The Queen and I

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Diamond Jubilee
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Diamond Jubilee

Published: 1992
Author: Sue Townsend

An amusing enough tale that takes suspension of disbelief a little too far

Hard as it is to imagine this week, but there’s a number of people in Britain who don’t like the Monarchy. They would rather see Britain as a republic than have the Queen as our head of state. I personally think they are batty, but I suppose they are entitled to their opinions. Happily though they are currently in the minority but it isn’t inconceivable that one day they would become the dominant force. Sue Townsend’s comic novel The Queen and I imagines such a future, a day when a republican party comes to power and the monarchy is abolished.

The day following the 1992 general election sees new Prime Minister Jack Barker come to Buckingham Palace and immediately remove the Queen from her position of Head of State. The Royal Family are given a matter of days to pack up (some) of their belongings and move to a council estate up north. The Queen and I follows the fortunes of the ex-Royal Family as they try to cope with poverty, cramped conditions, fending for themselves and coping on the dole living on Hellebore Close – known to the residents as Hell Close. Different members of the family cope in very different ways – The Queen struggles but does her best to get on with things; Prince Philip descends into a deep depression; The Queen Mother loses her mind and regresses to 1953 and Prince Charles renames himself Charlie Teck, grows a ponytail and tries to get down with the local kids. As we would expect, Princess Anne copes well, following instructions on how much to take with her to her new home and gamely attempting to plumb in her own washing machine – even Harris the favourite corgi makes friends with the local mongrels and has the opportunity to express his coarser side.

I think The Queen and I is supposed to be biting satire and offer comedic social comment. I didn’t find that, my impression was simply of an amusing story told with a light touch which whipped along at a decent pace. I read this book in less than a day which is very good going for me and a good indication of how much I enjoyed the story.

I know that suspension of disbelief is important, particularly with a ridiculous concept such as this, but I couldn’t entirely do it. I understand that a republican Prime Minister would want to make his mark as quickly as possible; I can even buy the concept that the Royal Family would be removed from Buckingham Palace as quickly as possible. But the idea that they would be kept under semi house arrest on a grotty estate without permission to contact friends and family was one step too far into the realms of fantasy for me. Still, if they had all decamped to Balmoral there wouldn’t have been some of the great comedy scenes such as the Queen marching down to the dole office to demand her emergency payment; Diana being mobbed by local women all desperate to experience a little glamour and Princess Anne getting together with a local handyman who knows nothing of her previous marital woes.

This is a fun, enjoyable but ultimately slight tale of what could happen if the monarchy was to be abolished in the most extreme circumstances. A light, fluffy read which will make you glad that the Royal Family hasn’t been abolished. Yet.

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