Reporting on the royal tour of 1954

Royal visit . . . Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip on the balcony of the Law Courts Hotel, across the street from The Star's reporters' room.

The 1950s at The Evening Star were, as with the rest of New Zealand, a settled period; wars behind us, a future to look forward to. Dunedin was enraptured by the success at the Olympic Games in 1952 by a local woman, Yvette Williams, who won the long jump. This excerpt is from The Star of The South

These were heady times at The Star.

The first New Zealand woman to win an Olympic gold medal was a big story, but nothing compared with eighteen months later when the Queen and Prince Philip visited.

They were extraordinary times throughout New Zealand, not just in Dunedin.

There could not have been many who did not at some stage join crowds to see the first reigning monarch in New Zealand.

Radio was staid and its news infrequent, television did not exist; the news of the royal visit came in its purest form: either first-hand knowledge or through newspapers which followed, for the most part admiringly, every royal footstep.

The Star was well prepared by the time the royal procession through New Zealand reached Dunedin by train on Monday, January 25, 1954.

The arrival at the station and the short trip up Stuart St to the Law Courts Hotel, very convenient for The Star, was covered in an extra late city edition that was available on the streets at about 8pm.

“Amid scenes of tremendous enthusiasm they stepped from the royal train at 6.50 this evening and were cheered by a most demonstrative crowd,” The Star reported.

“The area around the railway station and the entire route from the station to the Law Courts Hotel . . . was lined by an excited joyous throng welcoming their Sovereign and her husband.”

The first edition the next day was out at 12.30pm with news and pictures of a civic reception; another edition was published at 3.30pm with coverage of a children’s gathering at Forbury Park, then still another edition at 10pm – perhaps the latest in The Star‘s history – with news of a sports meeting at Carisbrook (where Yvette Williams attempted to break the world record for the long jump) and a royal concert in the Town Hall.

Similar coverage continued on the third day when in the morning the Queen and Prince Philip went to Ross and Glendinings Roslyn mill; in the afternoon the Queen went to the Truby King-Harris (Karitane) Hospital in Every St, Andersons Bay while the Duke met leading Otago sports people.

That night, they both went to a reception hosted by the Mayor, Leonard Wright (Sir Leonard from 1957) and were driven south the next morning, crowds lining the route until the Main South Rd gave way to rural areas south of Green Island.

Extra editions published by The Star apparently did not impress the Duke.

During the mayoral reception, he was introduced to a member of the The Star staff – who was not named but likely to have been either the managing director, Dave Smith, general manager Vic Cavanagh or editor Bill Noble.

The Duke asked what he did for a living and when told, remarked: “The Evening Star? That’s the building right opposite our hotel, isn’t it?”

On being told indeed it was, Prince Philip continued: “You have news boys going up and down the street day and night calling out Star special’, ‘Star special’. If I had an air pistol, I’d shoot them!”

Some of The Star staff were less than impressed on the first night, though for wholly different reasons.

John Thomson told the story of how reporters were in their second-floor room bashing away at their typewriters preparing stories for the final edition when board and management family members streamed in through the door and lined up at the windows, immediately gaining a front-row seat for a promised appearance by the royal couple on the Law Courts balcony across the street.

One of the reporters, Bill Kennedy, bawled out that some people were trying to work and those who were not should leave.

The words Thomson quoted Kennedy as saying were briefer and more pointed.