I saw the ” King’s Speech” yesterday and it made me wonder about my relationship and contact with royalty over the years. I can recall going down to Wolverhampton in about 1962 to see the Queen present the new standard to the Staffordshire Yeomanry, which my father belonged. I cannot remember much except I was bored and the event seem to drag on a great deal of time.
I was also bored when my primary class in Stoke waited for an age for Princess Margaret to attend to some civic duty in Stoke in the early 60s. A large car pulled up a woman is greeted by a Mayor and then outside. “Is that it” I would probably said ” Not even the dummy Princess Margaret”
I did see the Duke of Edinburgh though when he attended a civic luncheon in the mid 80s. He seemed genial enough but more latterly he blew the gaffe when he called the City a “ghastly place”. He was given some pottery. I felt at the time given his shooting interest that the figure should have been a surprised grouse rising from a clump of grass. I don’t think the Lord Mayor’s Secretary was game for that.
I have never met Charles although the late Director of the City Museum Arnold Mountford told me that when the Lord Mayor of the City at the time Cllr Les Sillitoe- notoriously prone to gaffes- wanted in his speech to attract people’s attention to the “Muriel”. Being a good public servant Arnold corrected him. ” The word is mural Lord Mayor”. He was thanked and the event came to a head when the New Museum was opened in May 1981 only weeks from the wedding. The crowd was getting excited and chanting Lady Di’s name. It proved too much for the Lord Mayor who ran down the Museum ramp tugging at the Prince’s sleeve. ” Have you seen our Muriel”.
Faux pas involving Lord Mayors and the Royal Family seem to occur frequently as an incident with the Lord Mayor in the mid 90s demonstrated. At the opening of Bradeley Retirement Village John Birkin introduced the uniped Ted Smith who unfortunately lost a leg to illness with the comment that “When you were last here Your Majesty, he had two legs”. I don’t think that John was being sardonic, but it was just an unfortunate slip of the tongue.
On the subject of Diana I missed her twice once when she was in Wigan in 1989 and then again about 6 years later when a scrum of photographers told me that she was in a restaurant in Soho. In the case of her visit to Greater Manchester I stuck to my desk and I could hear the cheers of the crowds nearby. Given what happened to her I have always felt that if everyone were as indifferent to her as I was then perhaps she would be still around now. It is also true to say that the universal grief that encompassed the nation was not shared at Keele where I went to a classical music concert on the Friday evening before the funeral. When the violinist of the trio informed the audience that the piece of music was to be dedicated to the memory of the late Princess of Wales an audible groan went up from the audience.
My brother and I share a distinction that we have both missed events when the Princess Royal was present. I think its two each. I missed her opening Brough Park Leisure Centre in 2002 and he missed her when he was on some sailing ship in Cornwall. Again nothing personal, but my view of Anne and Fergie for that matter can be summoned up in the Peter Cook anecdote of being asked by David Frost to meet Andrew and Fergie on a certain day. Cook goes off to consult with his diary. ” Sorry David, I’m watching TV that night”.
As for the lesser Royal the same brother received his degree whilst at Lancaster from Princess Alexandria the Chancellor unfortunately for him she choose to have a conversation as he walked past her seated figure.
“Hev yew gort e jorb”? He said her aristocratic tones making it impossible for him to understand her.
“Hev yew gort a jorb”
As this progressed he had her hand and as the time elapsed the grip became vice like. Panic was displayed in Alexandria’s eyes. My father who was taking film from the back as my brother wearing a cape lowered his head to try to catch what the Princess was saying later told us that it was like Dracula about to bite someone in the neck.
It turned out that she was asking him about his employment prospects.
There you have it. I am a lukewarm republican and I think that the present lot are a bit insipid. I would like to bring back from the dead Charles II or Henry II who were at least interesting. I can not being doing with the deference bit in so far as much I have retained Quaker attitudes it is in this area where they are the most pronounced