TELEVISION / Hope and glory

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The Independent Culture
'THERE was just one nomination for spectre at the feast,' said one of the contributors to As If It Were Yesterday, BBC 1's chocolate box recollection of Coronation Day. He had the Duke of Windsor in mind (who didn't turn up in the end, to everyone's relief), but the casual remark brought home to you the fact that a fateful presence did make it into the abbey that day. Millions of people saw it without realising its implications but not everyone failed to notice. The Duke of Norfolk, Earl Marshal of England and organiser of the day's events, had resisted the introduction of television cameras, along with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Winston Churchill and various other high panjandrums. The Queen, in an early demonstration of regal will, overruled them. Announcing the decision, the Duke of Norfolk - a remarkable man with a pair of oyster eyes and the bearing of a wooden Indian - said 'It's an extraordinary advance and I tremble to think where it may lead in the years ahead.'

The Duke was clearly having trouble being polite to journalists in 1953, so it may have been a mercy that he was spared the painful proof of his prescience - he died in 1975. The cameras shouldered their way in and wouldn't keep a commoner's distance (Fred Dimmock, who was in charge of the broadcast, revealed that doubters had been persuaded with a wide-angle lens which was later swapped for a telephoto, capable of zooming in on the Queen's face). Since then, it's arguable that the avaricious stare of the television camera has done far more to bring the Royal Family to its present state than the tabloid press; that the Coronation broadcast fatally whetted the public appetite for close-ups.

It was all hope then, though. If you were wondering how a country possessed by ideas of change and modernity could collapse in collective rapture before this extraordinary confection of historical continuity, it was explained later by Lady Glenconner, one of the train-bearers on the day; the Queen was young, and to most people she represented hope and novelty, not a weight of tradition. In that sense the Coronation was a defining moment, when a failing social structure collided with the democratic medium that would utterly change it.

Angela Pope's excellent documentary 'Ordinary People', for the Inside Story strand (BBC 2), took us inside the refugee transit camp of Karlovac. 'You're living like kings here,' said a UN official walking into one of the rooms. His idea of palatial accomodation consisted of a stark chamber, crammed with three-tier bunks; the only space to stand was in the narrow corridors between the beds. For refugees, though, all comfort is relative. Pope's film captured details from lives reduced to scraps of paper - tiny snapshots, identity cards, dog-eared documents made woolly by repeated handling. In the bureacracy of aid it isn't barbed wire that separates you from refuge but a single sheet of paper. The style was starkly attentive when it needed to be - as when a widow agonised over the thought of her husband's unburied body - and at other times movingly aimless, as though the camera's mind was lost in thoughts of home.

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