A Royal Guest

A Royal Guest

Andrew Baker, former President of CUADC, writes about the Queen's visit to the theatre in 1985.

On Sunday March 17th 1985, The Queen visited the ADC Theatre for the only time (so far) in her reign. She was accompanied by her sister, Princess Margaret, who wore a substantial mink coat, and they were there to see the monarch's youngest son, Prince Edward, then an undergraduate at Jesus College, perform in a fund-raising Sunday evening gala show.

The performance really was For One Night Only, and it was a rare lash-up of the university's light entertainment society, CULES, of which Prince Edward was a keen member, and the edgier, and infinitely more famous, Footlights. Hugh Dennis and Steve Punt were among the leading Footlights members at the time.

I had very little to do with the preparations, but I was president of the ADC at the time so was invited, as the notional "host" of the evening, to meet the monarch in the interval in the Club Room behind the Box Office door where drinks would be served to the royal party.

A selection of Andrew's invitations to the royal event.

Black tie would be compulsory, but on the day of the event I was told that more still would be required of me. First of all, I had to address the invited audience from the stage, when all were seated but before the royal party arrived, on the topic of timings and behaviour. Fair enough.

But more worryingly a gap had appeared in the programme during the first half, in which a lengthy scene change had to take place behind closed curtains on the stage. This might take anything from three to five minutes. Would I fill in? All I had to do was keep talking until a stage manager at the back of the auditorium signalled to me that the scene change was complete.

So it was that the only stand-up comedy routines of my brief performing life took place. The initial speech to the audience was not intended to be funny but it became so as the absurd series of instructions was delivered (... and then we stand up… and then we sit down… and then we stand up again… and so on…) and my ad-libbed waffle in front of the curtains, in which I alleged that Footlights had lost their joke and were currently searching for it, was cut mercifully short by the colleague signalling frantically that the scene change was now complete.

I met the royal party in the interval as planned (we had all been briefed on etiquette and protocol by Prince Edward), no-one threw up on anyone important, a lot of money was raised for charity and the next day the ADC was back to what passes for normal around there once more.

I spent countless hours on the ADC stage during my three years as an undergraduate, often in the company of brilliant thesps such as Dominic Dromgoole, Christopher Luscombe, Dale Rapley and Hugh Bonneville (or Hugh Williams as he then was). But the Royal Gala was comfortably the weirdest performance of all.

Andrew Baker

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