Elizabeth, but Grigg’s comments prompted forceful criticism from the popular press as well as some 2,000 letters of complaint and, in full view of a television camera, a slap across the face from a member of the League of Empire Loyalists. Grigg’s jeremiad was soon followed by musings on the ‘royal soap opera’ from Malcolm Muggeridge, a well-known and often outspoken television commentator who was under contract to the BBC. In an article titled ‘Does England Really Need a Queen?’ for the Saturday Evening Post, Muggeridge criticized the ‘snobbishness’ of a court that, focused as it was on the country’s out-oftouch upper classes, appeared ‘obsolete and disadvantageous in the modern world’.15 In response, a group of schoolboys near Sandringham burned him in effigy, his house in Sussex was vandalized and letters arrived containing excrement and razor blades.16 Press reaction to the publication of Muggeridge’s article was such that the BBC Board of Governors called a special meeting on 16 October 1957 solely to discuss the issue. The Governors then at their next regular meeting decided that, in addition to Lord Altrincham being disinvited from a forthcoming broadcast of Any Questions?, Muggeridge’s 271


contract should not be renewed when it came to an end. The ruling on this, however, was subsequently relaxed (itself a reflection of changing attitudes) and he became a fixture of BBC current affairs in the 1960s.17 The mood at the BBC was such that in late October, as Asa Briggs notes, the Board of Governors minuted that ‘with regard to suggestions that one or two serious programmes should be mounted in which the functions and circumstances of the monarchy would be expounded or argued, the Board felt that nothing should be done in the near future.’18 By the end of 1957, for the first time in the New Elizabethan age, the monarchy had been publicly contested. That challenge went relatively unacknowledged at the highest level of the BBC, which ruled out even the faintest reflection of any challenge from current affairs coverage or documentaries. Instead, across the next decade, television would displace scrutiny (at least in part) of what the Board of Governors called ‘the functions and circumstances of the monarchy’ onto Shakespeare’s histories. At exactly this moment, the Corporation mounted a distinctive production of Henry V, the play that, in many outings including Laurence Olivier’s 1944 feature film adaptation, had been presented as the strongest affirmation of a warrior king and an untroubled national identity.19

The Histories on Stage and Screen The history plays had been only modestly represented on BBC Television before The Life of Henry the Fifth in December 1957. The pre-war occasional series Scenes from Shakespeare had featured the wooing of Lady Anne (Beatrix Lehmann) by Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Ernest Milton) from Act I, Scene 2 of Richard III. The same series mounted the encounter between King Henry (Henry Oscar) and Princess Katherine (Yvonne Arnaud) from Henry V in February 1937. In 1950, producer Royston Morley assembled a full-length live studio presentation of Richard II, with Alan Wheatley as the King and Clement McCallin as Bolingbroke. McCallin returned to the studio the following year, on 22 April, to play Henry V in Morley’s production of the eponymous play. Also in 1951 the Gadshill escapade from Henry IV Part 1 was played in a children’s slot on 19 August, with Anthony Quayle as Falstaff and Richard Burton as Prince Hal from the Stratford-upon-Avon production mounted for the Festival of Britain. Television presented a second Henry V on 19 May 1953, when there was a televised broadcast of John Barton’s Elizabethan Theatre 272


Company staging, with Colin George in the title role. The new medium had therefore produced Henry V alongside the two great postwar national celebrations of the Festival of Britain and the Coronation. But these two adaptations of Henry V and the 1950 Richard II constituted television’s only full performances of any of the history plays before 1957;20 there had been no production of the complete Richard III and nothing whatsoever from either Henry IV Part 2 or the Henry VI trilogy. In the theatre, the immediate postwar years saw the history plays, especially when offered in groups or in partial cycles in London, Stratford and Birmingham, take on a significance that collectively they had not previously enjoyed. Frank Benson had played combinations of the histories at Stratford in 1902 and 1906, and at this high point of imperialism had staged the unfamiliar Henry VI plays to show ‘how during the death and ruin of so many nobles and gentry, the Commons of England were growing in power and importance and laying the foundation of the English Empire’.21 In the interwar years, Robert Atkins at the Old Vic and Nugent Monck at Maddermarket in Norwich had each presented all of the histories as they fulfilled complete-ist accounts of the First Folio plays. In the aftermath of world war, however, the histories offered new meanings, as Stuart Hampton-Reeves has observed: ‘From the 1940s the history plays took on a new role, as epic texts through which the nature of the national self, and the direct experience of history, could be examined.’22 The legacies of the conflict inevitably contributed to the shaping of this idea, but part of the new potency of the plays also came from the ideas of E. M. W. Tillyard. In Shakespeare’s History Plays (originally published in 1944), Tillyard identified the main cycle as a celebration of nationhood and of the centrality to the national identity of the Tudors, including of course the first Elizabeth in whose reign they were composed. ‘The ghosts that terrify and comfort the sleeps of Richard and Richmond on the night before Bosworth’, he wrote, ‘are not just enemies or friends but a convergence of causes leading to the defeat of Richard and to the issue of England’s fortunes into prosperity through the union of the red rose and the white.’23 While Olivier’s wartime Henry V had provided a stirring celebration of patriotism and wartime prowess, the 1945 Old Vic production of Henry IV Part 1 in which Olivier played Hotspur to Ralph Richardson’s Hal offered a more ambivalent and conflicted sense of English triumphalism. Anthony Quayle’s 1951 Stratford stagings of Richard II, Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 and Henry V were revelatory for many, demonstrating how, in Quayle’s words, ‘These plays form a tetralogy and were planned 273


as one great play. They present not only a living epic of England through the reign of the three kings, but are also a profound commentary on kingship.’24 For Quayle, Henry V was the hero of the tetralogy, not least because he was ‘a man who […] possessed some at least of the qualities of a great king including that of the greatest quality: that of having and holding his people’s love’.25 For the Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company, Douglas Seale produced all three parts of Henry VI, completing the trilogy in 1953. At the centre of his productions was Paul Daneman as Richard, Duke of Gloucester, the role that the actor later took in the BBC’s An Age of Kings. Another link between the Birmingham Rep’s productions of the mid-1950s and the later BBC presentations was director Peter Dews, who trained at the Rep and mounted Henry V there in early 1957. This stage presentation set itself against the Olivier precedent, for as the reviewer for The Times observed, ‘the lasting emphasis of this production proves to be informality, its centre a humanized King Henry […] Rhetoric throughout is played down […] It is, in fact a production without loftiness.’26 An informal, humanized monarch was also at the centre of the BBC television presentation of The Life of Henry the Fifth that Peter Dews went on to direct. The first production in a prestigious series of Television World Theatre, this was broadcast on 29 December 1957, only four days after the nation had been introduced to an informal, humanized Queen Elizabeth in her first Christmas television broadcast. The telerecording of this imaginative and distinguished multi-camera staging features a particularly remarkable opening sequence-shot that develops around the studio and then around a table right through Act I, Scene 2. This shot lasts for a full 13 minutes and 25 seconds before there is a change to another camera. When that comes, just as Chorus, played by Bernard Hepton (reprising the role from Dews’ Birmingham staging) says, ‘Unto Southampton do we shift our scene’,27 the shot change is a vertical wipe transporting us to the port. The effect is to demonstrate how bold and distinctive multi-camera live presentation could be by 1957. ‘Eyes firmly averted from the cinema’ was the critic Maurice Wiggin’s admiring comment on Dews’ studio style, stressing the achievement of the production as television and implicitly comparing the production to Olivier’s feature film.28 John Neville’s Henry is similarly a very different figure from Olivier’s king. Rather than being a confident conquering hero, he is at times a troubled and conflicted figure; when he turns from condemning the traitors to death at Southampton, he wrings his hands in private over what he has had to do. Condemning Bardolf to hang as a 274


thief also deeply disturbs him, as a camera movement in to a close-up of his face underlines. Neville’s Henry can rouse his men with the rhetoric of the text, and definite echoes of Winston Churchill can be heard in his delivery of a line such as ‘Of heady murder – spoil – and villainy.’ But there is little exuberance or bombast in the performance. Just before the battle of Agincourt, having delivered a powerful but controlled version of the St Crispin’s day speech, Henry is left alone on screen, screwing up the paper with his battle orders as he muses, ‘And how thou pleasest, God, dispose the day.’ This presentation offers a thoughtful, responsible monarch who, as the final act demonstrates, is capable of a delicate performance to woo the French princess. Act IV is played in a confined space before a painted backdrop with stylized castles in the distance. Chorus wanders through the English lines, the soldiers unaware of his presence. Henry enters the camp and Chorus seats himself at the king’s feet along with his other companions. After a shortened version of the encounters between the disguised monarch and his men, Henry’s soliloquy is played initially with John Neville looking off-camera. The shot moves closer to him, and then on ‘I am a king that find thee’ there is an eccentric cut to a camera that has almost the same position and frame, but to which the king speaks directly. Only four days earlier, the current Queen had similarly addressed the nation, looking straight into the camera lens. At the heart of the end of year festivities, a monarch imagined during the first Elizabethan age appeared in the same context as the second Elizabeth herself. Seated at home, the audience had come close to both of them as each sought an unfamiliar intimacy with their subjects. At the same time, the television production underlines the differences between a monarch then and now. In Act IV, Scene 7 we learn from Gower that the king ‘most worthily, hath caused every soldier to cut his prisoner’s throat’. This news is quickly reinforced by Henry V’s command on his entrance that ‘we’ll cut the throats of those we have’, just before the French herald Mountjoy enters to surrender. The production emphasizes the ruthless side of Henry, tempering any potential triumphalism within a scene that ends with soldiers singing a Te Deum as they carry away some of the dead. Henry is once again isolated in the frame, alone with the burdens of kingship. The overall effect is thoughtful, moving and sombre, suggesting an ultimate ambivalence about the humanized monarch. In the context of its showing so shortly after that of the Queen’s Christmas broadcast, the drama also provides a particularly resonant presentation of what Quayle had identified as the histories’ ‘profound commentary on kingship’. 275


The Uses of the Histories: An Age of Kings Eighteen months after The Life of Henry V, television extended its engagement with Shakespeare’s histories in the seven-episode schools series, The Life and Death of Sir Falstaff. Produced by Ronald Eyre, these 1959 programmes featured Roger Livesey as Falstaff and Colin Jeavons as Hal in an adaptation of Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 as well as The Merry Wives of Windsor. The only remaining traces of this series are a few production stills and an enthusiastic preview in Radio Times. The programmes were to be recommended because they ‘break with the usual traditions of naturalism in television Shakespeare, for there will be a minimum of scenery, and the responsibility of success will be placed, where Shakespeare intended it should be placed, firmly on the shoulders of the actors’.29 Just over a year later, the BBC returned to the tales of Falstaff, Hal and Hotspur and to ‘the functions and circumstances of the monarchy’ in what was easily television’s most ambitious engagement with the histories to date. An Age of Kings was a television event of great moment in the summer and autumn of 1960, and it remains the only occasion in which a single company and production team has taken on for television all eight of Shakespeare’s histories. Writing in the Guardian, television critic Mary Crozier praised this ‘tremendous project’ as ‘ambitious […] exciting […] a striking example of the creative use of television’.30 Consisting of 15 episodes between 60 and 75 minutes, broadcast live on alternate Thursday evenings, An Age of Kings was the most challenging drama project undertaken to date by the BBC. In its gallery of medieval kings, courtiers and challengers, it was also the means by which the largest-ever national audience – between three and five million for each episode – was exposed to what constituted a great national pageant. For nearly 400 years, the plays had been recognized as dramatizing the complexities of the personal and the political in a monarch’s life, of the tensions between conscience and duty, and of the demands and the dangers of power. An Age of Kings rehearsed these concerns for much more of the nation than had ever previously been exposed to them. The perceived success of The Life of Henry the Fifth had demonstrated that Shakespeare’s histories could work effectively on television. One key motivation for the commissioning of An Age of Kings, however, was distinctly more pragmatic. In the late 1950s, the BBC was feeling the full effects of competition from the commercial service ITV. Since its 276


start in 1955, ITV’s aggressively populist, entertainment-led schedule had attracted the majority of viewers away from the Corporation’s more traditional and sedate offerings. This was also a moment when the Conservative government (re-elected in 1959) was planning a new commission to consider the future of broadcasting. Central to this would be the terms under which the BBC would continue to receive its licence fee, and also the possible provision of a third television channel. The BBC wanted desperately to secure any new service: what better demonstration could there be of the BBC’s public service commitment and professionalism than an ambitious series of Shakespeare dramas? The project both engaged with fundamental questions of national identity and distinguished the Corporation from the downmarket ITV service that, seemingly, would never mount such a venture. An Age of Kings was in part at least addressed to a narrow audience of opinion formers who would shape what came to be known as the Pilkington Report. And it succeeded brilliantly: the Corporation was praised effusively in the final document, published in June 1962,31 while the programmes of the ITV companies were politely castigated. A third television channel was launched as BBC2 in 1964, with an emphasis on the arts, education and minority interests. An Age of Kings, and indeed the television presentation of The Wars of the Roses five years later, should also be seen in the context of the perceived postwar threat of the Americanization of popular culture. Such concerns emerged in Britain as early as the 1920s, reflecting the recognition of the developing political might of the United States and the obvious appeal of American popular culture, the preeminent expression of which was Hollywood. Jimmy Porter in John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger, first staged in London in 1956, identifies his time as ‘the American Age’ and reflects on the cultural colonization of his once-great country: ‘Perhaps all our children will be American. That’s a thought, isn’t it?’32 In his influential study The Uses of Literacy (1957), Richard Hoggart laments the influence of the American culture industries on, most especially, Britain’s working-class youth. Observing a group of young men in a milk bar who, he surmises, read ‘comics, gangster novelettes, science and crime magazine’, Hoggart suggests: Many of the[se] customers – their clothes, their hair styles, their facial expressions all indicate – are living to a large extent in a myth-world compounded of a few simple elements which they take to be those of American life.33 277


In these years too, the threat of Hollywood was seen as being reinforced by the arrival on British television, and most especially on the new commercial network, of American film series such as Dragnet (first broadcast on ITV in 1955) and Wagon Train, which by 1959 was the highest-rated UK programme. Just over a decade earlier, however, in a speech broadcast in 1945 to mark the founding of the Arts Council of Great Britain, John Maynard Keynes had formulated a riposte to these influences: ‘Let every part of Merry England be merry in its own way. Death to Hollywood.’34 Genevieve Abravanel contextualizes Osborne’s and Hoggart’s fears, and indeed Keynes’ defence, as elements of a broad shift in attitudes in mid-twentieth-century Britain ‘from imperial confidence to pride in local customs and traditions. The ideological shift marks a turn from the vast and unshakeable British Empire toward a romanticized Englishness tied to tradition and the past.’35 The television productions of the histories from the early 1960s translated and negotiated these informing expectations into a potent expression of both Keynes’ ‘Merry England’ being merry and of ‘Englishness tied to tradition and the past’. Central to An Age of Kings was its simultaneous emphasis on the links between the eight plays and its presentation of the works within the form of a television serial. The effect was implicitly both to modernize the histories through new cultural forms and to validate the small screen medium itself by exploiting the cultural capital of Shakespeare. Writing in Radio Times to launch the series, the BBC’s head of television drama, Michael Barry, suggested that ‘a strengthened purpose is added to the narrative when it is wholly seen, and we are able to look forward to “what happens next”.’36 Each part of An Age of Kings closes with a cliff-hanger. At the end of the second episode, The Deposing of a King, Northumberland reads over a paper, earlier brushed away by the King, informing him of the execution of ‘Salisbury, Spencer, Blunt and Kent’. Northumberland lays the paper on the table and angrily stabs a knife through it: cue credits and a wait of a fortnight before the next episode. This serial presentation did not just advertise the dramatic (and manipulative) power of television; it ensured what Emma Smith has identified as a ‘teleological impetus – towards an endpoint and towards a final resolution’.37 In so doing, as a Times review suggested, it gave form to E. M. W. Tillyard’s reading of the plays as building towards the rightful installation on the English throne of the Tudor monarchy. It also consequently strengthened the focus of the plays on kingship, as was indicated by a reviewer for The Times: 278

THE MONARCHY AND SHAKESPEARE ’S HISTORIES ON TELEVISION When we see Henry IV in the theatre it is likely, whatever we know of the other history plays, that the Falstaff scenes will be the centre of interest, and the properly historical parts little more than a background to them. When the plays are seen in a chronological sequence, however, with the audience fresh from Richard II and already conscious of Henry V looming ahead, it is the historical scenes which provide the continuity and emerge to take the forefront of our attention, leaving the Falstaff episodes looking dangerously like so many tiresome interruptions.38

Within this new form of television and the format of the drama serial, the BBC was thus in a position to put into play questions about monarchy and the legitimacy of its role within the modern nation. Again, that potential resonance was enforced by a visual style that both emphasized the importance of the individual psychologies of the monarchs and suggested a more intimate access to their drives and dilemmas. Time and again in an Age of Kings the viewer is offered concentrated close-ups and claustrophobic two- and three-shots. To a certain extent, this emphasis was determined by production constraints (small studios, modest budgets) that ensured comparatively little attempt at spectacle. The result was often developing single shots, with relatively little cutting between cameras. In Richard II, Act V, Scene 5, for example, Richard’s musings on death and then his murder are played in just one shot that lasts for nine and a half minutes. This is a bravura example of performance and of camerawork, not least because of the constantly changing framing of the scene, which is observed through the bars of the King’s cell. Such techniques foreground both the psychology of the central characters and the medium through which this ‘age of kings’ was being disseminated. They also foreground the very tension between access and intimacy increasingly recognized in television presentations of the contemporary monarch. This potential resonance was also implicit in the textual cuts that again focused on the personal element of kingship. In contrast to The Life of Henry the Fifth three years before, which had emphasized the moral dilemmas of its protagonist, An Age of Kings foregrounds a Henry who is charming and charismatic. At times, Robert Hardy’s performance has definite Churchillian echoes and conjures up a primarily sympathetic ruler who is as beneficent as a monarch at war can be; he is only momentarily troubled by having to send Bardolf to his death. In Henry VI Part 1, which occupies only a single episode, the complete excision of Talbot’s exploits in France again tightens concentration on the king and those close to him. An equally strong focus is given to the characterization of Margaret 279


