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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Thrower

Was the past black and white?

Updated: Sep 21, 2022


Great spotted woodpecker feathers

Terry Martin is a trustee of Caraway, the Southampton charity helping to support Anna Chaplains across the city. He writes:


'In the early 1950s, most photographs TV pictures and many films were in black and white. I vividly remember watching the Queen’s coronation on 2nd June 1953 [1], on an early black and white television set that was owned by my uncle and aunt. They were the only people in our street to own a TV set, so most of the street gathered in their home. We were not alone “as over 20 million people watched the popular young Queen Elizabeth II swear the coronation oath.”[2]


Growing up in the post-war period of austerity, it seemed that the recent war had been in black and white, Cowboys and Indians had fought in black and white and, if our family photo albums are to be relied upon, our holidays had all been in black and white.


Not literally in only black and white of course, but in the many shades of grey that lay between these extremes. However, many people also later saw the Queen’s coronation in colour when the film A Queen Is Crowned, was released.


It took another 14 years before BBC Two launched colour television to the British public with the Wimbledon tennis championships on 1 July 1967.


The first ascent of Everest (8,848m) was accomplished on 29 May 1953 by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. The achievement added icing to the coronation cake! The Conquest of Everest was a 1953 British technicolour documentary film directed by George Lowe but filmed by cameraman Tom Stobart, who accompanied the mountaineers to the summit. It was another memorable occasion to view the film in our local cinema.

It is important to remember that pictures (photos, TV images, etc.) are representations of reality; a point playfully put by the Belgian surrealist artist, René Magritte in his painting The Treachery of Images.


The relationship between words (written and spoken) and reality is even more complex, as countless philosophers can testify.


Throughout her long life, Queen Elizabeth II was a colourful character, behaving 'in an interesting and amusing way.'[3] Her public persona was entirely congruent with her private self. Although we may hanker after black and white certitudes and beliefs, a more nuanced attitude to life may provide that enduring stability and continuity which Elizabeth so clearly personified.'


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