She’s a good queen. In fact she’s a great queen. But she’s somebody else’s

Allan Fotheringham June 27 1977

She’s a good queen. In fact she’s a great queen. But she’s somebody else’s

Allan Fotheringham June 27 1977

She’s a good queen. In fact she’s a great queen. But she’s somebody else’s

Allan Fotheringham

I remember it well. Seated on a 1939 curb in Regina (or was it Moose Jaw?) waiting for jiggling hours for a glimpse of King George and his queen and those glistening, sweating RCMP horses, an address tag around my neck directing the finder to ship me to Mother should I go astray—or run away to become an apprentice footman. Now it is some 40 years later and through the magic of the electronic revolution (CTv’s Lloyd Robertson doing the commentary for the CBC) I watched the spectacular Silver Jubilee homages to that man’s daughter. Queen Elizabeth, who has devoted her life unstintingly to the mindnumbing chores of keeping the monarchy credible and alive.

She is a fine, fine woman, doing a magnificent job of being queen, but she is not mine. She belongs to Britain, and they currently need her. but she is not mine. I live in Canada, with its own few small problems, and what my country does not need is a foreign queen.

I have seen the Queen at work, I suspect, somewhat more than most Canadians. I have seen her in a Cardiff stadium the day she made the surprise announcement that her son would henceforth assume the title Prince of Wales, and the Welsh, with those voices that send a tingle up an unsentimental Canadian spine, spontaneously broke into the singing of God Bless The Prince Of Wales, some 40,000 voices sending shivers across the Rhondda Valley hills. I watched her at close hand at various chores in Australia, all around London, on periodic jaunts to Canada, and viewed the polite disinterest of the Québécois at last summer’s Olympics (the faint, small cheering on her careful forays around Montreal came from little anglophone ladies). It is because I have watched her in so many venues that I admire her so much. It is because I have seen her in such perspective that I know that she is not for me: Canadian, card-carrying citizen.

There are two aspects to all this. The first is essentially none of my business—nor of yours. It is that Britain, that delightful, exasperating land, uses the Royals for a definite, escapist roll. I watched the superbly filmed and incomparably orchestrated fantasy of the Silver Jubilee—the fleshedout marionettes, the stick-soldiers brought to life, every small boy’s plaster cavalry moved from his pillow to actual color TV, the pastel princesses, all the chinless-wonder relatives. It is stunning—a technicolor Ruritania—masking the legitimate problems of that tired, frozen-in-aspic little island. It is pretty, but all so futile.

Anyone who has lived in England for some time becomes quickly aware of the soporific value of two institutions that seem to serve as tranquilizers for a resigned working class: the football pools and the Royals. Dreams and spectacle. Bread and circuses. The monarchy, as Metternich perceived, is a device used to bar revolution—the reason, of course, why the British middle class provide such support for it.

There is Prince Philip—“the quintessential British philistine” as The New Statesman puts it—with his programmed witticisms to charwomen and factory workers (the genteel Don Rickies of our time). As an inducement to tomorrow we already have the hand-me-down programmed witticisms of Prince Charles—guaranteed front-page boxes in the Fleet Street penny press, the 20th-century condescensions of the privileged pretending that they find the unwashed terribly amusing. What is so depressing about the English unwashed is that they also find it titillating—or so their press lords pretend.

There is, further, the celebrated low aim of a royal family dedicated resolutely to a median slightly below dead centre. The children, in the second generation as much as the first, being shopped around various universities and emerging with not much. The same muddling middle-class obsession with the horsey set. Was it not Chesterton who said that the Englishman is not

so much disturbed by the inequality of men as he is by the inequality of horses?

At the base of it is the fact that the Royals provide the social cement for the most destructive force in Britain: class. It is the single most persuasive reason why the sick man of Europe slides inexorably toward Spain and Yugoslavia in economic terms: the shrugged realization by the mass that there is little economic or social mobility within one’s lifetime save becoming a rock star or soccer idol. It is the last civilization where citizens remain trapped, from birth, by their accents—prisoners of their tongue, as a Mr. G. B. Shaw once put it.

Moving reluctantly to what is my business. I am offended firstly on mere matters of taste. Has there been anything more puerile than the Canadian newspapers fawning over Prince Andrew’s token sixmonth appearance at Lakefield College outside Peterborough, a display of sycophantic cloyness that makes Rona Barrett’s pursuit of Farrah Fawcett-Majors and The Fonz appear dignified by comparison? ( Dear God. I am too old to endure another decade’s excited front-page speculation each time another clean-jawed prince dates another deb or daughter of Grace or Jackie or . . .). Is no one else offended by the transparent ploy of shipping various token princes to various token colonies for token terms at exclusive schools in transparent endeavors to keep the dominions interested in the institution?

They are. as they know in their hearts, fighting a losing battle. This country, according to a 1971 census already out of date, has dipped to a figure ofjust 44.6% of the population of British-related stock. That’s down from the 47.9% in 1951. Is it not apparent to any reasonable person that the irrational umbilical cord to a foreign queen remains and will always remain a major irritant in the struggle to keep Quebec within this country? That is reason alone to jettison the anachronism.

Pierre Trudeau expressed his true feelings early in his reign when, asked why he wasn’t sticking around for a Liberal convention vote on the monarchy, he replied: “I’d rather go skiing.” Since then, ever the Jesuit, he has realized the temporary electoral advantage of insincerity and has become a not-very-convincing monarchist whose true conviction is of lukewarm toast: his real feelings are not too deeply disguised.

The Queen, a magnificent woman, a magnificent queen, but she is not mine. In truth she is not. I suspect, of supreme importance to the majority of Canadians.