(Mary Morris), daughter of the Duke of Anjou. In Act V, Suffolk (Edgar Wreford) woos her with gusto and considerable conviction. Suffolk, of course, is supposedly acting on behalf of Prince Henry, but in fact has his own plans to seduce her and then rule both her and his country. Margaret has other ideas, and a television fortnight later, she is depicted as gleefully carrying around her former lover’s head in a sack. Morris’ characterization is, along with Paul Daneman’s Richard, the stand-out performance of the plays: scary, resolute, forceful and intelligent. The first episode of An Age of Kings was broadcast at 9.00  p.m. on 28 April. Eight days later, on 6 May, an estimated audience of more than 300 million people around the world saw the royal wedding of Princess Margaret and Antony Armstrong-Jones, Lord Snowdon. For years, Muggeridge’s ‘royal soap opera’ had been focused on the virtual ménage à trois of Margaret, Peter Townsend and ArmstrongJones. Townsend was, of course, the divorcee whom she had previously agreed to marry and then, in 1955, been pressured into abandoning. For the BBC, the wedding was, as Richard Dimbleby wrote, ‘the biggest and most complicated undertaking of its kind since the Coronation’.39 Dimbleby promised viewers a close-up view of the wedding, which would be ‘exactly that enjoyed by any guest in the church’.40 But television still knew its physical place in the royal world, since, as the commentator also noted, ‘from the time that the bride and bridegroom meet in the Abbey, we shall see them only from behind.’41 The musical programme for the wedding was overseen by Sir Arthur Bliss, Master of Queen’s Music 1953–75, who also composed the main titles music for An Age of Kings. Unsurprisingly, the wedding of the Queen’s sister featured on the cover of Radio Times, with photographic images of Snowdon and Margaret embedded on a complex graphic of the Abbey, wedding bells, banners, flowers and trumpets. Just the previous week, the magazine’s cover had featured photographs of David William as Richard II and Tom Fleming as Henry IV embedded in a directly comparable graphic of royal emblems, crowns and swords. For television’s leading official publication there was a seeming equivalence to these broadcasts, despite one being ‘real’ and the other the fantasy of an Elizabethan author reinterpreted for the modern world. How then did the representations of, for example, Morris’ Margaret of Anjou and the new Margaret Armstrong-Jones née Windsor illuminate each other in the minds of viewers? How might viewers in 1960 have had their understanding of their Royal Family shaped by the fictions of the feuding, fighting courts of Shakespeare’s Middle Ages? Here, just a week apart, 280


was the modern medium of television offering two apparently complementary modes through which to recognize the centrality of the monarchy in the New Elizabethan nation. Stuart Hampton-Reeves and Carol Chillington Rutter have argued that Shakespeare’s histories had a particular resonance in the late 1950s, as a debate developed ‘about the nature and authenticity of Englishness itself’ which had been thrown into crisis in a post-imperial, devolutionary world.42 They contend that ‘these are not just plays about England […] these are plays that put England at the edge of chaos and contemplate questions of national identity from the marginal position of imminent disaster.’43 The authors critique An Age of Kings as unproblematically reinforcing traditional and stable ideas of the monarchy, along with conservative, nostalgic attitudes to the pastoral England of a better time: ‘[T]he BBC was, in effect, the modern-day king-maker […] it had broadcast the coronation of George VI and Elizabeth II, thus legitimating the monarchy for the modern age.’44 An Age of Kings, they suggest, expresses the attitudes of an age between the Festival of Britain (1951) and Winston Churchill’s funeral (1966) that looked back with admiration and longing to a more settled and more secure nation untroubled by the conflicts of the end of Empire: ‘Both the BBC’s coverage of Churchill’s funeral and its An Age of Kings serial revealed a shared vision of history, one shaped by the politics of the postwar years of mourning and reconstruction.’45 Shakespeare’s plays, and most especially the triumph of Richmond at the close of Richard III, contributed to legitimizing Queen Elizabeth in the late 1580s. An Age of Kings, as a strand in television’s distant and broadly deferential presentation of the modern monarchy, similarly reinforced the role of the new Elizabeth. Yet at the same time, in a manner more intricate than Hampton-Reeves and Rutter perhaps allow, the series enacts the complexities and contradictions of texts in which Shakespeare, as Michael Hattaway has noted, ‘subjected monarchs, their courts, and the ideology of monarchy to a scrutiny as searching as that to which they had been exposed in the morality plays’.46 An Age of Kings participates in such scrutiny, if only through its faithful representation of the complex ambivalences within the plays themselves. Seeing An Age of Kings as straightforwardly aligned with the respect and deference of an earlier age misses the glorious subversiveness of performances such as those by Daneman and Morris. Indeed, a number of the performances throughout the series, including Frank Pettingell’s Falstaff and Terry Scully’s Henry VI, emphasize the disdain for power and clear-eyed sense of its defects as articulated in the plays. As Tony Tanner has observed of Richard III: 281

THE NEW ELIZABETHAN AGE everyone in the play (except, of course, the princes – and Richmond) is in some way guilty, tainted by the times. It is certainly significant that the word ‘guilty’ occurs more times in this play than in any other by Shakespeare. Richard manipulates an already fairly rotten world.47

An Age of Kings dramatizes plays that in many respects explore the intricacies and inconsistencies of the English monarchy and of English identity. In the subversiveness of its many performances, in its exploitation of close-up techniques, it also ensures an effective translation of those Shakespearean themes within the contemporary context and contemporary medium of an increasingly anxious, uncertain New Elizabethan age.

Back to the Past: The Wars of the Roses Just five years after the production of An Age of Kings, BBC Television screened a further cycle of Shakespeare’s histories in a strikingly innovative version of the RSC’s spectacular stage hit The Wars of the Roses. In the theatre, this had been recognized as a defining production for the new company and for modern productions of Shakespeare. First staged at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1963 and then at London’s Aldwych Theatre in 1964, the cycle was a three-evening adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry VI trilogy and Richard III that had been adapted by John Barton with Peter Hall (they also took co-director credits). Controversially, Barton and Hall chopped the texts around and wrote an extensive amount of new verse. Their concern, above all, was to make the plays relevant, and a key influence was Jan Kott’s recently published Shakespeare Our Contemporary. As Hall later wrote, ‘Over the years I became more and more fascinated by the contortions of politicians, and by the corrupting seductions experienced by anybody who wields power […] I was convinced that a presentation of one of the bloodiest and most hypocritical periods in history would teach many lessons about the present.’48 By 1963, Britain was learning to be far less deferential to those in power, as was exemplified by the BBC’s controversial satire show That Was the Week That Was, which ran from 24 November 1962 to 28 December 1963. In the spring of 1963, Hall’s ‘contortions of politicians’ surfaced when John Profumo admitted that he had lied to Parliament about an affair with Christine Keeler. The nation was beginning to see its rulers in a new light, and the RSC’s The Wars of the Roses was recognized as echoing these new understandings. As Robert Shaughnessy notes: 282

THE MONARCHY AND SHAKESPEARE ’S HISTORIES ON TELEVISION Parallels […] suggested themselves with the contemporary political scene […] Between the fifteenth and twentieth centuries, political motives were assumed to remain constant, even instinctual, and the aggressive modernity of the RSC’s new style brought this point to life.49

In The Wars of the Roses, Shakespeare’s scrutiny of mechanisms and mendacities of power could resonate both in relation to the monarchy and to the institutions of governance more generally. In addition to playing out for the nation once again what Quayle had called Shakespeare’s ‘profound commentary on kingship’, the television version of The Wars of the Roses also found new ways for the BBC to emphasize its own national status – and that of television in particular – as a mediating cultural presence. In 1964, the BBC was coming to the end of a three-year contract with the RSC that had given the Corporation exclusive rights to screen the company’s productions.50 The BBC wanted to renew the RSC deal for a further three years and given its remarkable success in the theatre, The Wars of the Roses was the obvious focus for an extension. Notwithstanding the fact that An Age of Kings had been fairly recent, BBC drama executive Michael Bakewell recognized that ‘the new version of the plays themselves […] was such a remarkable achievement that the whole work emerged in a totally new light and that we need have no fear of covering the same ground again.’51 At the same time, Bakewell continued, ‘From the outset all those concerned were intent on finding a new way of presenting Shakespeare on television […] to re-create a theatre production in television terms – not merely to observe it but to get to the heart of it’ [emphasis added].52 In February and March 1964, it was decided that the only feasible way of recording all three plays was to do so in Stratford, on the RSC stage, at the end of that year’s revival. Rather than presenting a staged play, however, the production focused on television’s greater ability to enforce a proximity between viewer, character and drama. The BBC consequently took over the theatre for five weeks of filming, removing half of the seats in the theatre’s stalls and building an extensive wooden platform across the auditorium. New production equipment was also constructed, including a ‘creeper’ camera mounting for low floor-level shots and a tower on wheels for a lens to operate at a height of 16 feet. Both high-level and low-angled shots feature frequently in the programmes. And a further technical innovation was the use of an Ikigami hand-held electronic camera. Unconventional camera positions and hand-held camerawork were central to Bakewell’s aspiration ‘to get 283


to the heart of the production’. A briefing note by Bakewell for Kenneth Adam, Director of Television, also suggests how television was determined to impose itself on the staging: ‘What we are aiming at in this enterprise is to present a very distinguished production in the best way possible in our own terms.’53 The result, at least in terms of the screen language, is a production marked – often in positive ways – by a tension between theatrical and televisual techniques. There are, for example, numerous extended sequence shots which, often with minimal movement, observe the secondorder stage reality of a performance. These are frequently focused on a lengthy soliloquy addressed directly through the screen to the viewers.54 Such shots are contrasted with sequences that make use of the hand-held video camera and post-production editing, the most extensive of which is the climactic fight between Richard and Richmond on the battlefield at Bosworth. The production also occasionally uses what Bakewell terms ‘television tricks’, electronic superimpositions of shot. The ultimate effect is to draw the television viewer simultaneously into the world of Elizabethan power-plays, its theatrical origins and its contemporary resonance within contemporary forms. With their ‘profound commentary on kingship’, Shakespeare’s histories, and their specific presentation as British television between 1957 and 1965, had contributed to the new terms of engagement between the monarch and the nation, as well as the distances over which these were applied. Four years after The Wars of the Roses, when the British television audience was ushered in to the (staged) actuality of Richard Cawston’s revelatory Royal Family, perpetual tensions about proximity and place remained. As Robert Lacey has recounted, the fact that Prince Philip ‘was the moving force behind the Royal Family film’ did not prevent him from ‘getting irritated on occasions with Richard Cawston […] “Don’t bring your bloody cameras so close to the Queen,” he shouted.’55 Yet unlike a decade before, when the BBC Governors had pulled back from any exploration of the principles of monarchy, the medium was now sufficiently confident to produce a more direct presentation of the person and the issues. The distance between people and monarch had collapsed; proximity and presence were now part of what both the medium and the monarchy, however unwillingly, had to expect. Between 1957 and 1965, the combined coverage by the BBC of the contemporary Royal Family and its televisual stagings of Shakespeare’s history plays reinforced a characteristically New Elizabethan alignment of ‘theatrical performance (and actors) with an ideal of performed 284


leadership, Shakespearean drama with contemporary lived experience, and theatre as a whole with the expressed realities of a national “stage”’.56 It also reinforced (or positioned) the centrality of the BBC itself to contemporary representations of a New Elizabethan age. As the anonymous television critic for the Guardian wrote in response to the BBC’s The Life of Henry the Fifth in 1957, ‘it is after all very difficult to watch Henry V and not to feel very English.’57 It is also, as Charlotte Higgins has recently observed, difficult not to see the BBC itself as ‘a crucial carrier of British identity’,58 as perpetuating a confident cultural and historical ideal of Britishness – in this case centred around the televisual representation of the monarchy and its reciprocal relationship with the New Elizabethan audience.

Notes   1 These productions just pre-date what Sheldon Hall has identified as ‘a cycle of “monarchic” [feature] films’ that began with Becket (1964) and A Man for All Seasons (1966). The latter is a biographical study of Sir Thomas More based on Robert Bolt’s play, first seen on television in 1957 and then on stage in 1960. See ‘The Wrong Sort of Cinema: Refashioning the Heritage Film Debate’, in Robert Murphy (ed.), The British Cinema Book, 3rd edn (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 49.   2 The production team of the 2013 Jubilee documentary The Queen: A Passion for Horses (BBC1, 27 May) included presenter Clare Balding (apparently a personal friend of the monarch), who was instructed that not only was the Queen not to be interviewed (as she never is) but also that none of her words, even if they were only endearments expressed to her horses, could be recorded.   3 Royal Family, written by Antony Jay, directed and produced by Richard Cawston, jointly produced by BBC Television and Independent Television, first broadcast on BBC1, BBC2 and ITV 25 December 1969.   4 Irene Morra, ‘New Elizabethanism: Origins, Legacies, and the Theatre of Nation’, in Morra and Rob Gossedge (eds), The New Elizabethan Age: Culture, Society and National Identity after World War II (London: I.B. Tauris, 2016), 28.   5 Roy Strong, Coronation: A History of Kingship and the British Monarchy (London: HarperCollins, 2005), 431.   6 N.a., programme listing, Radio Times, 14 November 1947.   7 Reginald Pound, ‘Television: Public Occasions and Personal Privacy’, Listener, 21 June 1951.   8 David Kynaston, Family Britain, 1951–57 (London: Bloomsbury, 2009), 301. 285

THE NEW ELIZABETHAN AGE   9 The Restless Sphere, broadcast on 30 June 1957. Available at http:// (accessed 1 September 2015). 10 Sir Beverley Baxter, MP, ‘Happy and Glorious’, The Sunday Times, 20 October 1957. 11 Queen Elizabeth II, quoted in n.a., ‘I Welcome You to the Peace of My Own Home’, Illustrated London News, 4 January 1958. The article was an extended caption to a full-page photograph of the Queen ‘as she was seen by millions during the first television relay of her traditional Christmas Day broadcast’. The broadcast is available at watch?v=mBRP-o6Q85s (last accessed 20 October 2014). 12 Maurice Wiggin, ‘Royal Command’, The Sunday Times, 29 December 1957. 13 Michael Billington, State of the Nation: British Theatre Since 1945 (London: Faber, 2007), 58. 14 Lord Altrincham, ‘The Monarchy Today’, National and English Review, August 1957. 15 Malcolm Muggeridge, ‘Does England Really Need a Queen?’, Saturday Evening Post, 19 October 1957. 16 Dominic Sandbrook, Never Had It So Good (London: Little, Brown, 2005), 520. 17 Asa Briggs, The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom, Volume V: Competition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 146. 18 BBC Board of Governors, Minutes, 16, 24 October 1957; quoted in Briggs, ibid.,146–7. 19 Shakespeare’s play is titled The Life of Henry the Fifth in the First Folio text of 1623 but in modern times it has mostly been referred to and played as Henry V. 20 None of the pre-1957 history play productions were recorded. 21 Frank Benson, quoted in A. C. Sprague, Shakespeare’s Histories: Plays for the Stage (London: Society for Theatre Research, 1964), 112. 22 Stuart Hampton-Reeves, ‘Theatrical Afterlives’, in Michael Hattaway (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare’s History Plays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 234. 23 E. M. W. Tillyard, Shakespeare’s History Plays [1944] (London: Chatto & Windus, 1980), 155. 24 Anthony Quayle, quoted in T. C. Worsley, ‘The Plays at Stratford’, in J. Dover Wilson and T. C. Worsley, Shakespeare’s Histories at Stratford 1951 (London: Max Reinhardt, 1952), 24. 25 Ibid., 26. 26 Anon. ‘Henry V at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre’, The Times, 13 February 1957. 27 William Shakespeare, The Life of Henry the Fifth, in Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen et al (eds), The Norton Shakespeare: Based on the Oxford 286

THE MONARCHY AND SHAKESPEARE ’S HISTORIES ON TELEVISION Edition (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1997), 1445–1523. (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2007), 1032–95. 28 Maurice Wiggin, ‘The Eclectic Viewer’, Sunday Times, 5 January 1958, 19. 29 N.a., ‘The Fat Knight’, Radio Times, 16 January 1959. 30 Mary Crozier, ‘The Year on the Air’, Guardian, 2 January 1961. 31 Report of the Committee on Broadcasting, 1960, Cmnd 1753, June 1962. 32 John Osborne, Look Back in Anger (New York: Criterion, 1957), 17. 33 Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy (New Brunswick: Transaction, 1998), 190. 34 John Maynard Keynes, in Donald Moggridge (ed.), The Collected Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press and the Royal Economic Society, 1982), 371. 35 Genevieve Abravanel, Americanizing Britain: The Rise of Modernism in the Age of the Entertainment Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 5–6. 36 Michael Barry, ‘An Age of Kings’, Radio Times, 22 April 1960. 37 Emma Smith, ‘Shakespeare Serialised: An Age of Kings’, in Robert Shaughnessy (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare and Popular Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 136, 138. 38 N.a., ‘Conflict in An Age of Kings’, The Times, 24 June 1960. 39 Richard Dimbleby, ‘The Royal Wedding’, Radio Times, 29 April 1960. 40 Ibid. 41 Ibid. 42 Hampton-Reeves and Carol Chillington Rutter, Shakespeare in Performance: The Henry VI Plays (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006), 1. 43 Ibid. 44 Ibid. 45 Ibid. 46 Hattaway, ‘The Shakespearean History Play’, in Hattaway (ed.), Cambridge, 10. 47 Tony Tanner, Prefaces to Shakespeare (Cambridge: Belknap of Harvard University Press, 2010), 361. 48 Peter Hall, ‘Introduction’, in John Barton in collaboration with Peter Hall, The Wars of the Roses (London: BBC, 1970), viii–xiv: vi–vii. 49 Robert Shaughnessy, Representing Shakespeare: England, History and the RSC (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1994), 44. 50 Television versions had already been made of, among others, the Michel Saint-Denis production of The Cherry Orchard and As You Like It (with Vanessa Redgrave). 51 Michael Bakewell, ‘The Television Production’, in Barton and Hall, Wars, 231–35: 232. 52 Ibid. 53 Bakewell, Memo to D. Tel., 26 August 1964, Production file at BBC Written Archives Centre, Caversham (WAC) T5/693/1. 287

THE NEW ELIZABETHAN AGE 54 A notable example is the compelling four-minute-plus single shot speech by Gloucester (Ian Holm) just after King Edward has astonished his brothers Clarence and Gloucester with the news he is to marry the Lady Grey. 55 Robert Lacey, Majesty: Elizabeth II and the House of Windsor (London: Hutchinson, 1977), 354. 56 Morra, ‘Origins’, 28. 57 N.a., ‘Shakespeare in New Perspective: BBC’s Henry V’, Manchester Guardian, 30 December 1957. 58 Charlotte Higgins, This New Noise: The Extraordinary Birth and Troubled Life of the BBC (London: Faber, 2015). Kindle edition.




