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Tea With The Old Queen

Published by: Steve Burbridge on 8th Feb 2014 | View all blogs by Steve Burbridge

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‘Tea With The Old Queen’ – The Customs House, South Shields

 Regardless of whether you’re a Republican or a Royalist, I bet that at some stage you have wondered what really goes on behind closed palace doors. What’s it like to spend Christmas at Sandringham and summer holidays at Balmoral?

Well, Tea With The Old Queen: The Fictional Diaries of Backstairs Billy lifts the lid on some of the monarchy’s best-kept comic secrets. Based on the fictitious diaries of William Tallon, steward and page of the backstairs to the late Queen Mother, this one-man show offers a glimpse into life below stairs at Clarence House. In over forty years of loyal service, ‘Backstairs Billy’, as Tallon became known, saw it all.

Written, directed and produced by Graham Woolnough, this production has enjoyed a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe and toured the UK, garnering some impressive reviews along the way.

The premise is a good one and Ian Stark, as Billy, certainly has sufficient charisma and presence to be watchable. However, as gently amusing as the writing is, I found myself lamenting a plethora of dramatic missed opportunities.

A significant amount of the show focuses on the period of Christmas 1999 and the dawn of the new Millennium and this deprives the audience of a whole variety of other juicy morsels. For instance, we are not made privy to Ma’am’s opinions on the exploits of both the Princess of Wales and the Duchess of York, nor the impact of Diana’s death in 1997. Historic incidents such as the death, in 1986, of the Duchess of Windsor could have been utilised to resurrect painful memories from the past, too, thus providing a richer tapestry of drama

Nevertheless, the piece was a charming and inoffensive exposé – it’s just a shame that, as is the case with most gossip, we were only treated to part of the story.

Steve Burbridge.

Performed at the Customs House, South Shields, on Thursday 6th February 2014. For details of future performances and more about the play, visit



1 Comment

  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 4 years ago
    Thanks, Steve. Sounds like an interesting piece.
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