The Queen was always good copy


To mark the death of Queen Elizabeth, this week’s commentary is handed over to one of New Zealand’s most knowledgeable Royal watchers, former New Zealand Woman’s Weekly editor, Jenny Lynch.

She was always good copy, specially for women’s magazines.

During my time at the NZ Woman’s Weekly ( 1976-1994) I often wondered what we would have done without the Queen and her troublesome family

Outsiders often sneered at the magazine’s so-called love affair with the royals.

But long-time editor Jean Wishart knew a thing or two. So did I when I took over the editor’s chair in 1987.

A good royal story guaranteed good sales.

And when the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh visited New Zealand we could count on very good sales.

Until the1990s when the magazine adopted a computerised production system, covering royal tours posed enormous challenges. Our tour specials relied primarily on great pictures. And the process from camera to printing press took time — lots of it.

At the end of each day developed strips of 35mm colour transparencies would be delivered to our editorial office. Then the editor would examine them with a loupe magnifier over her light box and choose the shots she wanted. After that was up to our production editor and page layout designer to marry pix with copy.

But that was just the first step. The magazine then was largely black-and-white with limited sections for colour. Normally those sections had long deadlines. But even when deadlines were foreshortened production moved at a glacial pace and it could be touch and go whether we’d get our special souvenir edition onto the newsstands before the royal couple had departed the country.

There could be unforeseen hitches. One occurred during the 1977 tour. Three of us were working late one evening to ensure that we met the deadline for the pages allocated for that day’s Auckland events. The copy was in and Jean Wishart had made a picture selection from seemingly endless strips of transparencies, but captions still had to be written and layouts sorted out.

I was hard at work with the latter when I sensed that something was not quite right. Was that smoke I could smell? It was. Smoke was drifting into our first floor High Street office.

Commonsense said that we should drop what we were doing and get the hell out of there. But Vic Staines, our production editor, wouldn’t budge. ‘I have to get this copy through,’ he insisted. It took a huge effort to prise him from his desk. By this time black smoke was billowing through the door and with visibility almost nil we had to grope our way down the stairs onto the street.

The fire had started in the takeaway bar next door. Firemen put out the blaze and Vic’s fear of failing to meet the deadline came to nothing. But readers would never know how close they had come to missing out on Michael Willison’s  photographs of a smiling Queen and Dorothy Moses’ description of her emerald green crepe de Chine dress, the ecstatic response she had received and the way the gregarious Duke had made schoolgirls giggle.

But tour coverage didn’t end once the royals had waved goodbye. For there were always highlights (and occasional low-lights) to be further examined. And we could keep the pot boiling even longer by inviting readers to tell us about their memories of the special moments they had observed.

Weekly readers absolutely adored the Queen. They couldn’t get enough of her. They wanted  stories about the woman beneath the mystery and mystique. Of course, we were happy to oblige. In fact, we churned out so much information that people thought we had a hot line to the palace. (We never denied it.) But, in reality, it was largely thanks to our team of UK correspondents, which included Ann Morrow, Raymond Fullager, John Wood, Judy Byrne, Marj Proops and Helen Cathgart, that we were able to reveal, for instance, that the Queen relied on homeopathy to treat minor ills; that she was a fan of Agatha Christie; and that sometimes her jaw ached with smiling.

The Weekly also ran features about:

  • The Queen’s thrifty habits

She patrolled Buckingham Palace turning off unused lights. She even peered into fridges to examine what was left over and inquire what was to be done with it. A penny-pinching monarch? Not when you remember that she spent her teens during the austerity years of World War 11 when wastage was an anathema. The royal family wanted to set a good example. They even limited to the amount of water that went into their bathtubs.

  • Her liking for plain food.

 If she had polished off everything in front of her during official dinners she would have been Queen Blobby years ago. Conscious of the royal propensity for piling on the pounds she steered clear of oily, fattening stuff. Eggs were off the menu as were spaghetti, biscuits and cakes. Simple shepherd’s pie was a favourite but with creamed leeks instead of potatoes on top. Little wonder she kept her slim figure. The Weekly cashed in with a story in which we invited readers to ‘Slim Like The Queen: The Diet That Does It.’

  • Her atitude to alcohol.

Going easy on booze is not a notable royal trait. King George V1 enjoyed more than a drop or two as did the Queen Mother who was a devotee of gin and tonic. Princess Margaret was said to have had a liking for Famous Grouse Whiskey. But the Queen usually preferred plain mineral water although a dry martini was an acceptable ‘stiffener’ at Christmas.

However, by the mid-80s the Queen could have been forgiven had she turned to a few more stiffeners to cope with the distress she must have felt over the marriage breakups and accompanying scandals involving three of her adult children — all documented, often in excruciating detail. Of course, the Weekly did its share of this. We had to. Rivalry between ourselves and the other two other women’s weekly magazine had become intense. Woman’s Day  which largely specialised in gossip and scandal and was boasting rapidly increasing sales. For us to ignore the juicy stuff — even if at times it went against the grain — would have been foolish indeed.

Never at any point during what became known as the royal soap opera was there criticism of the Queen. Not at the Weekly, anyway. In Britain, however, her role as a mother, came under fire. But that was nothing new. In 1953 she’ been reproached for leaving her children to the care of nannies during her mammoth six-months inaugural Commonwealth tour. And since then she’d endured flak at home for everything from her schoolgirlish speaking voice, to the contents of her speeches and her so-called ‘matronly’ wardrobe.

By the time I left the Weekly in1994 New Zealanders’ attitudes to royalty had changed. Blind adoration was a thing of the past. The younger royals had seen to that. But regardless of the upheavals around her, the Queen soldiered on. Her devotion to duty never wavered. And for that she continued to command our deepest admiration and respect.

In 2003 I wrote a book titled Our Queen to mark the 50th anniversary of her coronation. Looking through it now, I am struck by the monarch’s remarkable resilience. Surely nobody could have got through her 1992 annus horribilis and other woes without some degree of humour. And the Queen was certainly blessed with that. Off-duty she could be very funny. I quoted an example of her delightfully dry wit.

On one occasion while driving to Balmoral, the Queen spotted an interesting little shop and popped in to investigate.

‘You look awfully like the Queen,’ said the shopkeeper.

‘How very reassuring,’ she replied.”

  • Disclosure: In addition to being one of our most knowledgeable Royal watchers, Jenny Lynch is my esteemed wife. Before you start screaming about nepotism, I justify handing over this week’s column to her on the basis that Stuff, Newshub and MediaWorks also sought her views following the death of Queen Elizabeth.


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