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Daphne du Maurier

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Celebrating the Platinum Jubilee of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II

Tea with the Queen 25th July 1962

To celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of our dear Queen, we have put together some information about her visit to Fowey with Prince Philip in 1962.  We hope you enjoy sharing this moment in the Queen's life with us.

In July 1962, during the Queen and Prince Philip's visit to Cornwall, they came to Fowey and, while there, visited Daphne du Maurier and her husband, Frederick Browning (often known as Tommy), for tea at Menabilly before driving through Fowey and boarding the Royal Yacht Britannia in Fowey Harbour. 

It should be remembered that Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Browning, though by then retired, had worked for the Royal family for many years.  His first role had been as Comptroller and Treasurer to Her Royal Highness the Princess Elizabeth and her new husband, Prince Philip.  Later, when Elizabeth became Queen, Browning was appointed as Treasurer to the household of the Duke of Edinburgh, with offices in Buckingham Palace.  The two men were close, particularly in their shared love of sailing. 

One cannot help but feel that the Royal couple were visiting Menabilly, at least in part, to show recognition for their affection and high regard for Browning.  However, the very idea of the Queen coming to tea was both momentous and alarming to Daphne, as we can see in two letters that she wrote to her friends, one before the event and one afterwards. 

On 30th May 1962, Daphne du Maurier wrote to her friend Oriel Malet from Menabilly with news of the anticipated visit from the Queen.  (taken from Daphne du Maurier: Letters from Menabilly - Portrait of a Friendship edited by Oriel Malet, published in 1993).

[…]  Another awful fussing thing is that we have suddenly been warned that the Queen wants to come here on 23 Julyⁱ  - to Mena, to tea!  She will be visiting Cornwall, and wants to come to Fowey in the Royal Yacht.  It is the Doom of all time…  It means a commotion and all her entourage, and policemen and chauffeurs – how shall we manage?  […]  Piff² says I ought to do up the house, but really, one can't!  It would mean workmen here forever.

Ellen Doubleday's daughter, Pucky, had visited the Brownings during the summer of 1962 and was aware of the Royal visit and would probably have told her mother.  So, on 2nd September 1962, Daphne wrote to her friend Ellen.

[…] then, as Puck may have told you, this fearful preparation of the Queen and her entourage coming to tea!!

You would have been in your element, but I got sulkier and sulkier as the day drew near, especially as Tommy, in a moment of high protocol, said I must wear a hat!  […] but I wrote to a lady-in-waiting that I knew who told me it was not necessary, so I breathed again.  Then we suddenly woke to the fact of the shabbiness of everything and started a furore of cleaning and scrubbing and tidying, and now we can't find a damn thing anywhere. 

Immense discussion as to where to have tea as we would be a party of 14 in all.  […] and got my way – in the Long Room, with three small tables with the tea on them at the far end, so that people could help themselves, tho' we would wait on the Queen, who would sit in my routes³ chair by the fireplace.  Then, of course, I realised I had no proper tea-cloth things to cover the tables, so Flave⁴ had to go on a shopping spree and send down things from London, including endless cakes from Fortnum's beside the ones we were ordering from our St. Austell shop.  She also sent plates – we had no plates – and teaspoons, we had four – and the […] girls who live at Tregrehan, whom you met, who have Camellias, got out all their old family silver and lent it to us – full of crests! 

The Steward from the Yacht Club came to pour out the tea and bear it in with George, Tommy's burly boatman.  (I thought of Tony at Barberrys⁵ – how good he would have been).  I did all the flowers – 27 vases – two days before and was so exhausted at the effort I had no time to be nervous when the moment arrived.

They were due at 4.10 on the Wednesday 25th afternoon, and I must say it was the most terrific moment when the great Rolls flying the Royal Standard, preceded by a police car, drove to the door, where we were waiting.  The Queen looked absolutely radiant all in white, with Prince Philip at her side.  I forgot to say that I was wearing an ice blue linen three-piece Chanel effect I had bought at Harrods when I got back from Ireland, and it looked O.K.  It was the one hot day of the year, I could have done with something silk, but as all silks scream Dowager to me and English County, I was better as I was.

We escorted them through the dining room to the Long Room, as the inner hall is so dingy, and I tactfully took her and Lady Leicester to the guestroom in case nature called.  […] Then down to tea, and the entourage all hanging about, and Tommy at once had to perch next to the Queen and talk, and I found myself, to my dismay, trapped on the sofa with Prince Philip, whom I had hoped would prowl about as he generally does, and not sit.  This meant that I could not hand food, and in agony, I watched one of the equerries come up smiling and giving the Queen all the wrong things – not even the right plate and some rather inferior sandwiches which I hadn't meant for her at all.  Meanwhile, Prince P was politely asking me if I had written anything lately, and I heard sounds coming out of my mouth I did not recognise, and I muttered something about French forebears and then dried up – thinking it would be tactless to mention the French Revolution.

Finally, I made an excuse, leapt to my feet, and none to the Queen's side with the plate of right sandwiches, specially cut, that had been put aside for her.  Not that I suppose she cared a damn.  Or anyone else, for that matter.
The others were all draping themselves about the room or standing and had to get on with it – the Lord Lieutenant spilt all his tea, and the Chief Constable, a menace⁶, with whom I could have enjoyed a word, kept glancing at his watch in haunted fashion to see if the time schedule was being kept.

