Aidan Smith: Nobody expects the marmalade sandwich! The Queen – and Paddington – puncture pomposity

In Mad magazine, my source of satire aged 13, a favourite feature was “Scenes We’d Like to See” where folk both ordinary and famous were placed in incongruous situations with improbable outcomes.

The joke would revolve around the person’s occupation or public face. He/she would never do that! Not in a million years! Being American, Mad aimed for the biggest laughs when the subject was the President and they would whisk him so far off-diary that he’d end up at, for instance, an orgy.

I don’t remember the Queen ever figuring in “Scenes We’d Like to See”, doubtless because while politicians were flawed like the rest of us, vulnerable to curiosity and fantasy and of course prepared to do anything if it would guarantee them a vote, Her Majesty was bound by etiquette, decorum, manners, honour, custom and centuries-old tradition. No one would believe her doing anything other than queenly things so Mad didn’t even try and went back to having fun with Tricky Dicky Nixon.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Half a century on, though, here’s the Queen taking afternoon tea with Paddington Bear. Here’s the Queen revealing that inside her handbag - its contents having ranked as one of the universe’s great mysteries along with black holes and dark matter - she always keeps a marmalade sandwich. And here’s the Queen, silverest spoon on the finest china, tapping out the opening riff to “We Will Rock You”.

The Queen did not suffer from Difficult Second Comedy Routine Syndrome after inviting Paddington for teaThe Queen did not suffer from Difficult Second Comedy Routine Syndrome after inviting Paddington for tea
The Queen did not suffer from Difficult Second Comedy Routine Syndrome after inviting Paddington for tea

Not a different queen, a trendier queen, a modern queen, a queen from this narcissistic age of social media and reality TV or a queen entrusted with the task of “saving the monarchy” from irrelevancy and anachronism. We’re not talking about any successors but The Queen, the same one who’s been on the throne for as long as almost everyone can remember.

Her Maj. Lizzie. She of the conspiratorial sense of humour and killer comic timing. Where did these talents come from? Were they always there only in stuffier or darker eras it wasn’t deemed appropriate to display them? Or did her husband snaffle all the gags with his Commonwealth clangers and Royal rudeness, responsibility falling to her to remain vaguely attentive for the captain of industry’s tedious speech and the two-hour fertility dance?

We just don’t know. “Never explain” and all that. But that Platinum Jubilee skit, Paddington glugging tea from the spout and splattering a footman with cream from his eclair before the big reveal, was the funniest thing I’d seen since the Queen went skydiving with James Bond. Your funniest, too, I bet - loyal subject or otherwise.

At first glance it might have seemed less spectacular than the London Olympics stunt ten years before. It should, because that one came first, have lacked the original’s shock and awe. But consider the context. The Queen did not suffer Difficult Second Comedy Routine Syndrome because no one expected there would ever be another - not after the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, there now being not one but two “black sheep” princes and her own health problems.

“Nobody expects the marmalade sandwich!”, to misquote a famous Monty Python sketch. The Pythons were my first exposure to anti-establishment humour and while the Royal Family seemed off-limits, or perhaps didn’t interest the gang, they would send up politicians and newsreaders who to my young mind invited almost an equivalent amount of reverence.

John Cleese at the Ministry of Silly Walks or reading the headlines 100 yards into the sea was hilarious. Then came a real newsreader in not so much a scene we’d like to see as one we couldn’t really envisage happening - Angela Rippon bursting out of her desk and flashing her never-before-glimpsed legs in a song and dance routine on The Morecambe & Wise Show.

Rippon lowered the drawbridge. Nowadays it’s harder to identify a newsreader or sober-suited presenter who hasn’t vamped or glammed themselves up for a Comic Relief or Children in Need current affairs karaoke supergroup than one who has.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It’s why Ed Balls thought it would be okay to go “Gangnam Style”. It’s why George Galloway thought it would be okay to pretend to be a cat, lapping milk from Rula Lenska’s hands. It’s why Penny Mordaunt - a Tory leadership prospect - thought it would be okay to get down to her swimsuit and dive off the highboard.

It’s why agents and PRs are constantly being besieged with phonecalls which go like this: “I’m fed up being serious all the time. Get me on Strictly or I’m a Celebrity … The public have a right to see my wacky side!”

This is unlikely to happen, I know, but wouldn’t it be great if the Queen’s knockabout with a CGI bear was to kill all these reality challenges stone dead? That we wouldn’t have to watch any more cooking or skating or pretending to be poor in the name of career advancement or, at the very least, a six-figure book deal?

“Never explain” - the Queen won’t be writing that memoir. The career, at least in visibility terms, is very much winding down. But think of this: when she appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace at the start of the four-day celebration, when after a brief and frail Royal wave she returned inside then missed the Service of Thanksgiving and the Epsom Derby, she knew what we didn’t.

That it wouldn’t be the last we’d see of her. That back in March she’d secretly filmed this malarkey. That not even the Princes, Charles and William, knew about it. And that it would stick the biggest hatpin from her vast collection in the pomposity of pomp and the grandiosity of grand ceremony and make us all laugh royally.



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.