A monarch dies in the new century and a nation rumbles in

This comment originally appeared on the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.

by Dennis Roddy

LONDON (AP) — Queen Elizabeth II’s death went off without a hitch, a demise so long anticipated that it was codenamed after a monument the British sold to a wealthy American who moved it to Arizona and turned it into a tourist attraction 50 years ago.

The London Bridge still stands, albeit in Arizona. The monarch, sadly, rests in state here, and the monarchy will welcome visitors to Windsor next tourist season.

The monarchy preceded the bridge as a tourist attraction sometime in the 1930s, when Elizabeth’s uncle turned down the Crown in favor of a divorcee, transforming the eternal symbol of government into a consolation prize.

Nonetheless, “Operation London Bridge” came into full and serious operation long before Her Majesty reached room temperature. The British can’t build a decent car, but their mourning rituals are still the envy of the world. If you want to be taken seriously here, die.

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At the BBC, newscasters donned black suits and matching ties stored on the studio wardrobe rack for decades: tailored, pressed and altered over the years as staff came and went and waistlines expanded and contracted during a reign that seemed endless.

He was standing in Trafalgar Square when Buckingham Palace announced the Queen’s death at 6:30 p.m. local time. When I arrived at the gates of Buckingham Palace, the Union Jack was at half-staff and the official gazette was bolted to the front door, topped there by a royal tweet.

On a side road, a seven-year-old girl named Fidela had hand-drawn a sign in crayon.

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“Queen Elizabeth, I will remember you,” he wrote over a black and purple rainbow.

Fidela’s mom is from Spain and Fidela was born in the UK.

Amazingly, that little sign was put up in front of the electronic billboard and it was the first public display of mourning I’ve ever witnessed that didn’t have an official sponsor. In fact, as I was walking to my hotel, a giant digital billboard on Piccadilly displayed a giant photograph of Elizabeth and her years of her birth and death.

At 8am on Friday morning, a bus stop along Euston Road had a dazzling billboard bearing the Queen’s photograph and dates of birth and death. This couldn’t have been done without enough lead time to design the thing, then just insert the year of death and hit the print button.

Monty Python’s land feigns gravity unashamedly.

At Buckingham Palace, thousands of Londoners stood outside the gates, stacked bouquets on the fence and sang the national anthem, though it was hard to tell whether they were asking God to save the Queen or the King.

Commendation flowed from people of stature in metric volume to make the Thames itself envious. Monty Python’s land feigns gravity unashamedly.

In the House of Commons, the new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, who once advocated the abolition of the monarchy, praised the late queen without sparing any effort.

Two days before Elizabeth was reunited with her ancestors in heaven, Truss had traveled to Balmoral to kiss the royal hand.

Truss quoted Churchill, who said that the death of Elizabeth’s father, King George, had “calmed down the noise and traffic of 20th-century life in many modern lands”. But, except for a few canceled football matches, Great Britain went ahead. West End theaters continued their performances. Pubs and restaurants buzzed.

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I sat next to two women in a packed restaurant Thursday night who told me they had tickets to a taping of The News Quiz satirical show. The taping was cancelled, as the state-sponsored station wasn’t doing anything lighthearted that night. BBC radio, the dominant outlet when Elizabeth’s father died, explained that it was switching to a moderate playlist more appropriate to national grief.

Restaurant speakers tuned in to Beeb, who provided John Lennon’s “Imagine,” Bette Miller’s “Wind Beneath My Wings” and James Taylor singing “You’ve Got A Friend.”

Photographers at the prayer service in St. Paul seemed hard-pressed to find suitable shots of someone crying. To be sure, the British felt sorrow, but it was modern sorrow subsumed by self-esteem, constant distraction and the nagging sense that it was all pantomime and it had been long before the official communiqué was bolted to the palace gates, beaten all the way by Twitter.

In a moment with little to say, eloquence must suffice.

Dennis Roddy is a retired journalist from Pittsburgh who also served as a special assistant to former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett.

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