IT WAS a right royal tantrum. The front door flew open and Prince Philip charged out.
A pair of tennis shoes and a racquet flew after him. An enraged Queen appeared in the doorway, screaming at him to stop running and ordering him back.
As a fascinated Australian film crew watched, cameras rolling, the Queen “dragged” her husband back into the chalet in which they were staying, and the door slammed. The crew had been waiting for the Queen to appear so she could be filmed looking at kangaroos and koalas, according to a new biography of the monarch.
It was March 6, 1954, and the Queen was halfway through an eight-week tour of Australia – part of a six-month world trip after her coronation. The couple was having a weekend break on the shores of the O’Shannassy reservoir in the Yarra Ranges of Victoria.
The crew had been waiting impatiently because the afternoon light was fading.
The second cameraman, Frank Bagnall, instinctively turned on his camera when he saw the front door open and so captured the memorable marital moment.
Today, it would be a world exclusive. Back then, different rules were in play. They were enforced by a curmudgeonly courtier, the royal press secretary Commander Richard Colville. He charged out “angrier than a wounded buffalo”, writes author Robert Hardman.
The senior cameraman Loch Townsend “was not about to enter mortal combat with the man British journalists knew as the Abominable No Man – or, simply, Sunshine”. Townsend exposed the film and handed it over.
The Queen soon reappeared, her serene public persona re-affixed. “I’m sorry for that little interlude,” she told Townsend, “but, as you know, it happens in every marriage. Now, what would you like me to do?”
The book, Our Queen, is being serialised in the Daily Mail in London and is due to be published on October 6. The Queen and Prince Philip start a 10-day visit to Australia on October 19.
It tells of a perfectionistic woman, who as a princess during a 1947 tour of South Africa took to prodding her mother’s Achilles tendon with an umbrella to keep the show running on time.
She has a particular stare for those who breach protocol or otherwise offend, described by one witness as “open eyes, absolutely no expression”.
She has also perfected a subtle way of intervening in political issues. The book says she received many residents’ letters over a plan for authorities to sell 1230 public homes to a private company. She wrote endless letters to the authorities asking polite but pointed questions. The residents were saved when the homes were sold for a knock-down price to a housing association.
But her temper is still sometimes on show to the royal household. She was enraged at being advised to fly the British flag at half mast at Buckingham Palace after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. One senior adviser said: “I have been scarred by the Queen.”
She became “incandescent” during a visit in 1973 by the president of Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko, and his wife. Mrs Mobutu had smuggled a small dog through customs and was ordering it steak from the palace kitchens. The Queen ordered: “Get that dog out of my house!”
But she also has a dry sense of humour. During one public engagement in Britain, the courtier who was meant to introduce her to a reception line had trouble getting out of his car because he was tangled up with his ceremonial sword. The monarch strode over to the line of waiting people, hand outstretched, and said: “I had better introduce myself. I am the Queen.”
First published in the Sydney Morning Herald.
The couple will arrive in Canberra on October 19 and go to Perth for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. They will visit Brisbane on October 24 and Melbourne on October 26.