The tone gradually changed from reporting such events as grave occasions of state to joyful public carnivals.
Note: This article is from the Guardian.
In December 1895 a baby was born, and the Guardian was civil but terse. The seven-line paragraph, headed “birth of a prince”, informed readers that “her royal highness and her son are going on very satisfactorily“.
Even if camera crews had bothered to stake out the site in advance, all the excitement happened far from prying lenses, behind the walls of Sandringham. “The event was celebrated in the usual manner in London, and very cordial telegrams were exchanged between the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York, and the representatives of the citizens of London,” the report continued.
The baby got the shortest shrift in almost two centuries of Guardian coverage of royal births, in which the tone gradually changed from reporting such events as grave occasions of state to joyful public carnivals.
In 1895 no hint was given as to whether the celebrations included champagne, fireworks, or rejoicing in the streets before investing in souvenir mugs and tea towels – but then baby Albert Frederick Arthur George, like his father, was a mere second son. His big brother, Edward, the future Edward VIII, was 18 months old, Mrs Wallis Simpson would be born the following June, and the abdication crisis and the crowning of the new prince as George VI an unimaginable distance in the future.
The previous year, 1894, his brother had timed his coming poorly. He was pushed off the front page by a pit disaster in south Wales and by the assassination of the French president, Sadi Carnot, stabbed to death in Lyon by an Italian anarchist. He did make the second leader column, which assured readers: “The news of the birth of the little prince in Richmond on Saturday night will be read with interest.”
The leader writer pointed out that England now had almost a glut of male heirs to the throne. The future Edward VII was still Prince of Wales, waiting to inherit from his immensely long reigning mother, Victoria. His eldest son, Albert Victor, known as Eddy, had died in 1892, but his fiancee, the formidable Princess Mary of Teck, married Eddy’s younger brother George, and produced the next heir.
As the paper explained: “By the birth of a son of the Duke of York the number of successive heirs in the direct male line to the reigning sovereign becomes such as has never yet been known in this kingdom.” By the end of the following year she would have produced the spare too – fortunately, as it turned out.
The first royal baby announced by the Guardian was Teddy, Albert Edward, born to Queen Victoria and her beloved Prince Albert on 9 November 1841. He got a column and a half, with comprehensive accounts of visitors, messages of congratulation, church bells ringing, the holiday atmosphere in the city, and in view of the official announcement that “her majesty and the little prince are perfectly well”, an order for celebratory gunfire, under the headline “accouchement of her majesty. Birth of a prince.”
The account also gave a startling glimpse of the traditional mob of witnesses, to prevent scandals like the legendary stillborn Jacobean royal substituted by a healthy baby smuggled in in a warming pan. “There were present on the occasion, as at the birth of the princess royal, in her majesty’s room, his Royal Highness Prince Albert, Dr Locock, and Mrs Lilly, the monthly nurse. In the adjoining apartments besides the other medical attendants (Sir James Clark, Dr Ferguson, and Mr Blagden), were her Royal Highness the Duchess of Kent, the lady-in-waiting on the Queen, and the following officers of state and lords of the privy council, viz the lord steward, the lord chamberlain, the master of the horse, the Duke of Wellington, bishop of London, Sir Robert Peel, Duke of Buckingham, Earl of Aberdeen, Sir James Graham, the lord chancellor, and the Marquis of Exeter, groom of the stole to Prince Albert.”
By 1926 when the Queen was born a week earlier than expected, the report was far longer and much more chatty and intimate. It made a late news note in the final edition, but was covered in detail on the following day, Thursday 22 April. Avid crowds in the street make their first appearance in Guardian accounts of such events, and the unnamed reporter was clearly present, not just relying on official bulletins.
“At an early hour the general public began to make their way to Bruton Street to look at No 17, the dignified house which is now the home of a possible future queen of England. Then stayed or moved reluctantly on while others took their places, watching the callers who came to make inquiries and hoping to see various members of the royal family. Black clouds gathered: it rained heavily for an hour. They stayed through it all, as any Londoner would.”
At one point the Duke of York looked down from the windows at “the patient spectators, the photographers and the kinematograph man”. Crowds and cameras watched a stream of visitors including “Miss Pryke, the lady mayoress of London” and a dark blue limousine bearing Princess Mary: “Everyone commented on her look of radiant delight as she ran up the steps carrying a bouquet of pink azaleas for the duchess.”
The King and Queen, her grandparents, who were woken in the small hours to hear the news, were driven from Windsor Castle in the afternoon to inspect the new arrival.
“The people, remembering that they must not wake the baby, kept silent as the King went up the steps, but at the sight of Queen Mary’s satisfaction, they felt they must congratulate the grandmother with discreet cheers, which were acknowledged by the Queen with a bow and smile. She also had brought a sheaf of spring flowers.”
