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Image: Old New Meets New Old January 17, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

elizabeth ii

***Flu day***

Queen Elizabeth is fifty-seven years older than she was when the photograph above was taken (4 April 1955): Churchill, meanwhile, has been in the grave for forty seven years. However, this image has an energy that altogether belies its age. After all, here, in a single snap, are the two most important Britons of the twentieth century brought together on the evening before Churchill resigned from his final and most mediocre period in office. The evening of the photo the Queen had broken convention out of respect for her first minister and had entered 10 Downing Street, a place where royalty is not really supposed to go.

In one sense the pose of the couple is absolutely natural. A monarch in finery, erect: a political creature bowing and subservient. But, by 1955 Churchill was not just a political creature, he was, rightly or wrongly seen as ‘the messiah’ who had saved Britain, ‘the most important living English man’. He was a tribal elder who had, sixty years before, as a green cavalry officer, given toasts to Victoria, Queen Elizabeth’s great-great-grandmother. In other words, he outranked the Queen in every way – years, experience, wit, intelligence… – save the only one that mattered on this occasion: rank itself.

The woman before him was, on the other hand, still in her twenties. For those of us who have spent our adult lives thinking of HM as a kind of dowager aunt, it is always a bit of a shock to be reminded of how attractive she was. Unlike Churchill who is flanked by his wife and policemen (the gnomes of Downing Street), she stands alone as tribal chieftains are supposed to.

Perhaps in the end Beach loves this picture because  these two contrasting and incomplete individuals represent almost perfectly that old beast the famously unwritten British constitution, a compromise between tradition and modernity that has served Britain surprisingly well over the past three centuries. The image certainly does a better job than Bagehot.

Here on the right is the ancient and magical, the royal and the atavistic represented by a spry girl who just happens to have the blood of Alfred the Great coursing through her veins. Here on the left is the new and democratic represented by an old goat who contained within him every fault and virtue of that system to excess and excellence. Against all expectations the elder is bowing before the child.

Beach is always on the look out for striking images from history, painted or sketched, photographed or filmed: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com