In the spring of 1979 I attended an advocacy weekend in Windsor Great Park. This was an informal event put on for its students by the Middle Temple, the Inn of Court to which I belong.
On Saturday I bumped into the Middle Temple student’s officer. She asked if I had a suit. This is the kind of question that you prefer not to answer, until you know why it is being asked. But I decided to take a chance, and said yes, I did have a suit.
In that case, she asked, did I want to attend a sherry party at Clarence House the next day? This was at the invitation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who lived at Clarence House and was an honorary bencher of the Middle Temple. I promised not to tell anybody about this invitation.
By breakfast on Sunday the party was common knowledge, but nobody knew who was going or how to get an invitation. I kept quiet. There was a rumour that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II would also be there.
At Sunday lunchtime I found myself in a queue at the front door of Clarence House. There were about twelve people in the queue, all in suits. I was the last person in line.
Two tall guardsmen in splendid uniforms and beaver hats stood by the door. An equerry came out to greet us, and spoke in turn to each person in the line. He had no written notes, but he knew my full name, the university I was at, my father’s name, and the fact that he was a psychologist in the health service. He asked casually which hospital my father worked at.
At that moment another suit joined the end of the queue. Inside the suit was a famous county court judge. He had also heard the rumour, and decided to attend. He introduced himself to the equerry, stated that he was one of Her Majesty’s judges, and demanded to be let in. The equerry said evenly that he could not admit anybody, not the Lord Chancellor himself, if his name was not on the guest list. He asked the judge to leave.
The judge refused to move. The equerry spoke briefly to the two guardsmen, who took the judge gently but firmly by both arms and escorted him away, his feet barely touching the gravel. He spluttered with indignation: “You cannot do this! I am one of Her Majesty’s judges! I know the law on habeas corpus!”
After a brief summary of Royal etiquette, the equerry opened the front door and we were admitted.
See also: Tea with Milk