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It would be a series of fuzzy images projected from small black-and-white screens, but that was enough to entice thousands of Canadians to rush out and buy their first televisions to watch the Queen's coronation 50 years ago today.

"Until then, people had thought of the Queen as someone so vastly far away, and suddenly, they would be able to see her up close," said documentary filmmaker Harry Rasky, who was part of the CBC effort to get the footage to air. "It made individuals intimately involved with the Queen, and it made her a very popular figure."

The race to get that film across the Atlantic on June 2, 1953, was a logistical achievement that not only changed the way Canadians saw their monarch, it also got them tuned into the television age.

But in broadcast circles, it is still remembered as a remarkable day in which the CBC fought -- and won -- a gritty behind-the-scenes battle against its U.S. rivals.

Only eight years after the end of the Second World War, the event drew spectacular attention from the big three U.S. networks -- NBC, CBS and ABC -- each keenly attuned to their audiences, who had "a deep fondness for royalty and a peculiar envy for British pomp," said Mavor Moore, chief producer for CBC television programming at the time.

Since a live transatlantic broadcast was impossible in those days, airing the event would be no small feat. Networks outside Britain had to cart kinescopes across the Atlantic, and point them at a television monitor that was airing the footage already captured by the British Broadcasting Corp. Then the film would have to be flown home, developed and rushed to air -- ahead of the competition.

"The Americans went big, as they do with everything else," Mr. Moore, now 84, recalled.

NBC and CBC leased large planes and sent elaborate contingents to London. Smaller and poorer ABC decided to buy its feed from the Canadians.

And while the CBC had a far humbler budget, "poverty sometimes forces cleverness on you," Mr. Moore said.

Pooling together a wealth of connections, CBC bosses decided to have a modest crew of three flown to London on a Royal Canadian Air Force jet. It was equipped with a film processor built for the occasion, so the film could be developed on the way home.

The plan was to refuel in Gander, Nfld. -- which remained a U.S. air base after the war -- before flying back to Montreal's Dorval airport, where the film would be sent by helicopter to the roof of the CBC building.

The three-hour coronation ceremony was an elaborate affair. A coach pulled by eight grey geldings took the Queen from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey, where 8,000 guests gathered to watch the ceremony. Wearing a white satin gown, the Queen was anointed with oils of orange, roses, cinnamon, musk and ambergris before a solid gold crown was placed on her head.

But the end of the ceremony marked the beginning of the race between broadcasters. Back in Montreal, vice-president of CBC television programming Ernie Bushnell got on an open telephone line to Toronto, where program director Stuart Griffiths and Mr. Moore kept tabs on their rivals by radio and TV.

The NBC plane beat them out of the starting gate at London's Heathrow airport, but was then forced to turn around because of engine trouble one hour into its flight. The CBS, meanwhile, was still waiting to take off.

But when the RCAF jet stopped to refuel in Gander, the normally cool-headed cameraman Oscar Burritt called his bosses in a rage: the U.S. base commander was refusing to allow them to reboard for Montreal.

"There was no question the American base commander was in cahoots with the American networks and had no intention of letting our plane go through," Mr. Moore recalled.

As Mr. Bushnell urged Mr. Burritt to put U.S. officials on the phone, Mr. Griffiths broke in from Toronto and told the CBC crew, who outnumbered the Americans by one, to "rush them."

"Griffiths was betting that they would let them go once they had broken through, and he was right," Mr. Moore said.

The crew landed in Montreal to face one more delay -- in their excitement they had forgotten to rewind the film.

But just as it was rewound and ready to go to air, a telephone call confirmed their victory. Still hours away from airing its own footage, the NBC was asking to buy CBC's feed, while CBS was reduced to showing strained interviews with disgruntled members of a welcoming committee that they had arranged to greet their plane in Boston.

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