Tuesday, December 15, 2009

what we are loving...

The silly season which is upon us brings unexpected joys as ABC TV re-screens some excellent documentaries.

Tonight's 'Backstairs Billy: The Queen Mum's Butler' is one such show that gives an amazing insight into the British Royal family in that way that an examination of life downstairs can truly reveal the truth of life Upstairs.
              tSS was fortunate to meet the late Bill Tallon (right), subject of the film, the former life-long loyal aide to HRH The Queen Mother, at one of his discreet dinner parties at Lodge House, the small grace and favour cottage attached to Clarence House in which he lived. (the better part of valour prevents us from revealing who actually took tSS to the dinner party).
             tSS being painfully shy found Tallon was one of life's true gentleman who could make all guests feel equally important.
               Probing questions during pre-dinner drinks about our background revealed a link with another guest who featured in the doco, Basia Briggs. Bingo!.Common ground was found as we both had Polish mothers and  the next hour was spent in deep discussion as to just why we felt it was something to hide (a long story-Basia is Polish nobility-tSS is Polish peasantry)
               Bill's fall from grace at the death of the Queen Mum in 2002, as featured in the film, was less painful than that of another royal aide Stephen Barry who was Prince Charle's valet for 12 years until the arrival of Princess Diana. Barry was less discreet than Tallon who never discussed the royals, and a regular at a Fulham Road gay restaurant where tSS once snapped Barry when he fell to the floor in a drunken stupor. We were  plagued the following day by Fleet Street picture editors who had gotten wind of the event, to sell the snap. We declined.
              Afterall-we had once been transported to the Ascot races in a Range Rover driven by Barry and loaned to him by Prince Charles. Not knowing at the time that most of the royal autos were painted in a special deep blue reserved for them but recognised by police which allowed us to be flagged past any traffic jam.
           Sadly Barry's various drunken indescretions were his downfall.. Sacked when Charles married Diana, he went to the USA and was the first ex-royal employee to make a mint (long before the boring Paul Burrell)  from selling his story of life with the royals.
            4 years later tSS ran into Barry in the Kings Road in Chelsea and congratulated him on his amazing success in the USA where he had become a top selling author and TV expert on the Royal family.

"Not so" said Barry. "I've offended the most powerful famly in world and they have tentacles everywhere. Or at least-those who are behind them have. Whenever I travel my life is a misery. It takes me 4 hours to clear customs and immigration". 2 years later Stephen Barry died of cancer.

           Next weeks ABC documentary in the series is 'Hitler’s Favourite Royal'-about Queen Victoria’s youngest grandchild, first cousin of the King and the Kaiser, Prince Charles Edward who fell under the spell of the Nazi madman.
           In 1999 tSS attended a function at the Sydney Opera House in honour of the 2000 Sydney Olympics (which then Olympic president Juan Antonio Samaranch -or the Marquess of Samaranch to give him his title, and an admirer of the fascist Spanish dictator Franco, was later to declare the "best ever'.)
         Meeting a wonderful 84 year old long distance runner who had won a medal at the 1935 Berlin Olympics, tSS was compelled to ask him what his impressions were of Adolf Hitler who had presented him his silver medal.

"Unimpressive, not very tall and pasty faced with dreadful halitosis" was the answer.

       But I digress. Back in London in 2003 for our yearly visit, and visiting a friend in Kennington, tSS ran into Bill Tallon near the tube station. Tallon was now residing there and in true fashion, recognised me before I, he, and struck up a conversation.

"And what is it like living now in the suburbs " I asked "after your former address and do your neighbours know who you are ?".
"Oh yes" said Bill." Everytime I leave the flat the curtains are a symphony of movement".