Friday, 26 April 2013

Thatcher/Churchill funerals show how UK has changed

Those opposed to the idea of Margaret Thatcher having her funeral at St.Paul's Cathedral looked for similarities with grand send-offs of days gone by such as Sir Winston Churchill's in 1965. The debate over what constituted a State funeral or not rumbled on (Sir Winston's was while Lady Thatcher's was not) however Lady Thatcher's funeral had been agreed years in advance.

The coverage over the week of her death and funeral was wall-to-wall but I was most struck by the pictures on television, and in the newspapers, which illustrated how this country, our capital city and us Brits have changed in the 48 years since Churchill's funeral.

First, London has altered unimaginably. In 1965 the great London docks which the Germans had done so much to try and destroy in the Second World War were still operating. Famously, cranes on the banks of the River Thames were lowered in tribute to Churchill as his body was carried by barge to Waterloo station.


The second way we have changed is in how we express our emotions much more freely. At the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997, the outpouring of grief was of the like never before seen in this country. While people's reaction last week to Lady Thatcher's passing coffin was far more muted there is still a telling contrast in behaviour of those lining the route for the funerals of Churchill and Thatcher.

The Guardian reports that at Churchill's funeral "an extraordinary silence that could not be broken even by the bands and the rhythmic feet" fell across the crowds as his coffin processed by. As Lady Thatcher's coffin moved along the route a ripple of applause greeted her as seen in this video from YouTube below:

This is the third way we have changed in that we all chronicle, for ourselves and others, the events we attend whether a funeral or a major sporting occasion using our cameras and smart-phones. 

If we look at the pictures of people lining the route in 1965 we see stern faces stood stoically in sombre remembrance:

In contrast, as the video posted above demonstrates, a majority of people on the route of Thatcher's funeral were there to pay their respects but also capture the experience to share on social media such as Twitter, Facebook or YouTube:

So, for all the similarities the tradition ingrained in these great national occasions there are plenty of ways this country has changed in the last half century too.  

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