Big Brum, formed in 1982, strives to provide the highest quality theatre and drama in education for over 5000 children and young people each year across all age ranges and abilities, extending to national and international tours. Working with Edward Bond not only gives us access to startling, audacious and challenging plays for the participants in our programmes, but develops our understanding about the art form of drama.1 Bond’s is a new form of drama for the twenty-first century that is radical, urgent and necessary. Drama must always pass responsibility back to the participant so that young people can be self-creative. Drama is the imagination in action. It is the imagination – the ability to recognize the ‘other’ – that makes us human; Drama puts us on the ‘stage’. —Chris Cooper, Artistic Director of Big Brum Theatre-in-Education Company *** The Enlightenment took place some 300 years ago. Until then, working people had been regarded almost as cattle. In the Enlightenment, scientists discovered new things about the world – Galileo, Newton, Descartes. They showed that authority had been wrong in its description of the world. So why should authority have been right in its description of people, who after all were making the new discoveries about the world? This led to the need for a new political understanding. Kant dared people to think for themselves. 289


At the same time, new ways of making money were discovered. Wealth no longer came only from the land. It also came from machinery, technology, science. But the political structures of the old world still dominated culture. The new society was forced into the old class structures. In effect the use of reason to understand ourselves (just as we could understand more about the world) was replaced by technology, by a new way of using the world. The working class had no land. It was stolen from them by the enclosure acts. So the working class was forced to work in the new factories and instead of being the new emancipated human beings they were still treated like cattle. This led to increased political resistance and opposition, to modern ideas of democracy. It began mainly in Britain but it soon spread to other European counties and to America. These changes, technological and economic, led to an international struggle between foreign powers for two things: raw materials and even cheaper labour, for markets and manufacturing. Politics is usually in a state of confusion because it doesn’t just describe a situation but uses moral values to interpret it, and these vary culturally. These international tensions led to two world wars in which working people were asked to die to defend societies that were owned by the people who were exploiting them as if they were cattle. Obviously this led to more political unrest and agitation. Ideology couldn’t say we want you to die so that we can have bigger markets – instead you have to die for England or Great Britain (or as the case may be, for Germany). World War I was fought to produce a land fit for heroes to live in – not for human cattle to live and die in poverty. The economic battle for markets and profits produced the Great Depression of the interwar years. In turn, this produced a new advanced form of exploitation – fascism – which combines financial and economic contrivance with a distortion of imagination. There was a specific reason for the distortion of imagination. The next world war could not be fought, as wars had been in the past, on a call for obedience and duty. Because of the political changes I’ve mentioned, the involvement of the working class depended on their more active support. And so overnight the human cattle were transformed into patriotic warriors, the ‘yeomen of freedom’ and Das Volk. An extraordinary cultural transformation! It follows from the role of imagination in modern politics. Now in times of economic and social hardship, of international unrest, there will always be a turn to the political right – and as this solves nothing, then ultimately to the extreme right. Forty or so years ago this began to happen in this country. The postwar Labour government had 290


established a welfare state that was based not on ‘Das English Volk’ but on the Enlightenment that began some 300 years ago. But even in the welfare state, society was still shockingly unjust. The old classes were still in power. So the working class – the majority class – struck for a more just share in society and a greater say in government. It is extraordinary how even today the right wing press insists that this made the country ungovernable – they do this at the time when the biggest disaster ever produced by capitalism almost brought the country to its knees. The solution was to make the poor poorer. In response to capitalism’s cycles of chaos, the right wing made a new pact with the devil. It devised a new financial and political system: it is called neo-liberalism, laissez faire allowed to run to an extreme. Financial controls were removed from bankers and financial institutions. The market would solve capitalism’s problems. Everything was to be put up for sale in order to make greater profits. This is leading to the destruction of the ‘well-being–well-doing–welfare society’ and to the waste of the sacrifices of the millions of soldiers and workers who died to create it in world wars that failed to bury the past. How is it possible for a modern technology society to produce poverty, neglect, waste and widen the gap between the poor and the rich? Thatcher’s answer was simple. There is no society. And ironically this was supposed to lead to the Great Society. You can see how the corruption of imagination works in politics. Britain is not a Great Society; it is a sick society and its culture is sordid. This must happen when imagination and reason, culture and practicality, are torn apart. Society becomes dangerous. Poverty returns. But there is a new twist. We are now the entertainment society. In the last 30 years society has been gripped by a strange hysteria. It combines entertainment and spectacle with debt, anxiety, poverty and dread. Poverty is made to appear almost acceptable – at least to the rich – when there is constant entertainment. This hysteria is oddly like that which gripped Nazi Germany in the 1930s. When everything must be sold, when the market depends on quick sales, then manufacture itself becomes weirdly nihilistic – everything is made banal, trivial, simplified, gaudy, trashy, without the complexities and subtleties that make us human. The market corrupts cultural imagination. Instead of imagination penetrating behind the appearance of things to reveal real human needs, it is used to stimulate greed and panic. Even the young are damaged. It is said that instead of being in the vanguard of reason and the source of creativity – as is natural for youth – the young are becoming reactionary, turning to the right to find scapegoats to blame for their own inevitable lowly position on the economic slope – after all, 291


at the base of the economy there will always be the many, not the elite few. It is an economic fact that the base of the mountain must be broader than the heights. To justify his rage against his enemies Hitler did not say they were human-cattle – he said they were not even human. If you describe any human being – even one – as non-human, you corrupt the imagination you need to understand your own humanness. Thatcher went one stage further than Hitler. She said there was no society. There was only the family and its incestuous financial doings. But when there is only the family and no society, then to the family everyone outside it ceases to be human. If there is no society, there are no humans because society is what makes us human. Thatcher’s market is a return to the human cattle market. It is the logic of neo-liberalism. Of course the effects of this will come slowly – but they will come. Thatcher has trespassed on the fundamental ground of human civilization – the amity of the community. Thatcherism is a loaded pistol under a tea-cosy. All societies have structures. There is an up and a down. But today in Britain we do not have this: we have an up and a down, down, down, down, down, down. What Big Brum’s performances and workshops bring to its young audiences is not entertainment, not the ceaselessly enervating stimulus of the market. It respects its audiences’ humanness and enables them to share their problems – which are serious – and their insights – which are profound – with each other. Many in these audiences are among the down down down down down. Now Big Brum is threatened with the withdrawal of its funding and closure. If it is closed, its audiences will be forced one further stage down. Down down down down down – and down again. What Big Brum brings to its young audiences is not specious entertainment. It is the drama of society.

Note 1

The Big Brum plays of Edward Bond, which have now been performed all over the world, are At the Inland Sea (1995), Eleven Vests (1997), Have I None (2000), The Balancing Act (2003), The Under Room (2005), Tune (2007), A Window (2009) The Broken Bowl (2012), The Edge (2012), The Angry Roads (2014).




This chapter has its origins in an event I organized as part of the Public and Popular History programme at the University of Cambridge on 5 February 2014. This Q&A is a substantially shortened version of the conversation that evening: Boyce’s speech is essentially verbatim, but the order of the questions (some of which came from the floor rather than me) has been rearranged.1 The opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics felt like a significant landmark in the staging of the nation.2 Perhaps marking the creative zenith of a generation that came of age in the 1970s, it also seemed briefly to coax together the nation and make it something more than the sum of its parts, to imbue the idea of the United Kingdom with an unforced and attractive completeness. Frank Cottrell Boyce, the writer of the ceremony, not only played a key role in the shaping of the event, but also worked tirelessly as a propagandist for the Olympics’ best self.3 He has needed to be. One of the ironies about the opening ceremony was that it felt if not like an end point, then like a light that burnt out all too quickly. It would be glib and reductive to say that the ceremony marked the end of New Labour’s Britain, or perhaps Ken Livingstone’s London, because it defied any kind of easy categorization, let alone anything as tawdry as political, let alone 293


party-political, positioning.4 And yet. And yet. That moment already seems a product of a different New Elizabethan age: more self-assured, less financially precarious, less punctured by sectarianisms, still able to speak coherently – but without raising its voice – through the chatter of social media. Not that Boyce accepts this characterization. He will have none of such talk. ‘To lament that not enough has changed – as if things were just going to change – is to miss the point’, he argues, ‘it was always: what are we going to do about it?’5 FCB: What I remember about my work on the Olympic Games was that everyone told me that it was going to be terrible, rubbish. My agent Greg did something that made me realize that some of the things in the Bible are literal. There’s a phrase that comes up in the Bible a lot that says ‘she rendered her garb’ and I thought people didn’t really do that, I thought it was just an exaggeration, but he literally tore his shirt and begged me not to do this. He said it would be awful, a terrible thing, a nightmare, a poison chalice that would take loads of work and everyone knew that it would just be rubbish. And I remember going back to Danny [Boyle] and saying, ‘everyone’s telling me not to do this Danny’ and he said, ‘yeah, everyone’s telling me not to do it, what I have got to say to you Frank is think about who will do it if it’s not us.’ So I said, ‘Okay, I’ll do it.’ Q: The press was terrible … FCB: I can’t begin to tell you how terrible the press was. People have forgotten this now but it was really really awful all the way up to the day. I do remember one particularly apocalyptic day when we did the dress rehearsals – and the days of dress rehearsals were all raining, just terrible, terrible apocalyptic rain – and the Daily Mail helicopter flying back and forth over the stadium trying to get photographs so they could issue spoilers, and Daily Mail stooges hanging round outside the stadium trying to get people to sell spoilers. It was like a diagram of everything that could possibly go wrong with a society. Here were people, good people, doing something for nothing for their nation and here was a helicopter – an incredibly expensive bit of equipment – going back and forth trying to wreck it for money. Q: What made you persevere? FCB: What did it for me was there was one day walking back to 294


Bromley-by-Bow tube station. It’s a bit of a walk; you cross a dual carriageway, it’s quite grim, and it’s a long haul back to home. And I was suddenly swamped, swamped by all kinds of different people, different sizes, different shapes, different ages, different races, different abilities – all of them swept past me. And I thought, ‘what is this? These our are volunteers’, and they all crowded on the train back into London and they were all just really happy, chatty, motivated and kind of cool. It immediately made me think of the Philip Larkin poem ‘The Whitsun Weddings’ where – if people don’t know that poem – Philip Larkin gets on a train in Hull and he’s going to London for Whitsun weekend, but Whitsun weekend is traditionally when people get married, so all the way down to London people are getting on the train and he’s got all these amazing descriptions of weddings emptying on to the train and the train filling up with brides and grooms as it goes towards London and it’s a picture of a nation, a fantastic picture of the nation, and it ends with the idea of a nation as ‘a frail travelling coincidence’. That idea really took hold of me. And that idea that these people who had been together working on this show would be changed by it, that London would be changed by it, that there would be these new relationships, almost like a new kind of synaptic map, because these new relationships would form and these new skills and these new confidences all coming out of that stadium. And I really didn’t care then whether it was any good or not. Q: Why do you think people were so sure it wouldn’t work? FCB: Well, everybody loved the ceremony and it was a huge hit and one thing I have thought about since is, ‘how did we do that? Why were people so sure it was going to be rubbish? And why were we able to overturn that expectation?’ And I think the reason that people thought it was going to be rubbish was that when they thought about the story of Britain, the images that came into their head were so stale and so familiar that they were almost meaningless. That when they tried to imagine an opening ceremony, they imagined Queen Elizabeth in a ruff with maybe Shakespeare and Churchill and that would be about it. Maybe the Spanish Armada or something. And everyone had forgotten that we had done an Industrial Revolution: we did this, we changed the world. And it was as though we had collectively forgotten that we did this. What we did was change the story. What we did was remember a different story. 295


Q: Can you say a bit more about that? FCB: So where did we get that from? Another great line comes to mind. W. H. Auden said, ‘books are how we break bread with the dead.’ So this fantastic sort of coincidence had happened that Danny Boyle was doing a production of Frankenstein [at the National Theatre] when we first started and they kind of overlapped actually, and I said, ‘I didn’t know you were doing Frankenstein; that’s brilliant. You have got to read this book by Humphrey Jennings called Pandemonium.’ I discovered that it had been out of print for a long time. I think the cheapest copy I could get was £42.50 so I was generous enough to buy it for him but not generous enough not to mention this fact. ‘This was that book I mentioned to you about’, ‘oh thanks’, ‘no, no, no it cost me £42.50 you have to read it’, so he did. Q: What was it about Pandemonium? FCB: Jennings was a genius and one of the things he wanted to do – he had a kind of impossible movie in his head – he wanted to make a film about the coming of the machine, about the coming of the Industrial Revolution, about which he had very mixed feelings having had a rural childhood himself. But because of his mixed feelings he was very alert to the excitement, to the thrill and to the noise of the machine. I was going to say he ‘wrote’, but he didn’t write, he created this incredible book. It’s a collage: it’s not a narrative as such, it’s a collage of diary entries, receipts, bills of trade, newspaper reports, poems, all kind of first hand reports of the coming of the machine. When you open it you can hear the clang of machinery: it feels less like a book and more like a machine. And we were all incredibly excited by this book. This book became the opening section; we tried to make the movie that Humphrey Jennings couldn’t make. Q: So Jennings was important in other ways too? FCB: He made these fantastic propaganda films during World War II. The best I think – well they’re all brilliant – is called The Silent Village. It was an attempt to bring home to people on the home front just how terrifying and shattering Nazism could be. So he went to a village in south Wales called Cwmgiedd, a mining town, a very small mining town, and he filmed this beautiful lyrical evocation of a few days, a few 296


normal days, and it’s this incredibly utopian lovely thing. Men walk to work; they walk back from work; they go to chapel; they read, they sing, they play with their kids; and then in the film some troops turn up and take the men away. It was trying to bring home to you what it would feel like. It took a long time to make and Cwmgiedd is quite remote and he was treated very well and as a thank-you present he started to give these lectures on the coming of the Industrial Revolution. So this book started out as a gift; it was a thank-you present to some miners in south Wales. Humphrey Jennings died without writing the book, without putting this book together. His daughter and his friend Charles Madge put this book together, someone gave me a copy, I gave it to Danny and that’s how it ended up here. So this series of lectures from a mining institute in south Wales ended up as one of the biggest digital multimedia events in the world ever. That’s a thought worth thinking about. Q: Can we rewind a bit? One of the reasons I think that people were negative is that we saw [London Mayor] Boris [Johnson] on a bus in Beijing, we had the Millennium Dome … and I think it’s worth coming back to your point about tired stories.6 Were there any stories you didn’t want to tell? Things you wanted to avoid rather than say? FCB: With regard to Boris and the handover in Beijing, that became a kind of touchstone for us because whenever we thought of something to add to our ceremony we would check that it hadn’t appeared there, because everything that appeared in the handover was so tarnished with that kind of epitome of crapness. That’s why, for instance, we didn’t have a London bus, although I would have quite liked to have a London bus. Stories we wanted to tell … obviously, inevitably, it becomes a big ideological thing, but it’s not like we sat down to kind of kidnap 27 million quid and tell a History Workshop version of Britain. It’s … Danny’s watchword was ‘visceral’. We looked at Beijing and it was sort of unbearable to watch because it was just so brilliant and huge and everything. And Danny said, ‘We just change the game.’ What could we do that they couldn’t do? It’s funny, scary and emotional, you know, and, for him, visceral. We had a wall of things that we worked from and ‘visceral’ was up there. And the first question is: how do you make the Olympic rings, which is a logo, visceral? How do you do that? How do you make it without just going bigger and bigger and bigger, which is what had been happening. And because of the Humphrey Jennings thing the idea of forging them was 297


there straight away. You would just make them from molten metal in front of you … I forgot what you asked me! Q: Whether there was a good story you wanted to tell or a bad story that you didn’t. FCB: Out of that desire to end with a very visceral image things flow from that, don’t they? So it became about work and factories and stuff like that. Which, again, you can’t predict what people’s responses are going to be. I’ve seen people say it was like Mordor. It’s terrible about the rape of the countryside, but we’re all from northern industrial towns. For me, that landscape is incredibly nostalgic and beautiful in a way that for, you know, William Cobbett hedgerows were. This is a lost world of loveliness as far as I’m concerned, but we all have different relationships to that. Q: You mentioned there that you did look at Beijing. I just wondered if you looked back to, say, the Festival of Britain, because you’ve talked mainly about the Industrial Revolution, but the second part of the ceremony was about the internet. It struck me that there might be some kind of overlap. FCB: With the science and technology … Q: Yes, with the display of science and technology. FCB: I just happen personally to be quite enthusiastic about the Great Exhibition of 1851. I had a particularly lovely book about it, which I brought in, and people were interested in that so I think that was the technology side of things, but you are making it sound very systematic … Q: No. FCB: It was actually all quite ad hoc because we were all still working; we didn’t get paid for doing this. We would come to a room in Wardour Street when we could and it was very like primary school: there would be a lot of cutting out. I would make these sort of topic books; you know when we were in Year Six I used to make these books like ‘The Eye’ or ‘Footprints of Wildlife’, and I would just do this, little presentations about Humphrey Jennings, or Tim Berners-Lee, or whoever. They would go on the wall and gradually there would be a winnowing process but it wasn’t systematic. 298


Q: But that is a method, and as you said, that is what Jennings does. Perhaps, in a way, the method influences what the story is going to be? FCB: Well obviously we took this imagery from Jennings, but another really important thing is that it’s not arranged chronologically. It’s arranged thematically and it has these little narratives in it. So there’ll be a section in which someone says, ‘it’s brilliant: today I have invented the spinning jenny; it’s going to revolutionize everything’, followed by a kid saying, ‘I have worked all day on this spinning jenny.’ You get this kind of, there’s no attempt to sort of smooth it over. I think one thing that we really took from it is that idea that you can contain contradiction; you don’t have to reconcile these things. So a lot of people saw it as a very left-wing ceremony, but it is also the ceremony that showed the warmest and most appreciative view of the monarch ever, I would have thought, of any monarch ever. People really loved that. I got a call from someone in Greenwich Village who had been watching it: and the moment when the Queen turned around and it really was The Queen – The Queen was in a sketch – he said you could hear cheers across Greenwich Village. Jennings gave us that, the blueprint for that. You don’t need to do a sum that gives you a common denominator; you can put all these things in and let them spark off each other. Q: You mentioned using the monarch. FCB: I want that on a t-shirt, ‘I used the monarch.’ Q: How on earth did you decide to … FCB: To put her in a sketch? That’s a great story about how it worked. Mark Tildesley, who is basically a set designer and builder, is a kind of a genius – he is a genius – came in with all that drawn out, the whole thing, quite early on and went, ‘I thought we could do this?’ and Danny looked at it and just went, ‘You haven’t made them up; it’s from a film’, and Mark going, ‘I don’t think it is; I just made it up in my own head’: ‘I just don’t believe you. I think you’ve woken up and gone that’s a good idea but you have got it from somewhere else it’s so perfect.’ But it went on this wall, and it stayed on this wall, and every now and then we’d talk about how to bring the monarch in and we’d look at this thing and go ‘That is great’, but we’d never agree to it. 299


Eventually, about a year out, we got a producer, a very formidable woman called Tracey Seaward, who came in and tried to professionalize us a bit. So she looked at it and went, ‘What is this exactly?’ ‘This is Mark’s idea of how to bring the Queen into the stadium; obviously it wouldn’t work.’ And she went, ‘I think we’ll just phone up about that’, and she put a letter together and the storyboard, this beautiful storyboard that Mark had drawn, and said to the Palace, ‘What we need is your permission to represent the monarch in this way and we need to know what she is wearing on the day’, and then they agreed to phone us back. We all went in to the office for this phone call, which Tracey took, and the guy who’s actually in the sketch, the very tall guy who walks down with the Queen, made the call, and Tracey said, ‘Hi, you know …’ and he said, ‘Yes, the Queen’s happy with this and very keen for you to go ahead and she’s available for filming on the following dates …’ And Tracey said, ‘That’s not really, that’s not quite what we meant.’ And he went, ‘I just wouldn’t mention that if I were you.’ So she [the Queen] kind of put herself into it without, it just kind of happened by the grace of God. We didn’t ask her … she just sort of ended up in it. We had one meeting with her; she looked at the storyboard and said, ‘yes, it’s all marvellous but you’ve got a Westland Scout helicopter going under Tower Bridge and it won’t fit.’ She knew exactly what helicopter we would need and where to get it. One morning I got a phone call very early in the morning from Stephen Daldry, who was our Executive Producer: ‘I don’t know how to tell Danny this, so I want you to do it. Have you seen the Sun?’ And I went, ‘I’m from Liverpool; I haven’t seen the Sun since Hillsborough.’ So I went online and the Sun had the whole story, everything, photographs of the Queen and Daniel Craig, a photograph of the helicopter going under Tower Bridge because obviously we had shot that, and Stephen was absolutely distraught. And I was distraught, because one thing you need […] is secrets, that mixture of expectation and surprise, and I thought it was bloody surprising that we had the Queen in a sketch. So we were all distraught. But then by mid-morning everything was fine because the Sun had published it on the first of April and there were 30,000 comments under the article going, ‘You must think we’re stupid?!’ Well you are reading the Sun! So the only time in its entire history that the Sun told the truth, nobody believed it.



