Sally Emerson's Week

The Stuff of Fairy Tales
Feb. 8 2002 2:23 PM

Sally Emerson's Week

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Perhaps what we need after the misery of September 11, after all our problems with crime, the health service, and everything else, is a good old-fashioned celebration. Queen Elizabeth II ascended to the throne 50 years ago this week, and we shall be celebrating her Golden Jubilee in June. The newspapers are awash with old royal photographs. The royal family is the stuff of fairy tales and myth, and its existence probably provides solace at a deep level for a great many people. TV and newspaper executives are torn about the Jubilee, however. On the one hand, they are po-faced about the whole event, insisting they will present the case against the royal family and criticise the queen where and when criticism is due. On the other, they know that what people really like, what gets people watching TV and buying newspapers, are photographs of the Queen looking lovely, while lovely things are said about her and her lovely children. It will be interesting to see which side wins.

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Meanwhile we are all pouring over old photographs. There is a 1952 photograph of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh leaving Clarence House for Sandringham. She managed a smile for the silent crowds and a discreet wave. At the front of the royal car there's a spike, and it's hard to work out whether it might be an aerial or a small flagpole without a flag. Photographs of the queues waiting to see the dead king lying in state in Westminster show people lined right back over Lambeth Bridge and beyond. More people probably came to London to mourn the death of George VI than came to Princess Diana's funeral.

Yesterday, The Times marked the 50th anniversary of King George's death with a facsimile of the paper it published on February 7, 1952, with the classified advertisements on the front page. The words "DEATH OF THE KING" appeared in bold, smallish capitals in the top right-hand corner. Among the classifieds was an advertisement that said: "At the Phillis Earle salons not less than perfection sets the standard for permanent waving. Every coiffure treated as an individual problem. Consultations free. 32 Dover Street, W.1. Regent 7541." Another said, "Pamela Dare can now accept commissions for hand-made blouses and lingerie: clients own materials skillfully made up." I can't imagine why newspapers now are foolish enough to put news on their front pages instead of advertisements for solutions to private problems, although I do see that the king's death that day was probably more interesting than any permanent wave.

Reading The Times facsimile is curiously reassuring. The Queen is described as "An Outstanding Representative of her Generation", the Duke of Edinburgh has an "Inborn Love of the Sea", and there is "Sorrow in Northern Ireland". In the photographs, the British public looks somber and sensible, the men lean with long overcoats and bowler hats, like Ralph Fiennes in the movie version of Graham Greene's novel The End of the Affair. But maybe it was boring in those days, just as it is in the French countryside today, as I pointed out yesterday. On the question of private problems versus public issues, I am offered more ideas on how to cope with the problem of lost socks. One friend has a regular delivery of socks supplied from a catalogue company, while another buys a vast numbers of socks for his entire family, who fortunately all have the same size feet. The most iconoclastic idea belongs to that of the father of one of my son's friends, who apparently only ever wears a pair of socks once, then throws them away.