This was, perhaps, the most extraordinary piece of royal film ever shot. The Queen was not merely cross: she was hurling shoes, threats and sporting equipment, and venting the sort of regal fury that, in another age, would have cost someone their head.
The object of this tirade was the Duke of Edinburgh, who in the circumstances made the sensible decision to run away. Little wonder this scene has never seen the light of day. Few people even know about this bizarre royal bust up. For that, the Queen can thank both an obliging Australian camera crew and one of the most gloriously curmudgeonly characters to serve in the Royal Household in her entire 60-year reign.
But Commander Richard Colville DSC, Press Secretary to both George VI and the Queen, certainly earned his keep that day on March 6, 1954.
By then, the Queen was halfway through an eight-week tour of Australia, which, in turn, was just part of a six-month post-Coronation round-the-world voyage —the greatest royal tour in modern history.
Inevitably, on a journey of this scale, there were tensions along the way, and they surfaced as the young royal couple enjoyed a weekend’s break in a chalet on the shores of the O’Shannassy Reservoir in Victoria.
On that particular Sunday afternoon, the Queen was due to be filmed looking at some kangaroos and koalas for a feature film titled The Queen In Australia.
Senior cameraman Loch Townsend had already arrived, with his deputy Frank Bagnall and a sound recordist. The afternoon light was fading.
‘Christ, when are they bloody well coming?’ muttered Townsend —at which point the door of the chalet flew open.
Bagnall instinctively turned on his camera. But what happened next was not in the script.
And still the camera kept on turning. Eventually, as Townsend later recalled, the Queen ‘dragged’ her husband back into the chalet and the door was slammed. Out dashed Prince Philip, with a pair of tennis shoes and a tennis racquet flying after him. Next came the Queen herself, shouting at the Prince to stop running and ordering him back.
At this point, angrier than a wounded buffalo, Commander Colville suddenly charged into view.
Here was a man who thought it such a grave affront to royal privacy to film the Queen being driven through the gates of Balmoral that he had banned the BBC from doing so.
Loch Townsend was a brave film-maker who had been in action during World War II, but he was not about to enter mortal combat with the man British journalists knew as the Abominable No Man —or, simply ‘Sunshine’.
Without hesitation, Townsend exposed the film and then handed it to Colville, saying: ‘Commander, I have a present for you. You might like to give it to Her Majesty.’
Colville disappeared and a member of staff emerged with beer and sandwiches for the crew. It wasn’t long before the Queen reappeared herself, calm, serene —and extremely grateful.
‘I’m sorry for that little interlude,’ she told Townsend, ‘but, as you know, it happens in every marriage. Now, what would you like me to do?’