Robin Hood and the New Elizabethans

The new Queen arrives back in England

To celebrate our Queen’s Diamond Jubilee (and as an unashamed royalist) I would like to look back  60 years ago, when she began her reign and her war weary subjects were treated to some Disney magic at their local cinemas.

At her accession, Queen Elizabeth II was in Kenya at the start of a five month tour of Africa, Ceylon, Australia and New Zealand. Her father George VI had passed away on 6th February 1952 at Sandringham. She returned to London immediately and was met by members of her privy council headed by Winston Churchill. A battery of cameras caught the poignancy of this moment as the twenty-five year old sovereign climbed down the aircraft steps to be received by a statesman who had entered parliament in the reign of her great-great grandfather.  Elizabeth was proclaimed queen on 8th February after taking the royal oath. Her father was buried 7 days later. In the following months the press and radio began to talk of the New Elizabethan Age.

Meanwhile, on the 13th March of that year, Walt Disney’s Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men had its world premiere in London.  The young queen had visited the making of the film at Denham Studios in Buckinghamshire the year before. Then as Princess Elizabeth, along with just her lady-in-waiting and equerry, she had been shown around the outside sets and the costume department by Walt Disney, himself.

At that time, Britain was licking its wounds after a hard and bitter war; nearly every family had lost relatives and friends. Towns and cities still had whole streets flattened by bombing and food was still rationed. It is hardly surprising then, that under the dark cloud of austerity, the population flocked to the cinemas; eager to be entertained. And Disney’s Technicolor live-action version of the British medieval legend proved to be the most popular. In fact it heralded the beginning of a new interest in Robin Hood, not only on the silver screen and television, but also in the corridors of universities and colleges up and down the country. Soon debates would start in earnest about the historical existence of a ‘real’ Robin Hood.

Richard the Lionheart and the Houses of Parliament after a bombing raid

But what was life like for those New Elizabethans, sitting in the picture palaces up and down Britain in 1952, watching a film about their countries most popular folk-hero? Well, it was a great deal different to today! For a start their life expectancy was 11 years shorter. Food in those days was scarce; today we have such abundance that obesity is a problem! In modern Britain we have far easier access to all-sorts of pain killing drugs, medically and biologically.

Sixty years ago only one in five households had a washing machine and one in ten a telephone. One in twenty owned a fridge and one in five families owned a car. Back in 1952 there were only 2 million private cars on the road and no motorways. Today the number is a staggering 27 million with 2,200 miles of motorway.

In the year that Disney’s Story of Robin Hood first hit the silver screen only 11 percent of the British population had access to the all-new new, flickering, black and white television. Today we have access to the internet, smart phones and seemingly limitless TV channels. But back in 1952, television had only just arrived in Scotland. The following year the New Elizabethans would gather around their nearest neighbours television set to see their young queen’s coronation at Westminster Abbey.

Queen Elizabeth II

Most of the cinema audience watching  Disney's Story of Robin Hood in that year would have rented their homes. Those old terraced houses that are often looked back upon in a nostalgic way, were often very damp, had no electricity, an outside toilet and dreadful sanitation. Today 66 per cent of people own their own modern centrally heated house.

So we can see that Britain is a lot different than it was 60 years ago. We have advanced incredibly fast, although I personally feel that we have left many qualities and disciplines behind as we have strived to embrace the modern age. But Queen Elizabeth has remained a stoic figurehead to her nation and shown a remarkable stability in this ever-changing world. She continues to represent our nations glorious past and give us hope for the future, just as she did back in 1952.

Robin and his men kneel before Richard the Lionheart

Today we can watch Disney’s Story of Robin Hood at any time, just by inserting a DVD in our laptop computer. It has been described as the best example of a Technicolor film ever made in England. So next time you watch it, imagine what it was like for the New Elizabethans as they sat in those cinemas back in 1952. With that special Disney magic, they were transported away from a bombed–out Britain, in the severe grip of austerity, to a romantic Technicolor past where the monarch eventually returns to save the nation.

“On your feet sir!” Thundered Robin Hood.
Reluctantly De Lacy got to his feet.
“To Richard of England!” Cried Robin,
“God grant him health and long life.
Speak Up!”


Clement of the Glen said...

"Robin Hood and the New Elizabethans"

The Diamond Jubilee of HM Queen Elizabeth II

Walt Disney's Story of Robin Hood (1952)

God Save Our Queen!

Neil said...

To borrow a line from the film when Joan Rice said those words 'He is the Kings most loyal subject' I always use that for my own stance on the Queen. She is and has been a wonderful Head of State for this country and indeed the Commonwealth. I remember the Kings death as a very young boy - the radio stations played solemn music for days which was quite depressing but the following year the Coronation seemed to find the country in a very happy and optimistic mood. The Story of Robin Hood had been heavily promoted throughout its making and up to the release so we were all excited by the prospect of it eventually coming close to where we live. In rural Lincolnshire it took a number of weeks to arrive. Many of the films released and certainly made in England were black and white and low budget but this one was on a different scale. The colour to this day is outstanding and it is many ways a very visual film. Anyway all these years on we are able to see the film at any time as you say. The Queens Jubilee should really be somehting special. Why dont you write in to the Palace and ask if the Queen has any recollections she can pass on to us about her visit to the Studios and to the sets.

Clement of the Glen said...

Well it will be worth trying, Neil. II'll post a letter to Buckingham Palace by the end of the week!
I'm sure Her Majesty would have remembered meeting Walt Disney!