The Royal Christmas Message
(currently coined The Queen's Speech
) is broadcast by Queen Elizabeth II
to the Commonwealth
. The tradition began in 1932 with a radio broadcast by George V
on the BBC Empire Service
. Today the broadcast is made on television via various providers.
The idea for a Christmas Message from the Sovereign to the Commonwealth was originally mooted in 1932 by the founding father of the BBC, Sir John Reith. The idea of the speech was to inaugurate the then Empire Service, which is now known as the BBC World Service.
The first Royal Christmas Message was issued by George V in 1932. The King was originally hesitant about using the relatively untried medium of radio to issue a Christmas Message. However he was reassured by a visit to the BBC in the summer of 1932 CE, and agreed to try out the idea. So in 1932 on Christmas Day, King George V issued a Christmas Message from a small office in Sandringham House to the Empire via "wireless".
Edward VIII abdicated before his first Christmas on the Throne, and therefore never issued a Christmas Message.
George VI continued the Christmas broadcasts. Perhaps his best known was delivered in 1939, in the opening stages of the Second World War, and contained the famous lines starting: "I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year.
The tradition has been continued by the present Queen, Elizabeth II. Her first Christmas Message to the Commonwealth took place from the study at Sandringham House at 15:07 GMT on 25 December 1952 and was broadcast to the nation by BBC radio. She has delivered the traditional Message each Christmas ever since with the exception of 1969, and they have been fully televised since 1957. The message is broadcast in the UK at 3pm (15:00 GMT), and broadcast around the Commonwealth. In non-Commonwealth countries the Christmas Message can be heard on BBC radio or television, or can be downloaded at any time after 15:00 GMT on the Royal Family's website or other websites.
Between 1957 and 1996 the Christmas Message was produced for television by the BBC. In 1995, Buckingham Palace ended the BBC's monopoly and announced that production of the Broadcast would, with effect from 1997, be shared between the BBC and its commercial rival ITN. The contract would alternate between the two organisations on a Biennial basis, with each producing two consecutive Messages. ITN produced the Broadcasts of 1997 and 1998, and accordingly the duty has since alternated every two years.
There is evidence that the decision to bring in a rival to the BBC was brought about by the decision of the Corporation to screen an interview with Diana, Princess of Wales on its current affairs programme Panorama. Philip Gilbert, Head of Events at the BBC in early 1997, said in a memo to Chief Executive of Broadcast Will Wyatt that, "It is widely perceived that the BBC is in effect being penalised because of the Princess of Wales' Panorama interview, and thus we do not give up our responsibility for the broadcast voluntarily but have to a degree been 'sacked'". The memo was released to the public domain by virtue of a request under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
Messages by year
- 1932: First royal Christmas Message was issued by George V.
- 1939: George VI's first and best known speech in the opening stages of the Second World War containing the famous line: "I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year".
- 1952: Queen makes first Christmas speech. She sat in the same chair and used the same desk as her father, George VI, and his father, George V, had previously done and she began with: "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." This Message, and the ones until 1957, were also broadcast in sound only on television in the UK.
- 1955: 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.
- 1957: The Queen's Message was televised in-vision for the first time.
- 1969: No Christmas Message was broadcast in this year, apparently as the Queen felt that she had been on television too much due to Richard Cawston's The Royal Family documentary. A repeat of an episode from the documentary was broadcast on Christmas Day.
- 1970: Tradition was reinstated with the broadcast again taking place.
- 1979: Ceefax was used for the first time providing subtitles for the hard of hearing.
- 1980: The Queen's Christmas broadcast attracted a record of 28 million British viewers.
- 1986–1991: Between these years the Christmas broadcast was produced by Sir David Attenborough.
- 1988: The Queen added a supplementary message referring to the Clapham Junction rail crash, Lockerbie disaster and the Armenian earthquake which had happened since the main broadcast was recorded.
- 1992: Sad times for the royal family as the Queen called the year annus horribilis (Latin for "horrible year"). The speech was leaked beforehand to The Sun.
- 1997: Broadcast produced by Independent Television News for the first time, beginning a period of alternating production with the BBC.
- 1998: The Queen's Message first appeared on the Internet.
- 2001: The Queen refers to the attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001, underscoring their widespread effect felt across the Commonwealth.
- 2002: The Queen makes her 50th Christmas Message.
- 2004: A strong appeal for religious tolerance in the Commonwealth and beyond (see below). In a break from tradition, Her Majesty also sent a separate radio Christmas message to UK troops, which was broadcast by the British Forces Broadcasting Service.
- 2006: The Queen's Message first made available to be downloaded by podcast.
- 2007: The Queen's Message first made available on YouTube.
