The British Houses of Parliament usually make for a pretty drab scene as grey-haired men in suits attempt to score political points off each other.
But once a year, on the occasion of the State Opening of Parliament, which takes place this afternoon, the Palace of Westminster is transformed into an epicentre of British pomp.
As Head of State, it is the duty of The Queen to formally open each new session of Parliament, which she does by seating herself upon the ornate, golden throne and reading ‘her’ government’s projected programme of legislation for the year ahead, in the House of Lords, the upper chamber of parliament, which adjoins the House of Commons.
No monarch has set foot in the House of Commons since Charles I entered the Commons and tried to arrest five Members of Parliament in 1642, or, just the other day, in British history terms.
On arrival at the House of Lords today, The Queen will put on the Imperial State Crown and her parliamentary robe ready for the ceremony itself.
When the Queen is ready, her messenger, who rejoices in the title of ‘Black Rod’, marches towards the entrance to Commons, and then has the door ritually slammed in his face.
This tradition is a reminder of the right of the Commons to exclude whom they please.
The rebuke is short lived, for the door is then reopened to enable Black Rod to convey the Sovereign's summons to the Speaker of the House of Commons, following which a representative sample of 250 members of parliament are then come through from the lower house (the Commons) to the upper house (the Lords).
Her Majesty has only missed two State Openings of Parliament during her reign. The first time was in 1959 when she was pregnant with Prince Andrew and the second in 1963 when she was expecting Prince Edward.
If she can’t make it, her crown attends solo.
Before The Queen travels to Parliament from Buckingham Palace, certain traditional precautions are observed.A detachment of The Queen's Body Guard of the Yeomen of the Guard searches the cellars of the Houses of Parliament, a tradition which dates back to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when Guy Fawkes was arrested whilst preparing to blow up Parliament. Today, the Yeomen of the Guard continue this historic search, in addition to more hi-tec security checks by police.
Another tradition is the 'hostage' MP, a Government whip who is held at Buckingham Palace to guarantee the safe return of the monarch, a custom which dates back to an era when the monarch and Parliament were on less cordial terms. These days, he is given tea and biscuits while he waits.
The Queen travels from Buckingham Palace in a State coach to the Palace of Westminster, usually accompanied by The Duke of Edinburgh.
The Imperial State Crown travels in its own carriage, ahead of The Queen, escorted by Members of the Royal Household.
Spectators will gather in London today to view the procession to Parliament from Buckingham Palace in The Mall and Whitehall.
For those chained to their desks overseas, the ceremony is also broadcast live on this stream http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Live.aspx