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Feather's Miscellany: Edward - Act 2, Scene 1

Here's the first scene in Act Two in John Waddington-Feather's play - which is as engrossingly readable as any novel - about a time of crisis for the British monarchy.

Act 2 Scene 1
Time: 1933

Place: King George Vís reception room.

His secretary, Smithers, is
preparing the desk for a meeting with the Prime Minister, Ramsey Macdonald.

George: It will be quite a busy morning with the Prime Minister, what
with a new Chancellor being appointed in Germany and unrest growing here.
. I read in the papers this morning that a policeman was thrown into the river
in Glasgow. Good Lord, what will they do next?

Secretary: I read about it, too, Your Majesty.

George: And this wretched cough doesnít help matters. I donít seem to get rid of it.

Secretary: If I may say so, sir, I think you ought to take things more easily. You
push yourself too hard at times.

George: Alas, thereís no easing up, Smithers. What with Herr Hitler in power
Germany and Mussolini in Italy, not to mention General Franco in Spain
and Mosley stirring up trouble here, one wonders what the future holds for
all of us.

[Phone rings and the secretary answers it]

Secretary: The Prime Minister has arrived, Your Majesty.

George: Good. Send him in, Smithers. Iíll send for you when I need you.


[Smithers holds the door open for Ramsey Macdonald to enter then
exits. Macdonald bows and the King motions him to a seat by his
desk] Good morning, Prime Minister. How are you today?

Macdonald: Very well, Your Majesty. And you?

George: [Coughing] As well as can be expected with this wretched cough, but we have to soldier on, eh?

Macdonald: [Opens his brief-case] Indeed, sir.

George: So, Prime Minister, what have you got in store for me today?

Macdonald: Not much, Your Majesty. Just one or two papers to sign and a report
from our embassy in Berlin, which Iíd like you to look over. I
suppose youíve heard that Von Schleicher has resigned as Chancellor and
the President has appointed Herr Adolf Hitler in his place.

George: [Gloomily] It was inevitable. The tide of Fascism is flowing fast
across Europe and no one can stem it, it seems, Mr Macdonald. Itís
already reached our shores with this fellow Mosley and his gang of
thugs. How are you coping in Parliament with him? Heaven forbid he
should ever fill your shoes as Prime Minister. I wouldnít know how to cope.

Macdonald: Weíll see him off at the next election, sir. The British public donít really
go in for all his goose-stepping and street rhetoric. Heís aping
Hitler and Mussolini with his posturing, but it wonít work here.

George: Theyíre a menace. What with them and the Communists on
our streets, and the marches of the jobless, it seems weíre drifting
towards anarchy, Prime Minister; and I must say I fear the worst. It looks
like war again, [Sighs]

Macdonald: Heaven forbid! We had enough of that last time.

George: They said it was the war to end all wars. Sheer madness! And where did
it get us? Nowhere. It bankrupted Europe, killed off a generation and left
us with a mess weíre still clearing up. There were no winners, in that war,
Mr Macdonald, and the monarchy was lucky to survive, donít you think?

Macdonald: Itís not for me to comment on that, sir, except to say youíre much

loved, and so is the Queen. The people think highly of both your Majesties.

George: [Touched] Thank you. Thatís very flattering, Mr Macdonald.

Macdonald: I mean it, sir. You know I never flatter.

George: Indeed. What Scot ever flatters? My daughter-in-law is a Scot and she can
be very blunt at times.

Macdonald: But we always give praise where itís due, sir. [Passes papers from
his briefcase to the King] If youíd kindly look through these papers, sir,
and sign them. Thereís nothing urgent.

George: [Reads through the documents heís been handed and signs them] The
Queen and I are going to watch our first talking picture this evening here at
the Palace, Mrs Macdonald..

Macdonald: Oh, and what may that be, sir?

George: One of Disneyís American cartoons first, then the film of Priestleyís, ďThe
Good Companions.Ē

Macdonald: He writes well and I very much enjoyed the novel; a good family novel
not like some of these penny dreadfuls doing the rounds.