The excitement continued on page 13, with some speculation on the baby’s name. “Nothing could be more popular than Elizabeth, the Duchess of York’s own name. Should this prove to be so there would be revived one of the great titles in English history – Princess Elizabeth.“
In November 1948 Charles was born, and as the leader of 15 November – printed under a charming ad for Kendal’s children’s brogues at 40 shillings and 8 pence – pointed out, it was a piece of cheering news in a still grimly post-war country: “spring tidings on an autumn morning“.
The main news story, still only making page five, “from our London correspondent”, is stronger on colour and much lighter on officialese than for his mother and grandfather, describing the crowds refusing to believe the news passed on by reporters until a small gilt frame with the announcement handwritten on blue paper was placed on the gates.
The crowd had been growing all evening, cheering and shouting: “Philip, Philip, we want Philip.” “A policeman, a family man himself no doubt, appealed to the crowd to have a heart and make less noise. All he got was a cheer for himself and his solicitude and advice that if the princess could hear it would only raise her spirits to know what people thought about it all.
“Motorists and people in taxis who did not know the news stuck their heads out of the window. ‘Anything happened?’
“‘It’s a boy-ee!’ they were told. They paid off their cabs or parked their cars and joined the throng.
“It was an unusual crowd. Almost everybody was between 20 and 40, and the majority seemed to be young married couples. They were well dressed and many of them had the appearance of Chelsea, Kensington and Hampstead. Some were in evening dress and fur cloaks. It was a little late for the East End to get so far on a Sunday night.
“The air was soft and warm and though cloud hid the stars the visibility was good. The Mall is one of the few thoroughfares in London which remain well lighted, but it was a pity that the facade of the palace was not floodlit on this night of celebration as it was for the wedding ceremony.”
The crowd never did get the prince, but a separate story explained how Philip went to see his wife “while she was still under the anaesthetic”, then to see the baby in the nursery – and then “opened a bottle of champagne with members of his staff”.
In Manchester, still the home of the Guardian, things were decidedly quieter. “At Manchester town hall the electrically operated carillon sounded a joyous peal. Few people were in the city and the streets were almost deserted.”
In June 1982, when the marriage of Charles and the beautiful young Diana Spencer still looked like a fairytale romance, William’s birth took up much of the front and back pages – although the lead story, pushed well over to one side, was Harry Jackson reporting from Washington that in a tense meeting, President Reagan had warned the Israeli prime minister, Menachem Begin, to get his troops out of Lebanon.
The official quotes and reactions reported by the late John Ezard, and Shyama Perera, were far from the traditional stiff officialese. The baby was born in hospital, after a 13-hour labour, and Charles was present: a palace spokeswoman said “the baby weighs 7lb 1/2oz. He cried lustily.”
“Prince Charles left the hospital smiling broadly and apologising for keeping everyone waiting. He said: ‘I was immensely relieved when it was all over. The princess was well and the baby’s looking lovely. It’s marvellous, he’s not bad.’ Told that the crowd had been chanting: ‘Nice one Charlie, let’s have another one,’ the Prince laughed and said: ‘Bloody hell, give us a chance.’
“He said they would have to wait a bit before it was clear exactly who the new baby most resembled. ‘We have thought of one or two names, there’s a bit of an argument over it.’ He said he badly needed some sleep and added: ‘The princess needs quiet. Rest is badly needed.’”
The baby may have been born in a hospital rather than a palace – but it was a private hospital, the paper noted. “‘The 54-bed £126.90-a-day private Lindo wing is named after Mr Frank Lindo, a businessman who gave money for it to be built for fee-paying patients in 1937. He was a contractor or something,’ the hospital said yesterday.”
Another piece by Ezard, always a most elegant stylist, took up all of page three apart from a huge ad for Extra Strong Mints: “Minty enough to take your mind off things.” He looked back on months of coverage of the pregnancy with some distaste: when morris dancers in Chesterfield had offered Charles a fertility symbol, the prince responded: “You can keep the bloody thing.”
In contrast to the tone of 1980s reporting – “bordering on the prurient”, Ezard wrote, though he was mainly referring to other media – he recalled approvingly that when the Queen was born “our royal coverage was decorous … neither the palace nor the Guardian stooped to the vulgarity of obstetric detail”.
The previous prince
The new baby is the first royal to hold the title the Prince of Cambridge in nearly two centuries. The last person to hold the title was Prince George, a grandson of George III.
The only son of Prince Adolphus Frederick, the first Duke of Cambridge, George married the actor Sarah Louisa Fairbrother, after refusing to countenance an arranged marriage to royalty or aristocracy. They already had two children, and she was pregnant with their third when they wed. It is widely believed there had been plans for George to marry his cousin, Princess Victoria of Kent – later Queen Victoria.
Prince George’s marriage was never recognised because he did not seek the approval of the sovereign. His common-law wife, who was ostracised by the royal family, became known by the nickname Mrs Fitzgeorge, a surname taken by their offspring, who were not eligible for royal titles. Prince George died in 1904 and was laid to rest next to Mrs Fitzgeorge.
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