Today (December 25) in London History – The Queen

The Queen made her first ever, live, on radio Christmas message on December 25, 1952. This Today in London History podcast tells the tale.


London calling.

London Walks connecting.

London Walks here with your daily London fix.

Story time. History time.

Merry Christmas. 

We have liftoff. 

Before we get to the main course, a few words about how we got here. And where we go on from here.

With this Christmas Day – this December 25th – podcast we complete the year. This is the 365th Today in London History podcast. 

There is one more to do – February 29th. But that one will have to wait until the end of February in 2024. 

The series began on the day after Christmas last year. December 26th, 2021. I had no idea it would become a series. I did that first one on the spur of the moment. As a whim. And then the next day – December 27th – I did another one. And just kept on doing them. I have no idea when the thought first crossed my mind, I wonder whether it would be possible to just keep on going, do a year of these. My hunch is that idea probably first crossed my mind in late January. Or thereabouts. And I imagine I probably dismissed it. Out of hand. “No, there’s way I’ll be able to see this out. Do 365 of these. Do one of them every day, for a year. Do one of them for every day of the year.

I can’t tell you how daunting it was back in those early days. I had a diary. And it was all but empty. It was all but empty because I was scrambling to find an item just for the next day. It wasn’t just find an item. It was research it, script it, voice it, clean up the record and put it out. That in itself was time intensive. Each one of these, on average, takes four to five hours. So I was scrambling just to get the next day’s episode produced. But somehow I found some extra time on some of those days to research dates that were up ahead on the calendar. If I got a good candidate, in it would go into the diary. And gradually that diary filled up. In the early days there were whole months that were empty. There wasn’t a single date in that month that had an event that might have been suitable for this podcast. And gradually that changed. There came a time when approximately half the dates in any given month had an entry, had a candidate. And eventually, I remember it well, the day came when there were maybe only three or four dates that were blank. And then just one. And then none. And of course part and parcel of that process was dates beginning to get more than one entry. Now the diary is brimful. Even though every single date in the diary has an R with a circle around it beside one of the items. That’s my notation. The R means this is the item I’ve chosen for this date. The circle round it means it’s been recorded and ready to go. 

And none of that was easy sledding because of how high I set the bar. There are half a dozen or so reference books that will set out for you a list of notable happenings on any given date. But of course I had to make it more difficult for myself, didn’t I. I wasn’t going to be content with a steady diet of the big, everybody-knows-that obvious ones.

We’re London Walks. We’re famous for knowing stuff about London that other people don’t know. Famous for unearthing fun, out-of-the-way, quirky historical tidbits. I wanted to do that whenever possible. It wasn’t always possible but there were plenty of times when it was. So I made some great finds. Who knew, for example, about the day the milkmaids and their cows were cleared off the Mall, just along from Buckingham Palace? To think that that happened on a date in the 20th century. Admittedly the early century. But the 20th century nonetheless. I can’t go by there now without thinking about those cows and their cowsheds and the milkmaids and London kids getting the freshest possible milk. Doubtless watching fascinated as their milk steamed into the pan under the surehanded attention of the milkmaids. 

And even when it was a famous, well-known item in London history I wanted, if possible, to find out something about it that was interesting and wasn’t generally known. A recent example, the murder of the actor William Terriss just outside his private stage door at the Adelphi Theatre. The murder is very well known. But who knew that the murderer, Richard Price, was apprehended by a one-armed commissionaire named William Joyce? And I think by and large the series has lived up to that high standard, that London Walks standard. The bar was set high and we’ve cleared it. Time and again.

So where do we go from here? Well, I probably will recycle the series. I can’ remember what I put out on December 1st, let alone late last year. And in any case, at the very least we as a group of guides now have a wonderful wild card in our hand for each day of the year. “Are you aware” we can say to our walkers, that on this day… and so on. Fun London factoids. They’re good news. So that’s the first answer to the question, where do we go from here? The second answer is, I’ve got that brimful diary. So I think we’ll go on putting something out every day. Most days they won’t be items that will take me four to five hours to script. They’ll take 20 minutes because instead of being a Today in London History episode each day’s output – well, most of the time – will be a Today in London History bulletin. Just a couple of fun lines. Though I’m sure there will be days when the spirit will move me and I’ll want to do a full scale – one that like most of them in this series runs to ten to twenty minutes. But those longer ones will be as and when, as opposed to day in and day out. The unforgiving, relentless schedule of this past year. There are things I want to do: books I want to read, places I want to go, walks I want go on, other things I want to research that I’ve had to put on hold for this past year. The traces are off now, I’m going to do those things now. And some of those things, incidentally, have to do in another sense with the London Walks podcast output. There are any number of podcasts I’ve been itching to do – a lot of them interviews, not just with guides but with Londoners who aren’t guides but are interesting London things – I haven’t been able to do any of those podcasts because of this punishing Today in London History podcast series. The yoke’s off now, though – the prison door’s open and I’m walking through it. Walking toward podcast project. Doubtless a lot of you have got comfortable, settled in with the Today in London History series – I’m thinking of the young Doctor in Chiswick who listens when she’s out for a walk on her lunchbreak, and the guy in New York who listens when he goes for his morning walk in Central Park, and the lady in Dallas, Texas who listens when she’s doing the dishes and hoovering. I hope it’s not too wrenching for you, Planet London Walks going over to a daily bulletin. And on the plus side, there’s going to be a lot more colour, a lot more variety in our output. No bad thing, that. Not least because listening a second time round to this past year’s Today in London History – listening to the recycling – well, the worst case is hearing those items a year later will just seem like a refresher. And a lot of them almost certainly will seem brand new. If they do to me – and I lived with them, after all, birthed them, well, then certainly they will to you.