Punctually to the hour, 5.5, I saw a look come in the Queen's eye that meant she was also thinking of the time schedule, and so I asked if she would care to have a look at the outside of the house.  This was the signal for the break-up, and we went out and to the front, a little distance, and then saw the cars were drawn up again by the front door, and the chauffeurs and the 'tees (who had been entertained by our pretty daily, Esther, at her cottage) were there.  So it was goodbye, and more bobs and smiles, and they rolled away – and it was rather like coming out of the dentist when a tooth has been successfully and painlessly drawn…

A picture of Daphne and Tommy outside Menbilly on a more relaxed day!

Some extracts from three of Daphne du Maurier's biographers:

The Queen and Prince Philip coming to tea at Menabilly was quite a highlight and, as such, is referred to in many of the biographical accounts of Daphne's life.  We have selected three here, adding further detail to the event.

…and in 1962, he (Tommy) and Daphne had entertained the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh to 'family tea' at Menabilly while the Royals were visiting the west country, on which occasion Daphne noted that the Queen complimented them on their 'lovely old house'.

Taken from Daphne: A Portrait of Daphne du Maurier by Judith Cook, published in 1991.

…in July 1962, a visit from the Queen and Prince Philip hung over her (Daphne) and required all her attention.  She was, in fact, pleased about the royal visit because 'it makes poor Tommy happy', and she was determined not to let him down.  He organised their end of the visit himself, in his element, conducting it like a military manoeuvre and writing to his old friends, the Prescotts (who were invited for the occasion) that 'Daphne is in a bit of a tizzy about it all'.  She was, but not in such a tizzy that she could not see the absurdity of the preparations and of her own panic.  Making herself sound like some little suburban housewife, she wrote to Buckingham Palace asking if she had to wear a hat and also whether gloves should be worn.  A lady-in-waiting replied that, of course, since this tea was in her own house, neither were required.  Next to cause her agitation was her dress.  She knew she must wear a dress but only had three and swore that she could not get into any of them.  Once that had been solved, the state of Menabilly caused her agonies.  The cleanliness of the house had never been high on her list of priorities, but other people had other ideas.  Mr Burt, the gardener, now eighty-one, took it upon himself to 'wash down the Long Room mantelpiece with Jeyes Fluid!!' and Esther insisted that the whole house should be 'scrubbed and better scrubbed' even though the Queen would only see one room.  At least Daphne hoped she would only see one room – if Her Majesty were to visit the bathroom, she felt she should take down 'the lewd prints of Mary Anne in bed with the Queen's great-great-uncle the Duke of York'.  Her own contribution was to fill twenty-six vases with flowers, then declare that she was exhausted.

After all the fuss, she enjoyed the occasion – 'it was rather splendid to see the big Rolls drive slowly to the front door bearing the Royal Standard and the Queen, a radiant figure in white, seated within'.  That was the best part – she thought 'the young Queen looked stunning' – but she was surprised to find the whole hour and a half went quickly and pleasantly.  The only disappointment, though Daphne could well sympathise, was that was that the Queen was 'not much interested in the enormous spread I had prepared'.

Her sister Angels was a great help, chatting with aplomb to Her Majesty, and so were the Prescotts.  There were fourteen altogether for tea (Esther fed the entourage), and the only mishap was 'old Edward Bolitho spilling his tea', but he was forgiven because 'he was the only one to munch and enjoy a split with cream'.

Taken from Daphne du Maurier by Margaret Forster, published in 1993.

…Tommy announces that Elizabeth II will come to tea at 'Mena' on 23 July 1962.  Action stations!  This is even worse than the visit of P.P.⁷ twelve years earlier.  […] Daphne loses her head, so it is Tommy who takes charge of everything with military precision.

[…]  The weather is good for the royal visit.  The young Queen, dazzling in white, descends from the Rolls-Royce outside the manor.  The silverware shines, and an opulent feast is spread out on the dining room table, but though the Queen does accept a cup of tea, she will not touch a single salmon and cucumber sandwich, to the disappointment of all.  Angela, wonderfully chatty and adept at conversation, entertains the monarch, even making her laugh, while Daphne is paralysed by nerves, just like the gauche second Mrs de Winter.  Thank goodness for Piffy; you can always count on her in difficult moments.

Taken from Manderley Forever by Tatiana de Rosnay, published in 2017.

The Queen and Prince Philip on Fowey Town Quay, about to board the Royal Yacht Britannia, on 25th July 1962

When the Queen and Prince Philip left Menabilly, they drove to Fowey Town Quay to board the Royal Yacht Britannia.  The town was filled with people waving and cheering at this most exciting of events.

ⁱ It was, in fact, 25th July
² Piff or Piffy – a nickname for Daphne's sister Angela
³ routes – a du Maurier family word meaning familiar routines or habits.
⁴ Flave was short for Flavia, Daphne and Tommy's younger daughter.
⁵ Barberrys was Ellen's home on Long Island, New York.
⁶ menace – a du Maurier family word meaning attractive.
⁷ P.P. is Prince Philip

Ann Willmore June 2022.

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