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The idea for a Christmas message from the sovereign to the British Empire was proposed by the "founding father" of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Sir John Reith in 1932, as a way to inaugurate the Empire Service (now the World Service). That year, George V read the first Royal Christmas Message; the King was originally hesitant about using the relatively untested medium of radio, but was reassured after a summertime visit to the BBC and agreed to carry out the concept and read the speech from a temporary studio set up at Sandringham House. The broadcast was introduced from Ilmington Manor by 65-year-old Walton Handy, a local shepherd, with carols from the church choir and the bells ringing from the town church, and reached an estimated 20 million people in Australia, Canada, India, Kenya, South Africa, and the UK.
While his brother, Edward VIIIabdicated just before his first Christmas as king, George VI continued his father's Christmas broadcasts; it was in his reading delivered in the opening stages of the Second World War that he uttered the famous lines: "I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year."
George's daughter, Elizabeth II, gave her first Christmas message to the Commonwealth of Nations from her study at Sandringham House, at 3:07 PM on 25 December 1952, some 11 months after her father's death. By 1957, the broadcast became televised, and, from then until 1996, was produced by the BBC; only in 1969 was no message given because a special documentary film - Royal Family - had been made during the summer in connection with the Investiture of the Prince of Wales. It was therefore decided not to do a broadcast at Christmas, but The Queen issued a written message instead.
The Queen ended this monopoly, however, announcing that the message would, from 1997, be produced and broadcast alternately by the BBC and its main rival, Independent Television News (ITN), with a biennial rotation. It was reported by The Daily Telegraph that this decision was made after the BBC decided to screen an interview with Diana, Princess of Wales, on its current affairs programme Panorama. This was denied by Buckingham Palace which said the new arrangements "reflect the composition of the television and radio industries today". Beginning in 2011, Sky News was added to the rotation.
Sky News recorded the Queen's Christmas message for Christmas 2012, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee year, and for the first time it has been recorded in 3D. Buckingham Palace are reported to have explained: "We wanted to do something a bit different and special in this Jubilee year, so doing it for the first time in 3D seemed a good thing, technology wise, to do."
The message typically combines a chronicle of that year's major events, with specific focus on the British Empire originally and later the Commonwealth of Nations, with the sovereign's own personal milestones and feelings on Christmas. It is one of the few instances when the sovereign speaks publicly without advice from any ministers of the Crown in any of the monarch's realms. Planning for each year's address begins months earlier, when the monarch establishes a theme and appropriate archival footage is collected and assembled; the actual speech is recorded a few days prior to Christmas.
Written by Rudyard Kipling, the speech touched on the advance of technology that permitted the King to deliver an intimate message to all parts of the world, as well as mentioning the need for work towards peace and counselling listeners to aim for "prosperity without self-seeking."
The King focused on our "one great family," stating: "[it is] in serving each other and in sacrificing for our common good that we are finding our true life."
The King focused on "the family circle".
The King focused on "the family of the British Commonwealth and Empire," saying: "Wherever you are, serving in our wide, free Commonwealth of Nations, you will always feel at home. Though severed by the long sea miles of distance, you are still in the family circle."
The King reviewed the privations of the war years, the difficulties of postwar adjustment, and added words of encouragement to his subjects.
The King reassured people of his recovery from illness and expressed his gratitude to the United States of America for its sympathy and help in Britain's effort towards recovery; at the time, Britain was the largest beneficiary of the Marshall Plan.
George VI's final Christmas message was the only broadcast that he pre-recorded, because of illness. He spoke of his recovery and the goodwill messages he had received: "From my peoples in these islands and in the British Commonwealth and Empire – as well as from many other countries – this support and sympathy has reached me and I thank you now from my heart..."
In her first Christmas message, from the same desk and chair used by her father and grandfather before her, the Queen spoke of carrying on the tradition passed on to her. This message, and the ones until 1957, were also broadcast in sound only on television in the United Kingdom.
This message was broadcast from Auckland, New Zealand, during the Queen's 1953-1954 royal tour of the Commonwealth. Her Majesty finished her broadcast with a note of sympathy to those affected by the Tangiwai disaster the night before.
Broadcast live from her study at Sandringham House, the Queen's theme was the opportunities arising from membership of the Commonwealth of Nations. With the launch of ITV in the UK, the sound-only television broadcast was simulcast on both ITV and the BBC Television Service from this year on.
The Duke of Edinburgh spoke from HMY Britannia during a voyage around the Commonwealth before the Queen made her speech live from Sandringham House.
