Disptaches' Queen Mum documentary was about as revealing as a Victorian mourning dress, says Mark Lewis
Backstairs Billy – The Queen Mum’s Butler (Monday, Ch4, 9pm) was a Dispatches special which revealed nothing much more than that the royal family are about as relevant as an amputated wisdom tooth.
Alas, this dire, hour-long look at the court of the Queen Mother was equally pointless. The life of deceased footman, William Tallon, a servant every bit as queenly as the woman he was waiting on, had been pieced together with interviews with some old friends and one or two anodyne letters. As an insight into the royal family or the Queen Mother it was like speculating about Manchester United’s latest team sheet by reading the shopping list of Alex Ferguson’s mum’s hairdresser.
The programme kicked off by intoning coquettishly that “this is the butler who saw it all,” but ended by admitting apologetically that “he was a one-off who took many of his secrets to the grave.” What we were left with was a fact-shy, hour-long documentary about some chap.
He had been sympathetically dubbed Backstairs Billy by the press because of his position as unofficial Lord of the backstairs of Clarence house. Yes, in the same way as Fleet Street might describe someone as Sperm-Swallow Steve because of his uncanny resemblance to a whale and a garden bird!
But even with the playfully hilarious homophobia, the story failed to be in any way engaging. Backstairs Billy was flamboyant but he was not, according to best friend, Reta, camp. Admittedly, in the world of Reta, you had to be dressed in arseless leather chaps and a Nazi tunic to be considered in any way camp.
But this was nevertheless a poor attempt at intrigue. The “scandals” involving Billy amounted to changing clean forks for dirty ones, and wheeling Princess Margaret out to the gates of Clarence house on the 100th Birthday of the Queen Mum. The press should have been enjoying the parade which included some the Queen Mum’s favourite TV characters. Instead they spotted that her elderly daughter was looking fairly ill.
The real scandal, surely, was that Lizzie had made a bunch of soldiers dress up as Wombles.