George: Iím looking forward to seeing it. Itíll make a pleasant change from all
thatís going on at present. Things have changed since the war and the whole
world has been turned on its head, it seems, so itíll make a welcome
break watching the film. Do you watch many films?

Macdonald: I tend to listen to the wireless, sir. The cinema is for the young.

George: I must tell the Queen that. Sheíll like to be thought young.

Macdonald: If I may say so, sir, youíre both young at heart. Thatís why youíre so loved
by the nation.

George: [Glancing through a paper before him] Whatís the latest news about Ireland?

Macdonald: President De Valera is hanging on by a thread, sir. Heís running his
Parliament with a majority of only one.

George: Is he still beating his drum about taking over the whole of Ireland?

Macdonald: Iím afraid so, sir. The Republicans wonít rest till theyíve taken over the north.

George: Sometimes I wish the Irish problem would simply float away into the Atlantic.
They always seem to want more and heaven knows thereís been enough
blood shed already. When will it all end?

Macdonald: Never, I fear, sir. Britain is destined to be always at odds with itself. One
crisis ends and another begins. Weíre only just holding our own in
Parliament as it is against the odds.

George: [Sighs] Still, we canít shirk our responsibilities and itís your job and mine
to sort things out. Youíve had a rough time these past few years,
Mr Macdonald, but I do appreciate all youíre doing to hold your
Cabinet together. Above all else, Parliament must pull together now if
the nation isnít to fall apart.

Macdonald; We should be grateful that the British people arenítÖhow shall I say? Ö
arenít as volatile as some nations

George: And thank God for that. Revolution is what monarchy always dreads.
Look whatís happened in Russia and I feel there are times when we, too,
are walking a tight-rope and could fall off any moment. The crown always sits
uneasy on a monarchís head.

Macdonald: The people love you too much, sir, for that to happen here. And in any case,
the British are not by nature violent folk.

George: How do you account for that, Mr Macdonald?

Macdonald: The weather, sir. It dampens everything.
George: Especially cricket.

Macdonald: But not your own hobby, sir, I hope.

George: Stamp-collecting requires only damp hinges.

Macdonald: You must find it very relaxing after the wear and tear of work.

George: It is. You should take it up, Mr Macdonald. Stamp-collecting helps me
travel the whole world without the hassle of moving out
of my study. But back to business. I hear youíre visiting Signor Mussolini,
the Italian President next month. I hope youíll keep me well briefed on
him. Like Herr Hitler, I donít trust him. These Fascists are a nasty lot.

Macdonald: I shall be discussing disarmament with him, sir, and also when I
meet with Herr Hitler later. If we can get them both to agree to my
proposals, Europe will be a safer place.

George: I wish you luck, Mr Macdonald. I do sincerely hope youíre successful, but
I fear the worst. The Germans and Italians are sabre-rattling.

Macdonald: And my mission is to make them keep their swords in their scabbards.
[Pause] If I may say so, Your Majesty, would you consider now the right time
to bring the Prince of Wales into our discussion? Heís a grown
man and will one day be King. Do you think now is the time to brief him
on state matters?

George: Youíre trying to tell me Iím not well, arenít you, Mr Macdonald? Have
you been speaking with my doctors?

Macdonald: Indeed not, sir, but neither of us is in good health. A Prime Minister has
always someone experienced to step into his shoes in an emergency, but
the monarchyÖ

George: Needs to get itself sorted out. Is that what youíre saying?

Macdonald: Iím here only to advise, sir, not dictate.

George: And youíre discretion itself, Prime Minister. Iíve always valued your
advice. Why your own party has cast you off I canít understand. Theyíve
simply made your position more stressful.

Macdonald: There are hot-heads in every party, sir.

George: Iíd call Ďem Bolsheviks.

Macdonald: You may be right, sir. The Russian Communists have made a great
impression on the more radical elements in the Labour Party. They simply
canít understand that Iím working with the Conservatives for the nationís
good. This is not a time to squabble over party politics. [Bitterly] What
hurts most is they brand me a traitor to my face Ė which Iím not. Iím
simply trying to do the best for my country.

