Newsletter 2012

JE Davies and the 1937 coronation of King George VI

A letter from Simon Vaughan, archivist for the Alexandra Place Television Society (APTS)

The Alexandra Palace Television Society, of which I am the archivist, has been in existence for the past 20-plus years. In this time we have gradually built up a very large archive, which now stands at over 6,000 items. Over this period some remarkable finds have been discovered, and I wonder if you can help with one of these – it’s a long-shot, but just might produce some results. Anyway, this is what information I know already (taken from the Radio Times, June 1953):-

“An amateur enthusiast, Mr JE Davies, made a home telerecording of the BBC Television Service coverage of the coronation of King George VI in May 1937. He set up his 16mm ciné camera to film the images from the television screen. He was an employee of the Marconi Company (occupation unknown) in 1937, and by 1953 was the Manager of the Publicity Division of The Marconi International Marine Communication Company.

Mr Davies lent his home ciné film to the BBC for inclusion in ‘All Our Yesterdays – The Passing Show’, transmitted on 1st June 1953, to celebrate the past 100 years of the monarchy and the impending coronation of Princess Elizabeth, (which was the following day). This film of the 1937 coronation procession only exists due to the fact that ‘The Passing Show’ was recorded by the 35mm telerecording method then used by the BBC. The 27-second clip shows some of the procession as seen on the screen of a television receiver.

Mr Davies’ camera was a 16mm Moviekon at f1.5. Synchronisation was difficult, as the camera had no frame speed to match that of the television picture. The amount of exposure would have been insufficient though, so Mr Davies compromised and used the frame speed setting on his camera, hoping that it would run in approximate synchronisation as well as giving better exposure. The results were good, although he felt that with the synchronisation and exposure difficulties the film did not do full justice to the quality of the television image in 1937. And, he recalled, the weather, dull and showery, must have been a handicap to the television cameras.”

And that is all I know! Where could I go to find out more about Mr Davies? He might still be alive – he could have been 20 in 1937, making him 90 now, or there might be a last known address for him, his immediate family might still be living. I’m searching for two reasons; firstly, there might be more ciné footage of pre-war BBC Television, and secondly, his family might not know he took this footage and it would be fantastic to be able to provide them with a copy of the film.

Obviously, I know this is a long-shot, but sometimes they pay off! I made a couple of enquiries to the Marconi Company soon after the footage was discovered on the 1953 telerecording of ‘The Passing Show’, but these were met with hostility, and so the trail ran dry. Although the BBC kept the 1953 telerecording they didn’t keep a copy of Mr Davies’ film, despite borrowing it on two occasions (the original showing of the 1953 programme and again for its repeat the following week).

I don’t know if you will be able to help, but I wouldn’t be doing my job as archivist very well if I didn’t follow up all possible leads, or just let the trail go cold! I’ve provided the link (below) to an unlisted video on our YouTube channel so you can see the footage for yourself. The results obtained by Mr Davies are remarkably good, I’m sure you will agree – especially as this was filmed from the television screen only six months after the BBC service first started.

I look forward to hearing from anyone who can help in due course.

You can find the clip at:
Who remembers seeing ‘All Our Yesterdays – The Passing Show’ before the coronation on the evening of the 1st June 1953?