View from Buckingham Palace - my part in the Charles and Diana Royal Wedding, 1981
I saw the Charles and Diana Royal Wedding from the roof of Buckingham Palace. In one way the complete best place because we saw and heard the huge crowd below in The Mall, we saw the carriages go out and return and we saw the crowd surge when the barriers were relaxed.
However, during the actual service there were three of us crowded around the five-inch monochrome viewfinder of the television camera which I was minding: the cameraman, the rigger and myself. Sometime during the afternoon a couple of lads came up to see the crowd from our vantage point, we worked out later they were probably the Princes Andrew and Edward.
You can see our presence on photos of the Palace as little dots on the towers above the famous balcony. ITV’s camera was on the left-hand position. And my Mother almost certainly still has my passes from the day!
I had been working for London Weekend Television (LWT) since graduating and was assigned to Outside Broadcasts. The announcement of the 1981 Royal Wedding came as a great lift in the dark days of Thatcherism.
My part in the 1981 Royal Wedding had been to rig a number of television monitors at strategic points for the use of presenters, working to television cameras still tethered to thick cables. The riggers told us stories of cables still in the ducts underneath The Mall, which had been laid in for the monochrome 405 line television coverage of the 1936 Coronation, which was known as high definition. I think they tested the circuit out and used it for talkback, something like a 300 ohm balanced circuit.
Once the monitors had been rigged there was radio talkback to rig and test coverage, that’s the radio system which allows the programme director and producer to speak to the presenter and for the presenters to hear the television output sound. There would have been camera faults, and there was certainly technical line-up because those IVC7000S and P cameras and Angenieux lenses needed daily care and attention to produce quality pictures, if not hourly!
There was the BBC as well as us from ITV; those were the days of the duopoly before satellite TV, cable or digital and internet TV. However, the presence of international broadcasters was limited, quite unlike tomorrow’s event: the Charles and Di wedding was the start of the reawakening of international interest in the British Royals and our television converge contributed to that.
Racing and football were our bread and butter on OBs, so long cable runs and interesting but technically difficult locations were our speciality. Plus those glossy ITV location dramas that are still available on DVD. For the Royal Wedding, LWT collaborated with Thames Television to provide the ITV coverage: we covered the Palace and The Mall; Thames covered St Paul’s Cathedral. There must have been other units around to cover the various sites: Clarence House and the route through St James Park, Admiralty Arch, Trafagar Square and the route to St Paul’s Cathedral.
Being assigned to baby-sit the camera on top of Buck Palace (as we called it) meant having a special pass, finding out the route to and from the scanners (television OB trucks) and knowing when the barriers would be closed. It also meant dependence on a doggie bag lunch from the chuck wagon (location catering) rather than a hot plated meal that would have been provided for those who could get back to the location base at Canada Gate.
We worked on site the two previous days: rigging, testing and then the director’s camera rehearsal and communications rehearsal to ensure that our bit fitted in to the whole programme.
I went crew cut for the first time for the Royal Wedding; it was also a practical style change as I would be going on an InterRail holiday for the following month. I'd had a motorbike licence since leaving university but this was bye-bye long-haired Angel look, hullo skin look.
I stayed in London the night before the Wedding. There were fireworks in Hyde Park and I met up with Strauchie, a biker mate working in a bookshop, and we found a pitch on the bank outside Kensington Palace in Hyde Park. A group of us met for a vicarious stag night somewhere in Kensington (vicarious as absolutely none of us had any intention of marrying…)
And I slept overnight on the floor in LWT Unit 3. It was Harry, the LWT security man on duty there that night, keeping the hordes at bay and holding the keys to the vans.
Fine clear morning and the delights of a location breakfast in the open air. Joyous atmosphere in The Mall as we did our rounds, I thibnk we reckoned the crowd was at least ten deep by 10am: there wasn't a big screen in Hyde Park in 1981. Other crews were already out and about recording pieces at breakfast time but this was before TVam started regular breakfast television in the UK.
And then the transmission, the world saw our pictures or those from the BBC. Not the best place to see or hear it ourselves but you realise the power of television broadcasting when you work on a big events when you realise that everyone you know has seen the coverage. The camera I was minding was the one that showed the high shot as the crowd surged down The Mall once the carriages had returned to the Palace and the barriers were opened, it wasn't cut to The World for very long but the shot certainly counted.
We had the derig (of course) after the transmission and after the Royal couple had left.. I think there was a day back in base sorting things out and then I left for a month’s leave on an InterRail ticket, which Chris, who now runs a b&b in Spain. We got to Köln, Nuremburg, Firenze, Pisa, Sienna, Venezia, overnight on the train down through Yugoslavia to Athens, Olympia, Aegina, a night under the stars up in the Peloponnesian mountains, Kalamata, slept overnight on deck on the ferry to Bari, then Pompeii, Roma. Another overnight on the train to Brig. Paris and finally back to London.
Credit card bills awaited, holiday films to post for processing; of course the Royal Wedding had been on a Bank Holiday and in those unionised days that meant overtime plus a day off in lieu.
Very happy to hear the recollections and corrections of my colleagues… do get in touch.