How 9 English coronations went badly wrong…

I’m looking forward to watching King Charles and Queen Camilla getting crowned at Westminster Abbey on 6 May. And it would feel excruciating if something went wrong at their coronation. Such as Charles doing a prat fall; or Camilla’s crown slipping off.

But I still feast on stories of massive coronation fails in history. The more awkward or embarrassing the story the more I love it.

So here’s my film relating the stories of 9 total coronation cock-ups of the past.

I heard his song and wanted to kill him…

I cried when I heard the news. Roman, also tearful, stood up and left the room. He knew what had to be done. Returning with two glasses full to the brim of gin and Dubonnet we toasted the Queen with her favourite tipple.

If my younger self had watched this little scenario she would have stuck a finger down her throat and made ready to puke.

In June 1977 Britain celebrated the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. A day off work to celebrate 25 years of her reign. Hurray!  Let’s go on a pub crawl along the  King’s Road.

Teenagers paraded their vividly dyed Mohican haircuts, safety-pinned-noses, ripped fishnet, and bin liners scarred with zips, spikes, and angry-motto badges.

Screeching from the pub speakers we heard the BBC-banned Sex Pistols’ chart topping hit:

God Save the Queen

The fascist regime

They made you a moron.

In truth, I didn’t much care for Johnny Rotten’s discordant rantings, but anarchy was in the air; I was young, exhilarated and full to the brim with beer.

A few years later, a Royal Engagement was announced. My finger became glued to my epiglottis. You couldn’t go into a shop without stumbling over piles of plates and mugs depicting Drippy Di and her jug-eared Prince. 

How Buckingham Palace became my second ‘home’

Things changed after I became a London tourist guide. Rare was the visiting tour group or family who didn’t want a photo outside Buckingham palace.  It became literally my business to apprise myself of the royal comings and goings.

Each year, inbound UK tourism adds millions to the nation’s coffers (approx 9% of GDP). Anyone could see that much of this was boosted by interest in our royal family.

I also thought about all those nation’s leaders and presidents getting into a tizzy when meeting the Queen. It certainly supports how much of an asset she was to diplomatic and trade relations.

We are lucky to have a family willing to play the royal game. What sane person would choose that job? Endless visits to charities, schools, hospitals, manufacturing plants. Living under constant surveillance with never-ending handshakes, polite smiles and small talk. No chance of taking a sickie.  And NO power and nothing to abuse.

Apparently, sustaining the Royal Family cost British people the equivalent of a Twix bar per person per year. I suspect that with the cost of living crisis this cost might have increased to a whole box of Ferrero Rocher. Whatever. It’s still a bargain.

In August this year I went to a music festival in Devon.  A duo called Bob Vylan came on. Their presence was electrifying and I felt compelled to push to the front. This promised to be the highlight of the weekend.

Bob Vylan (L: drummer Bobbie R: rapper Bobby)

Comprising rapper Bobby Vylan and his drummer Bobbie Vylan their songs rage about the trials of being black in an institutionally racist country.

They’re particularly popular on the white, middle-class festival circuit.

But suddenly something changed. Bobby V commanded us to put our cameras away for the next song. And then he announced what it was. A song about an old lady who had a reign of terror for 70 years. 

This country’s in dire need of a fucking spanking, mate

Look it over, get the fucking dinosaurs out

Yeah, and kill the fucking Queen

She killed Diana, we don’t love her anyway

What? Surely not? I became confused. But I did get his message. And I’m ashamed to say I still moved to his beat and left the arena covered in sweat and euphoria. 

Returning home, the guilt and revulsion started to creep in.Watching Bobby Vylan on YouTube, his wrathful face distorted and ugly, I realised how deeply he despised his audiences and felt truly sick.

On 8 September 2022 Bobby Vylan got his wish. 

Long live the King.

So yes, I haven’t always been a monarchist.  And yeah, all those of you who think the monarchy is an anachronism, and undemocratic, and should be abolished, I get you. I really do. 

But I cannot forgive Bobby Vylan for spewing up his vile, ignorant stage-vomit. For his crass and dumb notions. For his all-consuming self-regard and scorn for those who follow him. 

