The Queen In Hell Close by Sue Townsend

Yesterday’s ‘Monarchy week’ post as part of the run up to the Queen’s official birthday on Saturday focused on the exalted position of the Queenly one. But what if it all came crashing down and the Queen & co had to rough it with the common people?

The Queen in Hell Close, part of the Penguin 70s boxed set and an excerpt from Sue Townsend’s novel The Queen and I, imagines just that. The 1992 election result has forced the Royal Family to live under police curfew on a housing estate. The Queen has had to visit the local DSS to get an emergency payment, Prince Harry is turning mockney in an effort to fit in at his new state school, the Queen mum is gambling again, and Charles has grown a ponytail and is besotted with one of the women on the estate. The way Townsend depicts the different Royals’ reaction to their change in fortunes is believable as it fits with the perceptions we have of them, and therefore it almost feels like watching them behind closed doors. It is very clever indeed.

Within its comic narrative, there is much about the nature of the Royal experience, in particular in how the Queen is depicted as a dutiful coper (the neighbours call her in a crisis as they know she won’t panic) who is used to hiding her emotions (there is a good moment when she permits herself a Royal scream, having learned from the slanging match of her new neighbours that it’s better out than in) and who understands her nation’s idiosyncrasies (pleading the case of her starving corgis to get the DSS to cough up the aforementioned emergency payment, cos us Brits will do anything for the animals).

Ironically, reading it made me think that this Royal training is the very thing that would help the Queen cope with such a fall from grace. So maybe we should give it a go. I’m not advocating a full scale removal of the monarchy, or to implement the Green Party’s recent proposal to actually put the Queen in a council house. However, a sharp dose of the reality of 21st century British life wouldn’t hurt. In the story, we see Charles in shock at the state of Harry’s decrepit new school, and the Queen, as she seeks to feed her family (and the corgis) on benefits, wonder if her officials were being honest when they insisted families could survive on benefits if they knew how to manage their pennies. Who knows, an experiment to make this fiction a temporary reality may be the saving of this ancient institution. Just a thought…

     ‘One’s come to borrow 50p for one’s leccy’                            

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