This year's message, read from the Long Library at Sandringham House, was the first to be televised and was also the 25th anniversary of the first Christmas broadcast on radio. The Queen noted the milestone and the advance of technology that allowed her message to be viewed in her subjects' homes. She added that while change might be bewildering, it is important to hold on to ageless ideals and values such as the importance of religion, morality, honesty and self-restraint and spoke of the need for courage to stand up for what is right, true and honest. During this season freak radio conditions caused by sunspots resulted in American police radio transmissions interfering with British television broadcasts. One occasion of interference occurred during the Queen's speech causing listeners to hear an American police officer say "Joe, I'm gonna grab a quick coffee."
The reading, coming from the Long Library at Sandringham House, focused on the importance of spiritual and family values and some of the journeys soon to be made around the Commonwealth by the Queen and members of the Royal Family. The Queen also responded to requests that her children be shown in the broadcast by saying that after a great deal of thought she and her husband decided against it as they want their children to grow up as naturally as possible.
The Queen pre-recorded this Christmas message as she was pregnant with her third child, The Prince Andrew, who was born the following February. The message lasted about one minute and conveyed the Queen's best wishes and her gratitude for the warm wishes she had received.
The speech from Buckingham Palace referred to recent successes in space, including the launch of Telstar, which made it possible to broadcast television, images, and news around the world almost instantly.
The Queen reverted to a message delivered by radio, as she was pregnant with her fourth child, The Prince Edward. She spoke of the importance of the campaign to free the world from hunger and the Commonwealth's response and spoke of the hope and promise of the future and the need for humanity to be ambitious for the achievement of what is good and honourable.
The address from Buckingham Palace took as its theme the family, from the individual unit to the family of man.
The Queen spoke about the increasingly prominent and important role played by women in society. This year saw the Aberfan disaster, in which 144 people were killed after the collapse of a colliery spoil tip onto the Welsh village of Aberfan.
No Christmas address was given by the Queen, as Elizabeth felt that, between the investiture of her son, The Prince Charles, as Prince of Wales and the release of the documentary Royal Family, she had had enough coverage on television; concern expressed by the public prompted Her Majesty to issue a statement that assured a return to tradition in 1970. The Queen's written message acknowledged the end of the 1960s and the decade's significance for being the time when men first walked on the moon. She also stated that she was looking forward to her visit the next year to Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga and northern Canada. She also expressed her concern that "the lonely, the sick and the elderly" all feel the warmth and companionship of Christmas.
Once again televised, the speech recounted some of the trips made by the Queen during the year; it included film shot in Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
Focusing on the theme of families, the television version showed The Prince Andrew and The Prince Edward looking at a family photograph album.
The production included scenes from the celebration of the Queen's 25 years of marriage to The Duke of Edinburgh and Elizabeth mentioned the violence in Northern Ireland, as well as the preparations for Britain to join the European Economic Community.
Interspersed with footage of the Queen giving her oration was film shot during the wedding of the Queen's daughter, The Princess Anne, to Capt Mark Phillips.
Broadcast from the gardens of Buckingham Palace, it was the first time the message had been recorded outdoors, and acknowledged a year of record inflation and unemployment in the UK and worldwide.
To mark the United States Bicentennial, the Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh undertook a state visit to the United States of America; that visit, and the theme of reconciliation after disagreements, formed the focus of the message.
The Queen recalled the year's celebrations for her Silver Jubilee, and expressed hope for reconciliation in Northern Ireland, where she had visited in August for the first time in 11 years.
The future was the subject selected by the Queen, with the broadcast including footage of Her Majesty with her new grandson, Peter Phillips, and The Princess Anne, as well as recordings of earlier broadcasts going back to George V.
The message, which attracted a record 28 million viewers in the United Kingdom, reflected on celebrations for the 80th birthday of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, and addressed the theme of service in its many forms.
Marking the 50th anniversary of the first Christmas message, the Queen delivered this year's at the library of Windsor Castle, for the first time. The theme was "the sea", in a year in which British troops fought in the Falklands War in the South Atlantic Ocean. The Queen's grandchild Prince William was born during this year.
David Attenborough, as he would until 1991, produced the Christmas message broadcast, which in 1986 was filmed in the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace and stressed society's responsibility towards children.
The Queen read part of her Christmas speech from a podium on the stage at the Royal Albert Hall, recorded at a special gala occasion held there, meaning that, for the first time, an audience heard the speech prior to its international airing.
The Queen praised the achievements of volunteers working for peace and the relief of others.
Reflecting on past and present peace efforts, Elizabeth remarked on her attendance at the ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the Normandy Landings and her state visit to Russia.
Beginning with a reminder of the 50th anniversary of VE-Day and VJ-Day, the Queen stated that remembrance was an important part of life, and paid tribute to those who had served and those who had not returned. She then turned to present-day conflicts, such as the Bosnian War, in which Commonwealth forces were serving, to the full year of peace in Northern Ireland, and referred to her Buckingham Palace invitation to voluntary workers working throughout the world. The work of Sister Ethel, a nun helping children in the townships of South Africa, was picked out by Elizabeth, who ended by paying tribute to peacemakers throughout the world.