Several weeks have now passed. I’m no longer sad about the Queen. Although I am still angry about the dim-witted rapper. 

I want to say Kill Bobbie Vylan! But however obnoxious he may be he doesn’t deserve a death sentence. An enforced history lesson might be a good start, though.

Terence Stamp – What a gent!

Albany – the gentleman’s residence just off Piccadilly.

In 1966, Terence Stamp moved into Albany, a warren of bachelor apartments, just off Piccadilly.    Stamp was a 28-year-old cockney son of a tugboat pilot. He had become famous for starring in starring in films such as Billy Budd and Modesty Blaise. He was also dating top model Jean Shrimpton. As he unpacked his boxes in his fancy new flat he knew he’d arrived.

Albany started life in 1774 as a grand mansion on Piccadilly built for Viscount Melbourne. In 1802 it was expanded and converted into 69  apartments known as ‘sets’. They were for gentlemen only who had to adhere to a strict set of rules. Over the years they relaxed the rules and even allowed lady visitors in 1880. When Stamp arrived he willingly conformed to the rules. No whistling, no prostitutes, no noise, no pets, no children. No conversation along the passageways. He did rather flout the rule of no publicity. 

He marvelled at the numerous famous people who’d lived there previously: Lord Byron with his parrot (presumably not classed as a pet), William Gladstone, Aldous Huxley, Lord Snowdon, not to mention its inclusion in fictitious works by Dickens and Oscar Wilde.

Lord Byron settled in with his parrot

Today, the Albany trustees allow women to live amongst them. As long as they’re the right sort.

Some sets are held as freehold. In 2017, one apartment went on sale with an asking price of £7m. 

As for Terence Stamp, things didn’t go so well for him in the beginning. Jean Shrimpton dumped him, and his career started to pale, especially in comparison to that of his former flatmate, Michael Caine. After three years he set off to India to find the meaning of life.

Stamp squeezed his mark on her mushroom risotto

Yet he still retained his set of rooms. In the 1980s he befriended Princess Diana when her marriage to Prince Charles had foundered. Stamp enjoyed entertaining Diana at his apartment. In spite of rumours that they became lovers, he insists that he behaved like a gentleman at all times. On one occasion he cooked a mushroom risotto and squeezed out the letters HRH in black and white from two tubes of truffle paste. She was thrilled with the result.

W.B. Yeats in London

Wandering along Woburn Walk one might think we have landed in a Regency novel. Perhaps you’re on your way to a haberdasher for pretty ribbons for your bonnet? Built 200 years ago, this alley still looks gorgeous and romantic.

W B Yeats lived here from 1896 – 1917.

Although, when the Irish poet W.B Yeats moved in to No. 5 in 1896, the area was poor and run down. Yeats was also poor but impassioned and eccentric. The locals called him ‘the toff’ as he was the only person who received letters. 

W B Yeats had a complicated love life.

He moved Olivia Shakespear in with him. She was a young novelist to whom he lost his virginity. She loved him but had to listen to Yeats bemoaning his unrequited love for Irish nationalist Maud Gonne. The relationship quickly foundered. 

Olivia Shakespear took Yeats’ virginity

Yeats was a member of The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a secret occult group. He spent many evenings embroiled in magical ritual at its Kensington temple.

On Mondays, he hosted salon evenings. Writers including Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot and John Masefield attended. The Irish dramatist Lady Augusta Gregory was a regular. She was a mentor and mother-figure to Yeats. Upon leaving, she often left some money under the teapot.

Love life? It’s complicated.

In 1916, Yeats by now aged 51, proposed again to his great love Maud Gonne. She turned him down. He had already developed a passion for her 21-year-old daughter, Iseult. She also said no to his offer of marriage. A few weeks later, he proposed to his 25-year-old fellow occultist Georgie Hyde-Lees. Third time lucky.

Once married, Yeats insisted she was to be called ‘George’. He confessed to her his enduring love for Iseult. George developed the skill of ‘automatic writing’. This was how she was able to communicate with spirits of the dead. In this way, she kept Yeats spellbound. She harnessed him throughout several of his short-lived love affairs until his death in 1939.

