A sea of sardine sandwiches as Bradford got Jubilee fever – David Behrens

With the prospect of four-hour queues at the airport to get back into the country, holidaying abroad this summer has been rendered as unappealing as a glass of warm Watney’s in Torremolinos. No wonder we’ve begun looking beyond the current season to the sunlit uplands of next year.

The Queen is greeted by flag-waving well-wishers as she visits the City Varieties Music Hall in Leeds on July 19, 2012 during her diamond jubilee tour.
The Queen is greeted by flag-waving well-wishers as she visits the City Varieties Music Hall in Leeds on July 19, 2012 during her diamond jubilee tour.

That’s when package holidaymakers, deprived of Mediterranean sardines for two years, will make a bolt for the Costas in numbers not seen since the 1970s. It’s ironic, because they will miss the biggest show of the year, on their own doorstep.

The plans for the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations began to come together this week, with the announcement of a live concert at Buckingham Palace, a day at the races and a chain of beacons across the country, all within a four-day holiday weekend.

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In all our history, there has never been a Platinum Jubilee. Victoria – the only other monarch to have enjoyed even a Diamond celebration – died after 63 years on the throne.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh pictured on a visit to Doncaster in July 1977 during the silver jubilee celebrations

There will be some poignancy to next year’s festivities. The Duke of Edinburgh, who also missed much of the 60th anniversary weekend when he was suddenly taken ill, will no longer be at the Queen’s side. Yet it will be an overwhelmingly joyful affair. The absentee Brits will be replaced by similar numbers of Americans, drawn here by the pomp and pageantry that only we can pull off. Perhaps the Duchess of Sussex will be among them.

It will be very different to the weekend of 45 years earlier, when a more dreary Britain brought out the crumpled bunting left over from the Coronation, for the first big Jubilee.

The 25th anniversary of the Queen’s accession was perhaps the nation’s first opportunity to reflect on the enormous social changes that had taken place since 1952. The music charts of that week encapsulated the gulf between old values and new ones. The deeply ironic God Save The Queen by the Sex Pistols had been taken to number one by a disenfranchised generation bent on rebellion.

Yet their parents still remembered the war, and for them the monarchy continued to represent the Britain for which they had fought.

That was very much the prevailing mood in the Yorkshire I remember from 1977, a landscape in which trestle tables laden with jellies and sandwiches stood like barricades outside almost every row of terraces.

I had arrived in the county a few months earlier to take up a post on a daily newspaper, and it fell to me to tour parts of Bradford on the holiday Monday in search of colourful detail.

In the part of Manchester where I came from, the monarchy was a source of conversation only among people of my grandmother’s age, and I doubted that the Jubilee would be any more of a hot topic across the Pennines. But Bradford that day was a sea of linen, a patchwork of gingham tablecloths and red, white and blue flags flung from every window. Driving from one street party to the next was impossible because piles of sardine sandwiches blocked every corner, and I spent the afternoon walking for miles through an almost continuous celebration.

The scale and good-naturedness of the gaiety that day amazes me even now, but what is more surprising still is that it continues to exist, despite the cycle of weekly Royal scandals to which we have become used. It was palpable on that spring weekend of three years ago, when the Duchess-to-be married her Prince. Seldom has so much good feeling been squandered so quickly.

What has changed in the last half-century though is the scale on which we expect to celebrate. There was no concert at the Palace in 1977; just a Command Performance at the Palladium and smaller ones in the sticks. In Bradford, Princess Anne was made to watch a show at the Alhambra starring Basil Brush. It was no wonder we started going to Spain for our summer entertainment.

That evening, amid pints of warm Watney’s, a beacon was lit on Otley Chevin, in a tradition that has illuminated Royal occasions since Victoria’s time. People once communicated this way – spotting a distant fire and lighting a new one as a signal to the next community. If we light a big enough one next June, there’s a chance that the rest of Britain might see it from their hotel balconies in Torremolinos.

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