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Features | 09 May 2023

Coronation 1953 v 2023: How broadcasting tech is going mobile

As the world watched the first British coronation in 70 years, Vodafone played a crucial role behind the scenes which shows just how dramatically TV and broadcasting tech has changed across the decades.

It goes without saying that the world has changed in almost every way in the 70 years between Queen Elizabeth II ascending the throne in 1953 and the crowning of King Charles III in 2023. Especially so in the world of TV and broadcasting – and we don’t just mean colour footage consigning black and white TV to the history books.

Broadcasting and delivery

Her Late Majesty’s coronation was the first to be televised from beginning to end, with cameras allowed inside London’s Westminster Abbey during the ceremony for the first time. While it was broadcast live across the UK and parts of Western Europe, it just wasn’t possible to do this globally. The first live satellite broadcast was still a decade away, while the subsea cables of the time could only handle the likes of telegrams which are text-only.

The reels of footage were instead delivered to Canada, Australia and beyond by plane – both propeller-driven and jet-powered, with the latter also a glamorous, cutting-edge technology of the time. Canadians were then able to watch the coronation a day after it took place, while Australians had to wait almost 54 hours.

King Charles III’s coronation was broadcast live across the globe, effortlessly. For news broadcaster ITN, the first step of that journey began over Vodafone’s 5G Standalone network in the capital.

Using a technology called network slicing, a discrete part of the network was customised for, and dedicated to, ITN’s needs, all without impacting the mobile data experience for the general public. Having your own dedicated slice of the network guarantees performance and security.

From there, it was carried to the rest of the world by deep sea underwater cables and satellite.


The 1953 coronation was filmed using Pye Mark III cameras. Weighing in at an elephantine 61kg each, moving them in and out of Westminster Abbey was a cumbersome headache – and that was without the tripod which added on an extra half kilo. It’s all a far cry from today’s broadcast-quality cameras, which are light enough to be carried easily on a camera operator’s shoulder.

1953: The world of tomorrow

1953 wasn’t just a landmark year for broadcasting tech. It also saw plenty of other notable developments in science and technology.

Structure of DNA discovered

The first-ever polio vaccine tested

Drive-on, drive-off cross-Channel ferries debuted at Dover

Existence of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep discovered

UNIVAC 1103, the first commercial computer with RAM, debuts.


The desire to watch Elizabeth II’s coronation on TV helped drive a surge in the popularity of the technology, a phenomenon now embedded in British popular memory and folk history. For households that couldn’t afford their own TVs – bulky contraptions that could only show black and white – options included renting one or gathering around sets in communal spaces for watch parties.

Less well-known is that the coronation was not only filmed in colour, a rarity for the time and separate from the BBC’s black and white footage. There was also an experimental 3D recording, although it only covered a fraction of the day’s events at a mere 17 minutes in length.

While 3D TV (and cinema) has made periodic reappearances since then, it has never caught on. The picture quality of video footage, though, has improved by leaps and bounds and is taken for granted. While footage of the Queen’s coronation was recorded in a resolution theoretically equivalent to 503×377 pixels, what viewers actually saw could appear much fuzzier than even that low bar due to the interference-prone antennas and screens of the time.

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King Charles’ coronation was broadcast in HD and (for some audiences) 4K. Compared to 1953, that’s around four and eight times as much resolution respectively, easily sharp enough for viewers to make out the details on people’s outfits and bunting alike. And, of course, we’re no longer confined to our living rooms when we want to watch something, thanks to mobile devices, WiFi and mobile networks.

It’s easy to focus on the sharpness and colourfulness of this year’s footage compared to that from 1953, or how much thinner and brighter today’s screens are compared to those from the Fifties.

What’s easily overlooked is the radio waves that carry that footage to our TVs, smartphones and routers. Used for just a few hours of radio and TV broadcasts each day in the early 1950s, those radio waves today now carry millions of terabytes of mobile data alongside a legion of TV and radio broadcasters.

This is due in large part to far-more efficient networking technology, rolled out and managed by companies such as Vodafone, all as part of multibillion pound infrastructure investments to help serve the country’s needs.

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