The Queen’s Speech in 1958 set out the government’s agenda for the parliamentary year. It included government commitments internationally, referring to the role of the Commonwealth, securing a settlement in Cyprus, promoting peace and justice through actively supporting the UN and NATO, cooperating with Middle Eastern countries to relieve regional tensions, and pledging to pursue international agreement to suspend nuclear testing. Domestically, the government’s focus was securing the strength of sterling. The government sought “to expand our oversea trade both in Europe, by the creation of a free trade area, and throughout the world”. Other domestic measures included promoting “social wellbeing” through pension reform and giving effect to many of the royal commission on mental illness’s recommendations. The government also sought “a just balance between the expanding demands of the modern state and the freedom and status of the individual”. Measures announced to this end would encourage home ownership and management of new towns.

In the House of Lords, Earl Jellicoe proposed the humble address wearing, the Times noted, the uniform of a lieutenant-colonel of the Coldstream Guards. He observed that “the last time that I addressed your Lordships’ House was from the platonic sanctity of the Cross-benches”. He claimed he did not know “why I find myself in this particular hot spot this afternoon. I can only surmise that the noble Earl [of Home, the leader of the House], fishing for a good large Tory trout, cast over the Cross-benches for an ex-ambassador and hooked an ex-first secretary by mistake”.

During the second world war, Earl Jellicoe was first commander of the Special Boat Service, taking missions into German-controlled Greek islands, Italy and Yugoslavia. He was awarded the distinguished service order at the age of 24 and the military cross at 26, as well as the Legion of Honour, the Croix de Guerre and the Military Cross of Greece. Joining the Foreign Office after the war, Lord Jellicoe served in Washington, Brussels and Baghdad before resigning in 1958. He sat on the Conservative benches from then, later, among other posts, serving as leader of the House between 1970 and 1973.

In his remarks, Lord Jellicoe focused on international relations, outlining his perspective on relations with communist regimes in China and the Soviet Union, the Commonwealth, the situation in Cyprus and prospects for ties with Arab states. He praised the armed forces but expressed the need for personnel to be “highly efficient, immaculately equipped and, above all, mobile”. Viscount Goschen (Conservative) seconded the motion. Wearing the uniform of a colonel of the Grenadier Guards, he praised the government’s “determination […] to maintain the strength of sterling and employment”. He argued:

Last year, all the information was that the evil forces of inflation were massing against us. The plan of attack was made and launched. The weapons used were the raising of the bank rate, intensification of the credit squeeze and limitation of capital expenditure by local authorities. This battle was successful.

He warned:

[…] these advances must not be allowed to get out of control, otherwise the forces of inflation will again be ranging themselves against us. It is essential that our production is competitive and that it is increased. The danger, surely, lies in a fall in production and rising wages.

However, this assessment was not universally shared. On day five, Lord Silkin (Labour) tabled an amendment to the motion, regretting “that the gracious speech makes no adequate proposals for dealing with the problems of industrial output, unemployment and under-employment, the continuing high cost of living, or satisfactory provision for old age, present and future”. The same debate saw members comment on the proposed free trade area.

In opening his speech, Viscount Goschen noted the historic membership change. He said “last week, ladies’ voices were heard here for the first time, and to-day we have baronesses sitting with us”. The first life peers took their seats the previous week. In their closing remarks, Viscount Alexander of Hillsborough, for the opposition, Lord Amulree, for the Liberals, and the Earl of Home, the leader of the House, welcomed the new members. Lord Alexander said he appreciated “the advent here not only of the new baronesses but also of the other life peers who have been sent, it seems to me, to do a specific job and to give us their general help”.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood (Conservative) became the first life peer to make a maiden speech. Speaking in the fourth day of debate, Baroness Elliot said she was “very conscious that, except for Her Majesty’s gracious opening of Parliament, probably this is the first occasion in 900 years that the voice of a woman has been heard in the deliberations of this House”. She spoke about the Commonwealth, governance and how the UK can “lead the world in the future as we have done in the past”. Lord Fraser of Lonsdale became the second life peer to speak, contributing on the final day of debate the next week. He remarked that he had planned not to contribute, and “should have taken the advice of some who said, ‘Wait six months, or even six years’”. But he said he was provoked to do so by hearing the government’s pension reforms would not be debated for some time. Lord Fraser focused his remarks on pensions.

It was also the first time state opening was televised. In her speech, the Queen referred to the broadcast, noting the ceremony was “being watched not only by those who are present in this chamber, but by many millions of my subjects”. She added:

Peoples in other lands will also be able to witness this renewal of the life of Parliament. Outwardly they will see the pageantry and the symbols of authority and state; but in their hearts they will surely respond to the spirit of hope and purpose which inspires our parliamentary tradition.

Such was the historic occasion that the Times felt it important to provide its readers with a summary about the broadcast picture quality in locations across Europe. In its review the next day, it said Reuters reporters had relayed that, for example, thousands of Swiss viewers had watched pictures technicians had said were “not perfect” but “pretty fair”. Elsewhere, Italian viewers had missed the first five minutes of the broadcast because it coincided with “the latest smoke signal from the cardinal’s conclave in Rome”. Pope John XXIII was elected pope the same day.

The Times declared, however, “the television did the programme remarkable well”. It lamented it being in black and white, saying “we must reconcile ourselves to wait for colour television before the viewer may even begin to imagine, however many candles commentators burn in studying the thesaurus, the brilliance of the palette from which these kaleidoscopic scenes of ceremonial are painted”. The lack of colour broadcast was also regretted by Viscount Goschen. In his comments seconding the address, he said in colour “all the richness and splendour of this ancient pageant could have been reproduced”. The state opening of Parliament was first broadcast in full colour in 1960.

Cover image by Central Press Photos Ltd (Central Office of Information archives), October 1958/Royal Collection Trust.