The 1932 Christmas Message
King George V set the tone of all subsequent messages. In his first Christmas broadcast, written by his friend Rudyard Kipling
, he touched on the advance of technology which permitted him to deliver an intimate message to all parts of the world, he spoke of the need to work for peace, and counselled his listeners to work for "prosperity without self-seeking. He finished:
- My life's aim has been to serve as I might towards those ends. Your loyalty, your confidence in me, has been my abundant reward. I speak now from my home and my heart to you all; to men and women so cut off by the snows, the desert or the sea that only voices out of the air can reach them; to those cut off from fuller life by blindness, sickness or infirmity, and to those who are celebrating this day with their children and their grandchildren - to all, to each, I wish a happy Christmas. God bless you.
The 1995 Christmas Message (BBC)
The 1995 broadcast began with a reminder of the 50th anniversary celebrations for VE-day and VJ-day. The Queen said that remembrance was an important part of our life, paying tribute to those who had served and those who had not returned. She then turned to present-day conflicts such as Bosnia
in which British and Commonwealth forces were serving, and to the full year of peace in Northern Ireland
. The Queen then referred to her Buckingham Palace invitation to voluntary workers working throughout the world, and picked out the work of Sister Ethel, a nun
working in South Africa
to help children in the townships. She ended by paying tribute to peacemakers throughout the world.
The 1997 Christmas Message (ITN)
This message had a theme of the intertwining of joy and sadness. It opened with contrasting pictures of Westminster Abbey
, which the Queen reminded viewers had that year been the scene of the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales
as well as the celebration of her Golden Wedding Anniversary. She paid tribute to Diana and spoke of the joy of her married life, and then reminded viewers of the fire at Windsor Castle
before showing them the restored rooms after their completion. She then reminded viewers of her trips to Canada
, and to Hong Kong
to mark its return to China
, before paying tribute to the Commonwealth Prime Minister's gathering. Viewers saw her meeting with Nelson Mandela
. At the conclusion, Her Majesty welcomed the imminent devolution of power to Scotland
, and spoke of the benefits of being a United Kingdom.
The 2001 Christmas Message (ITN)
The Queen referred to the fact that the year 2001 had provided many people with an unusual number of trials and disasters. She made reference to the Foot and Mouth Disease
outbreak before coming to the September 11 attacks
which reminded her of the plight of innocent victims. Viewers saw the occasion when the National Anthem of the USA, The Star-Spangled Banner
, 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. She called for strengthened communities in the months to come.
The 2003 Christmas Message (BBC)
The opening of this message was recorded at the Household Cavalry
barracks in Windsor
, a rare 'outside broadcast'. With many members of the Armed forces on foreign deployments, especially in Iraq
, the Queen encouraged the audience 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.
The 2004 Christmas Message (BBC)
The 2004 Christmas Message—The Queen's 52nd such Message—started, as usual, with the national anthem, God Save the Queen
, and then moved on to footage of Her Majesty handing out presents to her own family. In the radio version broadcast by BBC Radio 4
, the national anthem is heard after the message. The theme of the message was cultural and religious diversity and the benefits of tolerance. It was interspersed with coverage of The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh
and Prince Charles
attending various multicultural meetings, including footage of Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh visiting a Sikh Gurdwara
(temple), and the Prince of Wales
visiting a school for Muslims
in east London
The message was warmly received by leaders of Britain's Muslim community, with Iqbal Sacranie
, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain
, saying that the Queen's words carried a "very powerful message" that is very timely and "duly reflects British society and that of the Commonwealth in that it shows we are a multicultural society". Zaki Badawi, founder of the Muslim College in London, also welcomed the Message. He said: "The Crown belongs to all of us. Whatever our religious belief, our racial origin or country of birth, we can express our loyalty to the Crown, and the crown extends its care to all of us."
The president of Guru Nanak gurdwara in south Birmingham, and a leading Sikh critic of the controversial play Behzti, Mohan Singh, said "It is great that someone with such a high position in authority is saying these things." He said tolerance was "core to [their] beliefs" in the Sikh faith, and that the Queen had probably "focused on multiculturalism because of what is happening in Iraq and the response in Britain, and perhaps what happened with the Sikh play in Birmingham. When you see the bad aspects of any religion or culture being portrayed all the time, that breeds intolerance, and she is trying to address that, which should be commended."
The speech was denounced by some right-wingers, with Stuart Millson writing a critical article in Right Now!.
The 2005 Christmas Message (ITN)
The 2005 message was particularly sombre, with the Queen reflecting on such tragedies as the Asian tsunami
, Hurricane Katrina
, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake
and the 7 July 2005 London bombings
. She also praised as "quite remarkable" the humanitarian responses from people of all faiths.
