Portrait of a Princess - memories of Margaret Rose

HRH Princess Margaret, younger sister of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, was President of the University College of North Staffordshire and Chancellor of Keele University from 1962 to 1986.

margaret-j-duel-al-jones In 1962, the College was awarded the Royal Charter to become the University of Keele and Margaret became the Chancellor of Keele University.

She had been appointed President in 1956 of its progenitor, the University College of North Staffordshire at Keele.

Princess Margaret was a dedicated and distinguished servant of Keele University and visited the campus frequently for the conferral of awards at graduation ceremonies and for special occasions until 1986. She is the longest-serving Chancellor in Keele's history.

We asked former Keele students to send their stories and memories of Princess Margaret to paint our unique Portrait of a Princess. We posted a few stories for 'Throwback Thursday' on social media, but there are many more memories - ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous - here.

As President of the Students Union in 1960-61, Princess Margaret was to be introduced to a sculpture made by Jacob Epstein in Keele Hall, where she would also meet members of the Students Union committee. There was an awkward silence as she entered and moved around the statue without offering an opinion. Eventually, it was broken by Jim Farquhar, a fellow committee member, who asked in a Geordie growl 'What do you think your sister will make of it?" Despite the fact that his question broke all the protocol rules we had been given, she only chuckled. The ice was broken.

colin-thomas Photo left: Keele Kolliery Khorus in rehearsal

At the time Princess Margaret was portrayed in parts of the popular press as cold, snobbish – and a drinker. I didn't find any of those things to be true from my brief observation of her; indeed she responded warmly to the Keele Kolliery Khorus, a choir I conducted, who sang in Welsh as part of a cabaret we had arranged. Colin Thomas, Class of 1962, President of the Union 1960-1961

A Princess meets a 'God'

princess-margaret-god-smart "I think it was the Royal Ball at the end of 1968. God (Godfrey) Smart was the President of the Union. By tradition, the Union President had the first‌dance with the Chancellor. However, God didn't dance. The papers got hold of the story and it was then announced that Cy Asika, chairman of the Entertainments Committee, would take Gods place. Cy, of course, was originally from Nigeria and a superb dancer. This picture shows the Princess's first introduction to her new dance partner. People I remember in the picture - On the left, God Smart. On the right, Cy Asika and just next to Cy and almost hidden, Jackie Nahoum. The guy with his arm outstretched was me (chairman of the Publicity committee - and virtually the only member!) I don't recall the lady next to me, but she was Tim Patrickson's partner, who can be seen with the bow-tie and beard."

Bob Procter, Class of 1970

And who can forget Godfrey Smart's slogan when seeking election: "Vote for God!" (Ed.)

princess-margaret-aileen-roberts "In 1957 I received my degree from Princess Margaret. Some thirty years later I met Her Royal Highness at a pre-performance reception ‌at the Birmingham Royal Ballet. As soon as I mentioned Keele her face lit up and her lady-in-waiting was unable to move her on. Her Royal Highness told me she had investigated the building of the women's residence, Lindsay Hall, and asked if I had enjoyed it. When I told her that she had presented me with my degree she asked me if she had shaken me by the hand. I replied that she had, so she immediately quoted the exact year. ‌"

Aileen Roberts (Wycherley), Class of 1957

Photo left: Aileen receiving her graduation certificate from Princess Margaret, 1957

There was a wonderful occasion, around 1970, when the University received a very officious letter from the Department of Transport about the fact that people had used the Keele service station which then had no barriers as a route to the University. The letter read....( and I paraphrase):

"To the Chancellor, Keele University.

Dear Sir,
I understand that some of your staff have been using the service station on the M6 as a way of getting to work.
Yours etc."

But the important thing is the reply, from the then Registrar John Hodgkinson - again, I paraphrase.

"Dear Sir,
Her Royal Highness commands me to reply to your letter to her, and to inform you that it is not within her powers to regulate the transport arrangements of members of staff of the University.
Yours etc,
JFN Hodgkinson"

Brian Ramsden, Class of 1978

"It was the late 1962/early 1963 dinner to mark the opening of the new Students' Union building. The Catering Officer, Bert Murden had consulted Clarence House about the menu and they had chosen all the elements. The dessert was Creme Caramel. Bert brought in the dessert, which was huge and which had just come out of its mould, to show it to HRH, before serving it. When she saw it Princess Margaret remarked aloud "I don't eat Creme Caramel" You should have seen Bert's face."