And that brings us to today, Christmas Day. This day in London history. If you had said to me last year – or even last spring or early summer – the swan song of your Today in London History podcast series – the one you’ll do on Christmas Day – will be the young Queen’s broadcasting her first ever 

Christmas message

live on the radio on Christmas Day, 1952, I would have scoffed. No way, that’ll close out the series. It won’t even make it into the diary. But then…

Hugely laden, charged, pregnant word “then”. Isn’t it. 

Yes, but then… You can hear the ellipsis after the word then…

I have no idea what got bumped, what the podcast would have been…

That question gets back-burnered. Maybe I’ll address it next year.

But anyway, here we are. It couldn’t be otherwise. But even as I’m writing this I’m thinking of my favourite podcast of the 365. The one that went out on July 24th. The one that told the story of the funeral of the great actress Ellen Terry. And that had those immortal lines from the Irish poet William Allingham. The lines were found on a note pinned to the white gate of Ellen Terry’s cottage;

“No funeral gloom, my dears, when I am gone, 

Corpse-gazings-tears-black raiment-graveyard grimness.

Think of me as withdrawn into the dimness,

Yours still – you mine – Remember all the best –

Of our past moments and forget the rest –

And so to where I wait, come gently on.”

It just didn’t get any better than that.

Those beautiful lines will do as our overture. And we’re going to cheat a little bit. We’re told the Queen made the first Christmas broadcast of her reign from the study at Sandringham House. And that it was live. I wonder. Was the BBC really all over Sandringham on Christmas Day, 1952? I wonder if it was possible that it was pre-recorded. Sandringham isn’t London of course. But live or not live there’s no question but that broadcast will have been fed through to the BBC on Portland Place and will effectively have gone out from there. Nice touch, we’re told the Queen used the chair and desk that served King George VI and before him King George V for the same purpose. Her words were addressed to the people of the Commonwealth and Empire in all parts of the world. In clear and expressive tones she promised them to strive to continue the work of her father and grandfather to united the members of that great family ever more closely. She asked them all to pray for her on the day of her coronation. 

The address begins,

Each Christmas, at this time, my beloved father broadcast a message to his people in all parts of the world. Today I am doing this to you, who are now my people. As he used to do, I am speaking to you from my own home, where I am spending Christmas with my family: and let me say at once how I hope that. your children are enjoying themselves as much as mine are on a day which is especially the children’s festival, kept in honour of the Child born at Bethlehem nearly 2,000 years ago.

And for a Today in London recommendation. Well, one that’s for your diary. And that’s a wild card.

Saturday, January 7th is Christmas Day 2023 for Russians. The Russian Cathedral in London – it’s at 67 Ennismore Gardens, more or less behind the V & A – holds a Christmas service, a vigil, a night-time service, the likes of which you’ve never seen. Incense, moving around – there’s no seating – it lasts for several hours. You can come and go, look in and look out. I’d recommend it. Highly recommend it. It’s an experience. Unforgettable. And the birth of a child in the dead of winter – renewal in other words – and peace on earth and people coming together, that’s a good thing.

And apart from the usual sign-off, those are the last words of the Today in London History 2021-2022 podcast series.

Merry Christmas and God be with you. 

You’ve been listening to the Today in London History podcast. Emanating from – home of London Walks, London’s signature walking tour company. London’s local, time-honoured, fiercely independent, family-owned, just-the-right-size walking tour company. And as long as we’re at it, London’s multi-award-winning walking tour company. Indeed, London’s only award-winning walking tour company.

And here’s the secret: London Walks is essentially run as a guides’ cooperative. 

That’s the key to everything. It’s the reason we’re able to attract and keep the best guides in London. You can get schlubbers to do this for £20 a walk. But you cannot get world-class guides – let alone accomplished professionals.

It’s not rocket science: you get what you pay for. And just as surely, you also get what you don’t pay for. 

Back in 1968 when we got started we quickly came to a fork in the road. We had to answer a searching question: Do we want to make the most money? Or do we want to be the best walking tour company in the world? You want to make the most money you go the schlubbers route. You want to be the best walking tour company in the world you do whatever you have to do to attract and keep the best guides in London – you want them guiding for you, not for somebody else. Bears repeating: the way we’re structured – a guides’ cooperative – is the key to the whole thing. It’s the reason for all those awards, it’s the reason people who know go with London Walks, it’s the reason we’ve got a big following, a lively, loyal, discerning following – quality attracts quality.

It’s the reason we’re able – uniquely – to front our walks with accomplished, in many cases distinguished professionals: barristers, doctors, geologists, museum curators, archaeologists, historians, criminal defence lawyers, Royal Shakespeare Company actors, a bevy of MVPs, Oscar winners (people who’ve won the Guide of the Year Award)… well, you get the idea. As that travel writer famously put it, “if this were a golf tournament, every name on the Leader Board would be a London Walks guide.”

And as we put it: London Walks Guides make the new familiar and the familiar new.

And on that agreeable note…come then, let us go forward together on some great London Walks.  See ya tomorrow.

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