The bearded man stopped gnawing his barbecued chicken leg and tossed back a paper cupful of lethal, homemade punch. “I reckon today has set the republic back 10 years,” he said. Around him, people who had not met in 20 years as next-door neighbors exchanged introductions and chatted away happily. Everyone sported red-white-and-blue rosettes saved by someone’s sister from a 1953 coronation party. Makeshift bunting, strung between two cars, flapped in the evening breeze. Scratchy versions of Rule, Britannia! and There’ll Always Be An England blared from loudspeakers in a ground-floor window. Then a stout, long-retired colonel interrupted gruffly to propose the loyal toast and three dozen voices, many with transAtlantic accents, responded warmly: “The Queen, God bless her.”
The street party, that legendary, London East End celebration of coronations, jubilees and victories, had come for the first time to this middle-class, stucco terrace in West London whose leafy private drives, built for the carriages of Victorian professional men, nowadays are jammed with the cars of transient apartment dwellers. It wasn’t exactly a Cockney “knees-up,” but everyone was having a ball. Said a woman visitor from Liverpool: “The Queen does a good job, but this is something more. We’re all so tired of hard slogging. We need a party.”
She may well have been right. Certainly the British have thrown themselves headlong into the celebrations this royal Silver Jubilee, confounding the cynics, such professional anti-monarchists as the New Statesman and the hardheaded manufacturers of souvenirs who failed dismally to anticipate the demand. Because of a shortage of flags, Jubilee Street in London’s Stepney, named after the 1897 Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, had to make do
with potato sacks printed with the Union Jack.
Official preparations had been markedly low-key—the Queen insisted that only modest amounts of public money be spent—and it was not until her twoweek visit to Scotland in mid-May that it became clear this was going to erupt into a true People’s Event, on a scale not seen since the coronation and Victory-in-Europe Day.
The Scottish tour, preceded by gloomy predictions of thin crowds and trouble from separatists, was an acknowledged triumph and seemed to spark off the first touch ofjubilee fever in the south. In London, basking in a late-May heat wave, some of the familiar black taxis emerged in silver paint, matching the fleet of 25 special London Transport double-decker buses. Italian restaurants incongruously sprouted strings of union jacks and portraits of the Queen. Private cars flew pennants and, in back streets, the citizens began organizing their parties. On Jubilee Day alone, an estimated 50,000 were held up and down the country—5,000 in the capital.
If the Queen’s edict about public economy was observed (only a few processional streets boasted municipal banners), the citizens and shopkeepers of London were not content with it. By the time the golden coronation coach rolled into St. Paul’s Cathedral for a national thanksgiving service, scarcely a tobacconist or tailor’s shop along the 2!/2-mile route was without its tribute. Meanwhile, out in the miles of grey, terraced residential streets, the Queen’s humbler subjects were literally painting the town red, white and blue. Tiny Mirabel Road in Fulham, southwest London, was totally obscured by flags. Its patriotic householders even painted the curbstones in the national colors.
By the time the two-day public holiday arrived, an estimated five million tourists had poured into London and the nearest
empty hotel beds were 60 miles away. Yet the crowds who turned out by the hundred thousand to line the procession route were predominantly British. Cockney dads with work-lined faces stood patiently with their offspring hoisted on their shoulders, seeing nothing themselves. Housewives stretched up pocket mirrors to catch an oblique glimpse. Balloons broke free and floated up over the rooftops of Temple Bar, where the Lord Mayor of London was to proffer his pearl-studded sword to the Queen in the traditional welcome to the City, and a few adventurous figures could be spotted scrambling among the chimney pots. The security men did not bat an eyelash.
All over Britain, there were ox-roasts, medieval fetes, morris dancing and a great handing out ofjubilee mugs and crown (46 cents) pieces to children.
Back in London’s Chancery Lane, as the still unseen Queen approaches, the crowd stands easily, patiently, making way for children, short people and the occasional, camera-toting tourist. A scholarly-looking Englishman obligingly heaves up an American woman so that she can snap the household cavalry. A few people start up Rule, Britannia! on the far side of the street. Anything that moves is cheered— including a top-hatted coachman, waiting for the Lord Mayor, as he lifts a tankard to thirsty lips.
But the image that remains in the mind is of the tidal wave of people, gently unleashed by police after the Queen is again safely inside Buckingham Palace gates, that fills the whole space in front of the palace and as far as the eye can see down the Mall. Placards wave: Liz RULES OK -echoing a football slogan—and WE LOVE YER, BABY, evidence of Kojak-mania. The Guards band plays jaunty music-hall songs and, good heavens, some people are actually dancing in the street, in the rain. Abruptly the music switches to Land Of Hope And Glory and the Queen, as if by a
signal, reappears. The crowd jumps up and down in its pleasure. There is surely a lot to be said, someone remarks, for a person who has that sort of effect on so many.
The bond between ruler and subject was, indeed, movingly demonstrated. You can call it, as some do, simply a nostalgic reflex action; but who would have suspected that this hard-bitten, supposedly blasé generation, preoccupied with pay packets and unemployment, would turn out on a cold, dank night to jump for joy when a small, 51-year-old lady in yellow appeared on a distant balcony?
Will they do so in Canada, next October, when the same middle-aged lady comes to visit her (nominal) subjects across the Atlantic? The evidence is contradictory. As long ago as 1971, according to Gallup, 40% of Canadians thought the Queen’s role should be lessened (42% disagreed). On the other hand, in 1973, 53% of Canadians were unable to foresee their country becoming a republic in the next 20 years.
In Britain, however, at this particular moment, there are few doubts. It has been said that this queen’s great achievement is to have identified herself with the governed rather than the governors. That is some feat in a country where so many people are worried sick about how to find a job, pay the rent, buy new shoes for the kids—cares the Queen can only guess at. Yet, despite the fringe iconoclasts who bleat about the running costs of the monarchy (actually $ 1.8 million a year less than the British Embassy in Washington), the people of England, in Chesterton’s phrase, have spoken. What they have said, loud and clear this June is, “We want the Queen.”
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