Q: Do you know how they got the story? FCB: I think the Queen leaked it. No, I think it was the guy with the helicopter. Q: It’s impossible to talk about the ceremony without talking about national identity, but I wondered: is it about an English identity or a British identity and how did you make that distinction? FCB: It’s definitely British. I gave it the title ‘Isles of Wonder’. It’s about an archipelago, not about a political territory. It was just natural to us. Danny has got an Irish background, I’ve got an Irish background. I’m from Liverpool; you don’t really feel English, it’s not quite English – Danny’s got a huge backlog of connections in Scotland, he’d been a producer for BBC Northern Ireland for years … We just felt part of these islands. The ceremony starts with the shipping forecast, which is this kind of verbal map of the territory. Then this thing where it goes ‘Jerusalem’, ‘Flower of Scotland’, ‘Danny Boy’, ‘Cwm Rhonda’ and back to ‘Jerusalem’. We felt British rather than English. Q: But being British isn’t without its difficulties. FCB: Sure. People did ask us, you know, culturally what’s there? And I used to have a great answer to them because it was as though they were saying, ‘Where’s Wales?’ meaning, ‘Where’s the male voice choir or a woman in a steeple hat?’ I’d say, ‘This is about the NHS: it’s a Welsh invention, that’s your contribution.’ They’d say, ‘Where’s Scotland?’ I’d say, ‘This whole section is about television: you invented it.’ So, you know, it’s like how do you define culture. Culture isn’t just knick-knacks. Culture is what you gave. Q: Following on from that, aside from the monarch, how do you go beyond a narrative of nation that is dominated by men? FCB: Danny Boyle [and I] had this lovely guided tour [of the House of Commons] and in the St Mary’s Undercroft, in the broom cupboard, do you know where I am going with this? […] Emily Wilding Davidson hid in St Mary’s Undercroft broom cupboard the night of the census so she could give her address as the Palace of Westminster. Danny was just completely bowled away by this; that’s why we got the suffragettes in. And this 301


beautiful thing happened; her family found out about it and wrote to us, and her suffragette sash – her actual physical suffragette sash – was in the opening ceremony, with the suffragettes. The big presence of women is in the children’s section, the NHS section, just because … people talk to me about the [Conservative MP] Aidan Burley [on Twitter]: what did he say? ‘This is multi-ethnic rubbish’? They were of the people who turned up. The picture of Britain we got is of the people who were prepared to stand up for Britain. The overwhelming number of women in that section is because they turned up. See, that NHS thing – going back to visceral – that became a political thing. But really […] what’s visceral? Birth and death. Where do we British people die and get born? In the NHS. It was completely clear to us from the beginning that the NHS embraces and defines the big emotional things in our lives and so that became a thing where we wanted the NHS section to be NHS workers so the look of it was determined by who came. Q: I was thinking then in terms of participation, that participation defines the ceremony … FCB: Absolutely. Q: That participation defines the ceremony and not the other way around. And were you thinking then about pageants … FCB: Yeah. Q: Because in some ways it is, it was … FCB: You provide a context for something to happen. You are completely right. I don’t really know how to express this: they weren’t actors in a show that we devised; they were the show. That’s London talking there in those faces. Q: Am I right in that you started in Brookside?7 FCB: Thanks for that. Q: Ha. Well I was just thinking that that line goes back to The Silent Village, getting real people to act in documentaries and I just wondered, that happened in Brookside as well … 302


FCB: Yeah, that’s quite a strong British tradition isn’t it, that documentary realism where you get non-actors and, but I dunno, because you see once they started rehearsing they weren’t non-actors. Everyone picked up the skills so quickly … Danny could have asked anybody to be a writer on this, he could have asked anyone to be the composer on this, and what he asked were his friends because he knew it was going to be tough and he wanted people who weren’t going to walk. I am by no means the most talented screenwriter on earth and Rick [Smith], whom he asked to do the music, whom he asked to write a percussion concerto for Dame Evelyn Glennie, was really famous for writing a song that goes ‘lager, lager, lager, shout/lager, lager, lager, shout.’ I think there’s something about loyalty and friendship and the fact that you are doing it for nothing is an important part of the equation. Rick wrote very simple drum patterns for those drummers to start with and then they learnt them so quickly that you ended up with this incredibly complex amazing kind of batteria. We didn’t have any money so they were using buckets; they haven’t got proper drums, they are using buckets … I am getting sentimental. Q: You have talked a little bit about foreign responses; British public history, any kind of public history, doesn’t necessarily cross borders that well. One of the things that I noticed when I spoke to people abroad about the ceremony, one of the things they all mentioned was Mr Bean, which is not bad, but you know, I was wondering if there was any attempt to appeal … FCB: As far as I know we got a fairly easy ride from the politicians because they had seen the Millennium Dome and seen what a committee can do to knacker something. They had the idea that if you gave it to someone like Danny it would be a very personal vision and that it would have a coherence, an energy to it. So it was quite a strange experience because we moved into Three Mills [which is right against the stadium]: Three Mills is a studio, a film studio and an edit studio and a big rehearsal space, and we had a floor to ourselves. Obviously when we first started there were five of us on that floor, but as the year went on it kind of gradually filled up and Danny would every now and then get everyone who was on that floor, whoever they were – cleaners, executives, whatever – just get everybody into a room and say, ‘Tell me ten British singles that you think are really good.’ And out of that came (because none of us was a Mr Bean fan), out of that came the fact that, because those people were from all over the world, Mr Bean was a 303


global brand the way that the Queen or James Bond is. But that was kind of the only, well I wouldn’t even call it a concession because he was great, he was perfect, that was the only kind of time that we thought … Well I kept saying and I still believe this: the more specific you are, the more universal you are. The more true you are to a very particular thing, the more widely you’ll be understood. So for the cauldron, which kind of dazzled everybody, that has a very personal element in it for me, which is that I went to school in St Helens near Liverpool whose town motto was, ‘Ex Terra Lucem’: ‘out of the ground comes light.’ Incredibly beautiful phrase that ties together industry and coal and power, but also the resurrection and death and life: amazing phrase. They’ve changed the motto: they don’t have that motto anymore. I think the motto is something like, ‘Kids eat free on Wednesdays … terms and conditions apply.’ This phrase that had got branded into my head from times that I had sat bored to death in municipal property, that went up on the wall – that became an easily grasped, universal, beautiful thing that Thomas Heatherwick’s cauldron … So I think the more personal you are, the more easily people around the world relate to you. And I think that that Millennium Dome business of trying to think of something that everyone will get will just get you nowhere. Q: I found an interview where you said that you think of yourself, or describe yourself, primarily as a children’s writer. Now there’s a large section on children’s literature in the opening ceremony, but there’s also a nice phrase where you say that ‘children’s literature is a way of breaking out of the prism of the present’ and a bit where you say that your ideal reader is an adult and child reading together and I just wondered – perhaps hugely projecting – whether these principles apply to your work on the Games? You had the same ‘ideal reader’ … FCB: Yeah, definitely, and also the bit about ‘breaking out of the prism of the present’. That’s a really big thing. That’s what I was saying about Humphrey Jennings, that’s what I was saying about people imagining a rubbish ceremony because they were completely entrapped in a present view of who we are. Books and companionship will break you out of that prism. A really good example, going back to the cauldron, was that as I was leaving, we stayed at my brother-in-law’s the night before the opening ceremony. My eldest son said to me, ‘Who’s lighting the flame, because Paddy Power are giving these odds?’ I had genuinely not thought about the fact that people would be betting on that and I 304


looked and I thought: how the hell would anyone think that any of these people would be lighting the Olympic flame? David Beckham: he’s not an Olympian, how would that be a thing? We had not tried to be surprising about the Olympic flame. We had just done what had seemed to us glaringly obvious. The motto of the whole games was ‘inspiring a generation’, so you get some old athletes in, you get them to pass the torch on to some young athletes. We were looking for emotion and these were people with genuine relationships; you could see on the screen that Dame Kelly Holmes really cares about her protégé and that was a tearful moment and then to find out that people thought these things … When people tried to imagine it, they tried to imagine who was on the front of Hello! magazine. Maybe this is an internet thing. The internet has made tonnes of knowledge available to us but it has really shrunk the present; it’s shrunk everything down to the present. Q: The idea of changing the narrative is also something that you keep coming back to … FCB: I want to tell you one more anecdote and then I’ll stop talking. This is a very personal thing about how I clocked on to this idea that you can change the narrative, and really it’s also why I am a children’s writer. I did a film years ago called Welcome to Sarajevo, which was about the war in Bosnia, and part of the story was about the evacuation of some orphans who were in the direct line of fire. The UNHCR managed to provide a very short truce to evacuate this orphanage. The orphans were taken out of the city. On their way, the coach they were travelling on was stopped and some Serbian irregulars came on and took away all the Serb children, because they thought Serb children should be in Serbia no matter what. It was a terrifying incident and they were put in care and another orphanage and I was around for that story and became very interested in the idea that children get caught up in someone else’s narrative about who they are supposed to be. There are many other stories like this. A story that I kind of got very involved in was the story of a woman called Mariella Mehr, who is still alive […] she’s a Yeniche Romany from Switzerland. Switzerland had a policy very much like the Australian policy; it was run by a guy called Alfred Siegfried who had studied this great subject Criminal Biology under a woman […] [who] was the sidekick of Robert Ritter, who was the guy in Nazi Germany who had come up with the ethnic theory that gypsies were completely unredeemable and the best thing to do was just 305


to round them up – even if they were only part gypsy – and put them in Auschwitz and get rid of them. Alfred Siegfried had studied under this guy’s sidekick and had access to this fantastic database and rooted out gypsies all over Switzerland and put them into a kind of deprogramming system called Pro Juventute. Mariella was the person I met; she was abducted when she was an infant, you know a few months old […] she had been in 16 different orphanages by the time I had met her, an incredibly disrupted life. After the 16 orphanages, she’d been in three separate approved schools and then finally ended up in prison, and her son also ended up in prison. But by the time I met her she had become a very affable, very articulate, very charming, great person to spend an evening with and she had become quite a distinguished writer and a campaigner on the rights of minorities. So I was talking to her about this story. At the end of one long interview I said to her: ‘Mariella, you were brought up in these kind of very closed systems, how did you know that wasn’t right? Because they are very closed, and you are very kind of deprived of information from outside, how did you know that life should be more than this? You became this very rumbunctious and difficult person to control because you wanted more, but how did you know there was more? You lived in such an emotionally deprived set up, how did you know there should be more?’ And she said, ‘I read Heidi.’ Right? ‘I. Read. Heidi.’ The only solution to bad stories is good stories. There is nothing more subversive than a description of happiness.

Notes   1 Answers 1–7 and 27 are extracts from Boyce’s opening remarks.   2 The core team of five people that developed the opening ceremony were Danny Boyle, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Rick Smith, Mark Tildesley and Suttirat Larlarb.   3 See Frank Cottrell Boyce, ‘A Dangerous Conversation: Creating an Enduring Moral Legacy for the 2012 Games’. Available at http://www.iopsociety. org/blog/the-dangerous-conversation (accessed 1 September 2015). It’s beyond the scope of this short Q&A but clearly Boyce’s faith – a strongly defined Catholicism – underpins a great deal of his approach to the opening ceremony.   4 Although Ken Livingstone was not the Mayor of London and Labour was not in government in 2012, both had played a substantial role in the reorganization and funding of Britain’s cultural industries and the approach to elite sport. They had also put together the bid to host the Olympics. In 306

‘NOT A HISTORY WORKSHOP VISION ’ an architectural, logistical and organizational sense, London 2012 represented the culmination of a set of policies that had long been in train. One could also make a more speculative argument that the Olympics have some kind of imaginative, psychological link with the ‘spirit’ of those administrations or even with the 7 July attacks on London, which coincided with the announcement of London’s having been awarded the Games. That is not what I am saying here.   5 Boyce, ‘We Created the Hope of a Better Britain. But What Remains of the Olympic Magic?’ Guardian, 13 July 2013. Available at http://www. (accessed 1 September 2015).   6 The handover ceremony at the Beijing Olympics saw Boris Johnson, David Beckham, Jimmy Page, Leona Lewis and a lollipop lady arrive in the Bird’s Nest stadium atop a London bus. The BBC News website had to close its comments section because of the volume of disparaging and obscene messages prompted by the eight-minute handover.   7 Brookside was a soap opera set in Liverpool, produced by Mersey Television for the launch of Channel 4 in 1982. The social commitment of its initial premise – it was filmed in ‘real’ houses, for example – owed much to the Documentary Movement of the 1930s with which Jennings was associated.




They were all caught and caged; prisoners; watching a spectacle. Nothing happened. (Virginia Woolf, Between the Acts)1

In September 2015, newspaper headlines and media retrospectives marked the moment when the Queen became Britain’s longest-serving monarch. In anticipation of such celebrations, Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee provided a prominent dissenting voice. Demanding an end to ‘the charade’ of monarchy, Toynbee also contested the idea that the years of this Queen’s reign could be defined as a distinctive national age: while the Victorian and Edwardian eras ‘have resonance’ and ‘[t]hough we mark eras by their comings and goings, [new] “Elizabethan” hasn’t caught on as an architectural, moral or social signifier.’2 Ironically, however, Toynbee contradicts her assessment when she speculates that Shakespeare might be partly to blame for the contemporary endurance of the monarchy: ‘The history of our monarchs is so profoundly embedded in us by our greatest writer that his plays on the rise and fall of kings elevates them in our minds, adding cultural depth and meaning to the absurdity of monarchy.’3 The New Elizabethan discourse read the theatre of the first Elizabethan age as national and social history. As Toynbee unwittingly reinforces, that instinct has marked a second Elizabethan age perpetually in thrall to the historicizing strength and present-day influence of ‘our greatest writer’. 308


That influence had been on prominent, public display only a few months earlier, in the ceremonial reinternment of the remains of Richard III. As described in one account, ‘On the outskirts of Leicester the streets were packed, with showers of white roses thrown onto the hearse, and fences decorated with homemade bunting and flags. People stood on walls, garage roofs and bus shelters for a better view.’4 The Cathedral was opened for public visitation of the coffin for three days, culminating in an official service marked by the words of the Bishop of Leicester: ‘people have come in their thousands from around the world to this place of honour, not to judge or condemn but to stand humble and reverent.’5 Notwithstanding its rather bemused reception in the media, the week-long event featured interviews with enthused and emotional members of the public alongside testimonials by noted historians. As the BBC was careful to point out, however, the reburial did not pass ‘without controversy’: some in York found the ceremony to be too ‘Leicester-centric’.6 The reinternment of Richard III points to the continuous centrality of the monarchy to contemporary displays of national identity, history and community. It also, however, points to an even more resonant – and complementary – idealization of national renewal, belonging and history in relation to an established, Shakespearean tradition. Speaking of the reinternment, Philippa Langley identified ‘an enormous sea change’: ‘a lot of the rhetoric about Richard and the perception of him as being Shakespeare’s Richard III […] that’s gone. That’s totally gone.’7 The ceremony itself, however, was attended by the actors Robert Hardy and Robert Lindsay, acclaimed interpreters of Shakespeare’s protagonist. It was also marked by the reading of a poem, ‘Richard’, composed by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy. The reader of that poem was the actor Benedict Cumberbatch, whose apparent credibility for the task was serendipitously enforced both by his impending appearance in the title role of a televised Richard III – and by the fact that DNA results had recently revealed him to be a distant relation of the king himself. This alignment of Shakespeare with the writing of national history, with the reinforcement of the relationship between monarch and subject, is not exclusive to royalist pageantry. Indeed, the Shakespearean legacy has also informed some of the most prominent and public assertions of cultural nationalism. It continues to be enforced through some of the most acclaimed theatre, film and television of the New Elizabethan age itself: costume dramas and Shakespearean adaptations proliferate on stage and screen. As this chapter will argue, however, that overt acknowledgement of ‘our greatest writer’ only complements a much more 309


prominent and critically overlooked instinct in mainstream valuations of representative national culture. Today’s appraisals and celebrations of a vital, contemporary tradition of national cultural expression have been disseminated through national cultural institutions, reiterated by politicians and critics, and sustained by many artists themselves. They are dominated by an assumption of the contemporary historicizing role of the arts. They also, crucially, reinforce a social template through which to read and represent that national and popular experience. As formulated during the war, as crystallized in the moment of the Coronation, as promoted in contemporary representations, that template is fundamentally New Elizabethan. Insisting upon an innate vitality and creative exuberance, New Elizabethanism perpetuates a definition of modern ‘Shakespearean’ expression and experience. In so doing, it assumes and aestheticizes an intrinsic, unchangeable dynamic between modern groundlings and contemporary kings. *** This very formulation points to a presiding confidence in the performative role of national cultural expression – itself a dominant characteristic of the New Elizabethan age. The immediate postwar years had been marked by pervasive debates about the strength and future of literature and the arts in modern Britain. In 1947, Cyril Connolly gave voice to what David Pryce Jones identifies as a general consensus that ‘seven lean years were upon literature without the prospect of seven fat years anywhere’:8 a Socialist government, besides doing practically nothing to help artists and writers […] has also quite failed to stir up either intellect or imagination; the English renaissance, whose false dawn we have so enthusiastically greeted, is further away than ever.9

A year later, T. S. Eliot adopted a similar tone, from a different political perspective: We can assert with some confidence that our own period is one of decline […] I see no reason why […] we may not even anticipate a period, of some duration, of which it is possible to say that it will have no culture. […] when I say it must grow again from the soil, I do not mean that it will be brought into existence by any activity of political demagogues.10



Over the next decade, F. R. Leavis, A. L. Rowse and Richard Hoggart were some of the most prominent voices within what can be characterized as a vexed rhetoric of contemporary cultural decline in England. This crisis was variously identified in the apparently desultory focus or elitism of the literary arts; the destructive influence of mass, middlebrow and inevitably American culture; and the role of the state in failing to support creative excellence. These concerns resonated in the media, in the universities and in the arts themselves. They arose from differing social, cultural and ideological perspectives. Their collective effect, however, was to reflect an increasing investment in and anxiety about the national(ist) position of cultural excellence in the midst of undeniable social and political change.11 As the statements of Connolly and Eliot only begin to suggest, this investment coincided with a political moment that had come increasingly to identify in contemporary national art the potential foundations for a larger formulation, if not assertion, of an optimistic, postwar identity. This focus was reflected in prominent debates around education, state funding of the arts, the imminent institutionalization of a national theatre and the increasing centrality of the BBC as a disseminator of national culture (and cultural edification) on television and radio. It had also found considerable encouragement during the war, with the founding of the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts (CEMA), and in CEMA’s postwar re-incarnation as the Arts Council. At the start of the 1950s, Britain saw the prominent crystallization of many of these political and cultural instincts around two defining moments of national, government-sponsored pageantry: the Festival of Britain, in 1951, and the Coronation of Elizabeth II, in 1953. Cultural histories more often than not reflect wistfully upon the Festival as a brief manifestation of socialist energy; they tend to dismiss, if not overlook entirely, the New Elizabethanism that hailed the Coronation. As Alice Ferrebe notes in a literary study of the decade, in ‘popular memory’, the early 1950s now often seem to function ‘as a kind of nostalgic shorthand for national consensus, contentment and order […] Alternatively, they are cited as a negative example of the cultural stasis caused by affluence and apathy (by Left-leaners since).’12 In this critical context, the cultural New Elizabethanism of the postwar, pre-Suez years is seen to act only as a consensual stop-gap between the faded hopes associated with Labour’s Festival of Britain and the sweeping social and cultural changes apparently ushered in at the end of the decade. Ultimately, however, such accounts ignore the extent to which the larger postwar moment responded to prominent concerns about 311


contemporary creativity and culture by enforcing what has come to be a prevailing valuation of the national, performative role of the arts. Both the Festival of Britain and New Elizabethanism were influenced by an anxious awareness of the nation’s changing position in the world and the internal divisiveness of social reform. Both identified in the arts a means to enforce the resilient strength of an informing, indigenous past – and thus of a shared, unifying and continuous identity. Both consequently assumed the historicizing role of the arts and their promotion of a consistent ideal of national identity and performance. As the following pages contend, however, only New Elizabethanism proffered a unified imagining of the artistic and social template through which that ideal should be read and perpetuated. Rather than being swept away by countercultural rebellion, this construction has become increasingly more influential as a dominant expectation of national expression and national performance throughout the New Elizabethan age.

