I’m living in London, in the late 1960’s. I’m in Leicester (pronounced “Lester”) Square, sitting in an arcade, playing a minor league slot machine, trying to win “subway money” back to Hampstead.
The Underground fare to Hampstead was “one-and-three”, meaning, one shilling-thrup’nce; in understandable English, one shilling, three pence. In North American money, that’s, well, a pound back then was two dollars and eighty cents Canadian – two-forty American – and there were twenty shillings in a pound, twelve pence in a shilling, making it…I don’t know.
Somewhere around twenty cents. Thank God, they don’t do “shillings and pence” anymore. I never got the hang of it.
The machine worked like this. You dropped thrup’nce in the slot, you pulled the handle, and if you won, you got two thrup’nces (or sixp’nce) back. It was pretty easy. Seven times out of ten, I earned my subway money. I guess the arcade can make a profit from my three losses. You could probably work it out. Not me, but somebody not immobilized by "shillings and pence."
I win my “subway money.” I’m starting to leave, ready to take my “free ride” home to dinner when I look out the window and see barricades being set up across the street.
“What’s going on?” I inquire.
“The Queen’s coming to the movies,” I’m informed.
What you need to keep in mind is that we’re talking about a time before cassettes and DVD’s. In those days, the only way you could only see a movie was by going to the theater. You could not see a movie (except old movies) anywhere else. Now I imagine if the Queen wanted to screen a movie in the palace, she could say,
“I’m the Queen, dammit!” Get me a movie!”
Hollywood bigwigs had Screening Rooms in their Beverly Hills palaciosHiH. Why not Her Majesty?
Ye Olde Screening Roome, built by William the Conqueror to enjoy outtakes from the Battle of Hastings.
“Look! There’s Harold. They’ve shot him in the eye!”
More important than whether or not Buckingham Palace was equipped with a Screening Room is Point Two. To wit:
England is nothing if not Tradition. Annual “events” pepper the calendar like celebrational buckshot. The FA Cup, the cricket “tests” at Lords, the rowing competition on the Thames, the Epsom Darby, “Guy Fawkes Day”, the Annual Flower Show, fox-hunting season, the Eurovision Song Contest, and I’m sure but have no patience to research many, many more.
This was another of those annual events – the night Her Royal Majesty went to the movies.
Ergo: The barricades spanning the entranceway to the Odeon Leicester Square.
“Her Majesty's Movie Night” was a popular spectacle. Bystanders, in surprising numbers, gathered to see Queen Elizabeth arrive, step out of…a coach?, and exit into the theater.
It appealed to me to join them. I had no pressing business, nowhere special to be. And hey, who doesn’t want to see the Queen? I departed the arcade, crossed into the square, adding my personhood to the burgeoning throng.
The assemblage was increasing. Which in a way is amazing. What exactly were we going to witness? – a middle-aged woman, probably not wearing her crown, stepping out of some vehicle and walking into a theater? Some diehards might wait around for her to come out. But there was really nothing to see.
She might honor us with a queenly wave, but that’s about it. It’s not like Her Majesty would be delivering a speech, or regaling her subjects with “special material”…
I love the movies
They’re such fun to see
My favorite ‘Bo-ond’
Is Sean Con-nery…
And yet, you could sense a festive mood igniting the gathering, a real holiday atmosphere. Though bitterly cold, the growing throng, steam billowing from their mouths, waited patiently, “hug-patting” their shoulders and tempering the elements with fortifying beverages.
The Queen’s “Arrival Time” arrived. Then passed. Then passed ever further. The crowd continued to wait.
Fifteen minutes…twenty minutes…half an hour….
That’s when it happened. Almost unconsciously, I found myself separating from the crowd and heading towards the Leicester Square Underground Station.
I was going home.
Why the unexpected change of plans? Because, standing there in the cold, an illuminating question had suddenly popped into my head.
And the question was this:
How long would the Queen wait to see me?