The Queen’s Speech is the past at its most glamorous. Netflix could not equal the Queen’s journey in the coach of State from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster escorted by the superb Household Cavalry, the Blues & Royals, and the Life Guards leading to the procession of the Sovereign’s entrance. At her arrival she is greeted by heraldic grandees such as Gold Stick in Waiting and Master of the Horse. We learned in the press that Rouge Croix Pursuivant was given a tabard worth £45,000 but had to buy his own tights. Upstairs a group of page boys awaits, all of noble birth: not much diversity there. Their role is to carry the Queen’s train when she leaves the Robing Room and help at the moment when the Queen, seated on her throne in the Lords, receives the document which contains her speech.
She is accompanied by the Prince of Wales and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. Word is then sent to the Commons by Black Rod, who is played by a woman dressed in fetching male garb like Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier. The door of the Commons is slammed in her face, a reminder of the occasion when Charles I gatecrashed the Commons and was told by Speaker Lenthall that he had no place there. Speaker Bercow could do no more. Octavian then bashes thrice on the door—which does indeed seem to be showing signs of wear and tear—and it opens for the faithful Commons to be summoned to the Lords. They have been kept hanging around and troop off cheerfully, the parties mingling happily with the exception of Jeremy Corbyn, who is paired with Boris Johnson and sternly rejects all Boris’s efforts to engage him in small talk. Boris looked happy and fulfilled, as well he might: he wrote the Queen’s Speech.
All then listen intently to the Queen’s delivery, looking for clues in her articulation, which have been known in the past. English speech is all about inflexion. None is forthcoming, and the implied questions in the Queen’s Speech are left to the following debate, when Corbyn points out the challenges to the Government’s plans arising from the Government majority of minus 45. The Speech is in fact a trailer for the general election to come. By then the Queen is back home in Buckingham Palace, no doubt solacing herself with a stiff drink after a performance that held the world spellbound.
And that is really the point. This TV spectacular is the apotheosis of an ancien régime that lives and breathes, like the supposedly defunct British Empire which continues its afterlife as the Commonwealth. It has 53 members, including two nations that were never under British rule, Mozambique and Rwanda. Angola is seriously considering an application to join, and it would be welcomed. The next biennial meeting of the Commonwealth will be in Rwanda.“Wider still and wider,/Shall thy bounds be set.” Of all Britain’s qualities and enduring appeal to the world, not least is its theatre and glamour
Ralph Berry writes from England.