John Samuel, Class of 1964, Treasurer of the Union 1960-1964

"Does anyone else remember Princess Margaret's visit, when a toilet was cemented over the entrance of what is now the Walter Moberly Hall? And dustbins were arranged on the grass draped in undergraduate gowns? Some people did this or something similar during my fresher year 1960-61, but my recollection is that we did it in the middle of the roundabout, having emptied their contents around it. This was conceived as a protest against all the cleaning and polishing that had gone on in the week before her visit. If I thought hard I might be able to remember who was involved. It must have been some of those dreadful bounders who went to the "republican party" which always coincided with Commemoration Ball. How about the huhaw about wearing CND badges when being presented to Margaret Windsor at graduation?"

Colin Smith (1964)

"I have a photo of Princess Margaret arriving at my graduation ceremony with other dignitaries and a photo of me (and also photos of all my friends) each curtseying in front of her to receive our degrees, as a friend was one of the official uni photographers on graduation day in 1983! I have even disco danced with Princess Margaret at a Student Union ball once, as again another of my friends was assisting security around the VIP entourage on the top floor of the Union building when she was officially opening the ball. She started the ball (I cant remember if it was summer or Christmas) with a dance with the SU president and then came up to me and one of my friends with me and held out her hand and said, "come on join in with me". So we shuffled around the dance floor with her for a bit to some disco song of the era - Diana Ross maybe!"

Caroline Sene (1983)

Photo left: Princess Margaret arrives at Keele in 1957, accompanied by Vice-Chancellor George Barnes.

margaret-g-barnes-1957 "Sixty years ago, in November 1956, Princess Margaret attended the first Royal Ball at Keele, held in what was then the new Walter Moberly Hall. It was, by the standards of those days, a very highly organised formal occasion, which required a great deal of planning and preparation. The ball itself was judged an outstanding success. Princess Margaret took to the dance floor with the President of the Union (Ian Dunbar) and, as suggested in advance by her equerry, she took part in a "Paul Jones" waltz, in which one changed partners when the music paused. The Ball Committee Chairman was billed to take the first turn, which he did very gingerly, but to the detriment of the royal toes. A number of young men suddenly found themselves with their arm around this very beautiful young royal lady. Like moths around a candle, the privileged few hovered around the royal flame, ensuring that she was fully supplied with her favourite tipple and cigarettes. At what was judged to be a suitable moment, I joined the moths to ask, "Would you care, Ma'am, to take part in another "Paul Jones?" The reply was chilling, "Must we?" Nonetheless, she did it and at least appeared to enjoy the experience.

My second real memory of her, however, was of her final appearance at a Degree Ceremony in 1985 when she performed the same service for my eldest son. She had already announced her retirement as Chancellor and, in her address to the Congregation, whether intentionally or otherwise, her remarks, to me anyway, lacked the customary royal graciousness. She seemed to be saying that she was not sorry that her term as Chancellor was coming to an end, because she had seen more than enough of the hospitals, factories and other institutions of North Staffordshire. No doubt it was time to move on. She had, after all, given thirty years of service to Keele, and that, "Must we?" had surely not lost its chill."

John "Syd" Sutton, Class of 1958

"I wrote horoscopes (and other things) for the student newspaper Concourse and in 1974-75 became one of the editors. I was introduced as the horoscope expert to Princess Margaret on one of her visits during this period. As we shook hands I said: "Would you like me to tell you your future?" She replied: "I'd rather not know." Probably very wise."

Pratima Sarwate, Class of 1976

"I had several fascinating encounters with Princess Margaret Rose and her wonderful Mother, but this story relates only to the Princess, and then only tangentially. When I was elected President of the Union in early 1965, Cygnet - the "independent" campus newspaper - ran with a headline proclaiming "Proctor Wins New Suit". This was thought to be woundingly ironic but was entirely accurate since the President's allowances included a small sum, intended to allow the President of the Union to appear at Royal Balls in a dinner jacket if no better. My problem was that when elected I had no suit of any kind, nor had I ever possessed one. My Mother as ever came to the rescue. She purchased an ancient double-breasted dinner jacket from Madame Virtue's extremely downmarket Theatrical Costumiers on Park Row in Bristol (so downmarket that my school preferred to send to London to dress me up as Autolycus, Jack Worthing and the like) and sent it to Keele wrapped up in a brown paper parcel with great quantities of string.

The suit fitted reasonably well, although the trousers were far too long. I borrowed a pair of black shoes from a neighbour in Lindsay A block, and hoped all would be well. It was at this point that my Mother's string came in handy. An hour or so before I was due on parade for HRH and Tony Armstrong-Jones I realised that I had nothing with which to hold up the excessively long trousers of my double-breasted dinner jacket. I rushed down to the Union shop, but sadly discovered that they weren't currently promoting braces, rushed back to A block, and fitted myself out with the help of my Mother's string. I think I can fairly claim to have been the only man ever in history to dance with a Princess of the Realm while tied up with string. The strings bit horribly into my shoulders and were extremely uncomfortable as the long night wore on worse I had to keep my jacket buttoned up throughout the night for fear of revealing the true state of my wardrobe. But at least HRH and I had a few things in common: not least a shared addiction to unlimited cigarettes and frequently refilled gins-and-tonic.

