THE royal yacht Britannia was launched in April 1953 on a day in which the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh crammed four engagements into a four-and-a-half-hour long visit to Clydeside.

Of the four, the Glasgow Herald noted, the most important was the launch at the John Brown’s yard at Clydebank, during which the Queen “disclosed a well-kept secret” when she revealed the name of the new vessel.

The Queen and Duke were greeted at the yard by Brown’s directors and officials and the First Lord of the Admiralty, J.P.L. Thomas, and after lunch were driven to the western edge of the yard where, in one of the berths, the yacht – painted in royal blue with a gold bank beneath the upper deck, and with the royal coat of arms on the bow – awaited. As the couple walked the entire length of the yacht’s starboard side, the Duke expressed interest in the mechanism of the launching triggers beneath the hull.

Dr J.M. McNeill, Brown’s managing director, explained the operation of the launching buttons, and the Queen, “in ringing tones”, and watched by a crowd some 20,000 strong, launched the ship. The band struck up Rule Britannia and the crowd joined in as the yacht eased down the slipway.

Heavy rain began to fall shortly afterwards, as eight shipyard managers and foremen were presented to the Queen. Some of them had remarkably long records of service: Arthur A. Jeeves, chief engine works draughtsman, had worked there since 1906; David G. Reavey, engine works dock manager, since 1911, and William M.Beattie, head foreman, engine shop, since 1918.

The Queen was presented, by Lord Aberconway, chairman of John Brown, with a set of old glasses engraved by Mr (later Sir) Laurence Whistler, brother of the late artist, Rex. The Queen congratulated him on the design of the glasses.

The main goblet included an engraving of the Britannia with, in the distance, a small sailing yacht, the hull of which bore, in almost invisible letters, the name Britannia. Mr Whistler told the Queen that this had been purely coincidental and that he had had no foreknowledge of the name of the new royal yacht.

As the royal party eventually departed, a “gruff Clydeside voice” was clearly heard on the TV transmission. “Good old Lizzie”, the voice cried, and – in the words of the Evening Times – the cheering crowd "echoed this homespun salutation to our gracious Queen".

Britannia’s sea-trials began that November, and she was commissioned into the Royal Navy in January 1954. Over 44 years she called in at more than 600 ports in 135 countries, and sailing the equivalent of once around the world for each of these years, and she is now a major tourist attraction, berthed at Leith docks.

* Tomorrow: the Queen's other engagements that April day, 1953

Read more: Herald Diary