I sat in the front row at the Neuilly pantos

Share
Related Topics
I NOTE with an interest not uncoupled with enthusiasm that my old benefactor and quaffing partner Mr Mohamed Al-Fayed (dread name]) has completed the thankless task of restoring the old Neuilly home (or Brand Neuilly Home - I pun]]) of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor.

I look forward to a return visit the minute Mohamed can drag himself away from behind his counter, for I spent many a convivial day at Neuilly with the Windsors way back in the Fifties and Sixties (dread decade]). What memorable times they were, full of promise and glamour and merriment] One night, the Duchess ('We Wallises must stick together]' she once drawled in my ear, her right hand stroking, in the most regal of manners the thick Harris tweeds that enclosed my left buttock) would sing us a selection of Marlene Dietrich numbers while her husband would sit, pipe in hand, accompanying her on harmonium. And then the next night, the two of them would stage traditional English pantomimes, with the Duchess invariably in the role of principal boy, the Duke in non-speaking roles (Tinkerbell, a gatepost, the Village Idiot), and any one of a selection of visiting elder statesman - Martin Bormann, say, or the young Kurt Waldheim - as Mother Goose.

On the Sunday night of these delightfully long weekends, we would all serve ourselves a healthy portion from an excellent cold collation before promenading into the Pink Drawing Room to watch The Duchess perform the most sublime of all her party pieces. I can picture it now; lights down, music up, expectant murmur from the assembled company, and then nothing but hush, for on comes The Duchess, clad solely in oilskins and waders, a bejewelled silver bucket gripped firmly in her hand. Looking never more stately, The Duchess would then bend that celebrated neck of hers back to its fullest extent whilst simultaneously opening her mouth as wide as it would go; now, with a dramatic roll of the drums, a specially trained trio of Natterjack Toads would leap - 1-2-3 - straight out of the silver bucket and into the upturned mouth, poised ready for The Duchess to perform her famous gargle.

Tarantara] One, two, three toads would pop into the air, one after the other, and then back down into the elegant throat, in ever more rapid succession. The exclusive coterie of guests would be positively enthralled. 'To think that the people of Great Britain rejected this lady as their Queen]' breathed a visiting Bolivian ambassador to me. 'With a gift such as hers, just imagine how much more exciting the Trooping of the Colour might have been]'

Anyone who was anyone and no one who wasn't someone would flock to these entertainments, so that The Duke and Duchess were ceaselessly framed by a glittering array of charm and sheer magic: Maurice Chevalier, Nina and Frederick, the young Sid James, Mr Pastry, the Singing Nun, Mr and Mrs Arthur Negus and Jack and Bobby Charlton were all to be seen at Neuilly and from time to time they would all indulge in a triumphant sing-song: experts now widely credit the number one hit record, 'Back Home' (1970) not, as previously thought, to the England World Cup squad, but to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor and their many friends, all singing live at Neuilly.

Ah, memories, such memories] Yet underneath it all, one could not help but detect the unmistakable aroma of melancholy hanging like so many dead petunias in the air. I have heard it said that the Duke never quite came to terms with the fact that he was no longer King, and that the Duchess was not his Queen. This lent a terrible poignancy to their joint insistence that, come what may, their daily trips around the local supermarket would be conducted in full ceremonial robes, the Duchess's train carried by half-a-dozen of the smaller showbusiness fraternity with whom she surrounded herself, among them Mr Frederick 'Parrot Face' Davis, the Young Ronald Corbett and the Duke's distant cousin, Miss Barbara Windsor.

And what remains of those glittering, far-off days? Here one of the Duke's discarded lipsticks, there a packet of Kellog's cornflakes with 'HRH' embossed in gold, here a jaunty recording of The Duchess duetting with Arthur Askey in a haunting version of the Honey Bee song, there a letter, replete with hugs and kisses aplenty, addressed to 'Darling Wallace' and signed, 'Your ever-loving Wallis'. But that, as the historians say, is another story . . .

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Syria's Kurds have little choice but to flee amid the desolution, ruins and danger they face

Patrick Cockburn
A bartender serves two Mojito cocktails  

For the twenty-somethings of today, growing up is hard to do

Simon Kelner
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones