flanked on one side by the Central Purchasing Department of I.C.I. and on another by the Imperial Headquarters of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides Association, Buckingham Palace stands—bulwark of an outgoing empire, fulcrum of the still feverishly rotating wheel of British privilege and power.
A dreary, dank February day in 1960—the day destined to be that preceding the birth of Queen Elizabeth’s third child. The crowd peering through the railings, passively watching large glistening cars draw up at the Palace gates, and disgorge important looking people.
Who composed this crowd to whom the birth of a Royal child was so important? The most striking thing was that there were far fewer people outside the Palace than one would have expected from the newspaper build-up— about 300–350 during all the time I was there—which was from 3.30 to 6 p.m. Most of these were there for only a short time. Except for about fifty or so stalwarts entrenched nearest the gates and railings, the composition of the crowd had changed completely between when I arrived and when I left. This was borne out by the majority of those to whom I spoke—they were walking past on their way home from work; lived nearby; came to look at the crowd; always took the baby for a walk at this time, and took the chance to slip past the Palace in case the Royal birth took place. The press, radio and TV stressed the fact that there were “hundreds” of people there throughout the day and evening for at least a week preceding the birth; certainly the reporters were there in droves. I counted twenty-seven cameramen (TV and press) and at least twenty reporters.
And what thoughts and emotions were passing through the minds of this crowd? The Daily Mirror recorded that, “twenty-one words thrilled the nation yesterday”, and the News Chronicle said, “While the church bells rang throughout Britain, bonfires and floodlights blazed and the whole world rejoiced.” “Mr. Krushchev too will be pleased”, added the Daily Express. But the faces of the crowd at the Palace gates showed no obvious sign of rejoicing, or thrill, or joy, or, indeed, of anything. Yet not all the hullabaloo was hypocritical. Many must have felt an unaffected pleasure and anticipation; but when one has subtracted this element of genuine rejoicing, and remembering that unlike most Royal occasions there was no attractive pageantry at all, there still remains a large residue of sentiment that has not been explained, a volume of motives that deserves to be investigated.
Fed to the teeth with all the sentimental crap and shoddy sentiment being spewed forth by the press and radio, but disguised for the occasion as a bland Australian journalist, I interviewed, in the course of two and a half hours, nearly fifty people.
It may seem to be a heartening tendency that the “hard core” was so few, but when I think of what was said to me I am appalled again.
Of my forty-eight, chosen almost at random, seven were students. Two girls from London University— both aged twenty—had been there two hours, and for two to three hours on the two previous afternoons. Why were they so interested? Well, it was “lovely” the Queen’s having another baby. They had French and German pen friends (students too) who wanted to know about the Royal Family. Think how wonderful it would be if they could write and say they were outside the Palace when the baby was born. The one male student—at Teachers’ Training College—appeared somewhat embarrassed, but said he thought it would amuse his pupils in France, where he hopes to teach next year, to hear about this aspect of “the English way of life”. He was hoping to prepare a “project”, with newspaper cuttings and his own photographs, as a visual aid!