We got on famously and were both happy to abandon the ballroom for the discreet lounge then retained on the top floor of the Union Building for presidential entertainment."

Bill Proctor, Class of 1968, President of the Union 1965-66

"How beautiful Princess Margaret was - rather like Elizabeth Taylor. She chain-smoked Chesterfields which could only be purchased in Manchester. A Lady in Waiting was always present with an ashtray into which the Princess would knock off the ash without looking! She blew the smoke out of the corner of her mouth so as to avoid blowing smoke all over other people. It actually meant that her beautiful face would contort frequently. HRH was imperious! The Police Inspectors who protected her treated a visit to Keele as a "jolly" - knowing, hoping that she was in safe hands. One Inspector was very gay and invited myself and others to parties in London! I have to admit on the second occasion much sherry was channelled into a student party after Princess Margaret departed - in the early hours. She gave the impression that she genuinely enjoyed her Keele visits and was able to relax. Her husband Antony Armstrong-Jones who drank Scotch and bitter lemon was also appreciative. During my Reed College Exchange, I gained much kudos announcing that I had been private barman to the younger sister of the Queen - HRH Princess Margaret!"

Peter Humber, Class of 1961

"I had the honour of meeting the Princess and then dancing the Foxtrot with her. She was extremely beautiful and charming and that occasion remains a highlight of my life."

David Thorne, Class of 1959

"My story is a brief one. I saw her at the annual Keele Ball dancing with the President of the Student Union. She was wearing a gold dress. I remember being surprised at how short she was a very petite woman. One of the academic staff told me at the time that she enjoyed kicking off her shoes and hanging out with the staff at the Geography Department."

Brian Straight, Class of 1978

Photo left: Princess Margaret is introduced to incoming SU President Malcolm Clarke by outgoing President John Harris, in 1967

su-comm-ball-j-harris-margaret "The foreign students were invited to be presented to the Chancellor at the Royal Ball in December of 1967. We were given some lessons in protocol for meeting with a member of the royal family: how to bow, who should offer a hand to shake, when to speak, etc. I was living on a strict budget but I bought a new suit for the occasion. We were arranged in a queue at the entrance just inside the Student Union Building. The Princess arrived and looked radiant although I was astonished at how short she was. I wasn't unusually tall but I might have fallen over had I bowed low enough to situate her higher than I. She offered her gloved hand and said "Good evening" to me in a grave if not slightly disdainful tone. It was over in seconds and she ascended the staircase to the ballroom. I understand that any of us could have signed up to dance with her but almost no one did. This meant that "God" Smart, President of the Union, who was well over 6 ft. tall, danced with her. They made an odd couple, to say the least."

Mark T Wright, US exchange student, 1968

"A very elegant, fun-loving lady who liked Dimple scotch whisky."

Tim Gibbs, Class of 1970

"I was working behind the bar during the annual ball attended by HRH (1970 I think) when it transpired (presumably via one of the flunkeys attending her) that she was about to run out of Rothmans, which were not stocked in the Uni as they were way too expensive for students. Someone had to be dispatched to Newcastle to find an 'outer' of 200 to get her through the evening; never did find out if the Uni was reimbursed for this (Royalty famously not carrying cash)."

Ian Clark, Class of 1972

"In 1965 or 1966, I had the 'job' of guarding the two single toilets on the same floor as the 'ballroom' so that they were only available to Princess Margaret. I was approached by a large man to whom I refused entry. He introduced himself as royal bodyguard Chief Inspector Crocket. He swept past me saying, 'Tony and I have p****d under many a bush together'. No contest."

David Nelson, Class of 1968

"I was the (somewhat reluctant) clarinet in a wind quintet that met regularly and included Professor Brooke on the bassoon. We were engaged to serenade Princess Margaret at her accommodation after a Keele ball she was attending. It didn't happen, I think because she declined the offer - classical music evidently not her thing."

Clarissa Dorner (King), Class of 1966

"Of the times I saw Princess Margaret at Keele I particularly remember her at a Ball at Trentham Hall (Summer 1985 or 86?) and all the security! She turned up in a lovely Gold Rolls Royce with Police Outriders and the Royal Protection guys were in evidence. She was on the top table wreathed in smoke and was obviously enjoying a drink of wine or gin. When the band started after the main meal she came on to lead the first dance but was a little wobbly. The Chair of the Federation of Conservative Students told me later that he had had to hold her steady on the Dance Floor! I believe the Ball was her last such formal occasion as Chancellor? A lovely and memorable evening for many reasons, not least of which was my search for a second-hand Dinner Jacket and Bow Tie in Newcastle."