Although the message was on the whole well received, there was comment in many national newspapers following the broadcast on the absence of any mention of the wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles, with some describing it as a "snub".
The 2006 Christmas Message (ITN)
On 21 December 2006
it was announced that the Queen's message would be made available to view on the internet and to download as a podcast.
The speech was about the relationship between the generations, and how young and old can come together to strengthen their communities. There are strong references to the inclusion of Muslim and other faiths into mainstream British society.
The 2007 Christmas Message (BBC)
was made available via the Royal Family's video channel on YouTube
The 2007 message started with the introductory remarks made in the 1957 Christmas message, the first televised message delivered by the Queen. The camera moves back to reveal the 1957 message being played on a television, and the present-day Queen standing beside it. The theme discussed the family, including Jesus' birth into a family under unfavourable circumstances, among other things. The Queen also spoke about how everyone has a duty to care for the vulnerable in society. Footage of the Royal Marines in Afghanistan, as well as a military memorial, were shown to commentary about the work of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The message ends with a black-and-white clip of God Save the Queen from the original 1957 broadcast and an image of the Royal Standard.
Alternative Christmas message
Since 1993, Channel 4
has broadcast an "Alternative Christmas message" featuring a contemporary, often controversial celebrity, delivering a message in the manner of Her Majesty. This tradition started by accident when, running a series of programmes on 'Christmas in New York
', the channel invited Quentin Crisp
to give an Alternative message - playing on the pejorative term 'Queen' meaning a male homosexual
. In contrast to the Queen's message, the alternative lasts only 3 to 5 minutes. The concept seems to date back to a sketch in a Christmas special of The Two Ronnies
, where Ronnie Barker delivered a christmas message from "Your Local Milkman". Examples
of recent variations to the Alternative Christmas message proliferate on YouTube.
List of Alternative message presenters
2004 Alternative message
Marge was chosen to give the message due to Channel 4's recent acquisition of rights to broadcast The Simpsons
In it she commented on David and Victoria Beckham's marriage in a negative comparison with hers and Homer's, and compared the special relationship between the UK and the US to that of Mini Me and Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers films ("Helping out in all our zany schemes to take over the world"). Lisa Simpson also held a banner supporting Cornwall's secession: "UK OUT OF CORNWALL", while chanting "Rydhsys rag Kernow lemmyn" (freedom for Cornwall now).
2005 Alternative message
The majority of Jamie Oliver's message was in the form of a comedy sketch, where he was a school cook preparing junk food, including "Turkey Twangers", for children. This turned out to be a nightmare, and he awoke to give a message about his wish for the new year being for British children to be fed better. He was chosen to deliver the message following his successful Jamie's School Dinners
series. The broadcast also featured actress Jessica Stevenson
as a dinnerlady.
For the first time, sister channel E4 broadcast an "alternative to the alternative message", delivered by Avid Merrion, the creation of comedian Leigh Francis from the series Bo' Selecta!.
2006 Alternative message
This message was due to be presented by Khadija Ravat
(b. 1973 in Zimbabwe
): a British Muslim
teacher of Islamic studies
who has worn a niqab
for ten years . The decision of Channel 4 to have a veiled woman giving the speech is a particularly controversial one due to the media attention that the niqab has received in the UK in 2006.
With regards to the decision, Channel 4 have said that it was fitting that the "alternative Christmas message should be given by a Muslim woman in a year when issues of religious and racial identity and freedom of expression have dominated the news agenda."
The address went out at 3pm, the same time as the Queen's speech on BBC1 and ITV1. Ravat had stated that she will not be watching her own broadcast in favour of watching the one given by the Queen and ultimately pulled out of the show due to undisclosed reasons.
Her place was taken on the show by another veiled woman, with the first name Khadijah. She was a convert to Islam in 1996 and took up wearing the niqab two years after she converted. She stated during her speech that her great-grandmother was a suffragette.
The alternative Christmas message on E4 was Fonejacker's Christmas Message in which actor Kayvan Novak prank called members of the public. This five-minute broadcast was also a preview of his new series which aired in mid-2007.
, King Juan Carlos I
issues a Christmas Eve National Speech
of a similar tone that is broadcast simultaneously by most of the Spanish TV channels
The presidents of the autonomous communities
that have a local TV channel air their messages on New Year's Eve.
In Denmark, Queen Margrethe II issues a New Year's eve message broadcast in all Danish TV & radio stations, while in Sweden, King Carl XVI Gustaf's Christmas Day message is broadcast on radio only.
In Canada the Governor General of Canada issues a New Year's Eve message of a similar tone that is broadcast simultaneously by Radio-Canada and the CBC.