Crisis and Confidence Notwithstanding today’s wistful critical revisitations, the Festival of Britain was far from coherent in its attempt to align cultural expression – past and present – with a consistent social or aesthetic vision. The event promoted itself as a ‘Tonic to the Nation’ that would provide ‘one united act of national reassessment, and one corporate reaffirmation of faith in the nation’s future’.13 It encouraged this national rehabilitation both by promoting (and managing) creative activity and by staging a cultural exhibition of collective history as collective participation. Organizers consequently commissioned displays, installations and touring exhibits that celebrated the continuous role of ‘the land and its people’ in the arts, folk traditions, local industry and scientific innovations of the nation as a whole. The effect was to honour and to a considerable extent prescribe a seamless, cohesive heritage of national achievement and creative, communal participation. It was also, as Michael Frayn has observed in an oft-cited essay, to ensure that the working classes (and general populace) became ‘the lovably human but essentially inert objects of benevolent administration’ within an event that enforced the benign, selfconsciously left-wing instincts of ‘the Britain of the radical middle-classes – the do-gooders’.14 For many, the Festival’s emphasis on a popular agency, not to mention its origins in the Arts Council and the Labour government, were enough 312


to ensure its reception – as in Winston Churchill’s apparent condemnation – as ‘three-dimensional socialist propaganda’.15 The very limited articulation of any such socialism, however, was implicit in one of the most popular critiques of the time. In ‘Don’t Make Fun of the Fair’, Noël Coward identifies (and decries) the nominal influence of trade unions, ‘Labour leaders’ and an emergent ‘proletariat’, all the while encouraging his audience not to look too closely for a coherent message – not to bother asking ‘what the Hell it’s about’.16 In so doing, he unconsciously acknowledges the aims of Director-General Gerald Barry, who had confirmed at the planning stage: ‘One mistake we should not make, we should not fall into the error of supposing that we were going to produce anything conclusive.’17 This philosophy seems also to have informed a cultural event that did little to associate its promoted social values with a consistent aesthetic. The Festival sponsored an opera competition; it organized arts festivals across the country; it promoted film as both a documentary tool and an experimental, modern form; and it foregrounded the modern artistry of ‘Contemporary’ architecture, landscaping and industrial design. Upon re-election that same year, the Conservative government set about dismantling the event’s seminal architectural symbols. Any association of the ‘humanist’ brutalism of the Southbank buildings or the modernism of much of the Festival’s sculpture with a cohesive aesthetic overall, however, is immediately tempered by the event’s equal promotion of ‘an indigenous neo-romanticism that had flourished during the war’.18 While this stylistic diversity could suggest a creative exuberance and inclusivity, in the context of a larger vexed discourse around contemporary cultural excellence, the otherwise prescribed nature of the event also hinted at a fundamental uncertainty, if not insecurity.19 Rather than establishing a totalizing aesthetic through which to articulate (and manifest) emergent renewal and regeneration, the primary critical legacy of the Festival seems to have been to inspire subsequent paeans to its ‘broad outlines for a social democratic agenda’:20 ‘the recollection of the Festival […] is enough to inspire mourning for a future that never, perhaps, materialised.’21 Indeed, although Frayn is keenly aware of the Festival’s mediated definitions of creative and social agency, he also famously identifies its opponents as ‘Carnivores’, as those ‘members of the upper- and middle-classes’ for whom the Festival represented the ‘gestation of a monstrous new state, in which their privileges would be forfeit, their influence dissolved, and their standards irrelevant.’22 Later that same year, the Carnivores would see the installation of a decade of 313


Conservative government, ‘when it soon became plain that the balance of power and privilege had hardly changed after all’.23 Such assessments reflect a dominant critical narrative that tends to assume a definitive ideological break: ‘the socialists’ “New Britain” had hardly had time to establish itself when it was replaced by the “New Elizabethan Age”.’24 Far from marking a divisive retrenchment of conservative ‘carnivorism’, however, the discourse of New Elizabethanism – in both its detailed and more superficial manifestations – capitalized upon the Accession to articulate various national aspirations, often from across a recognized political divide. It also offered an emphatic response to the very debate engendered by the Festival’s staged recognition of the national, performative potential of contemporary culture. Where the Festival had positioned itself as a reparative if optimistic tonic, New Elizabethanism heralded a confident new age whose emergence demanded an immediate, unified assertion of contemporary identity. Nowhere, it seemed, was the cultural material for that confidence more immediately apparent than in the national, historical theatre of the first Elizabethan age. In its foregrounding of state-sponsored design, theatre, music, film and sculpture, the Festival had underlined the importance of the arts to the centralized dissemination of a shared national history. It had also promoted an ideal of optimistic national imagining informed by a collective, creative reality. In its similar invocation of the unified energy and agency of the common man, New Elizabethanism built upon many of these instincts. It also, however, unequivocally repositioned the focus of such collective, creative imaginings around the ‘enabling’ presence of the monarch – and around an aesthetic ideal whose strength had been recently tested and reinforced in the nation’s ‘finest hour’.

Unto the Breach The patriotic appropriation of ‘Shakespeare’ during the war was a seminal influence on later New Elizabethan constructions; it forcefully aligned the contemporary importance of the Shakespearean legacy with modern formulations of collective national experience, identity and art. An indicative if particularly hyperbolic manifestation of that instinct was provided by Shakespearean scholar G. Wilson Knight in The Olive and the Sword. Composed in 1940 and published in 1944, the essay perceived the need for ‘some new creative faith’ with which to respond 314


to the strength of a Germany that ‘appears deliberately to have fostered and used the beast within man’.25 Likening England to St George and Germany to the dragon, Wilson Knight identifies a necessarily Christian response to these ‘reptilian dragon-forces’.26 Christ, however, ‘did not legislate directly for nations’, and England must therefore ‘search out’ its spiritual, motivating strength ‘where alone it rests authentic, in the great heritage we possess of English letters’.27 This heritage is ‘the greatest accumulation of national prophecy outside the Old Testament that the world has seen; where the soul of England, which is her essential sovereignty, speaks clearly’: If ever a new Messiah is to come, he will come […] in the name of Shakespeare. We need expect no Messiah, but we might at this hour turn to Shakespeare, a national prophet if ever there was one.28

The war years saw a prominent espousal of Shakespeare’s plays and his cultural legacy as a means through which to configure and bolster contemporary patriotism. Wilson Knight’s own conviction of this role was such as to inspire him to recast his essay as a three-act drama, This Sceptred Isle: Shakespeare’s Message for England at War, performed at London’s Westminster Theatre in 1941. Despite its continued focus on England and St George, the work was also billed as a ‘Dramatisation of Shakespeare’s Call to Great Britain in Time of War’.29 While noting an ‘unusual production’, the review in The Times endorsed its ‘conception of Shakespeare as the poet and prophet of a free and virile people united under a benevolent monarchy and determined […] to take up arms against tyranny and the lust for power in others’.30 As Matthew Woodcock notes, within such conceptions, Shakespeare ‘represents both the embodiment of a unified national identity and the means to reconstitute national identity based on a shared cultural identification’.31 This construction was essential in a time of war: throughout the New Elizabethan age, it would develop into an equally significant model through which to read contemporary national performance and cultural expression. Equally crucial to the subsequent legacy of this construction was a rhetorical focus on the collective agency, character and expressive idiom of the Shakespearean people, old and new. The war years were emphatic in celebrating in Shakespeare’s Henry V a resonant expression of the character and experience of the beleaguered nation. Central to that reception was an emphasis on the play’s defining crowd, on the vital, 315


initially dissenting, but ultimately unified ‘band of brothers’ prepared to fight against apparently insurmountable odds. Nowhere was that reading more manifest than in the numerous public performances and invocations of the St Crispin’s Day speech, independent of the drama’s larger narrative. Within a context that saw actors and politicians alike appealing to the active spirit and agency of a collective audience, it was not the character of Henry V who would ensure the defence of the nation, but rather the effect of Shakespearean rhetoric itself in instigating the united performance of the contemporary ‘happy few’.32 In 1944, Laurence Olivier dedicated his seminal film adaptation of Henry V to the ‘Commandos and Airborne Troops of Great Britain, the spirit of whose ancestors it has been humbly attempted to recapture in some ensuing scenes’.33 While the film in many ways ‘[exploits] Churchill’s propagandist use of the play’ as a model for wartime Britain,34 it also articulates a larger emphasis on a contemporary ‘Elizabethan’ identity. The ancestry invoked in the film’s titles originates in the battle of Agincourt, in a moment of (English) national, medieval history. Its defining spirit, however, is implicitly manifest in the aesthetic traditions -- Shakespeare, Shakespearean performance -- through which that history continues to be immortalized and enacted. Furthermore, Olivier aligns this ‘soul of England’, the recaptured ‘spirit’ of national ancestors, not with the genius of Shakespeare alone, but with the larger, authoring theatre of the Elizabethan age itself. The film begins with opening titles that proclaim ‘The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fift with his battell fought at Agincourt in France by Will Shakespeare.’ It then segues into a panorama shot that ranges over a model of seventeenth-century London, from the Tower of London to the Globe. The scene culminates in a representation of lively Elizabethan audience-members and players assembling for a production of Shakespeare’s play. The effect is to suggest in the Elizabethan playhouse – its drama, its players and its heterogeneous audience – an encapsulation of the nation as a whole. It is also to suggest the inextricability of the film’s larger setting from the significance of the play itself. This representation derives from a relatively established tendency to associate the Elizabethan drama with the authoring influence of Elizabethan society as a whole. As early as 1925, Virginia Woolf had identified an Elizabethan dramatic tradition in which ‘half the work’ had been done ‘by the public’, where ‘All is shared, made visible, audible, dramatic.’35 Woolf returned to this theme during the war: the works of Shakespeare alone had emerged from an 316


independent authorial voice, their characters similarly marked by an authenticating expression of individual subjectivity.36 For Woolf, Shakespeare’s primary achievement was not to establish a standard for a shared national drama, but rather to instigate the evolution of artistic expression into a less public, theatrical form. With The Tempest, Shakespeare finally ensured that ‘the play [had] outgrown the uncovered theatre’: ‘That theatre must be replaced by the theatre of the brain. The playwright is replaced by the man who writes a book. The audience is replaced by the reader.’37 In contrast, both the patriotic Shakespeareanism of the war and the most prominent voices of New Elizabethanism celebrated an Elizabethan (and Shakespearean) theatre whose authors and characters were inextricable from the defining, collective voice of the age itself. A. L. Rowse identifies ‘more than the man’ in Shakespeare’s theatre: ‘It happened that his was just the nature to mirror [the age].’38 In this context, the creative valuation of commentary, reflection and subjective contemplation espoused by Woolf and many of her contemporaries – not to mention its association with Shakespeare – was inherently detrimental to the realization of a second Elizabethan age. So too was the prioritization of the solitary, interpretative reader over the public audience. Rowse marks a destructive ‘self-awareness’ in the art of Eliot and his contemporaries.39 Ernest Barker laments a nation that has been ‘wandering in something of a [cultural and spiritual] desert’, ‘critical and self-deprecatory’.40 He hopes for ‘a new birth of epic and lyric and drama, and a new flowering of music and painting’.41 Defining these valuations is an ideal of Elizabethan art as a public, exuberant theatre in which ‘all is shared, made visible.’ For the New Elizabethans, therefore, individual creative expression is that which derives from and reflects the collective identity of a larger, determining society. Again, Olivier’s Henry V provides an indicative anticipation of such readings. Shakespeare’s play begins with the entrance of the Chorus, who invokes the ‘imaginary forces’ of the audience to make ‘imaginary puissance’ of its historical subjects: For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings, Carry them here and there; jumping o’er times, Turning the accomplishment of many years Into an hour-glass …42

The film dramatizes the choral invocation as a performance at the Globe; it then collapses that historicizing structure to present a self-consciously 317


cinematic, often highly stylized adaptation that similarly resists realist representation. In so doing, it does not just faithfully represent Shakespeare’s own meta-theatrical appeal to an assembled, authoring audience: it implicitly translates that appeal to the contemporary, authoring audience of the film itself. Olivier’s film provides a prescient anticipation of New Elizabethan readings of the relationship between the Elizabethan theatre, national history and collective creativity. It also provides a seminal indication of the potential to perpetuate and thus renew that theatre within the modern language of film itself. In 1946, the influential American film critic James Agee recognized ‘a new splendor [for Shakespeare] in a new, viral medium’: Olivier’s film ‘invests the art of Shakespeare – and the art of cinema as well – with a new spaciousness, a new mobility, a new radiance’.43 Like Shakespeare’s ‘dramatic poem’ itself, it links ‘the great past to the great present’.44 In the context of an imminent New Elizabethanism, that ‘great past’ is both the historical legacy of Agincourt and the cultural excellence of the Elizabethan theatre and age: that ‘great present’ is both the wartime performance of the nation and its perpetuation of ‘Shakespearean’ expression in contemporary forms. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, this instinct to identify a unifying national identity and history in Shakespearean art and as Shakespearean art would become a defining characteristic of the New Elizabethan age.

New Shakespeareans New Elizabethanism did much more than hail the accession of a new young monarch: it enforced a social and aesthetic consensus around its celebration of the theatre of an earlier age and the structures that it apparently embodied. This formulation enshrined an ideal of national art as expressive of the continuous, shared experience and identity of a vital whole. It also assumed an aesthetic that was direct and dramatic, a public art authored by a contemporary age marked by the lively, diverse energies of its essential ‘people’. Central to that celebration, therefore, was an ideal of the nation – old and new – as Elizabethan theatre, as a microcosmic wooden ‘O’ defined by the energetic, creative participation of its socially stratified, vibrant audience. Ultimately signifying both cultural strength and indigenous expression, the New Elizabethan art to derive from this moment would enable and manifest a sought-after return 318


to what might more accurately be referred to as the first Shakespearean Age. The performative importance of this construction was apparent as early as 1948, when the Oxford Dramatic Society staged The Masque of Hope to honour the visit of the Princess Elizabeth to University College. Written by the medievalist scholar Nevill Coghill on a theme devised with theatre scholar Glynne Wickham, The Masque featured such future representatives of British postwar film and theatre as Robert Hardy, Tony Richardson, John Schlesinger and Kenneth Tynan. The Masque focuses on the idea of hope as represented in competing ideologies about postwar renewal – and ultimately as resolved in the symbolic, representative potential of the young Elizabethan princess. In a moment of deus ex machina, Venus articulates what would become a characteristic refrain of New Elizabethanism: ‘Daughter, vouch for England’s virtue in the past […] For what can hurt you / If the Future hold it fast?’45 Responding to her mother’s entreaty, Clio declares that she could unfold ‘many a tale of England, etched in gold’, to provide a much-needed ‘reassurance’ for a contemporary audience.46 She chooses Elizabeth I, however, who ‘made England One’ and ‘secure’.47 She then isolates the most significant legacy of the first Elizabeth: What more is there to say in this recital? This! She was SHAKESPEARE’S FRIEND. Her proudest title!48

Like much of the New Elizabethan discourse, The Masque recognizes a much-needed moment for national renewal and regeneration. In its celebration of figurative parallels and theatrical tradition, it also stages a willed escape from any articulation of a more pragmatic, necessarily political vision. Clio moves from her praise of Elizabeth to elaborate on the contemporary promise and ‘hope’ offered by Shakespeare himself: echoing the wartime patriotism of Wilson Knight, she asserts that ‘Poets can prove Prophets’ and their words ring out ‘fresh and young’.49 Rather than identifying the nature of that prophecy, however, the pageant sees Clio invite Saint George to ‘speak’ for Shakespeare, ‘who saw the Future in its forge’.50 The Masque does not end with an encomium to the young Princess, nor does it articulate the modern potential of the contemporary age she represents. Instead, it concludes with St George reciting the prophecy of Archbishop Cranmer about the infant Elizabeth, from Shakespeare’s Henry VIII. The fledgling monarch is ‘A pattern to all princes living with her, / And all that shall succeed’: her accession 319


‘promises / Upon this land a thousand thousand blessings.’51 Wilson Knight had identified the speech as ‘the one comprehensive statement in our literature of that peace towards which the world labours and for which Great Britain fights’;52 it would prove equally significant for the New Elizabethanism of the postwar years. The New Elizabethan potential of Cranmer’s prophecy was prominently acknowledged in 1953, when the Queen and Prince Philip attended the premiere of Tyrone Guthrie’s production of Henry VIII at the newly re-opened Old Vic; it was the first royal attendance at a premiere since the reign of Edward VII. The production offered an exemplary celebration of Shakespearean drama and of its proud perpetuation by the leading names of the modern, postwar theatre. In its choice of play, in its staged context before the Queen, the evening also hinted at the extent to which the idealization of a new young Elizabeth and a second Elizabethan age would focus on an apparently unifying ideal of national, ‘Shakespearean’ return in both the art and larger performance of the New Elizabethan age. As enforced by the most prominent voices of New Elizabethanism, that return was to be manifest not (only) in perpetual stagings of Shakespearean drama, but also in the rhetorical renewal of ‘Shakespearean’ expression as a social and aesthetic possibility. Rather than originating from the selfconscious subjectivity of a singular authorial voice, the art of that age would express and represent a collective, heterogeneous identity overseen and inspired by an Elizabethan queen. Crucial to that expression were the very entrenched social hierarchies that defined its idiomatic diversity and strength. In 1952, Rowse gave voice to a characteristic assumption: ‘what sort of literature or art do you think you are going to get out of a more or less one-class society, levelled down to the standards of the trivial insignificant average?’.53 This prominent New Elizabethan response insists upon an incentivizing social structure, a meritocracy essential for the formulation of a New Elizabethan art. Even more crucially, it identifies in the very aesthetic of Shakespearean art the embodiment of that structuring ideal: the aesthetic ‘glory’ of the Elizabethans – old and new – depended on the stratification of the national audience, on the maintenance of social structures to ensure an art through which to represent and articulate the historical reality (and exuberance) of a totalizing whole: the value of the influence of social equality […] on creative work of the mind of all kind […] has nothing whatever to be said for it. The arts need 320

HISTORY PLAY for subject matter and inspiration variety, colour, richness, contrast, social diversity, movement, ease, standards of culture.54

Ultimately, the primary legacy of New Elizabethanism was to promote such formulations through the idealization of an emergent age and art. As in the first Elizabethan era, that age and art would be defined and enabled by the apparently unchanging hierarchies that mark the relationship between an Elizabethan monarch, her poets and her people. Such hierarchies were on emphatic and celebratory display at the Coronation. They were also superficially tempered by a discourse whose emphasis on ‘the people’ invoked an informing, authoring collective. On Coronation Day, the BBC established its role as the ultimate purveyor of contemporary national pageantry. It also realized a greater inclusiveness to the event: no longer confined to invited grandees at the Abbey, the spectacle of the Coronation ceremony was disseminated to an unprecedented number, nominally irrespective of social class or income. As conservative historian and editorialist Arthur Bryant subsequently observed: I am not sure that the limitations of the technique of the conveying instrument did not make it the more moving, for it demanded and enlisted the co-operation of the viewer’s imagination. This made even the act of viewing a positive instead of a passive act.55

Bryant identifies in the Coronation a natural, essential appeal to the nation, and in the television broadcast the creation of a more socially inclusive definition of audience. More significantly, he associates that broadcast with the granting of a creative agency to the audience. That agency, however, is confined to a spiritual participation in (and thus acquiescence with) the Elizabethan theatre of Coronation itself. Much of the rhetoric around the Coronation suggested the broadening of royal pageantry to celebrate not only the inclusion but the unified, active and creative participation of the modern ‘ordinary person’ within the larger performance and authorship of a New Elizabethan age. The Queen herself was thus both the centre of that age and a participant within a much larger, self-consciously inclusive moment of national theatre. For many (including Bryant), that inclusiveness was marked by the very dissemination of national, royalist pageantry through television and popular media. Journalist Philip Gibbs writes admiringly of a 321


monarch who knew ‘the people in all classes as well as anyone’, who could talk ‘to them easily, freely, and gaily’.56 This familiarity is now reciprocal, ensured by ‘new miracles of science’: ‘her pictures show her on every screen in every cinema, in television, by flashlight and sunlight.’57 Within such receptions, the Queen was less the author than the primary subject of the contemporary age and aestheticizing modes of representation into which she (and the monarchy) had recently emerged. To some extent, this reading encouraged a much greater emphasis on the agency of ‘the people’ in the active realization of a New Elizabethan age. It also, however, anticipated an age and art whose ambitions and expressions could only defy the ‘trivial insignificant average’ by acknowledging the modern vitality of social hierarchy. In 1952, Picture Post published an indicative poem by Allan MacDonald, ‘The New Elizabethan’. Reflecting upon what ‘great man’ might be chosen ‘to grace the New Queen’s reign’, the speaker finds one who ‘makes no boastful claims / To eminence’: Yet he is great withal. He is the Common Man Who without glory can Conquer this age’s woes …58

Like many New Elizabethan celebrations, MacDonald's poem hails the potential greatness of the Common Man. It also points to a patriotic acceptance of the apparently innate structures that had empowered the happy few at Agincourt, that had inspired and defined the ‘soul of England’, and that now energized that ‘common man’ into a recognition of his own contained agency within the forging of a modern age. Rather than fading into the same obscurity as the New Elizabethan rhetoric itself, this assumption of a fundamentally limited mode of social performance and identity has continued to prevail well into the twentyfirst century. Nowhere, perhaps, is that continuity more prominent than in some of today’s most acclaimed manifestations of contemporary cultural, national expression.

