None of the satirical portrayals of the Royal Family has quite managed to paint the picture that emerged yesterday of the bizarre rituals that go on every day inside Buckingham Palace.
On the day that the Queen was playing host to the 43rd President of the United States in one of the most important state visits for decades, her subjects were treated to an extraordinary glimpse of daily life in the Royal Household.
The disclosures included mundane slices of life, such as corgis underneath the royal breakfast table gorging on toast, spread with "light" marmalade and fed to them by the Queen.
The Duke of Edinburgh would sit opposite, with his transistor radio arranged at precisely the right angle next to his Tupperware box of dried porridge oats and a pile of newspapers, with the Racing Post on the top.
The Duke of York had a toy replica of Monkey, the mascot of the former company ITV Digital, in his room.
There were disturbing stories, such as the Princess Royal allegedly berating a clumsy member of the household as a "f*cking incompetent tw*t" and Prince Andrew greeting staff in the morning with expletives when in a grumpy mood.
These were royal revelations that are almost beyond parody. Spitting Image, with its grotesque rubber effigies of an irascible Prince Philip and a gin-swilling Queen Mother, cruelly caricatured the home life of the Royal Family in the Eighties, but the truth is even stranger.
It was told by Ryan Parry, the Daily Mirror reporter who spent eight weeks inside Buckingham Palace masquerading as a footman.
What Mr Parry uncovered was not just an alarming failing in security but an insight into the minutiae of the workings of the Royal Household.
He found that the Queen's footmen are issued with a detailed plan of her breakfast table, setting out the exact positions of every utensil, condiment and cereal.
Similar guides are in existence for the tea trays of every senior Royal.
Prince Philip insists on what he calls a "calling tray" at 7.30am, with the pot of tea and china cup and saucer arranged just so. A later tea tray must include oat cakes and honey.
Buckingham Palace has a big thing about trays, it appears, especially one which is loaded with whisky, soda, clarets and beer for drinks parties. It is grandly referred to as "The Prime Minister's Tray".
According to Mr Parry's account, staff can stand around for hours on end for the opportunity to carry a tray for a few feet along a corridor and pass it to a colleague.
On one weekend during the reporter's brief period of royal employment, he was one of 10 members of staff waiting on the Queen as she enjoyed a cup of coffee. His colleagues were a footman, two kitchen porters, two chefs, two silver pantry under-butlers, a page and a coffee-room maid.
"The maid waited two and a half hours to pick up a pot of coffee from a hot plate and pour it into a silver jug," Mr Parry wrote.
"She then handed it to me. My role was to take the tray 20 metres to the page's vestibule and hand it to the page, who then carried it another eight metres to the Queen in her dining room."
Mr Parry was prepared to enjoy the same kind of access to George and Laura Bush when they arrived at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday.
During the eight weeks he was in the palace, he toured the Belgian suite where the couple were staying, taking in its vast candelabras, occasional chairs and tables, open fires and carriage clocks. He also saw the rooms which were to provide the President's "operation centre".
If he had not blown his cover, Mr Parry would have served a 7am breakfast to Mr Bush, known to be an early riser, and would have then remained on standby to provide a steady supply of tea and biscuits to the first couple and their high-powered team from the White House. The picture that emerges is a mixed one. It recalls, on the one hand, the extravagances and ceremony of royal courts from centuries past, at odds with Buckingham Palace's repeated assurances to the public that budgets are tight and money is spent frugally.
But there are also elements of television's The Royle Family, particularly in Prince Andrew's suite where he watches television on a wide-screen set and has a cushion on his sofa with the slogan "Eat, Drink and Remarry".
Although the Mirror referred to Prince Andrew's "plush sitting room", the picture it published showed a green sofa and tartan cushions surrounded by a clutter of family photographs (many including Sarah Ferguson) that would not have displeased Barb Royle, played in the television series by Sue Johnston.
Last night John Lloyd, the creator of Spitting Image, said that the puppet series had been 19 years ahead of its time in presenting the Windsors as a normal family.
"We had an ex-Buck House footman way back in the first series in 1984, and we had all sorts of tips," said Mr Lloyd, now making the BBC quiz show QI.
Prince Andrew, we are told in the Mirror account, has a "running joke" with household staff in which he leaves Monkey (the puppet sidekick of the comedian Johnny Vegas) in unusual locations around the palace, including in the jaws of a stuffed leopard. Above the toilet in the Wessexes' quarters hangs a cartoon of the Queen telling a group of penguins of her displeasure with the media.
That annoyance will have increased after the Mirror revelations, which may well have caused spluttering over yesterday's toast and "light" marmalade. For although the public may have warmed to the image of the corgis "sprawled out in the corridor asleep" in the Queen's apartments, there were other details in the account that will have damaged the monarchy once again.
The Princess Royal, who is often portrayed as a tireless charity worker, apparently enjoys sitting for portraits.
She reportedly installed a raised platform in her sitting room and donned a navy blue uniform "filled with gold detail, a decorative aiguilette across one shoulder and a line of medals across the left breast" for a sitting.
Mr Parry reported that the Princess Royal flies to London by helicopter from her estate in Gloucestershire before taking a chauffeured Bentley from Kensington Palace to Buckingham Palace.
She is then described pushing aside a post-lunch cup of coffee in disgust at its smell, before heading off to the City of London to attend a conference about crime.
But perhaps the most damaging revelation for the Royal Family's public image is the way it treats the servants.
Footmen live in spartan rooms and share communal toilets and washrooms. They start their day at 7.30am and are told to avoid walking on the middle of the carpets and to stick to "the slow lane" next to the wall.
Mr Parry was required to steam the clothes of the Queen's equerry, Major James Duckworth-Chad, and buff his sword and medals and polish his shoes to a "glass finish".
The footman's salary was £11,881, reduced to £9,338 after living costs. The household has a high turnover of staff. After the hasty departure of the Mirror journalist it is difficult to see who might want to fill the vacancy - other than another undercover reporter, or worse.
UNDERCOVER AT THE PALACE
The undercover reporter who worked inside Buckingham Palace saw the post of footman advertised on the Palace's website.
It demanded the successful applicant should have "good communication skills, be able to work unsupervised and within a team" while also retaining a "friendly, polite disposition."
After downloading the application form and drafting a fake CV containing his real name, Ryan Parry sent off the documents to the Palace.
He was phoned 48 hours later by a royal official and an interview was set for 7 August at 9.30am. There were three interviews, mainly concerned with his aptitude for the work, and he was fitted with his uniform before any references, fake or otherwise, had been received.
Buckingham Palace gave him security clearance on the word of a regular in a pub in Anglesey where Mr Parry had once collected glasses.
The reporter had given the name of a former manager of the Parciau Arms as a referee. When the Palace called the Welsh pub to check the reference it found that the manager had moved on. The Palace was nevertheless prepared to accept a casual acknowledgement from a man at the bar.
His other referee was a fictitious director of a Manchester paint company.
Parry was given clearance to start his job when he received a phone call from the Palace personnel department on 22 September.
The following day he strolled through the gates of the palace to begin his new life as a royal servant.
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