March 4, 2011
The Queen's Speech, 1991By Robert Morrison
The hit movie, The King's Speech, garnered top honors at the Oscars Sunday night.
The feel-good flick surely shows the indomitable human spirit rising above adversity. For that, at least, it's a fine antidote to much Tinseltown product.
My wife and I enjoyed the movie, even if she nudged me in the theater to keep it quiet -- and don't, please don't -- butt in with any historical corrections. There were a few major ones. It's too bad most Americans, and British folks, too, will have their impressions of King George VI formed from the rather considerable literary license taken with the late monarch's life.
Oh, well. At least the movie was better than the real-life royal snafu I witnessed at the White House in 1991. It was the arrival ceremony for Queen Elizabeth II. (Her late dad was the subject of The King's Speech).
It was a balmy May day in Washington, before the oppressive humidity and heat set in.
My friends and I from Family Research Council had been invited by President George H.W. Bush's team to be on hand to greet the visiting British Queen. We were more than happy to wave our Union Jacks and cheer as the Old Guard paraded on the South Lawn.
The Army's ceremonial Old Guard fife and drum corps wears red coats, their tricorn hats and white wigs and knee breeches take us back to the Revolutionary Era. Founded in 1784, the Old Guard nonetheless reminds us that we fought a War of Independence against Queen Elizabeth's ancestor, the mutton-headed King George III.
As President Bush (41) approached the lectern, I was barely fifty feet away, behind the rope line with all the other happy natives. Looking over the president's right shoulder, I could see the microphone was positioned for our 6/2" Chief Executive.
As the president concluded his welcoming remarks, I could clearly see a red carpeted box inside the lectern. And as Mr. Bush stepped away from the lectern, the microphone remained set for someone 6/2."
I had served as a protocol officer in the military, so I had some experience in how these ceremonies are supposed to go. That was at a very low level. We didn't have ambassadors visiting our Coast Guard base in the San Francisco Bay Area. Only lower ranking diplomats, like Consuls General, ever came to oversee our recruit graduations. Still, we wanted everything to go smoothly.
As Queen Elizabeth approached the lectern to respond to President Bush's gracious welcoming remarks, I wanted to yell out to the Chief of Protocol of the United States.
It was like watching a collision at sea about to happen and not being able to do anything about it.
Joseph Reed was then our top protocol officer. I could clearly see him sitting next to the First Lady, chatting her up. Mr. Reed was a tall, slender, elegantly appointed Ivy League fellow with long, black stockings showing beneath his pin-striped suit trousers. The sun glinted off his highly polished shoes.
But he had forgotten to appoint someone to take out the red-carpeted box from inside the lectern. And he had forgotten to have someone lower the microphone for the 5'4" Queen.
Well, you don't just yell out: The Red Box, Joe! And the Mike, too!
In a pinch, Mr. Reed could have done it himself. Somebody should have done it.
But nobody did. I was sure if I tried to jump the rope line to help out, the snipers on top of the White House would not take it kindly. I was willing to lay down my life for my country, but not for Joe Reed.
So the Queen's speech was delivered. Her Majesty was anything but majestic that day.
The TV cameras had a perfect picture of -- the royal hat. It was a very nice hat. Those of us within earshot heard her clipped British accent, but her voice was not picked up by the up-there-somewhere microphone.
People on the periphery of the crowd choked back giggles. The Washington Post didn't. They had a field day with President Bush's embarrassment the next morning. When the Queen addressed a joint meeting of Congress the following day, she puckishly asked members if they could see her now. British people still have a way of ripping the clumsy Colonials.
I was sorry that my only chance to view an arrival ceremony -- a ceremony invented by JFK with great style and flair -- had been marred by Joe Reed's faux pas. It would get worse for the hapless President Bush. The next winter, he'd actually throw up in the lap of the Prime Minister of Japan!
Joe Reed was one of those silk-stocking Republicans who didn't welcome us social conservatives. We were not clubbable, I suppose. He had loudly invited us out of his party. But within a few weeks, the elegant Mr. Reed's resignation as Cookie-Pusher-in-Chief was announced in a discreet article in The New York Times. Maybe he took his red-carpeted box with him.
Robert Morrison works at the Family Research Council.