Queen to mark 50-year reign
Associated Press Queen Elizabeth II appears Tuesday at a ceremony in Wymondham, England.

Knight Ridder News

LONDON – Queen Elizabeth II completes an extraordinary 50 years on the throne Wednesday, but there will be no celebrations at Buckingham Palace, for the day also marks the 50th anniversary of the death of her father, King George VI.

She was a young woman of 25 when a tour of Africa was interrupted by the dire news that her father, who had long been ill with lung cancer, had died. She became queen immediately upon her father’s death, although her elaborate coronation was delayed for several months.

Her reign, already the fifth longest in British history and still going strong, began in the postwar era when an aged but still stalwart Winston Churchill was prime minister. Ocean liners were the primary means of crossing the Atlantic, television was in its infancy, and future Beatles John Lennon and Paul McCartney were only boys.

She came to the throne at a time when loyalty to the royal family was an unquestioned touchstone of British life, but today – with royal family members buffeted by rafts of bad publicity and endless speculation about their private lives – the role and future of the monarchy is being questioned as never before.

The queen’s aides said she does not plan to celebrate Wednesday’s milestone, although she will pay her respects to her late father’s memory by opening a cancer center at a hospital in the city of King’s Lynn, but the somber occasion does mark the start of her Golden Jubilee year, which will feature months of festivities.

In a nation with a taste for pomp and ceremony, the organizers of the events surrounding the Golden Jubilee are hoping to quash talk that the queen is out of touch by demonstrating that she still has enough popular appeal to bring millions of subjects into the streets to celebrate.

At a briefing for foreign reporters at Buckingham Palace, the queen’s senior aides said they expected an outpouring of goodwill and enthusiasm that would match or surpass the wildly successful celebrations of her Silver Jubilee in 1977.

“She is a splendid lady and a symbol of continuity for all of us,” said Sir Robin Janvrin, the queen’s private secretary, downplaying suggestions that Britons are less enthused about the monarchy then they were 25 years ago.

Undaunted by newspaper polls indicating that most Britons have no plans to celebrate, he predicted the public response to the Golden Jubilee tour would be overwhelmingly positive.

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The first event, designed to emphasize the queen’s constitutional role as head of state, will be a gala dinner hosted by Prime Minister Tony Blair at 10 Downing Street on April 29 to be attended by all of Britain’s surviving former prime ministers. The next day, the queen will again highlight her governmental role with a rare speech to both houses of Parliament.

The celebrations will peak on Jubilee Weekend, which will run from June 1 to June 4 with two national holidays declared to create a four-day festival expected to culminate with an appearance by the royal family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.

There will be fireworks displays, street parties in dozens of neighborhoods, and a pop concert in the palace gardens designed to appeal to youthful Britons but featuring a “supergroup” consisting of aging rockers McCartney and Mick Jagger backed by Phil Collins on drums.

Then the queen and her husband, Prince Philip, will continue an extended tour of England, Scotland and Wales that will bring her into dozens of towns and villages by the time the jubilee winds down in late August.

Planners believe the queen’s travels will spark block parties throughout the country. They are encouraging local authorities to do everything possible to cut red tape and make it easy for people to organize tributes.

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