After-dinner games at Schloss Windsor

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
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The Independent Online
I LOOK on in horror as my old friends and quaffing partners the Duke and Duchess of Windsor are subjected to yet more vile calumnies by the gutter press. They are both said to have dilly-dallied with the Fuhrer, while the Duke himself, it is further suggested, viewed a Nazi victory as the ideal vehicle for a swift return to the throne. What rubbish, or, as the Duke might have put it in one of his occasional temper tantrums, "Donner und Blitz! Achtung, schweinehund!".

From an historic point of view, nothing could be further from the truth than these smears. I should know, as I stayed with the Windsors - Edward, Wallis and their little daughter Barbara, who went on to enjoy considerable success as a comedienne - in their delightful chateau after the war. Happy days indeed, without the faintest suggestion of fascism (dread word!).

I first stayed with the Windsors in the summer of '51 - or was it '52? The two of them were already very cosy in their chateau, which the Duchess had made all the more cosy with the skilful addition of a Louis XIV-style solarium, Jacuzzi and gymnasium - the pink neon of the title, "Duchess's Work-out Center", beautifully complementing the ornate stucco facade of the original Palladian villa.

The Windsors proved first-class hosts, taking pains to invite those house guests who they considered would lend spark and dash to a long weekend. Taking tentative steps out of my bedroom on that first visit I was thrilled indeed to bump into a familiar figure clad only in pink pyjamas, plus leather shoulder holster.

"Martin Bormann, isn't it?" I ventured.

"No," the fellow replied, "it's the Honorable Algernon von Smythe, actually. Spiffing fine weather we're enjoying, jawohl?" At first, I took his reply at face value. But there was something about the way he sauntered off - a sharp click of his heels, swiftly followed by that tell-tale goosestep to the "smallest room" - which made me think my identification may not have been wholly inaccurate. No doubt all manner of leftish "historians" (!) would suggest that the presence of such a high-ranking German - albeit a German on the run - was proof positive that the Duke and Duchess were in some way "Nazi sympathisers". But the Windsors had many friends, and it was common among the upper classes at that time to invite at least one or two senior Nazis to any houseparty, in order to add a little gaiety to the otherwise starchy post-war proceedings.

But if there was one area in which the Windsors excelled, it was surely the After-Dinner Game, always wholly innocent but hugely entertaining. That first night, after little Barbara, aged just 16 but already mature for her years, had kissed us goodnight ("Ooh! Naughty boy! I thought I said no tongues!"), the Duke suggested we march in orderly fashion to the cerise and magenta room for a quick round of old-fashioned charades.

The Duke was to mime a book title: two words, first word one syllable. To afford himself extra mobility, he placed his cap on the marble mantelpiece, its shiny iron cross uppermost. The game underway, he pointed to himself. "Duke! King! You! Me! MINE!" we all shouted. The Duke nodded his head enthusiastically. The first word was indeed "mine". And so to the second word. He placed his arms together in an upturned "V". "Roof! Teepee! Tent!" we yelled, "Jamboree!". But it was Algernon von Smythe who pulled the rabbit out of the hat. "Camp!" he shouted. The Duke grinned. And Smythe got it in one. "MEIN KAMPF!" he screamed, and we all raised our right arms towards the ceiling in sheer delight.

Ah, memories! Within a few years, I had become a well-established guest, and so by the time of their screening of Barbara's remarkable performance in Carry On Ruling, the Duchess had graciously consented to sit on my lap, having first invited me to submit my request in writing, as etiquette dictated. Of course, the smear merchants have suggested there was something "forward" or "fast", or indeed "fast forward" about the Duchess, but I never found her so. Far from it: as late as 1969, she steadfastly refused to appear with her daughter in Carry On Camping on the grounds that appearing in a sleeping-bag with Kenneth Williams, Charles Hawtrey and Sid James would compromise her dignity. In fact, her only recorded film performance was in The Night Porter opposite Dirk Bogarde, but restrictions on space demand that we return to this subject another day.