Tony Benn and the Queen

4 May

I doubt any politician will ever has as much nonsense written about him as Tony Benn. The so-called most dangerous figure in Britain !. You have to wonder what was going on in 1974 when that was written in the Evening Standard. Although it was Kingsley Amis.
Benn was nothing if not a democrat , and for that he was tagged as a loon , nuts , immature and worse. The media and the chattering classes painted him as a totem of extremity. The hippie son-in-law in Reggie Perrin in his ” Benn for president ” t-shirt . Or the knee jerk reaction of Jeffrey , in George and Mildred , to blame ” Anthony Wedgewood Benn” for anything ( Dandruff as quoted in Alwyn Turners excellent ” Crisis? What crisis?”).
Benns diaries though leave a wonderful record of what he was really up to , rather than the fleet street version. One aspect that amuses me is his relationship with the Monarchy.

One of the most bizarre incidents that seems to rattle on for years is his attempt to get the Queen to agree to having stamps without her head on. This is hardly born from radicalism more pragmatic design aesthetics. The Queen and the palace play Benn superbly. It’s all mixed messages and subtle hints. In March 1965 Benn has an audience with the Queen where she tells him she has no views on it ( of course Monarchs don’t ). On his way out Adeane , the Queens private secretary assures him the Palace has never blocked the idea of stamps without the queens head on “but I think the monarch’s head has to be on the stamps, doesn’t it ?” By October 65 Adeane has written to No 10 with the threat of political controversy. Days later Wilson tells him the Queen has told him she doesn’t want her head removed ( in either the Cromwellian sense or off the stamps). He concludes by getting the Queen to agree to a Silhouette. Benn acknowledges “I have been defeated..the Monarchy and all it stands for is one of the great centres of reaction and conservatism in this country.”

In 1966 Benn is at a state banquet. He again meets Adeane and the issue of stamps comes up. Benn tells him the Archbishop of Lambeth has written to him angrily about the removal of the Queens head. The establishment get unhappy at the strangest of things.

In Feb 68 Benn is sat next to the Duke of Edinburgh at a lunch. The Duke comes across as itching to get the Queen political. He wants all Ministers to meet her, for the Ombudsman to be part of the Royal Household …this word seems very 60s !In July 69 Benn meets the Queen at Winfrith reactor.Benn engages in a discussion on Royal prerogative. The Queen affirms her support for Concorde, “She is not clever, but she is reasonably intelligent..the Duke …was talking about high taxation as a major disincentive “

Some more interesting observations seem to suggest the futility of the relationship between Government and the Crown. In 1977 , Prime Minster Callaghan suggests the Cabinet buy her a present for the silver jubilee. A silver coffee pot. Each Minister had to contribute $15 ! In 81 the royal wedding and Benn sees “Feudal propaganda …as socially advanced as France before the revolution..”

So Tony Benn , a mild-mannered man who was openly a republican. The most dangerous he ever got to the Queen was to try to make stamps aesthetically easier…a case study in media representation.


One Response to “Tony Benn and the Queen”


  1. Benn and the Referendum | kuneblog - April 13, 2016

    […] have written before about Tony Benns Diaries, which are a wonderful read. He was of course a key player in the 1975 EU […]

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