Miles Kington: Finally, an excuse to use the Princess Margaret story

Banned for twenty years, here at last is the sordid tale of light entertainment, royal seating requirements, and string
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The Independent Online

The last time I went to take part in the Chichester Festival was probably as far back as the 1980s, so I was mildly startled to find I still remembered some of the people involved. Paul Rogerson was one, and he it was who reminded me of something I had quite forgotten about.

"Do you remember that some 20 ago I commissioned you to write a comic piece about festivals for our programme?" he said.

I didn't. I wondered for one awful moment if he was still waiting for it.

"Ah," I said. "Did I write it?"

"Yes," he said. "And it was quite funny. It had a good funny story about Princess Margaret in it, I remember. And some disobliging remarks about sheep farmers in Devon. Unfortunately our chairman at the time was a rabid royalist and also had a son who was a sheep farmer, so he said we couldn't possibly use the article."

"Oh," I said. "And did you stand up to him?"

"No. We didn't use the piece."

"Oh."

"But we paid you for it."

"Ah!"

So, a happy ending, then. But what about the Princess Margaret story? Well, as I rewind the video tape of memory, I find it slowing down in Edinburgh at the year 1975, when the cabaret group Instant Sunshine made its first appearance on the Fringe, four dinner-jacketed minstrels doing dotty ditties. I was the bass player. There weren't really any other groups like us around then. Flanders and Swann were long gone, and Kit and the Widow were way in the future. We were the only undangerous group on show. So when it was announced that Princess Margaret and some friends wanted to see a show on the Fringe, the director of the Fringe thought we would be the safest bet, and recommended us.

The royal party bought 12 seats. That was an entire row. There were only about 20 rows. That was 5 per cent of the audience. But the first we knew about it was when one of her guard turned up a few days in advance and demanded to be shown where herself would be sitting.

"That row there," we said.

"Why are all the chairs tied tightly together with string?" he said.

"All the rows are tied together with string. Orders of the fire department."

"Why on earth...?"

"Apparently, if there's a fire, it's better if the chairs all fall over in rows during the panic, rather than singly."

"Well, I'm sorry, but you'll have to untie Princess Margaret's row row."

"Why on earth?"

"Because she's not a small woman and will never fit in a seat tied closely to the next one."

I paraphrase, but that was the idea. To the royal detective, it was more important to ease the royal bum than to protect it from fire damage.

So we broke fire regulations and spread the row out and she came with her friends and enjoyed it, because she came round afterwards and told us so.

It would have been even nicer if anyone in the royal party had ever bothered to pay for their tickets.

"Never mind," said Paul Rogerson this week. "I am sure you'll use the Prince Margaret story again one day."

And he's right. I only wish I could remember what I said about sheep farmers and festivals.

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