- Historic Sites
The Great Coronation War
In the infancy of television (but not of American royalty-worship) the networks fought their first all-out battle for supremacy over who would get to show Queen Elizabeth II being crowned
December 1993 | Volume 44, Issue 8
Colledge’s boss, Bill McAndrew, the director of news at NBC, had gone to the Logan Airport chapel that morning for early mass, nervous about all these fancy schemes, convinced he needed all the help he could get. The message that the plane had turned back was sent into him in the chapel. He came out ashen, looking like a man who had suffered a personal tragedy. Some of his associates suggested to him then that the turning back of the Canberra was not a mechanical action but a political one. He did not believe them.
But that is what it was. McAndrew’s direct superior, the one who stood between him and Bud Barry, a man of exquisite intellectual pretension and virtually no direct experience in journalism, had taken it upon himself to let some BBC executives in on the plans for Operation Astro. The BBC, a quasigovernmental corporation now aware it was caught in a contest between two American networks, had a few words with the Air Ministry. The two pilots from the ferrying service who were to fly the Canberra to Gander, Newfoundland, and on to Venezuela from there both were reserve officers in the Royal Air Force. The Air Ministry would have no problem ordering them to turn around and fly home.
Colledge had friends at the BBC. One of them was the man who had built up the BBC’s field television capability, what Americans call “remote” and the British call “outside broadcast.” It was he, in fact, who had organized and supervised the live camera coverage of the coronation. He and Colledge had become friends the preceding January, when he had come to Washington to study how the inauguration of President Eisenhower was covered on television and had spent most of his time in the NBC control room. Several years later, in London, at dinner, Colledge asked him why the BBC had the plane ordered to return.
He did not deny that it had. He said only: “To protect our Canadian coverage.”
Friends are friends, but the Crown is the Crown, and the Commonwealth is the Commonwealth, and it would hardly do, would it, to have the queen’s coronation shown in the United States before it could even be seen in Canada. Some things are more important than other things.