Imaginary Puissance The beginning of the New Elizabethan era looked to the first Elizabethan age as a historical and aesthetic template through which to articulate its 322


vision of a postwar, post-imperial age. That this assumption continues to dominate contemporary identifications of national art is most immediately evident in the perpetuation of Shakespearean drama as a marker of cultural excellence and of a modern cultural idiom. In 2014, the BBC offered a striking, if minor, acknowledgement of this instinct – not to mention of the continuity of state-sponsored, institutional definitions of national art. The Corporation announced its own self-promotional trailer in a press release: it would soon ‘[showcase] the BBC’s unique role in nurturing talent and its powerful storytelling from the past, present and future’.59 The trailer itself featured an appearance by Cumberbatch, who recited Shakespeare's ‘All the World’s a Stage’ over a montage of scenes from relatively recent, celebrated BBC television dramas. With its final declaration, ‘A Lifetime of Original Drama’, the trailer enforced the centrality of BBC drama to a shared, communal history, to its role in ‘making memories for our audiences to share in years to come’.60 It also aligned the ‘BBC’s commitment to Original British Drama, to world class storytelling’61 with the reinforcement and continuation of an Elizabethan, Shakespearean heritage. This recognition of the national, signifying importance of an apparently Shakespearean idiom has been manifest in numerous projects. Between 1990 and 1995, the BBC produced its A House of Cards trilogy, a contemporary drama whose central Prime Ministerial protagonist echoes Shakespearean characters, evinces characteristic tragic flaws and vaunting ambition, and invokes dramatic parallels through soliloquies and asides to the camera. In its very thinly veiled allusions to contemporary politics and governance, the trilogy invited a reading of immediate parallels. In its dramatization of a socially enlightened king whose mannerisms, family history and attempted interventions mirror those of the current Prince of Wales, it also suggested a renewed, Shakespearean investment in the very idea of monarchy itself. According to Guardian critic Michael Billington, ‘whatever your political views, you nearly always end up feeling a measure of sympathy for a theatrical king.’62 The overall effect of the series was to celebrate the continuing manifestation of such Shakespearean tensions, conflicts and characters in the making of contemporary history. It was also to ensure a certain tempering of satire through the received excellence of the very idiom through which that history was being dramatized. A more recent manifestation of this New Shakespeareanism emerged in 2014, with the dramatization, by the Royal Shakespeare Company, of Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning ‘revisionist’ historical novels about 323


Thomas Cromwell, Wolf Hall (2009) and Bring Up the Bodies (2012).63 Hailing ‘a Shakespearean quality to Mantel’s writing’, Charlotte Higgins assumes qualities that are both aesthetic and rooted in the dramatic valuation of social hierarchy: ‘the mixture of low and high discourse, the political and historical setting, her theme of the rise and fall of great men’.64 For Mantel herself, the age of the Tudors (and, implicitly, the Elizabethans) does not ‘offer us an escape’, but ‘[takes] us to the centre of ourselves, our own needs and secret wishes, our own pleasures and torments’.65 The artistic realization of this contemporary resonance demands a ‘theatrical’ art that can ‘hold up a mirror’ to the Tudors:66 indeed, the genesis of the novel began when she ‘started to build a theater inside [her] head’.67 The success of Mantel's ambitions was implicit in a Guardian review of the stage production, which identified a Shakespearean essence to the adaptation itself. It also assumed the perpetuation of that essence within a more contemporary tradition of historical drama and television: The two great fathers of historical theatre, William Shakespeare and Friedrich Schiller, both touched on the Tudor era […] [Mike Poulton] has created […] two fast, darkly comic plays that have clearly learned from those earlier masters but will also not disappoint fans of modern political dramas such as House of Cards.68

Assessing the television dramatization of Wolf Hall the following year, the Telegraph declared that the adaptation ‘represents a brief but sweet return to what Britain does best’.69 This alignment of Shakespearean achievement and subject with a contemporary national identity was implicitly challenged in 2014, in Mike Bartlett’s King Charles III. Written in blank verse, the play, like A House of Cards, aligns its characters with Shakespearean ‘prototypes’. The drama imagines an imminent future marked by the death of the Queen and the succession of Prince Charles. Unlike his mother, the new King attempts to exercise his role as Head of State to intervene within what the play presents as an undemocratic mode of contemporary governance. That ethos is defined equally by an incumbent, only nominally left-wing Labour government, a Conservative opposition party, and an indifferent public; the very outsider role of the King allows him to become the only voice of legitimate political critique in the play. Through the machinations of a Machiavellian daughter-in-law evocative of both a dissembling Prince Hal and a mercenary Lady Macbeth, through the ghostly manipulations of a 324


Princess Diana mimicking the Macbeth witch prophecies to both her son and her former husband, the King is forced ultimately to abdicate. The focus of Bartlett’s play is a national dependency on the established and fundamentally empty structures that the monarchy represents. Rather than critiquing the monarchy itself, the play critiques the collective acceptance of a stagnant, inactive political structure. It also aligns that structure with the aesthetic, Shakespearean modes through which national experience and identity continue to be enforced. Bartlett’s play is relatively rare in its simultaneous exploitation and critique of the signifying potential of Shakespearean allusion. Less rare has been a tendency to appropriate Shakespeare’s plays themselves as a means through which to address or redress prevailing national definitions. Such instincts are not new, of course, and reflect the particular centrality of the history plays to modern negotiations with national performance and Shakespearean tradition: prominent manifestations include the cerebral rewritings of Peter Hall and John Barton (1963–4), Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V (1989) and the considerably more conservative instincts that marked the BBC’s Cultural Olympiad contribution with The Hollow Crown (2012). In 2014, Phyllida Lloyd staged an all-woman production of Henry IV, Parts I and II at London’s Donmar Warehouse. Presented as a performance of the plays within a women’s prison, the production negotiated simultaneously with the cultural position of Shakespeare and the potential of drama itself to give voice to marginalized, gendered experience within the nation. The production was self-consciously representational in its staging of women of different sizes, races, and local and regional backgrounds. The prison setting emphasized the continuing confinement and marginalization of these voices – both from conventional Shakespeare productions and from contemporary assumptions about national identity. The production itself did little to illuminate or present a consistent interpretation of the plays themselves; instead, it recognized in Shakespearean drama an established mode through which to articulate its alternative definition of experience within the nation. A similar appropriation was staged for different ends by Rona Munro, whose The James Plays trilogy was staged at both the Edinburgh Festival and London’s National Theatre in the year of the 2014 Scottish referendum. In an interview with the Guardian, Munro identified the significance of Shakespeare to her project: As a Scottish writer, I was aware that we had no equivalent to the kind of history cycles that Shakespeare created for English history. […] there’s an 325

THE NEW ELIZABETHAN AGE awful lot of how people understand medieval English history that comes from those plays, whether they’ve seen them or not. […] it would be really nice to get a broader audience knowing a bit more about their own history.70

Munro’s plays do not merely borrow from Shakespeare the inspiration to dramatize a Scottish medieval history. The plays incorporate popular song with staged ceremony, dramatize the exploits of ‘commoners’ alongside the central travails of kings, and oscillate between an earthy realism and a more poetic stage language. In their ‘blistering drama, poetry and emotion’,71 they consequently ensured what one critic identified as ‘a confident Shakespearean immensity’, a ‘muscular view of nationalism as well as resonant, gripping entertainment’.72 Reviews consistently recognized Munro’s invocation of a Shakespearean idiom, both in subject and theatrical language: the plays left ‘the competition, namely Shakespeare’s Henry VI cycle, standing’.73 Ultimately, such receptions ensured that The James Plays were celebrated for their position within a prevailing – and primarily English – spirit of New Elizabethanism bound to the aesthetic and nationalist valuation of the supreme drama of ‘Shakespearean’ kingship. Another, more recent manifestation of New Elizabethanism has emerged in contemporary aestheticizations of recent history through the dramatic, if not Shakespearean, figuration of the Queen herself. In 1977, James Cameron looked back on (and reinforced) the defining ambitions of the New Elizabethan moment: I had always thought of the Elizabethan Age of the 16th century as the belle époque if ever there had been one […] [the Jubilee] celebrates twenty-five years of mediocrity […] of the dimunition of standards in aesthetics and politics and general elegance.74

In Cameron’s sardonic assessment, the second Elizabeth had failed to enable the promises of a New Elizabethan age. This failure was the result not of any transgression of constitutional duty, but of an apparent indifference to the importance of the cultural expression she should have inspired: ‘I feel that if the First Elizabeth had had television she would not have stuffed it with show-jumping. She might even have spared an OBE for the author of Twelfth Night.’75 This disillusionment with both the artistic patronage and aesthetic performance of the Queen tended to characterize many desultory Jubilee revisitations of New Elizabethanism, often to the benefit of her 326


predecessor. A striking manifestation of this phenomenon is enacted in Derek Jarman’s film Jubilee (1978), which casually represents the arbitrary murder of Elizabeth II, but structures the narrative itself around a visit to the contemporary era by Elizabeth I through the ministrations of Dr Dee. Overwhelmed by the violence and anarchy of the modern moment, the Elizabethan visitors return to their more ideal, sixteenth-century moment. In more recent years, however, the Queen has been revived as a potentially dramatic protagonist (and as a benign, bemused surveyor of the culture that has emerged during her reign). In 2007, the writer Peter Morgan’s film The Queen opened by enforcing the significance of its protagonist with an attributed quotation from Henry IV, ‘uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.’ The Queen (and the film’s audience) is also reminded by her portrait painter, ‘you might not be allowed to vote, ma’am – but it is your government.’76 This Oscar-awarded valuation of the Queen’s dramatic potential and authority seems to have encouraged Morgan’s post-Jubilee play, The Audience (also starring Helen Mirren), Moira Buffini’s Handbagged, and Morgan’s epic production for Netflix, The Crown (again starring Mirren). Not only do all of these productions stage the Queen as their central protagonist; they insist on reading contemporary national history through her presence. The Audience, recently rewritten to accommodate a Broadway transfer, imagines the Queen’s meetings with the various prime ministers that have marked ‘her’ reign. The Crown promises a more expansive reading of the history through which she has lived and which, the creators imply, she has helped to define. In its playful metatheatrical imagining of the Queen’s audiences with Margaret Thatcher, in its brief interpolation of an appearance by Neil Kinnock, in its presentation of a comparatively compassionate Queen against that other ‘female ruler’, Handbagged was received as an implicit riposte to the inherent adulation of The Audience.77 All of these works evince a fundamental New Elizabethanism, however, in their structuring assumption that historical experience and social change are best articulated and represented through received cultural constructions of governing figures, elected or not. The Elizabethanism of such representations is superficially suggested by their aesthetic reinforcement of the historicizing, monarchical focus of Shakespeare’s history plays themselves. Rather than encouraging a perpetual rewriting of those plays, however, New Elizabethanism also identified in ‘Shakespearean’ theatre a larger, more totalizing 327


expression of collective identity and experience. For Gibbs, for example, Shakespeare’s plays constituted ‘the best social history of England’.78 While Shakespeare’s plays may have focused on monarchs, they also staged a diversity of supporting characters whose social and expressive diversity apparently mirrored a larger collective identity: ‘out of this time of brutality, heroism, tavern brawls, bawdy songs, stabbings, coarse laughter, animal love, squalors and splendour, adventure and daring, English genius burst forth in glory.’79 This association of cultural exuberance with a lively social reality has proven remarkably resilient, often transcending the recognizably conservative ideologies through which it was initially promoted. New Elizabethanism celebrated contemporary creativity and social agency in relation to a presiding national ideal. Rather than contesting that construction, rather than challenging its fixed social assumptions, the twilight years of the Elizabethan age have seen its endurance, if not growth, in contemporary celebrations of the cultural expression and representation of ‘the people’ themselves. In the New Elizabethan age, the collective, expressive voice of ‘the crowd’ in response to prevailing structures, its acknowledgement of an era of challenge and change, has come to act as an integral marker of a contemporary national history and cultural identity. This construction was manifest in the very centrality of Henry V’s ‘band of brothers’ to the resonant mythologization of the nation’s finest hour, in the informing social politics of the Festival of Britain, and in the inclusive, participatory rhetoric around the Coronation itself. More recently, it has also been enshrined in the cultural aestheticization of seminal moments of popular protest and disaffection.

England’s Dreaming In the final years of the Elizabethan age, the national ‘happy few’ have become increasingly fractured, fraught from within and without the ‘united’ Kingdom, increasingly vocal in their dissent from traditional hierarchies and governing structures. They have also continued to unite, however, around a patriotic ideal now entrenched around the defining, unifying centrality of national culture itself. The effect has been to contain much self-consciously angry or ‘subversive’ art within a discourse that assumes and maintains a limited, fundamentally New Elizabethan definition of social agency. 328


Nowhere is this construction more evident than in the recognition of a contemporary history of popular dissent in relation to a mainstream heritage of ‘national’ theatre, film, television and popular music. This tradition celebrates the canonical position of mythologized revolts in style and substance, from the expressions of the ‘angry young men’ of late-1950s theatre, film and literature, through to the countercultural haircuts and substance abuse of the Rolling Stones, through to the punk rebellion associated with the Sex Pistols and the Clash. It is also marked by the representational focus of critical receptions, where a modern, ‘revolutionary’ aesthetic is more often than not identified in social realism or in an argumentative engagement with social, cultural or political structures. Such readings inform the canonical position of Look Back in Anger and the ‘Royal Court generation’ – the ‘clear-eyed anatomists of postwar Britain’.80 They also mark the national recognition of the kitchen-sink indictments of Ken Loach, Alan Bleasdale and Mike Leigh; the satire of Beyond the Fringe and Spitting Image; the working-class, northern imagery of Shelagh Delaney and Keith Waterhouse; the anti-Thatcher tirades of the Smiths; and the simultaneous anger and uplifting (if individual) narrative of Billy Elliot. As mythologized by the national media, politicians, cultural historians and many artists themselves, this instinct to articulate or historicize social challenge through popular, mainstream forms attests to a vital, validating contemporaneity. Its very national position, however, also hints at the valuation of cultural expression itself as a performative – and thus sufficient – manifestation of social or political agency. The strength and limitations of that prevailing reading were evident in 2014, in the reception of the film Pride. Partially funded by the BBC and the British Film Institute, the film provided a historical dramatization of the London formation of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) and the group’s co-operative relationship with a Welsh mining community during the 1984 Miners’ Strike. The film’s perspective is in many respects apolitical; it eschews any dramatization of the very politics that defined union resistance at the time, instead redefining ‘union’ as the expression of solidarity between members of LGSM and the ultimately defeated miners. It is also very much a London-centric narrative, where repressed, naive and close-minded Welsh miners learn to accept the benign patronage of considerably more savvy, worldly and visibly victimized gay Londoners. The film was nonetheless received as a crucial, much-needed representation of a forgotten moment of national history: according to one of the miners portrayed in the film, ‘None of us believed this story would see 329


the light of day. It is a document for the future, it exists for all time.’81 For some, this very artistic representation, no matter how incomplete, of a lived collective experience could be seen as a vaguely political act: Pride refuses to accept that the Tories defeated the miners. With its shock happy ending it would have us believe, instead, that grace under pressure is the ultimate triumph. If the movie does as well as expected, many will find themselves celebrating what can only be described as a queer sort of victory. The miners saw their livelihoods destroyed. Wouldn’t it be lovely if they wound up getting the last laugh?82

In this assessment, the very ‘triumph’ of the film – and thus of the very real people it represents – is to be found not in historical reality but in historical representation. It is also to be found in the transformation of that reality into a familiar, validating and centralized tradition of cultural expression that promises to ‘do well’ with a larger national audience: ‘You might assume a romcom about striking miners and ’80s gays was unlikely to be big box-office, but the same was probably said of Billy Elliot .’83 The implications of thus associating cultural expression with the manifestation of vital change were more emphatically on display in the year of the Diamond Jubilee. In 2012, the opening ceremony to the London Olympics achieved significant media attention for its apparent revisioning of conventional national pageantry. The evening eschewed Beefeaters and Rule Britannia in favour of a spectacle featuring Jarrow Marchers, the industrial ‘vision’ of Brunel, pop music, interracial romance and NHS nurses dancing around beds with characters from Harry Potter. Conservative MP Aidan Burley consequently descried the ‘most leftie’ opening ceremony he had ever seen – ‘multicultural crap’.84 Journalist and writer Toby Young had ‘just watched a £27 million Party Political Broadcast for the Labour Party’.85 Rupert Murdoch found the event ‘surprisingly great’ despite its being ‘a little too politically correct’.86 ‘Leftie’ singer and activist Billy Bragg was much more celebratory: ‘Impressive though [the opening ceremony] in Beijing was, they didn’t have any great pop music to play, did they?’87 As the event’s writer Frank Cottrell Boyce wryly observes, subsequent internet forums were to emerge ‘dedicated to proving that the whole thing was a secret masonic ritual in which the parachuting monarch was a reference to Isaiah Chapter 14 (“I saw Satan fall like lightning”)’.88 Despite – and perhaps as a result of – this ideological confusion, the event was acclaimed by many, including its creators, for having articulated and manifested in its very pageantry an ideal for national renewal and regeneration. A year after the event, Boyce reflected on the 330


legacy of an evening that had ‘created the hope of a better Britain’.89 Intriguingly, however, he distances the intentions of the show’s creators from any attempt to realize or advocate social change: ‘culture designed to create specific change is called advertising.’90 Ultimately, he suggests an investment in a larger – and more nebulous – celebration of the role of national theatre itself: to unite a nation and its people through the dramatization of a shared history and national culture. According to Boyce, ‘the important thing’ about the ceremony – indeed ‘the thing that people were responding to – was that it wasn’t a vision. It’s not what it said that counted, it was what it was.’91 What it was, of course, was a triumphantly received government-andcorporate-sponsored national pageant to mark the opening of a major international event. Nonetheless emboldened by the reception of the evening, ‘drunk’ with the (undefined) ‘power of it all’, Boyce went on to produce ‘a proposal for social change’:92 The Dangerous Conversation advocates the use of the Olympic Park as a site for international truce and dialogue. Boyce identifies in the theatre space a ground for the very instigation of social change from which he assumes the most potent national theatre must itself abstain. This assumption is similarly evident in his identification of the lasting significance of the ceremony: in the process of its creation and staging, the event realized an alternative community, a communal ideal where ‘The cast and crew was the size of a small market town, with Danny as its mayor. He created and led a new community – a kind of temporary Utopia.’93 Notwithstanding the necessarily closed (and essentially unstaged) experience of this communal utopia, Boyce identifies theatrical collaboration itself as the defining – and national – legacy of the pageant. Noting a certain deflation of optimistic expectations one year on, he argues that ‘to lament […] that not enough has changed – as if things were just going to change – is to miss the point. It was always: what are we going to do about it?’94 Boyce aligns the ‘power’ of his earlier theatre with the recognition of a shared agency. The limited nature of this agency, however, is only enforced by his insistence on the overriding significance of the creative process itself. It is also evident in his insistence on the encouragement of a nebulous hope rather than on the articulation (let alone realization) of actual change. In identifying that creativity so closely with the nationalist imperative associated with the Olympics, Boyce further limits his celebration of change to a defining ideal of perpetual, national performance. In so doing, he suggests the extent to which the social and aesthetic stasis unwittingly prophesized in 331


The Masque of Hope might continue to predominate in self-consciously progressive cultural formulations of a New Elizabethan age. *** As proclaimed at the opening of Shakespeare’s Henry V, the public playhouse saw an Elizabethan society brought together to ‘deck out kings’ with ‘imaginary forces’. Aligning audience and artist, performance and reality in the reinforcement of a governing history and hierarchy, this choral invocation resonates in New Elizabethan identifications of national history in national art – and in their prevailing identification of an Elizabethan ‘attitude of mind [that] was always and essentially creative’.95 Looking to transform a project of national renewal into a discourse of modernity as glorious return, New Elizabethanism invoked the expansive ambitions, energies and ebullient creativity of the first Elizabethan age. It also assumed an essential return to a ‘Shakespearean’ mode of expression inseparable from the social structures to which it would give voice. This discourse celebrates a natural – and national – mode of public performance defined by socially determined roles. It also presumes an audience that instinctively recognizes that national role, and that accepts public, performed expression as the defining manifestation of a vital identity and authentic art. Ultimately, such readings insist upon a presiding, historically entrenched mode of artistic expression that continues to qualify (if not defy) any individual reflection, authorship or agency in honour of a larger, necessarily unchanging definition of a fundamental collective whole.