The Queen spoke of her trips to Poland, the Czech Republic, and Thailand, as well as the visit to the UK by South African President Nelson Mandela, with an overall theme of hope for the future.
The message focused on lessons that could be learnt by different generations from each other, and the broadcast included film of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, visiting the Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey, the Queen at Ypres and in Paris, and the reception for the Prince of Wales' 50th birthday.
The Queen expressed her looking forward to the start of a new century and a new millennium, as well as at the lessons of history. The broadcast, filmed in the White Drawing Room of Windsor Castle, featured footage of a reception for young achievers at Holyrood Palace, and a reception for members of the emergency services at Buckingham Palace.
The Queen used her Christmas broadcast to reflect on the true start of the new millennium and the role of faith in communities. The broadcast included film of that year's visit to Australia.
Elizabeth, in this speech which she described as "my 50th Christmas message to you," (her 1969 message was in writing and not broadcast) referred to the unusual number of trials and disasters that year, alluding to the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak and the 11 September attacks; viewers saw the occasion when the American national anthem was played at the changing of the guard. Her Majesty then spoke of the importance of faith when drawing strength in troubled times, and paid tribute to those who work for others in the community.
In her 50th Christmas broadcast, the Queen spoke on the themes of joy and sadness, reflecting on her "personal loss" following the deaths of her sister, Princess Margaret, and mother, Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother, that year in February and March respectively, and the comfort she received from her faith and the tributes of others. Her message was delivered from the White Drawing Room of Buckingham Palace, with photographs of the Queen Mother, King George VI and Princess Margaret by her side. She recalled the joyous celebration of her Golden Jubilee with excerpts being shown along with the sombre Bali memorial service at St Paul's Cathedral in London. She spoke of reliance on the twin pillars of the "message of hope" in the Christian gospel and the support of the public.
The opening of this message was recorded at the Household Cavalry barracks in Windsor. With many members of Commonwealth armed forces on foreign deployments, the Queen encouraged the audience, which included 10 million in the UK, to think of those not with their families at Christmas, and paid tribute to the work they had done to bring peace. She also spoke of the importance of teamwork and of what she had learned when presenting the new Queen's Golden Jubilee Award for Voluntary Service in the Community.
Opening with footage of the Queen handing out presents to her own family, and interlaced with coverage of the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, and the Prince of Wales attending various multicultural meetings, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visiting a Sikhgurudwara and the Prince of Wales visiting a Muslim school in east London, the theme of the message was cultural and religious diversity and the benefits of tolerance. The message was warmly received by leaders of Britain's Muslim ans Sikh communities, though also denounced by Stuart Millson in Right Now! In a break from tradition, the Queen also sent a separate radio Christmas message to UK troops, which was broadcast by the British Forces Broadcasting Service.
The speech, available for the first time for download as a podcast, was about the relationship between the generations and how young and old could come together to strengthen their communities, with strong references to the inclusion of Muslims and other faiths into mainstream society.
The 2007 message began with the introductory remarks from the 1957 Christmas message shown on a television and the Queen standing beside it. The theme centred on the family, including Jesus' birth into a family under unfavourable circumstances, and the Queen spoke about the common duty to care for the vulnerable in society. Footage of the Royal Marines in the war in Afghanistan, as well as a military memorial, were shown, accompanied by commentary about the work of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The message ended with a black and white clip of "God Save the Queen" from the original 1957 broadcast and an image of the British royal standard.
The Queen acknowledged that concerns about the 2008 economic downturn as well as violence around the world have made that year's Christmas "a more sombre occasion for many" and called on people to show courage and not accept defeat and instead struggle for a better future. She also reflected on the 60th birthday of the Prince of Wales and his charitable works and paid tribute to those who lead charitable lives in the service of others. This was the first message broadcast in high-definition.
The Queen reflected on the role of Commonwealth armed forces serving in Afghanistan.
The Queen focused on the importance of the King James Bible (400 years old in 2011) as a unifying force and of sport in building communities and creating harmony. The Christmas message included footage of Prince William and Prince Harry playing football with orphans in Lesotho. Rather than being recorded at Buckingham Palace as is normally the case, for the first time the Christmas message was filmed in Hampton Court Palace.
Unity and hope in the face of adversity and the importance of family were the themes of this year's broadcast with royal tours, the Wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, the wedding of Zara Phillips and the differences between the two, and the Commonwealth also being touched upon in those two contexts, respectively. The message was recorded prior to the hospitalisation of the Duke of Edinburgh for emergency heart surgery. This was the first Christmas message produced by Sky News.
Broadcast for the first time in 3D. This message was the 60th that the Queen delivered to the nation and the Commonwealth, in commemoration of her Diamond Jubilee.