Commentary

A monarch dies in the new century and a nation clatters on

September 12, 2022 4:08 am

An official statement confirming the death of Queen Elizabeth II is posted in front of Buckingham Palace following the death today of Queen Elizabeth II in Balmoral, on Sept. 8, 2022 in London, England. Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor was born in Bruton Street, Mayfair, London on 21 April 1926. She married Prince Philip in 1947 and acceded the throne of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth on 6 February 1952 after the death of her Father, King George VI. Queen Elizabeth II died at Balmoral Castle in Scotland on September 8, 2022, and is survived by her four children, Charles, Prince of Wales, Anne, Princess Royal, Andrew, Duke Of York and Edward, Duke of Wessex. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

LONDON — Queen Elizabeth II’s death came off flawlessly, a passing anticipated so long ago that it was code-named for a landmark the British sold to a wealthy American who moved it to Arizona and turned it into a tourist attraction 50 years ago.

London Bridge still stands, albeit in Arizona. The monarch, alas, rests in state here, and the monarchy will receive visitors at Windsor next tourist season.

The monarchy preceded the bridge as a tourist attraction sometime in the 1930s when Elizabeth’s uncle rejected the Crown in favor of a divorcee, transforming the ageless symbol of government into a consolation prize.

Nonetheless, “Operation London Bridge” swung into full and serious operation well before Her Majesty reached room temperature. The British can’t assemble a decent car, but their rituals of mourning remain the envy of the world. If you want to be taken seriously here, die.

At the BBC, news presenters slid into black suits and matching ties kept on the studio costume rack for decades — tailored, pressed and altered over the years as personnel came and went and as waistlines expanded and contracted during a reign that seemed unending.

I was standing in Trafalgar Square when Buckingham Palace announced the Queen’s death at 6:30 p.m. local time. By the time I reached the gates outside Buckingham Palace, the Union Jack was at half-staff and the official bulletin was bolted to the front gate — beaten there by a royal tweet.

On a side road, a seven-year-old girl named Fidela had hand drawn a sign in crayon.

“Queen Elizabeth, I will remember you,” she wrote above a rainbow of black and purple.

Fidela’s mom is from Spain, and Fidela was born in the United Kingdom.

Remarkably, that small sign went up before the electronic billboard and was the first public display of mourning I witnessed that did not have an official sponsor. Indeed, as I walked to my hotel, a giant digital billboard at Piccadilly displayed a giant photograph of Elizabeth and her years of birth and death.

By 8 a.m. on Friday morning a bus shelter along Euston Road had a dazzling poster with The Queen’s photograph and dates of birth and death. This could not have been done without enough lead time to design the thing, then merely insert the year of death and hit the print button.

At Buckingham Palace, thousands of Londoners stood outside the gates, piled bouquets of flowers at the fence and broke into the national anthem, though it was hard to discern if they were asking God to save the Queen or the King.

Encomia flowed from persons of stature at a metric volume to make the very Thames envious. The land of Monty Python feigns gravity without self-consciousness.

In the House of Commons, the new Prime Minister Liz Truss, who once advocated abolishing the monarchy, praised the dead queen unstintingly.

Two days before Elizabeth joined her ancestors in heaven, Truss had traveled to Balmoral to kiss the royal hand.

Truss quoted Churchill who said the death of Elizabeth’s father, King George had “stilled the clatter and traffic of 20th Century life in many modern lands.” But, save for some canceled football matches, Britain clattered on. West End theaters continued their performances. Pubs and restaurants hummed.

I sat next to two women in a packed restaurant on Thursday night who told me they had tickets to a taping of the satirical program “The News Quiz.” The taping was called off, given that the state-sponsored broadcaster was doing nothing lighthearted that night. BBC radio, the dominant medium when Elizabeth’s father died, explained that it was shifting to a subdued play list more appropriate to the national pain.

The restaurant speakers were tuned to the Beeb, which offered up “Imagine,” by John Lennon, Bette Miller’s “Wind Beneath My Wings,” and James Taylor crooning “You’ve Got A Friend.”

Photographers at the prayer service at St. Paul’s appeared to be hard-pressed to find suitable shots of anyone weeping. Doubtless, the British felt sorrow, but it was the modern sorrow subsumed by self-regard, constant distraction and the nagging sense that it was all pantomime and had been well before the official notice was bolted to the palace gates, beaten to the punch by Twitter.

In a moment with little to say, eloquence must suffice.

Dennis Roddy is a retired journalist from Pittsburgh who also served as a special assistant to former Gov. Tom Corbett. 

This column was originally published by the Pennsylvania Capital-Star which is a part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus, including the Daily Montanan, supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence.

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