Shropshire Star

Shrewsbury schoolboy who turned his back on the new Queen

Seventy years ago, in one of the earliest royal visits of her long reign, the new Queen came to Shrewsbury. Where a teenage schoolboy turned his back on her.

Flagwaving crowds greeted the royals during their 1952 visit to Shrewsbury.

He was Richard Ingrams, later to become one of the leaders of the 1960s satire boom as co-founder of the irreverent magazine Private Eye.

Richard Ingrams

At the time of that royal visit on Friday, October 24, 1952, Ingrams was at Shrewsbury School which, unlikely as it may seem, played a part in the revolution which was to follow.

However, it seems that his action that day was not of intentional disrespect, nor a deliberate snub to the establishment, just a young lad being taken by surprise by the situation.

The Queen, who had ascended to the throne that February, was the first reigning monarch to make an official visit to Shropshire's county town since 1914. The primary purpose was to celebrate Shrewsbury School's 400th anniversary.

Huge crowds lined the streets to cheer her and her husband the Duke of Edinburgh as they passed through.

Flagwaving crowds greeted the royals during their 1952 visit to Shrewsbury.

On the royal party's arrival at the school, 15-year-old Ingrams happened to be watching a game of fives, the only sport he ever enjoyed.

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph he said: "Suddenly out of the corner of my eye I saw a whole bunch of men in suits walking by, and in the midst of them was the late Queen.

"It was the school’s 400th anniversary, and this was one of the Queen’s first engagements of her reign, in 1952.

"I didn’t know what to do, so I froze – and as bad luck would have it a photograph was taken at that moment, and when it appeared in the newspaper the next day it was headlined 'The Boy Who Turned His Back on the Queen'."

The Queen watches a game of fives at Shrewsbury School during her visit of October 24, 1952, flanked by, left, chairman of governors Sir Offley Wakeman, and right, headmaster Jack Peterson.

Now of course you would love to see this photo, and so would we, but it seems it must have been carried in a national newspaper, because no such photo appeared next day in the Express & Star – there was no Shropshire Star until 1964 – nor in the next edition of the Wellington Journal & Shrewsbury News, although the Star did carry a picture of Her Majesty watching that game of fives.

The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh at Shrewsbury School

Ingrams recalls that Shrewsbury School was a very old fashioned school at that time, but tells the Telegraph that he was very influenced by the brilliant English master, a Mr McEachran, known as Kek.

Ingrams' brother edited the school magazine, The Salopian, and roped Richard in. It was until then "terribly boring."

"I was very keen to write funny things, parodies and poems, and I remember the terrific excitement I got from seeing something I’d written in print.

"Someone wrote a piece titled, 'If God came to the school chapel, what would He think of it, and where would He sit?' This caused a tremendous row and from then on everything had to be submitted to the headmaster beforehand."

Key contributors were a number of pupils who were to gain later fame – Ingrams, Willie Rushton, Paul Foot, and Christopher Booker.

Rushton was a talented cartoonist, and humorous input from the group enlivened the previously strait-laced school mag.

It proved to be the primordial soup from which the later Private Eye emerged, when in 1961 Old Salopians Ingrams and Rushton invited Booker to join them as they attempted to get the new magazine off the ground.

Shrewsbury School also played its role in Monty Python, as Michael Palin was a later pupil there, and in an interview a few years ago revealed that the original inspiration for The Knights Who Say Ni who appear in the 1975 movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail was schoolmaster Laurence Le Quesne.

Richard Ingrams, right, with fellow Shrewsbury School boys in 1955. Picture: Laurence Le Quesne.

In his interview with the Telegraph Ingrams says he recently went back to the school.

"There is a great air of prosperity now; the place is obviously awash with money."

However, he adds: "I was pleased for the pupils, but I was nostalgic for the old austerity."

And he concludes: "Visiting there reminded me of the fact that a lot of really good friends my age have died. I feel very sad about that. I don’t think I’ll visit again."

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