Sir Stafford Cripps, leader of the Socialist wing of the English Labor party and often mentioned as Britain’s next Prime Minister . . . classed the King’s Silver Jubilee as National Government propaganda.
— “Cripps Visits Cambridge, Scoffs at King’s Jubilee”, Boston Daily Globe, 28 April 1935, p. A8.
This weekend Queen Elizabeth II will celebrate her Diamond Jubilee, having selflessly clung to the throne for 60 years and spared the British nation the prospect of King Charles III. It seems an appropriate opportunity, then, to travel back to 1935, when her grandfather, George V, marked his own Silver Jubilee, batting 25 years not out on a far stickier wicket (his cousins Kaiser Wilhelm II and Tsar Nicolas II had long since been forcibly retired to the pavillion). For this was a prolific moment in cocktail history.
The Silver Jubilee celebrations were scheduled to last for three months, beginning on 6 May, the anniversary of the King-Emperor’s coronation in 1910, with a thanksgiving service in St Paul’s Cathedral, and culminating in the Cowes Week yachting regatta. In between there were balls, processions, musical festivals, military tattoos, and street parties across the country. The often-grimy capital was transformed, putting on its party-dress, its buildings draped in flowers and monuments floodlit. The photographer Cecil Beaton remembered that “London had the air of a Valentine in its gala-trimming . . . the public squares were festooned and garlanded almost beyond recognition; every house seemed to have been freshly painted, and hung with swags and flags; the window-boxes were stacked with marguerites; everywhere were crowns and emblems of festivity” (Cecil Beaton’s Scrapbook [New York: Scribner’s, 1937], p. 6).
Outside of London the ceremonies were inevitably a little more pagan:
In the country, the brass band blared, and all the villagers turned out to watch the goings-on: the infirm were wheeled into the porch or peeped from the windows. The pageant was headed by a group dressed in fancy costumes of miscellaneous origin, and in a remote village there were Italian peasants and hula-hula dancers . . . Lorries passed disguised as flowering arbours, smithies, Theocritean dairy farms. There followed a cavalcade of the early kings and queens of England (though to the anguish of the lady organiser James II was lost), while the later Royalty was compelled to tread delicately in their wake. The industries and produce of Britain figured in the pageant play, and the arrival of the village postmistress was greeted with the shout “Hail, Butter.” Hanging over the pleasure-garden railings, pointing and giggling hysterically, dressed in fantastic costumes of brilliantly-coloured paper, representing strange birds and flowers—one with a huge upturned daisy on its head, another in a sunburst halo of petals, and yet another in a top hat, to which was affixed the cryptic question “Who am I?”—were the lunatics from the local asylum, their faces twisted and knotted, but madly gay.
The procession halted in the market square in time to hear its own speech from the King through the radio. No other royal celebration had ever seemed so personal, and, when night had fallen on the jubilant village, strange ghosts of the past, some on white horses, carrying flares, mingled with the crowds and streamed onto the Downs to light the bonfire. One after another, for miles around, pin-points of light burst into being. All over the country these beacons, once lit only for war, were now offering to Their Majesties the most united symbol of loyalty that the country could give. [ibid., p. 8]
Like the royal wedding of 1922, the jubilee bash was meant to foster a sense of unity and solidarity in the people, regardless of social class, throughout Britain and her global empire. The event was largely successful in that respect: the New York Times noticed that the rubbernecks filling the capital’s streets, so many that traffic had to be stopped, were “different from the ordinary London crowd that flocks to see royal pageantry.” On this occasion it was “suburban families” who had “brought their children to town to gape at the gilded Britannia that towers ninety feet above the roof of Selfridge’s store or to admire the flowers massed in windows from one end of Regent Street to the other”, “elderly women from seaside boarding houses”, “retired officials”, “seamen from London docks who one seldom sees in the West End of London” (“Jubilee Throngs Stream to London”, New York Times, 5 May 1935, p. E4). And the thousands welcoming the king and queen to the vermin-ridden slums of the East End, some following the royal procession on roller skates and bicycles, were no less enthusiastic than the multitudes lining the Mall, even at the expense of political consistency. “Lousy, but loyal” declared one improvised banner; “Down with capitalism—God save the King!” urged another. But British communists were predictably less indulgent. The Daily Worker newspaper dubbed the extravagant £5000 Silver Jubilee banquet “Royal Squandermania”, and a manifesto by the leaders of the “London First of May Committee” described the years since George V’s coronation as “Twenty-five years of robbery of workers in which millions of our brothers have been slain, mutilated, gassed and tortured” (“Reds in Britain See Jubilee as ‘Royal Squandermania’”, Gettysburg Times, 26 April 1935, p. 6).
