How St John Stevas Gave a Royal the Elbow

Article excerpt

I HAVE known and admired Sarah Bradford for many a long year, ever since the two of us took tea with the Queen Mum - bless her - at Clarence House way back in the late '50s.

Unlike so many authors and "experts" (dread word!) who specialise in writing about the British upper classes, Sarah and I are both very much the "real thing". As for myself, I am not only the fourth cousin of a Knight* but also an alumnus of the famous Basters Academy for Boys ("Baste Up, the Baster, Baste Up, Baste Up and Baste the Ball!").

Meanwhile, Sarah is a Bradford through and through, an aristocrat who knows instinctively what is U and Non-U, without having to read it up in a textbook for two hours every morning, though - who knows? - she may well have done that in the past.

Might I be allowed to prove my point? At that first afternoon tea, we were enjoying a discussion about parts of the body. Half-way through, one of our fellow guests, Norman St John Stevas, as he then was, began to talk to HRH The Queen Mother, bless her - about the elbow. Now, it is well known among those of us who were born of what one might call "blue blood" that the elbow is the one part of the body that is most definitely to be classified "Non-U", particularly at teatime. Yet Norman steamed ahead, regaling the entire table with how he had "grazed" his "elbow" the day before. Elbow this, elbow that: Her Royal Highness began placing a napkin over her face to ward off her embarrassment, while the rest of us tried desperately to think of a way of changing the subject. "Anyone seen any good penises lately?" asked Dr A L Rowse at last, and we all breathed an immense sigh of relief.

At that stage, a great many learned men and women such as myself were writing books about the Royal Family. As trained historians, we were able to offer an objective analysis of the dynasty that had so shaped the life of Britain in the 20th century. My own two serious biographies, Gor Bless Yer, Marm!: The Blessed Life of HRH Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (1961) and The Most Popular Lady in the World: A Biography of the Queen (1963) were soon joined by my examination of the role of the animal in a monarchical system, Three Woofs For Her Majesty! …