Notes   1 Virginia Woolf, Between the Acts [1941] (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 158.   2 Polly Toynbee, ‘Let Queen Elizabeth Reign Until the End – Then Stop This Charade’, Guardian, 1 September 2015.   3 Ibid.   4 Maev Kennedy and Caroline Davies, ‘Richard III Reburial: “May You Rest in Peace in Leicester”’, Guardian, 22 March 2015.   5 N.a., ‘Richard III: Leicester Cathedral Reburial Service for King’, BBC News online. Available at (accessed 1 September 2015).   6 Ibid.   7 Philippa Langley, quoted in Shane Croucher, ‘Richard III Reinterment in 332



  9 10 11

12 13 14 15 16 17



Leicester: “I’m Sick to Death of the Humiliation that is Being Heaped Upon this Anointed King”’, International Business Times, 22 March 2015. David Pryce Jones, ‘Towards the Cocktail Party’, in Michael Sissons and Philip French (eds), Age of Austerity (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1963), 209–30: 219. Cyril Connolly, Editorial, Horizon, July 1947. T. S. Eliot, Notes Towards the Definition of Culture [1948] (New York: Harcourt and Brace, 1949), 17. The term ‘culture’ is potentially ambiguous, and can signify a broad range of attitudes, customs and practices. I use the term here more traditionally, to refer to the arts. What constitutes an art is another matter of debate; I refer to that which was conventionally received or debated as such in the discourse of the time. Even more ambiguous, at times, can be the very term ‘national’. The national and nationalist discourse discussed in this chapter derives almost exclusively from England, and more specifically from a media, intelligentsia and bureaucracy centralized in (and focused on) London. This is not to exclude other voices; it is merely a fact that the preoccupations under discussion derive primarily from an England that has often seen itself as representative of a totalizing definition of nation, Great Britain and United Kingdom. Alice Ferrebe, Literature of the 1950s: Good, Brave Causes (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012), 1. Ian Cox, The South Bank Exhibition: A Guide to the Story it Tells (London: HMSO, 1951), 11. Michael Frayn, ‘Festival’, in Sissons and French (eds), Age, 318–38: 319–20. Winston Churchill, quoted in Owen Hatherley, A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain (London: Verso, 2011), 293. Noël Coward, ‘Don’t Make Fun of the Fair’, in The Lyrics of Noël Coward (London: A&C Black, 2014), 343–6. Gerald Barry, quoted in Frayn, ‘Festival’, 324. Becky E. Conekin provides a useful distillation of some of the conflicts and tensions between the Festival planners themselves. See ‘The Autobiography of a Nation’: The 1951 Festival of Britain (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003). Robert Hewison, ‘“Happy Were He”: Benjamin Britten and the Gloriana Story’, in Paul Banks (ed.), Britten’s Gloriana: Essays and Sources (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1993), 116: 3. See also Hewison, Culture and Consensus: England, Art and Politics Since 1940 [1995] (London: Routledge, 2015), 23–4. The fate of the four winners of the (anonymous) opera competition offers an indicative manifestation of this prescriptive tendency. As Billie Melman details, in their ‘[puncturing of] definitions of a homogeneous national history’, these works (Arthur Benjamin’s politically problematic A Tale of Two Cities, Karl Rankl’s Celtic Deirdre of the Sorrows, Berthold Goldschmidt’s ‘foreign’ Beatrice Cenci and Alan Bush’s Wat Tyler – composed by a Communist) could not be ‘accommodated within the 333

THE NEW ELIZABETHAN AGE guiding plan and vision of the Festival’. See The Culture of History: English Uses of the Past 1800–1953 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 290. 20 Conekin, Autobiography, 46. 21 Harriet Atkinson, The Festival of Britain: A Land and its People (London: I. B. Tauris, 2012), 5. 22 Frayn, ‘Festival’, 320. 23 Ibid. 24 Hewison, Culture, 66. 25 G. Wilson Knight, The Olive and the Sword: A Study of England’s Shakespeare (London: Oxford University Press, 1944), 2. 26 Ibid., 3. 27 Ibid., 2, 3. 28 Ibid., 3. 29 Wilson Knight, This Sceptred Isle: Shakespeare’s Message for England at War (Oxford: Blackwell, 1940). 30 N.a., Review of ‘This Sceptred Isle’, The Times, 23 July 1941. 31 Matthew Woodcock, Shakespeare: Henry V (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2008), 77–8. 32 This ‘few’ are similarly identified in the titles of Churchill’s favourite film, Fire over England (1937), as ‘the Free People of a Little Island. England’. 33 Laurence Olivier, director, Henry V, Two Cities Films, 1944. 34 Ton Hoenselaars, ‘Shooting the Hero: The Cinematic Career of Henry V from Laurence Olivier to Philip Purser’, in Sonia Massai (ed.), Worldwide Shakespeares: Local Appropriations in Film and Performance (Abingdon: Routledge, 2005), 80–7: 85. See also Russell Jackson, Shakespeare Films in the Making: Vision, Production, and Reception (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007). 35 Woolf, ‘Notes on an Elizabethan Play’, in Woolf, The Common Reader. First Series [1925] (London: Hogarth, 1957), 72–83: 75, 83. 36 Woolf, ‘Anon’, in Brenda R. Silver, ‘“Anon” and “The Reader”: Virginia Woolf’s Last Essays’, Twentieth Century Literature 25 (1979), 356–441: 398. 37 Ibid. 38 A. L. Rowse, A New Elizabethan Age? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1952), 6. 39 Ibid., 10. 40 Ernest Barker, ‘A New Elizabethan Age’, The Sunday Times, 14 May 1944. 41 Ibid. 42 William Shakespeare, King Henry V, in Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen et al (eds), The Norton Shakespeare (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1997), ‘Prologue’, lines 18–30. 43 James Agee, Review of Henry V, Time, 8 April 1946. 44 Ibid. 334

HISTORY PLAY 45 Nevill Coghill and Glynne Wickham, The Masque of Hope (London: Oxford University Press, 1948), 19. 46 Ibid. 47 Ibid. 48 Ibid. 49 Ibid. 50 Ibid. 51 Shakespeare, Henry VIII, in Greenblatt, Cohen et al (eds), Norton Shakespeare, 5.3. 18–22. 52 Wilson Knight, Olive, 85. 53 Rowse, New Elizabethan, 11–12. 54 Ibid., 11. Rowse is also keen to identify Shakespeare as the son of a small townsman, Jonson as the stepson of a bricklayer, Marlowe as a cobbler’s son and Spenser as a poor scholar. 55 Arthur C. Bryant, ‘Our Note Book’, Illustrated London News, 27 June 1953. 56 Philip Gibbs, The New Elizabethans (London: Hutchinson, 1953), 215. 57 Ibid., 214. 58 Allan MacDonald, ‘The New Elizabethan’, Picture Post, 10 May 1952. 59 ‘Latest News’, BBC Media Centre, 28 October 2014. Available at http:// (accessed 1 September 2015). 60 Ibid. 61 Ibid. 62 Michael Billington, Review of The James Plays, Guardian, 11 August, 2014. 63 In 2015, while the Royal Shakespeare Company was touring their production on Broadway, the BBC aired a separate, critically-acclaimed, six-part adaptation of the novels. 64 Charlotte Higgins, ‘Hilary Mantel Discusses Thomas Cromwell’s Past, Presence and Future’, Guardian, 15 August 2012. 65 Ibid., ‘Just Like Us, Only Bloodier’, The Sunday Times, 25 January 2015. 66 Ibid. 67 Hilary Mantel, ‘Palace Intrigue, in Three Dimensions’, New York Times, 31 May 2015. 68 Mark Lawson, Review of Wolf Hall/Bring Up the Bodies, Guardian, 18 May 2014. 69 Serena Davies, ‘Review of Wolf Hall’, Telegraph, 21 January 2015. 70 ‘The James Plays: Interviews with Playwright Rona Munro and Actor Sofie Gråbøl – Video’, Guardian, 7 August 2014. Available at http:// (last accessed 1 September 2015). 71 Charlotte Runcie, Review of The James Plays, Telegraph, 11 August 2014. 72 Henry Hitchings, Review of The James Plays, London Evening Standard, 26 September 2014. 335

THE NEW ELIZABETHAN AGE 73 Dominic Cavendish, Review of The James Plays, Telegraph, 26 September 2014. 74 Stephen Frears, director, The Queen, Pathé Pictures, 2006. 75 James Cameron, ‘Twenty-Five Years On’, Punch, 12 January 1977. 76 Ibid. 77 ‘Make no mistake, this is not a less starry version of The Audience. […] It’s a show that cleverly explores the nature of history.’ Lyn Gardner, Review of Handbagged, Guardian, 15 April 2014. 78 Gibbs, New Elizabethans, 15. 79 Ibid., 17. 80 David Pattie, Modern British Playwriting: The 1950s: Voices, Documents, New Interpretations (London: Methuen, 2012), 1. 81 Dai Donovan, quoted in Kate Kellaway, ‘When Miners and Gay Activists United: The Real Story of the Film Pride’, Guardian, 31 August 2014. 82 Charlotte O’Sullivan, Review of Pride, London Evening Standard, 12 September 2014. 83 Kellaway, ‘When Miners and Gay Activists United’. 84 Aidan Burley, quoted in Nicholas Watt, ‘Olympics Opening Ceremony was “Multicultural Crap”, Tory MP Tweets’, Guardian, 28 July 2012. 85 Toby Young, Twitter post, 27 July 2012, (accessed 1 September 2015). 86 Rupert Murdoch, Twitter post, 28 July 2012, (accessed 1 September 2015). 87 Billy Bragg, Twitter post, 27 July 2012, (accessed 1 September 2015). 88 Frank Cottrell Boyce, ‘We Created the Hope of a Better Britain. But What Remains of the Olympic Magic?’ Guardian, 13 July 2013. Available at http:// (last accessed 1 September 2015). 89 Ibid. 90 Ibid. 91 Ibid. 92 Ibid. 93 Ibid. 94 Ibid. 95 Rowse, New Elizabethan, 7.



‘Happiness’ Am I happy?

The happy do not ask themselves this question I ask myself can you be happy in a world choked with madness and violence to its horizons? I am happy – I always have been since I was a child I was happy when bombs howling like people in panic fell on the street in which I was born And when teachers as brittle and white as fossil chalk taught me I was stupid And when one morning in the street suddenly out of nowhere I understood I had been born into a class to live and work – to be and die – as second class And in the years of labouring for a living wage – tedium is a slow mortal disease And when I dug the bayonet into the fluttering entrails of the pasteboard man and screamed his last imprecations from his paper mouth And when I knew the cruelty of cells scaffolds sonderlager sites of massacres and the little empty rooms where windows wept into their curtains And when I turned the handle of a door and the house turned round – malice and envy were waiting in bodies crouched inside themselves And when the cradle of my craft was hired out to be a squat for gaudy tawdry prestidigitators to prance and do their business in And even when she-and-he sold to fellow racketeers for cash the public patrimony that soldiers in world wars had purchased with their blood to be the common good I was happy – because I could write I wrote of what I saw and heard and knew so that it shall be remembered


AFTERWORD And if one day I stand on the slope where men destroy men in one last abomination – a cruelty of mind or body so violent that all other men – their wives and children – are marked with its blood I shall be happy Beyond that slope will be a beach where I shall sit and with my finger write in the gravel



Abse, Dannie 87–8, 89 Accession Proclamation 52 Acts of Union (Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542) 70 An Age of Kings (television serial) 267, 268, 274, 276–82 Agincourt 26, 275, 316, 318, 322 Ahlberg, Allan 201–2 aircraft Airspeed Ambassador 8, 215, 232, 233 Boeing 707 241 Bristol Brabazon 8, 215, 232, 233 Comet 8, 215–6, 224–5, 232–4, 240, 241 Dove 233 Douglas DC3 232, 234 Douglas DC5 232, 234 Douglas DC8 241 Hawker Hunter 235 Princess 232–3 Vickers Viceroy (Viscount) 232, 233 Albarn, Damon 17 Allen, John 183–4 American culture 29, 88–9, 188, 198, 205–7, 213, 219, 221, 226, 277–8, 311 Amis, Kingsley 212 Anderson, Benedict 122 Anderson, Maxwell 24 Anglo-Scottish Acts of Union

(1707) 51, 57, 58, 59, 60, 61–2, 96, 104–5 Anne (Queen) 257 Anthony, Gordon 252, 253 Archer, William 32 Architecture 7, 159–64, 167–9 Gothic revival 160, 168–9 Arden, John 188 Ardizzone, Edward 197 Armstrong-Jones, Antony (Lord Snowdon) 77, 280 Army Bureau of Current Affairs 180–1 Arnold, Malcolm 2, 216, 222–3, 225, 226, 257 Arnold, Matthew 124 Arthur (King) 5, 7, 73, 122, 134–9, 142–52 Arts Council of Great Britain 2–3, 28, 29, 30, 175–90, 200, 217, 231, 278, 311, 312–3 See also CEMA Ashton, Frederick 2, 253, 256–60 Asquith, Herbert 76 Atkins, Robert 273 Attlee, Clement 1, 18, 35, 236 Auden, W. H. 296 Auschwitz 306 Austen, Jane 121–2 Australia 23, 240, 243, 305 aviation 8–9, 215–6, 223–5, 230–41 Ayckbourn, Alan 197 339


ballet 9, 219, 243–60 Ballets Russes 245 Baner ac Amserau Cymru 71–2, 85 Barker, Ernest 19, 97, 317 Bartlett, Mike 324–5 Barton, John 272, 282, 325 Barry, Charles 159, 160 Barry, Gerald 41, 313 Barry, Michael 278 Baylis, Lilian 245, 249, 255 Baxter, Beverly 31, 270 BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) 3, 9–10, 38, 40, 43, 73, 150, 167, 214, 215, 255, 267–85, 311, 313, 321–3, 329 The BBC Television Shakespeare 267 Beano (comic) 193, 199 Beatles 42, 43 Beaton, Cecil 166–7 Beaumont, Cyril 255 Beaverbrook, Lord 231 Beckett, Samuel 179 Belles of St Trinian’s (film) 225 Benois, Nadia 251, 254 Benson, Frank 273 Berkeley, Lennox 217, 218 Berners-Lee, Tim 298 Betjeman, John 79–80, 167, 168 Beyond the Fringe (revue) 329 Big Brum Theatre-in-Education Company 289, 292 Billy Elliot (film) 329 Binge, Ronald 212 Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company 274 The Black Arrow (play) 183 Blake, Quentin 197 Blakemore, Michael 32, 33 Blair, Tony 11–12 Bleasdale, Alan 329 Bliss, Arthur 245, 280 Blyton, Enid 203 Bogdanor, Vernon 105, 111 Bond, Edward 10, 188, 292

Saved 189, 190 Bond, James 43, 304 Bower, Stephen Dykes, 159, 164–5, 167–8 Boyce, Frank Cottrell 10, 42, 293–306, 330–2 The Dangerous Conversation 331 Welcome to Sarajevo 305 Boyle, Danny 41–2, 294, 296, 301, 303, 331 Brabazon, Lord 231–2 Brabazon Committee 230, 231, 232, 240 Bradbury, Ernest 211 Bragg, Billy 330 Branagh, Kenneth 325 Brazil, Angela 203 Brelland, Kay 201 Bridge on the River Kwai (film) 226, 235 British Empire 7, 17, 18, 24, 27, 76, 108, 138, 139, 144, 267, 278 British Film Institute 329 Britten, Benjamin, 2, 24, 31, 194, 196, 216–18 Gloriana 2, 24, 30–1, 32, 38, 216–17, 218 Peter Grimes 30, 217 Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra 217 Broadcasting in the West 215 Brunel, Isambard Kingdom 330 Bryant, Arthur 1, 17, 18, 39, 70, 120, 321 Buckingham Palace 84, 100, 175, 269 Buffini, Moira 327 Burgess, Anthony 85 Burley, Aidan (MP) 302, 330 Burnard, T. W. 197 Bury, J. B. 140 Byatt, A. S. 1 Byzantium 7, 134, 135, 140–2, 143–52 340


Cadwallon 73 Caernarfon 69, 75, 78, 82 Callaghan, James 86 Camargo Society 249 Cambridge Festival Theatre 245 Cameron, James 3, 326 Canada 4, 23, 51, 53 160, 206, 243 Canard enchaîné, le (comic) 198 Canetti, Elias 163–4 Canning, Victor 152 A Canterbury Tale (film) 7, 122–3, 125–30 Capel Celyn 79 Cardiff 72, 78 Cartier, Rudolf 236, 238, 239 Cayo-Evans, Julian 81, 92 CEMA (Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts) 28, 176–8, 181, 187, 231, 311 C.E.M.A. (film) 178 Channel Islands 6 Charles I 165 Charles (Prince of Wales) 77, 79, 83, 85, 86, 323, 324 Investiture of 69, 75–86 Chaucer, Geoffrey 126, 128 Chekhov, Anton 213–4 Chips (comic) 192 Churchill, Winston 1, 17, 20–1, 24, 27, 33, 34, 35, 37, 39, 57, 122, 130, 137–9, 162, 275, 279, 281, 295, 313 History of the English Speaking Peoples 137–9, 141, 152 Clarke, Gillian 88, 89 Clarke, T. E. B. 170, 175 Cobbett, William 298 Coghill, Nevill 319 Cold War 3, 36, 108–9, 152, 180, 188, 195, 237, 241 Colley, Linda 100, 108, 111 Collingwood, R. G. 134, 135–9, 143, 151 Colville, John 35, 39, 42, 253