Bolshevik killjoys notwithstanding, the monarch was taken aback by the warmth with which he was received by his subjects and concluded in his diary: “I am beginning to think they must really like me for myself.” Not exactly, George. The public’s high spirits were not just affection for the king as an individual and loyalty to the Crown, or even love of well-choreographed show, the New York Times observed:
It is not a man but a reign that is being commemorated throughout the empire Monday. This time there is little of the intensely personal feeling that dominated Queen Victoria’s jubilee when the old Queen had been on the throne sixty years and had become a living legend. When the crowds cheer for King George Monday morning they will also in a very real sense be cheering for themselves. They will be thinking of all they have endured and achieved in the twenty-five years since the King came to the throne. Not many of them imagine the King has had a decisive influence over the events of those troubled years. [...] Yet the fact that King George is still on the throne is a symbol to the British people that they themselves have come through terrible trials and that when other countries have been broken and other monarchies gone up in smoke their country and its free institutions are still intact.
— “Jubilee Throngs Stream to London”, New York Times, 5 May 1935, p. E4.
Perhaps to counter the criticisms of the Left, that these imperial self-celebrations, and even the institution of monarchy itself, were a waste of money at a time when the nation could ill afford such profligacy, it was claimed that the jubilee would not help “restore good times throughout the country” but bring ‘profitable employment of thousands of people”—mainly through the mass production of royalist tat. Potteries worked round the clock churning out souvenir mugs and plates, foundries cast millions of medals, printers published millions of books and programs, the colonial office issued a special series of stamps, the manufacturers of flags and bunting were at full stretch. And that was just the beginning, according to the Washington Post:
New women’s fashions are being developed and considerable employment is promised in this line. [...] Makers of artificial flowers cannot supply the demand. [...] In this branch of industry new hands are being constantly broken in. Electricians are beginning to reap a harvest. Floods of light will be the rule at all places of assembly and along many main streets. More employment will be given in all parts of the empire by the planting of commemorative trees. One town in England has signified its intention of planting 10,000 trees along its local roadways.
— “Great Britain’s Silver Jubilee is Creating Jobs, Washington Post, 31 March 1935, p. S11.
While all this was going on London’s best bartenders were busy inventing their own tributes to the King-Emperor. The Café Royal Cocktail Book contains no fewer than 13 cocktails with a jubilee theme. This Stakhanovite effort led to some complications, as the Baltimore Sun reported:
London’s cocktail world is shaken by an unusual mix-up during the silver jubilee. The Bartenders’ Guild decided to copyright the use of the names “Jubilation” and “Silver Jubilee” given to two new cocktails invented by its president, Harry Craddock, of the Savoy. By coincidence Tony, of the Trocadero Restaurant, and Alex, of the Cumberland Hotel, two other cocktail experts, each made cocktails and christened them by the same names.
— “Jubilee Cocktails”, Baltimore Sun, 19 May 1935, p. TM3.
Legal action was threatened by both the Guild and the two rival mixologists, but the dispute appears to have been resolved amicably enough. Three of Craddock’s Jubilee-themed recipes were subsequently included in the Café Royal Cocktail Book, and none carry the names mentioned in the newspaper article. In fact, the only cocktail bearing the title “Silver Jubilee” is the rather unfortunate creation of the book’s author, W. J. Tarling, a glop as sickly-sweet as the outpourings of royalist fervour:
½ Booth’s dry gin
¼ fresh cream
¼ crème de Banane (banana liqueur)
I suspect Tarling may have been a closet republican. A little better, but not by much, is the Jubilee Rhapsody by Laurie Ross:
1/6 Danzig silver water
1/12 lemon juice
1/12 blue Curaçao
Rim of glass crusted with sugar.
(Danzig silver water, I’m assuming, was a brand of lightly sparkling silver water, so I found something suitable to stand in for it.)
The clear winners, both by Harry Craddock (an American, of course), stuck to tried-and-trusted combinations and were all the better for it:
|¼ lemon juice
||¼ lemon juice
||¼ Luxardo’s Maraschino
||½ Daiquiri rum
Three cheers for the king! Well, two cheers. OK, let’s just leave it at “cheers”!