After Yeats left the Woburn Walk lodgings in 1917, the new resident was, of all people, Maud Gonne.

Queen Elizabeth’s Oak in Greenwich Park

Queen Elizabeth’s Oak, Greenwich Park

This is all that’s left of Queen Elizabeth’s Oak that grew here, in Greenwich Park, 900 years ago. 

King Henry VIII danced around it with Anne Boleyn. Later, after Queen Anne’s beheaded corpse lay buried in the chapel of the Tower of London, their daughter used to sit by this tree with a drink.

When the tree grew big with a 6 foot wide cavity inside, it was used as a prison for those who broke the rules of the Park.

This ancient oak perished over 100 years ago; hollow corpse propped up by  ivy. Since 1991 it has lain here, splendid in its deathly pose.

Siemens Brothers in London

Wilhelm Siemens left Germany for London in 1843. Aged 19, he had trained as a mechanical engineer. He had little money but a head full of half-formulated inventions. 

His brothers had got off to a good start. Werner Siemens had set up the first company in Germany to make electrical telegraphs.  Carl Siemens went off to build a telegraph network in Russia.

William Siemens

Wilhelm opened a branch of brother Werner’s company, Siemens & Halske in England. He prospered. By the age of 40, there was no going back. He fell in love with a Scotswoman called Anne Gordon. He married her and became a naturalised Englishman known as William.

In 1863, Wilhelm opened the Siemens Telegraph works in Woolwich, south-east London.  Here they made cables and developed gas engines. Their factory and the number of workers it employed grew and grew. 

They later built a special cable-laying ship called CS Faraday. They named it to honour Michael Faraday, William’s mentor. They laid telegraph lines from Prussia to Tehran. In 1881, they built a new electric generator. This was to power the world’s first electric street lighting. They also demonstrated the first electric indoor lighting in London’s Savoy Theatre.

C.S Faraday – great cable laying ship.

William Siemens died in 1883, just after Queen Victoria honoured him with a knighthood.

The Siemens company continued to flourish. They laid the first telephone cable across the English Channel in 1891 so London and Paris could talk to each other. They built the telephone system for the General Post Office. They set up the cable for the outside radio broadcast of 1937 Coronation of King George VI. 

the war caused problems for german company siemens in london

The onset of war caused problems. The company was still in German ownership, so their power was taken away and held in trust throughout World War One.

This happened again in World War Two. Siemens Brothers, which employed 9000 workers in the Woolwich factories, was put in trust.  They supplied cables and equipment to develop radar. Several factory buildings in were bombed.

Although Associated Electrical Industries bought the British company of Siemens Brothers and Co. Ltd in 1955, Siemens still operates today as a multinational conglomerate.

The Woolwich business closed in 1968. Many of the factories and warehouses still exist. The buildings have been let out for various industrial purposes. But now plans are afoot to redevelop the whole site. There will be apartment blocks, studios and workshops for start-up companies. 

Spooky Tulips (nothing is what it seems)

Spooky tulips image
Can you feel a chill in the air?

When Rev R.W. Hardy from Canada turned up at the Queen’s House in Greenwich he was not looking for ghosts. He was here for the Tulip Stairs – the first supported spiral staircase in the country. It was 1966 and he’d read in his guidebook that Inigo Jones had built this architectural marvel in 1635.

We must take a photograph to show the folks back home, he said to his wife. We’ll wait until no-one’s around. And did you know that they named it wrongly? Those wrought iron flowers in the railings are actually fleur-de-lys.  The Rev liked to know something that others didn’t.

Back in Canada, he eagerly collected the developed photos, only to reel back in shock. The photo had two weird ghostly figures that he didn’t see at the time.

Queen's House Greenwich
Queen’s House, Greenwich

He sent a copy of the photo by airmail to the Queen’s House. Astonished, they arranged for investigators from the Ghost Club to hunt down any roaming spirits. Alas, they found none, and the spooky photo has been lost.

