The royalty at the front


It’s always useful to be reminded of the essential stuffiness of the British establishment, as I was this week watching a documentary about the late Dusty Springfield. Dusty was, for my money, and by some distance, the greatest English “pop” voice of the post-war era. The documentary followed her complete career, from the successes of the sixties to the period in the seventies when her career went astray, but in the process (because of her sexuality, and because, unusually for the time, she’d talked about it in public), she became something of a gay icon.

Anyway, in 1979 she was appearing at the Royal Albert Hall, in front of Princess Margaret, and noticed the gay fans thronging the front of the stage, and said – a prepared remark, apparently:

It seems the royalty is not confined to the Royal Box.

Simon Bell, her backing singer, re-told the story. Princess Margaret didn’t like this, or possibly a humourless Palace protocol flunky was offended on her behalf. Either way, a letter duly came from the Palace instructing Dusty that she had to apologise, and sadly the singer complied. The offending moment was edited out of the DVD of the concert.

It’s a reminder of how far we’ve come in 30 years, but the story has some echoes of John Lennon at the Royal Variety Show in 1963, which Princess Margaret was also at:

Would the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands. And the rest of you, if you’ll just rattle your jewellery.


Lennon’s remarks were clearly prepared as well – he has a look on his face that says, “Did you just spot me pulling the tail of the bourgeosie?” just as The Beatles kick into Twist and Shout – and he was careful not to mention the Royals by name, though nobody watching would have missed the point. While Lennon’s intro is still to be found online, Dusty’s remark has been edited out of the concert DVD. But then, talking about sexuality – or joking about it – always used to get you into more trouble than talking about class. How things have changed.

The picture at the top of the post is courtesy of Wikimedia, and is used with thanks.



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