How one of the most enduring royal Christmas traditions started

The Christmas broadcast is one of the royal family's most famous traditions, but does anyone know the story behind its beginning? History lecturer Ted Powell explains.

One of the most famous royal Christmas traditions is the Christmas Day message.

The Queen has broadcast on Christmas Day every year since she came to the throne, initially on the radio and then, from 1957, on TV.

The first radio broadcasts were made live – which tended to spoil Christmas Day for the Queen’s father, King George VI, who famously suffered from a bad stammer.

Queen Elizabeth in the Long Library at Sandringham on Christmas Day in 1957. This was the first year the Christmas Day broadcast was televised.

Most people believe that the tradition started with the Queen‘s grandfather, King George V, in 1932. In fact, the first royal Christmas broadcast was given by Edward VIII, then the Prince of Wales in 1928. It was a special appeal for unemployed coal miners in Britain.

Even before the onset of the Great Depression, unemployment was high in many parts of Britain, notably south Wales and the north-east of England. The mining industry was particularly badly hit, as prices had collapsed with the import of cheap foreign coal. By 1928 more than 250,000 coal miners were unemployed out of a total workforce of one million.

On Christmas Day 1928, only a few days after his dramatic return from East Africa to his father’s sickbed, Edward broadcast a national radio appeal on behalf of the Fund for Distress in Mining Areas. The appeal had an enormous impact, helping to raise over NZ$545,310 (the equivalent of NZ$30.9 million at current values) within a month.

The appeal was also broadcast on the US radio networks, and an anonymous American friend of the Prince’s made the largest single donation, of NZ$36,350.

The broadcast has become one of the most well known and enduring of royal traditions.

The Queen’s message is still broadcast across the Commonwealth and also in the USA.

In 2017 7.6 million viewers in Britain tuned into the broadcast, demonstrating its enduring popularity.

Ted Powell’s new book King Edward VIII: An American Life, published by Oxford University Press, is out now in hardback and ebook.

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