But some visitors to the house report a definite chill in the air when they climb those Tulip Stairs.

On this day a ship was born…

MV Royal Iris – Sad Old Lady of the River Thames. Happy 70th Birthday, anyway!

Many people, especially men, get very emotional about their ships. They refer to them as women, and perform a birthing ceremony to mark their arrival in this world.

When the MV Royal Iris was launched in Dumbarton, Scotland on 8 December 1950 they knew she was special. The first diesel-electric ferry boat they’d made. 

They would have wet their baby’s head. I doubt if these frugal Scots smashed a bottle of champers on the bow. But surely they sacrificed a bottle of Ballantine’s Finest Scotch whiskey from the local distillery? Or at least a wee bottle of Irn-Bru?

The Royal Iris had two jobs

MV Royal Iris on the River Mersey with the Liver Building in the background.

The Royal Iris soon made its way to Liverpool. Her job was to ferry over 2000 passengers at a time across the River Mersey. She also moonlighted as a cruise ship. Her passengers could play snooker, eat fish and chips and drink in the bar.

The drinking bit was very popular. In those days, you couldn’t buy an alcoholic drink in the middle of the afternoon or after 11pm. But the bar on the Royal Iris stayed open. One day, some police officers joined the beer-swilling passengers. Chief Inspector Jones marched to the Captain’s cabin. He accused him of allowing illegal drinking on board. In fact, the licensee was the Chief Steward. The Captain wasn’t taking any nonsense; he was the master of his own ship. He arrested the police inspector in his cabin until arriving on shore. 

MV Royal Iris in early splendour.

A court case ensued. The Mersey Ferries were now permitted to serve alcohol while the boat was afloat.

There was live music to entertain the cruise passengers. Between 1961 and 1962 the Beatles played four times. In 1965, Mersey beat  group, Gerry & The Pacemakers made a film called Ferry Cross the Mersey. Although this wasn’t actually filmed on the Royal Iris. The title song was a hit in the UK and US. Watch the film trailer here.

In 1971, the Royal Iris had a style makeover. Tarted up in her new blue and white livery, she offered her passengers steak instead of fish with their chips. In 1977, still looking classy, she  hosted Queen Elizabeth during her Silver Jubilee.

In 1985 they sent her on a grand tour around the south coast of England to promote Merseyside business. Arriving in London, she motored under Tower Bridge and docked next to HMS Belfast. All decked out in her red, blue and white livery, shining and proud.

Things started to go wrong

By 1991, things started to wrong. There were plans to make use of this now rather doddery old dear. A floating nightclub was a popular idea. They shunted her from river to river. She said her last goodbye to the River Mersey in August 1993 and showed her displeasure by smashing into the dock wall. 

In 2002 she arrived on the River Thames, next to the Thames Barrier. She’s been abandoned and lies here, rotting and sinking.

A sad old lady indeed.

Shocking Mr. Gill

Eric Gill 1882-1940

Eric Gill, who died 80 years ago today, was a highly successful English artist. Famous for carving stone sculptures and designing typefaces. 

He was a socialist, a pacifist, a devout Roman Catholic and a prolific artist.

In 1914 he carved the Stations of the Cross for Westminster Cathedral. These are depictions of the 14 stops that Jesus made on the way to his crucifixion. Westminster Cathedral is the main Roman Catholic Church in England. 

On the wall of the building 55 Broadway, near St. James’s Park Station. Until recently this was the head office of London Transport. Carved in 1929 it depicts the North Wind.

North Wind on 55 Broadway.

In 1932 he  produced a number of carvings for Broadcasting House, the headquarters of the BBC, close to Oxford Circus Station.  Above the entrance a sculpture depicts the sorcerer Prospero and the spirit Ariel from William Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

Prospero holds on to the free spirit Ariel.

In 1928 Gill designed this typeface, known as Gill Sans which is still used today.

After Eric Gill’s death, his diaries revealed some shocking information about his private life. He confessed that he had sex with his sisters, his two teenage daughters and his dog. 

Looking at these images, we see that in spite of all this he carved like an angel.