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Next night, at a less active palace reception, Prime Minister Clement Attlee said cheerily to some Tory friends: "We should really have more of these parties." This remark was widely repeated. "The bahstud," muttered one of those who knew that Attlee's government had carried its austerity drive deep into the wedding festivities, by shortening the length and speeding up the pace of the procession, by asking workers to stay at their jobs, and even, at first, by refusing to put the Household Cavalry in full dress. When the Cavalry turned up in full dress in Sir Alexander Korda's movie An Ideal Husband, released a week before the wedding, the government backed down.
At the same reception where Attlee made his well-meant, ill-received remark, Beatrice Lillie (Lady Peel) was strolling about, smoking a cigarette in a holder. Princess Margaret came up. Bea, not wanting to curtsy while brandishing a cigarette, stuffed it and the holder into her dress front. At St. James's Palace earlier in the day, while a certain lady of title was viewing the royal wedding presents, the King came up to her and, with a very quizzical expression, said: "A lot of people must have had a lot of very nice things stored away for a very long time."
Little mishaps and irreverent remarks continued, but grew less frequent as the festivities narrowed toward the ceremony itself. The crowd began to gather early the night before in favored places near Buckingham Palace and Parliament Square. The crowd was good-natured, a bit rowdy, ill-clad and ill-fed. And, more than in other times, avid for the show that would lift it, not by illusion but by legitimate right, into a symbolic reminder of its own worth. As they waited, chaff flew. When black smoke poured from the palace chimney, a wit said: "Blimey, now they've gone an' burnt the blinkin' soup."
Another cockney called the palace "the poorhouse." Rebuked, he answered: "Why not, they're living on our charity, ain't they?" Any American who read malice or even envy into this would be not only wrong, but fiercely resented. The cockney wanted the royal family living just that way, and he wanted it the more fiercely as his "charity" pinched.
Philip was first almost early, then almost late. He popped out of Kensington Palace at 11 o'clock, shook hands with a chimney sweep (for luck), glanced at his watch and popped back in again. At 11:05 he and his best man, the Marquess of Milford Haven, set out in a limousine for the Abbey, after Philip, glancing at his watch again, said: "Bad show, we're a little late." "Cutting it a bit fine, isn't he?" murmured a lady at the palace as Philip sped by.
The King and the Princess proceeded more slowly, and the King's mother, Queen Mary, slower still. She, who understood the pageant best, sat on the jump seat of her Daimler where the crowd could see her plainly.
"Ow," cried a girl outside the Abbey, "I feel all tickly up and down me spine!"
Inside, the royal, noble and merely distinguished guests were scarcely less tickly. They rose when Churchill entered, beaming, kept their seats when Attlee came in. The Dowager Marchioness of Reading strode up to peer at the cushions placed for Elizabeth and Philip.