King Charles’s Coronation: A British TV Spectacle for the Digital Age

Some members of the British hierarchy wished to keep cameras out of the inner sanctum of Westminster Abbey, where the queen was crowned. “The world would have been a happier place if television had never been discovered,” the Most Rev. Geoffrey F. Fisher, then the archbishop of Canterbury, who presided over the queen’s coronation, was quoted as saying.

Even today, King Charles has resolved to follow his mother’s example by banning cameras from what is considered the most sacred part of the coronation service, in which he is anointed with what is called the oil of chrism.

But much else has changed. When Elizabeth was crowned, “Britain was marked by extreme deference,” Vernon Bogdanor, a constitutional expert at King’s College, London, said in a recent interview. “The monarchy was thought to be magical and untouchable.”

Since then, the royal House of Windsor has changed radically from “a magical monarchy to a public service monarchy,” Bogdanor said, and “is judged by whether it contributes to society, and if it doesn’t, people won’t have it.” King Charles, he added, seems “well aware of that.”

For the king, a helter-skelter technological revolution has transformed every smartphone owner into a pocket cinematographer, hooked to a multiplex world of apps and platforms, uploads and downloads. Where his mother’s crowning bathed the monarchy in uncontested splendor, Charles’s challenge is to focus a much more diffuse spotlight.

While Elizabeth’s coronation required only around 20 cameras, Charles’s crowning is set to be broadcast on the BBC’s hi-definition iPlayer streaming service, alongside television coverage. In advance of the coronation, other television offerings — including a soap opera, a sewing program and a show usually devoted to rural life — will be broadcast with coronation-themed episodes “to mark history with an unparalleled breadth of programs,” said Charlotte Moore, the BBC’s chief content officer. Regional affiliates of the BBC, its many radio channels and rival commercial television broadcasters will also have programming on regal matters.