Commonwealth 7, 8, 17, 22–3, 27, 52–7, 62, 139, 195 Connolly, Cyril 310, 311 Conservative Party 2, 31, 20–1, 35, 38, 197, 231, 277, 313–14, 324 Constantinople. See Byzantium Cooper, Chris 289 Cornwell, Bernard 152 Coslett, Dennis 81, 92 Covent Garden (Royal Opera House) 28, 30, 216, 246, 253 Coward, Noël 87–8, 219, 313 Croft, Michael 185 Cumberbatch, Benedict 309, 323 Cummings, Michael 18 Cymdeithas yr Iaith 78, 84, 85 Dalton, O. M. 140 Dancing Times (magazine) 248, 257–8 Dandy (comic) 192, 199, 204 Darling, Alistair 106 David (Saint) 85 Delaney, Shelagh 329 de Valois, Ninette 243, 244, 245–51, 252, 253, 254, 256, 258, 259–60 Devine, George 183 Diaghilev, Sergei 245, 247–8, 251 Diana (Princess of Wales) 11–12 Diehl, Charles 140 Dimbleby, Richard 8, 18, 19, 23, 214, 280 Donmar Warehouse Theatre 325 Douglas-Home, Robin 3, 11 Dragnet (television series) 278 Drake, Francis 2, 3, 9, 19, 20 Dryden, John 3, 151 Duffy, Carol Ann 87, 309 Duncan, Ronald 24–5 Education Act (1944) 200, 207, 231 341


Edward I 73 Edward VII 57, 59, 165, 320 Edward VIII 57, 70 Edwards, A. G. 76 Edwards, Ifan ab Owen 78 Eisenstein, Sergei 175 Eisteddfod, 68, 69 Urdd Eisteddfod 78, 85 Elective affinity 6, 95, 98, 100–7, 110 Elgar, Edward 119, 122, 130, 216 Eliot, T. S. 24–5, 119, 129, 136, 142, 218, 309, 311 Elis-Thomas, Dafydd 86 Elizabeth the Queen (film) 24 Elizabeth I 19, 20, 24, 26, 27, 35–7, 40, 41, 55, 73, 124, 257–8, 281, 295, 321 in literature, art, film, television and theatre 1, 20, 26, 27, 30–1, 38, 194, 257, 281, 327 Elizabeth II 4–5, 17, 18, 21, 22–4, 30, 33, 35, 39, 43, 51–62, 74, 86, 194–5, 197–8, 211, 253, 268–71, 299, 300, 303, 308, 319, 320–2, 326 in art, film, television and theatre 6, 9, 11, 19, 23, 33, 41–1, 268–71, 274, 275, 321 Coronation of 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 17, 19, 20, 21, 22, 29, 39, 69, 71–3, 74, 95, 150–1, 194, 195, 198, 243, 256, 268, 273, 281, 310, 311, 321 Diamond Jubilee (2012) 1, 10, 17, 40, 69, 86–9, 330 Golden Jubilee (2002) 57 Silver Jubilee (1977) 39, 95–6, 326–7 wedding (1947) 269–70 Elizabeth R (television adaptation) 38 Ellis, Vivian 216, 219

The Water Gypsies 219–22 Elvin, Violetta 257 England 5, 6, 12, 28, 41, 104, 108, 110, 259, 273, 281, 311, 315, 322, 328 English Stage Company 183 Evans, Edwin 249 Everest, ascent of 3, 22–3 Eworth, Hans 257 Festival of Britain 29, 41, 73–4, 97, 179, 183, 273, 281, 311 Fire Over England (film) 27 Fonteyn, Margot 243, 244, 253, 254 Forster, E. M. 178 Free Wales Army (FWA) 77, 78, 81–2, 92–3 Frayn, Michael 312–13 Fry, Christopher 5, 25, 196 Garland for the Queen (madrigal collection) 3, 212 Garnett, Eve 206 Geoffrey of Monmouth 137 George (Saint) 315, 319 George III 73 George V 99 George VI 14, 18, 198, 211, 269, 281 Gibbon, Edward 134, 145 Gibbs, Philip 19, 20, 21, 25, 28, 29–30, 31, 70, 321, 328 Gilbert, Norman 212 Girl (comic) 193, 197 Glasgow, Mary 177 Glyndebourne Children’s Theatre 183–4 Glyndebourne Festival Opera 182 Glyndŵr, Owain 85 Goethe, Johan Wolfgang von 101–2, 107 Golding, William 180 Gombrich, E. H. 161 Gordon, Gavin 245 342


Graham, Eleanor 202, 203 Granville-Barker, Harley 32 Graves, Robert 135, 137, 141, 142–4 Gray, Terence 245 Great Depression 290 Great Exhibition 298 Great Expectations (film) 235 Great Society 291 Grigg, John (Lord Altrincham) 197, 271

H. R. H. Princess Elizabeth (television documentary) 269 Hue and Cry (film) 175–6, 180, 188, 189 Hunt, Tristram 17 Irish Home Rule 76, 103 Irish Unionism 103 The Iron Lady (film) 38 Iwan, Dafydd 78, 84–5 Jackie (magazine) 204 Jackson, Glenda 38 Jarman, Derek 327 Jellicoe, Ann 189 Jenner, Caryl 184 Jennings, Humphrey 41, 178, 190, 296–7, 298–9, 304 A Diary for Timothy (film) 178, 180 Pandemonium 296 The Silent Village 296, 302 Johnson, Boris 297 Jones, Bobi 85 Jones, David 70, 72–3, 136

Hall, Peter 282, 325 Hampson, Frank 197 This Happy Breed (film) 235 Hardie, Keir 77 Hardy, Robert 279, 309, 319 Harewood, Earl of 30 Haskell, Arnold 246, 248, 249–52, 255, 258 Helena, mother of Constantine 73 Helpmann, Robert 255, 256 Henry I 73 Henry V (1944 film) 26, 27, 34, 272–3, 316–18 Henry V (1989 film) 325 Henry VII 70 Herbert, A. P. 219 Hildick, E. W. 204 Hill, Geoffrey 123, 130–1 Hillary, Edmund 3, 22–3 Historia Brittonum 136 Hitler, Adolf 20, 292 Hobson’s Choice (film) 225 Hoggart, Richard 277, 311 The Hollow Crown (television series) 325 Holmes, W. G. 140 Homage to the Queen (masque) 2, 247, 256–60 Honey (magazine) 204 House of Cards (television drama) 323, 324 House of Commons 7, 18, 158, 159–64, 168–9, 301 House of Lords 56

Keeler, Christine 282 Kern, Jerome 220 Kerr, Judith 239 Keynes, John Maynard 28–9, 30, 177, 178, 182, 188, 278 King Arthur (semi-opera) 3, 151 Kinnock, Neil 86 Kneale, Nigel 230, 236, 237, 239 Knockout (comic) 193 Kott, Jan 282 Labour Party 1, 17, 18, 21, 23, 28, 35, 43, 76, 77, 86, 186–7, 202, 230, 236, 290, 293, 311, 312–13, 324, 330 The Lady is a Square (film) 221–2 Lambert, Constant 252 Lane, Lizzie 201 Larkin, Phillip 204, 295 343


Le Carré, John 130 League of Empire Loyalists 271 Lean, David 223, 225, 230, 234, 235, 240 Leavis, F. R. 202, 203, 311 Leavis, Q. D. 202 Leigh, Mike 329 Leigh, Vivien 255 Lewis, C. S. 142 Lewis, Cecil Day 78–9 Lewis, Saunders 71–2, 77, 82, 86 LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) 329–30 The Life and Death of Sir Falstaff (television adaptation) 276 The Life of Henry the Fifth (television adaptation) 267, 272, 274–5, 285 Lilliput (comic) 198 Livingstone, Ken 293, 306 Llewellyn, Richard 69 Llewelyn (Prince) 73, 82, 83, 85 Lloyd, Phyllida 38, 325 Llwyd, Alan 85 Loach, Ken 329 Loomis, Roger Sherman 136 Low, David 196

The Masque of Hope 319–20, 331–2 Mass-Observation Project 195, 214 Mehr, Mariella 305 Merlin 5, 148, 149 Messel, Oliver 254, 256, 257, 258 Milton, John 120, 121, 256 Millennium Dome 297, 303 Miners’ Strike (1984) 329–30 Ministry of Information 176 Mirren, Helen 327 Molesworth books and comics 175, 179, 190, 198–200 Monck, Nugent 273 Morgan, Peter The Audience 327 The Crown 327 The Queen 327 Morley, Thomas 212 Morris, Jan 24 Moore, Henry 218 Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru (MAC) 78 Muggeridge, Malcolm 271–2, 280 Munro, Rona 325–6 Murdoch, Rupert 330 Murray, Keith 159, 163, 166

Macaulay, Thomas 141 MacCormick v. Lord Advocate (legal case) 51, 61 MacDonald, Allan 322 MacOwen, Michael 182 McKellen, Ian 267 Malkin, Benjamin Heath 68 Mantel, Hilary 323–4 Margaret (Princess) 280 Markham, Violet 22 Marlowe, Christopher 35, 36, 42, 196 Marshall, Norman 244 Maryinsky Theatre 251 Masefield, John 22, 135, 141, 142–3, 144–6, 149 Masque for a Queen’s Embarkation 258

Nabokov, Vladimir 152 Nairn, Tom 12, 96, 97, 109 National Theatre 4, 32–3, 34, 35, 36, 37, 185, 296, 325 National Youth Orchestra 222 National Youth Theatre 185 Naughtie, James 40–41, 218 Neale, J. E. 20–1, 27 Neo-Elizabethanism 24–6, 212 Nerina, Nadia 257 New Elizabethanism 1–12, 17–24, 27, 28–31, 35–7, 40–1, 43, 69, 251, 258, 308–14, 317–24, 326–7, 328–9, 332 New Shakespeareanism 9, 10, 318–19, 322–8 344


Newsom Report 206 NHS (National Health Service) 43, 182, 185, 231, 240, 301, 302, 330
Northern Ireland 6, 10, 34, 36, 52, 53, 54, 95, 96, 97, 99, 103, 104, 105, 106, 108, 110, 301 Novello, Ivor 219

Plaid Cymru 71, 77, 82, 85, 86 Plomer, William 2, 24, 216. See also Benjamin Britten, Gloriana Poetry Wales 81, 85 A Policy for the Arts 186 Popular music 4, 42–3, 87–8, 219, 313, 329 Powys, John Cowper 135, 142–3, 148–50, 151, 152 Priestley, J. B. 250 Prichard, T. J. Llewelyn 68 Pride (film) 329–20 The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (film) 24 Profumo, John 282 Puffin books 192, 197, 201–5 Pugin, A. W. N. 159, 160 Punch 194, 198 Purcell, Henry 2, 151, 217

Oakeshott, Michael 98, 102, 11 Old Vic Theatre 32, 33, 182, 183, 245, 249, 255, 273, 273, 320 Old Vic Theatre Company 245 Olivier, Laurence 26, 33–4, 35, 36, 37, 47, 273, 315–18 Olympic Opening Ceremonies Beijing (2008) 297, 330 London (1948) 41 London (2012) 10, 40, 41–2, 293–306, 330–2 opera 2, 24, 30–1, 32, 38, 151, 182, 183, 196, 214, 216–18, 219, 245, 313 Oppé, A. P. 248 Oppenheimer, Robert 236, 237, 238, 240 Osborne, John 179 Look Back in Anger 277, 329 Osman, Louis 77 O’Toole, Peter 33 Owen, Gerallt Lloyd 82–4

Quatermass (television series) 230, 236–40 Quayle, Anthony 273, 274, 275 A Queen is Crowned (film) 3, 5, 34 Raleigh, Walter 2, 3, 9, 19, 41, 42 Rassine, Alexis 257 Rattigan, Terence 224, 234, 235 Reitell, Elizabeth 74 The Restless Sphere (television broadcast) 270 Reynolds, Ernest 244 Rhoscomyl, Owen, 70 Richard II 73 Richard II (television adaptation) 267, 272–3 Richard III 70, 309 Richardson, Ralph 273 Richardson, Tony 249, 319 Robson, Flora 26, 27, 37 Rodgers, Richard and Oscar Hammerstein 210, 220 Round, Ken 212 Rowse, A. L. 7, 19, 20–1, 23, 26, 29–30, 31, 39, 120–6, 128,

Parekh, Bhikhu 96, 97, 103 Pavlova, Anna 245, 247–8 Pearse, Lesley 201 Pemberton, Margaret 201 Penguin publishing 180–1, 200, 201, 249 Penney, William 236 Perrault, Charles 251 Petipa, Marius 251–2 Pevsner, Nikolaus 168 Philip (Prince, Duke of Edinburgh) 86, 268, 270, 320 Pimlott, Ben 187 345


130, 138, 193, 311, 317, 320 Royal Albert Hall 76 Royal Ballet (Vic-Wells, Sadler’s Wells Ballet) 243–60 Royal Family 19–20, 86, 253, 270 Royal Family (television documentary) 268, 284 Royal Mail 55–6 Royal Opera House. See Covent Garden Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) 32, 33, 35, 37, 267, 282, 283 royal style, Queen Elizabeth 51–62 Royal Titles Act (1953) 52, 54, 56, 60–1 Runciman, Steven 134–5, 139–42 Ruskin, John 246

Shakespeare, William 5–6, 9–10, 22, 26, 29, 31–5, 35, 36, 39, 43, 196, 267–85, 295, 308–10, 314–8, 322–8 Hamlet 33, 34, 256 Henry IV, Parts I and II 273, 279, 325, 327 Henry V 26, 33, 35, 273–4, 274, 315, 324–5, 328, 332 Henry VI 273, 274, 326 Henry VIII 319, 320 Macbeth 324–5 The Merry Wives of Windsor 176 A Midsummer Night’s Dream 42, 255–6 Richard II 5, 99, 267, 273, 279 Richard III 34, 273, 281, 309 The Tempest 43, 129, 317 Twelfth Night 124, 326 Sharp, Cecil 248 Shaw, George Bernard 244 Shaw, Glen Byam 183 Sheers, Owen, 88–9 Shepard, E. H. 197 Shepard, Lucius 197 Shils, Edward 3, 95 Sidney, Philip 20 Sillitoe, Alan 179 Simpson, Wallis 145 The Sleeping Beauty (ballet) 247, 251–6 Smith, Rick 303 Snow, C. P. 206 The Snow Queen (play) 183 Social Credit Party 144–5, 155 The Sound Barrier (film) 216, 223–5, 230, 235 Spenser, Edmund 20, 42, 122, 257 Spitting Image (television show) 329 Stanislavsky, Constantin 246 Stott, Wally 216 Strachey, Lytton 21–2, 25, 26 Elizabeth and Essex 21–2, 24, 30–1 Strong, Roy 254, 268

Sackville-West, Vita 99 Sadler’s Wells 217. See also Royal Ballet Saint-Denis, Michel 183 Sakharov, Andrei 239 Salmond, Alex 108 Sandringham 270 Santayana, George 98 Saville, Malcolm 71 Scenes from Shakespeare (television adaptation) 272 Schafer, R. Murray 213 Scotland 5–6, 51–62, 95, 104, 105, 107, 108, 109, 110, 326 2014 Independence Referendum 6, 106, 325 Scott, Adrian Gilbert 160 Scott, Giles Gilbert 158, 159, 160–4, 169 Scottish National Party (SNP) 110 Searle, Ronald 179, 197, 198–9, 202 Sergeyev, Nicolai 251 Seventeen (magazine) 205 346


Suez Crisis 3, 88, 268, 311, 312–4 Sutcliff, Rosemary 152

226, 232, 233, 234, 239, 290 Valentine, Lewis 82 Vaughan, David 256–7 Vaughan Williams, Ralph 30, 217, 245 Vaughan-Thomas, Wynford 74, 91 Verney, John 193–4, 196, 197, 198 Victoria (Queen) 68, 73, 195, 222, 257 Victoria and Albert Museum 165

Tafod y Ddraig 78 Taylor, A. J. P. 77 Tennyson, Alfred 136, 137 test pilots 9, 234–6, 240 Cunningham, John 233 de Havilland Jr, Geoffrey 234, 235 Derry, John 19, 234, 235 Duke, Neville 19, 234, 235 Lithgow, Mike 234 Waterton, Bill 234 That Was the Week That Was (television show) 282 Thatcher, Margaret 35–7, 38–9, 40, 205, 291, 292, 327, 329 Theatre in Education (TiE) 184, 187 Thirkell, Angela 201 Thomas, Dylan 73–5, 178 Thomas, George 77, 78 Thomas, R. S. 79–82, 83, 84, 86 Tilbury Speech 35, 36, 37 Tillyard, E. M. W. 273, 278 Tippett, Michael 217 The Midsummer Marriage 217–18 Townsend, Peter 280 Toynbee, Polly 308 Trease, Geoffrey 203–4 Treece, Henry 152 Trevor-Roper, Hugh 125 The Triumphs of Oriana (madrigal collection) 3 Tynan, Kenneth 32, 319

Wagon Train (television series) 278 Wales 5–6, 34, 68–94, 95, 104, 105, 106, 108, 109, 110, 142, 296, 301 Walker, Patrick Gordon 23 Walton, William 217 The Wars of the Roses (stage production) 282, 325 The Wars of the Roses (television adaptation) 267, 268, 277, 282–5, 325 Waterhouse, Keith 11, 329 Watts and Company 164, 166 Waugh, Evelyn 125, 135, 148 Way, Brian 184 Webb, Harri 85–6 Webb, Kaye 197, 202, 203 Weber, Max 101–2 welfare state 28 Welsh Assembly 86 Welsh Nation 85 Welsh Office 79 Wesker, Arnold 188 Westminster Abbey 98, 163, 164–8, 238, 269, 270 Westminster Hall 159 Weston, Jessie L. 136 Whitcomb, Noel 2 Whittam, Geoffrey 197 Wiggin, Maurice 270–1 Willans, Geoffrey 179, 198–9 William (Prince) 12

Unicorn Theatre for Children 184 United Kingdom 6, 23–4, 34, 51, 52, 54, 55–9, 95, 96, 105, 107 United States 2, 60, 74, 88–9, 126–7, 129, 138, 141, 145, 347


William IV 57 Williams, Charles 135, 142–3, 146–8, 151 Williams, D. J. 82 Williams, Henry 79 Williams, John (Ab Ithel), 68 Williams, Oscar 74, 75 Wilson Knight, G. 314–15, 319–20 Woolf, Virginia 17, 25–6, 308, 316–7 Between the Acts 308 Orlando 24, 25

World War I 99, 131, 136, 137, 142, 219, 231, 290 World War II 20, 22, 26, 28, 35, 87, 120, 131, 159, 163, 219, 237, 273, 296 Yates, Frances 1 Yeats, W. B. 135, 147, 151, 245 Young Elizabethan magazines 8, 179, 192–200, 203, 204–5 Young People’s Theatre 9, 181–2, 183–90 Young Vic Company 183


1. Cecil Beaton, Queen Elizabeth II, 1953.

2 and 3. Michael Cummings, Daily Express, 11 February 1952, and David Low, Manchester Guardian, 3 June 1953. New Elizabethanism provoked both gentle satire and imaginative contemplations of who – and what – would best realize an imminent parallel between one Elizabethan era and the next.

4. Edward Bawden, promotional poster for Hue and Cry (1946).

5. John Verney, cover to Young Elizabethan, May 1953.

6. John Verney, cover to the Coronation issue of Young Elizabethan, June 1953.

7. David Low, ‘Morning After’, Manchester Guardian, 3 June 1953.

8. Ninette de Valois making a speech from the stage after the Sadler’s Wells Ballet performance of The Sleeping Beauty (1946) at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

9. The Sadler’s Wells Ballet production of Homage to the Queen (1953) at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

10. Radio Times cover announcing the broadcast of An Age of Kings, 24 April 1960.

11. Radio Times cover promoting the Royal Wedding of Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon, 1 May 1960. These remarkably similar covers were produced a week apart from each other.

12. Nicholas Garland provides one of many imaginings of Margaret Thatcher as Elizabeth I, depicted here with James Callaghan as Walter Raleigh in the Daily Telegraph, 8 September 1978.

13. Paul Thomas acknowledges the received, contemporary importance of the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics as a ‘New Elizabethan’ pageant. Daily Express, 27 May 2013.