George: Radicals are always a pain Ė like the Prince of Wales. Most of them
mature with age, but he seems to be stuck in some kind of
adolescence. Yí know heís besotted with Hitler and the Nazi movement.

Macdonald: Perhaps if you drew him more into our discussions, sir, heíd change his mind.

George: Heís untrustworthy, too wild in his ways and Iím afraid heís not setting a very
good example for the young. Is it generally known heís liaising with
an American divorcee, this Simpson woman?

Macdonald: The popular press are making a meal of it, sir. They take every opportunity
to photograph them together.

George: What does your Cabinet think about it?

Macdonald: Theyíre very worried about his friendship with the lady.

George: And the Church?

Macdonald: The bishops are aghast. Theyíve been appalled at his behaviour for some years, but the young have very different standards from our generation, sir.

George: Youíre right, Mr Macdonald. There are times when I feel Iím living on
a different planet so much has life changed since the war.

Macdonald: [Sighs] And there are times when I feel Iíve outlived my usefulness, too, sir.

George: We must both hang on, Prime Minister, for the countryís sake.

Macdonald: Things can hardly get worse, sir. They must pick up.

George: We never seem to get it right, do we? Old men took Europe into a
futile war which slaughtered a generation; and now the young are blithely
rushing into disaster. Oh, would there were some sensible middle-age to
set the world aright. [Pause} Tell me, Mr Macdonald, how do you see the
role of Kingship in this modern age? Are we outmoded? You know you
can speak openly to me.

Macdonald: For what itís worth, I believe that royalty still has a role to play in
our nation. It stands outside politics and is there for the good of all, apart
yet vitally part of the nation it rules; though ruling on high, yet one with
the lowly Above all, royalty must set standards for its subjects to follow,
and rule in humility, putting the nation always before self.

George: Wise words, Mr Macdonald. Your assurance gives me comfortÖbut what a
burden we carry, living up to standards we donít always reach.

Macdonald: All in authority carry burdens, sir.

George: I wish my son were here to listen to you, yet I fear your words would fall
on deaf ears.

Macdonald: The Prince may change when he becomes King, sir. Itís happened before.

George: [Gloomily] I hope youíre right, but I fear heíll go his own way. There
are times when I think he simply doesnít want to be King.

Macdonald: None of us can escape our destiny, sir.

George: Indeed. But I do fear for the Prince. His destiny seems to be only
pleasing himself, and mixing with the wrong set. If only heíd marry and
settle down like his brothers and sister. Now Bertie, my second son,
would make a fine King. Heís level-headed, has a wife full of
commonsense and they have two very beautiful children, Lillibet
and Margaret.

Macdonald: [Roguishly] Their mother is Scottish. Thatís why she has commonsense
and thatís why theyíre beautiful.

George: You Scots are always loyal to your own.

Macdonald: And to our King, sir.

George: [Smiling] I would hope so, Mr Macdonald. [Putting the papers together
heís read and signed and handing them back] Well, that seems to be all
for now, Prime Minister. Iíll have my secretary send you my comments
tomorrow. Weíve had a good session and I value these weekly
meetings with you immensely. I feel that you and I have a rapport which is
sometimes lacking with other ministers. Itís well thereís a united
coalition working well together in these turbulent times. Thereís
no room for party politics and squabbling when the countryís facing
threats both at home and abroad.

Macdonald: I donít like to think what would happen if the House became polarised now;
What with the nation is at odds with itself and the economy in turmoil. I
meet with the American President soon to try and sort out some sort of
recovery on both sides of the Atlantic.

George: Economics is not my forte, Prime Minister, but I wish you well. Iíll stick to stamp-collecting.

Macdonald: If that is all, your majesty, Iíll take my leave [He bows and a butler opens
the door. As he leaves the room the king calls out]

George: Bon voyage, Mr Macdonald. May God be with you.


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