The Queen only corrected my spelling, says Shawcross

Biographer insists he had complete freedom to write about the Queen Mother
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The Independent Culture

No one forgets a bad day at the races, not even, it would seem, the Queen.

When Her Majesty asked the royal historian William Shawcross to compile the official biography of her mother she gave him unrestricted access to the Royal archives at Windsor Castle. Six years later, when he presented a copy of the 1,094-page manuscript for her approval, the only corrections she offered were the names of one or two racehorses her mother had taken a misplaced fancy for, and she had patiently bankrolled.

"I had complete access," Shawcross said yesterday at the Independent's Woodstock Literary Festival at Blenheim Palace, near Oxford. "My only obligation was to give a copy of the manuscript to the Queen's private secretary. She had no comments to make; she only offered some factual changes, the names of race horses her mother had backed. The Queen Mother loved her steeple-chasing, and she backed more than 400 winners, but it was never a paying business, and the Queen had to support her tremendously."

The book confirms the Queen's payments to the trainer of her mother's horses, Peter Cazalet, once writing "Oh dear" underneath a particularly large total for the year.

It also reveals the Queen Mother's poems, written for the convalescing soldiers in hospital in Scotland who taught her to play poker.

"She was not a great liberationist," he admitted. "During the general strike, and in the great depression, she was very much concerned that women going to work would take men's jobs. She was very supportive of women working in the fields and in munitions factories during the war, but was adamant that afterwards, they should go back to the home."

Perhaps not her own home however. Clarence House, she claimed, was "too small", Shawcross said.

Elsewhere at the Festival, Duncan Hamilton discussed Harold Larwood, probably the fastest bowler in the history of cricket and the subject of his new book, with former England international Derek Pringle. Larwood terrorised the Australian batsmen in the now infamous "bodyline" Ashes series of 1932, directing every ferocious ball not at the stumps, but at the batsman's body. Could England do with such a tactic now? " It would be a bit drastic," he suggests. "Like killing your wife, just to get out of taking her out for dinner."

The Festival: Highlights

*Tony Parsons talks to Dylan Jones about his new book, Starting Over. Blenheim Palace, 12.30pm

*Victoria Coren on the rise of poker, from seedy, smoke-filled back rooms, to international dominance. The Oxfordshire Museum, 12.30pm

*Ann Leslie, Martin Bell and Robert Fisk discuss the lost art of reportage. Was there a golden age for international correspondents? And were they part of it? Blenheim Palace, 2pm

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