A Right Royal Performance at TW Gaze

A Right Royal Performance at TW Gaze 

By Elizabeth Talbot 

National celebrations are in full swing in honour of Queen Elizabeth’s record-breaking 70- year reign and the BBC is to broadcast a much-publicised commemorative documentary, “Elizabeth: The Unseen Queen”, on Sunday 29 May at 19:45 on BBC One and iPlayer. Meanwhile, Diss Auction Rooms are preparing to sell two significant lots of royal interest pertaining to the pre-coronation life of Princess Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret.


They are two photograph albums, each recording the royal family’s private Christmas pantomimes of 1943 and 1944, in which the princesses starred. Several of the photographs bear reference numbers and ink stamps of Studio Lisa, the husband-and-wife team of Lisa and Jimmy Sheridan, who were granted two Royal Warrants, and took some of the most informal and intimate photographs of the Royal Family for over 30 years from the 1930s to the 1960s.


During the Second World War, Her Majesty the Queen (then Princess Elizabeth b. 1926) and Princess Margaret (1930 – 2002) spent much of their time in Windsor, safely away from the bombing in London. Amidst the backdrop of the pressures of WWII, the Christmas pantomimes were an enjoyable distraction from the harsh realities of war. King George VI found the performances incredibly moving, writing in his diaries about how he was in floods of tears watching them each year. The pantomimes were written and produced by Hubert Tannar, then headmaster of the Royal School at Windsor. Because of the threat of bomb damage at the Royal Chamber of Windsor, the paintings from the Royal Collection that normally hung in the room were removed from their frames, leaving bare walls. A young evacuee Claude Watham (the future TV and film director), then a part-time art student at Wycombe Technical Institute and School of Art, was tasked by Mr Tanner with producing set designs for the pantomimes on rolls of wallpaper, which were pasted up in the Waterloo Chamber by the Castle decorators. The Princesses performed in and helped to stage four wartime Christmas Pantomimes between 1941-1944. The set designs and the costumes went on display for the first time as part of the “Fashioning a Reign” exhibition at Windsor Castle, September 2016 to January 2017.


The first album contains photographs depicting Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret performing in 'Aladdin', staged on Saturday 18th December 1943. The album contains 13 sepia photographs of Princess Elizabeth (as 'Aladdin') and Princess Margaret (as 'Princess Roxana') in costume on stage performing in various scenes of the pantomime. Princess Elizabeth wore a gold brocade and turquoise jacket with turquoise dungarees and matching hat, and Princess Margaret wore a red silk dress and matching jacket. There are also two printed programmes and an admission ticket loosely inserted into the album, the cover with red foil crown above "E M Aladdin" in silver foil.


The second album is from "Old Mother Red Riding Boots" of December 21st-23rd, 1944. It contains 27 sepia photographs of Princess Elizabeth (as 'Lady Christina Sherwood'), Princess Margaret (as 'The Honourable Lucinda Fairfax') and other members of the cast. Princess Elizabeth wore a long-sleeved pink satin and lace dress and later donned a chintz shirt, trousers and sunhat for a seaside scene, whist Princess Margaret wore a blue taffeta dress with cream lace bloomers. Again, there are two printed programmes plus admission tickets for seats A1 & A2.


The origins of the albums are interesting. They have arrived, by descent, from the estate of Sylvia Salisbury, artist and illustrator, who attended the pantomimes. Sylvia was the daughter of the pre-eminent British portrait artist Frank Owen Salisbury (1874-1962), and they both contributed illustrations to 'The Princess Elizabeth Gift Book' in 1935, a book produced in aid of the Princess Elizabeth of York hospital for children.


Frank Salisbury was known as "Britain's Painter Laureate", whose significant portraits include, Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Earl Mountbatten of Burma, Benito Mussolini, and many of the Royal family. Twenty-five members of the Royal House of Windsor sat for Salisbury, and he was the first artist to paint HM Queen Elizabeth II. He also produced over forty large canvases depicting historical and national events, the two most significant of these being “The Heart of Empire - the Jubilee Thanksgiving in St Paul's Cathedral 1935” and “The Coronation of their Royal Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth 1937”.


The Royal Christmas pantomimes at Windsor Castle were also charitable productions, and raised money for the Royal Household Wool Fund, which supplied knitting wool to make comforters for soldiers fighting at the Front. They were performed for close relations of the Royal Family and select friends including Sylvia Salisbury, and, as the albums contain two programmes, it is conceivable she was accompanied by her father.


Ahead of its special programme, the BBC quotes the Queen’s references to “precious family moments”. In a personal message recorded at Windsor Castle to introduce the documentary, the Queen said: "Private photos can often show the fun behind the formality.”; and  "You always hope that future generations will find them interesting, and perhaps be surprised that you too were young once." These photograph albums illustrate both points perfectly.


Each album is to be sold as a separate lot in the specialist Books & Ephemera auction on Tuesday 14 June. Robert Henshilwood, book specialist at TW Gaze, said “These are two extraordinary documents, in terms of their content, their provenance and their condition. They give literal snapshots, rare insights, into the world of our royal family’s private life; scenes only accessible to a privileged few 80 years ago. We are delighted to be marketing such treasures and the timing of their arrival into the public domain could not be better. Each is a scarce and important photograph album: the images are stored at Windsor Castle archives, and original images are very seldom seen anywhere else. To reflect this, each album carries a pre-auction estimate of £1,500-2,000”


Please see twgaze.co.uk for illustrated catalogue, further information, and bidding instructions. Book enquiries to r.henshilwood@twgaze.co.uk.