Leo Hamburger, Class of 1987

"I was presented to HRH as editor of the student magazine 'Cum Grano,' and programmed to dance with her. But the schedule ran late, and although I chatted with the princess for about 20 minutes, I did not dance with her on that occasion. But I did dance with her at three or more other Keele Royal Balls until my girlfriend graduated in July 1962. I was a good ballroom dancer (a show-off) and I think I was therefore selected repeatedly to partner the Princess in the 'Paul Jones' numbers. Princess Margaret recognised me - she knew me."

Ted Lambton, Class of 1960

"I was quite merry after several drinks and was ushered away to meet the princess I thought that it might be for my volunteer work as rag secretary or being on the University Union Catering and Buildings Committee or maybe even for having been chairman of the Biology Society. But no... I was introduced as being Professor Devons' daughter. My father was a nuclear scientist who had emigrated to lecture at Columbia University New York and had studied physics at Cambridge under Rutherford and J J Thompson. She had very thick make-up, and led our short conversation by asking me where I was going on holiday I was trying hard to suppress my giggles as a friend had told me that she had visited Keele with her own toilet seat. The whole occasion seemed very surreal."

Sue Gil (Devons), Class of 1963

"I was one of the 1981-2 Committee who refused to meet her at the 'Royal Ball' during our year in office. I believe she and the flunkies drank their way through the entire profits for the night during the hour and a half they were on campus. They sank £102 of booze and this was in the days when a pint was 50p. The £102 figure is in the Union Treasurer's report in the copy of Relayer I've just checked. The Royal Ball proved very expensive and nearly cost us money."

Peter Roberts, Class of 1983

princess-margaret-graduation-1983 "The Royal Ball at Christmas 1982 I think when we all had to put on out DJ's and ball gowns as Princess Margaret was attending. I remember being in the main ballroom, walking backwards whilst talking to my friends, when I caught out of the corner of my eye a group of people walking towards me. I had to stop quite quickly or else I would have walked straight into Princess Margaret, who was not the tallest person. I also received my degree from her in 1983."

Alan Green, Class of 1983

princess-margaret-graduation-group-1983 "The formidable Eileen Rolfe (Domestic Bursar) organised Royal visits. My own favourite memory is from the Royal Ball in the Union. The toilet on the top floor was set aside for the exclusive use of HRH, and we had to pay someone to guard it all night to ensure no-one else used it. On the day Eileen turned up with a pile of toilet paper of the highest quality for it which she had personally hand-folded! She also told us in no uncertain terms, that she would not be amused if, after the ball, the toilet seat went missing as someone's souvenir. In the event, much to our amazement, HRH went through the whole night without having need of the facilities, so Eileen's paper went unused and there was no incentive for anyone to nick the seat. Happy days!"

Malcolm Clarke Class of 1969

Punk Princess?

"I remember Princess Margaret joined in at one of the Student union balls - dancing fairly wildly -a great sport. I vaguely recall it as being a punk rock song, but I could be mixing that up with another event at the SU! It would have been between 1977 -1980 while I was a student."

Angela Lawrence, Class of 1980

Graduation 1983-style

‌‌"I remember getting my degree from Princess Margaret and disco dancing with her! Anyway, I thought you may wish to see these photos I have of her. They were taken by my boyfriend at the time who was a good photographer and had permission from the Uni to attend the degree ceremony and take the photos."

Caroline Sene (Shannon) (1983)

margaret-1983-caroline shannon Three photos from the 1983 ceremony with permission from Caroline Sene. Above: Princess Margaret waits with the assembled ceremonial group; below: Princess Margaret confers Caroline Shannon's degree.

"I graduated in 1983 and received my degree from Princess Margaret. I remember we were all instructed beforehand not to grip her hand at all due to the amount of hands she would be shaking. She was also absolutely tiny - she wore platform heels to give her a bit more height!"

Bianca Connor, Class of 1983‌

"In 1977 my FY year at Keele HRH was coming to the Christmas Ball but some inept surveillance work by Special Branch "tapping up" the then SU Treasurer for info on potential "trouble makers" resulted in his resignation and the withdrawal of the invitation. To invite or not invite HRH to a Christmas ball became a topic most years but it wasn't till my SU sabbatical year that the invitation was passed at a UGM. The motion was nothing to do with me, I was neutral to mildly against. I was the one who had to do the inviting, however. So, HRH came to the ball. I met her once, perhaps twice again during my sabbatical. I thought we got on well enough. She enjoyed a drink and a smoke. I had been told she was a good dancer while I am rubbish."

Mark Thomas, Class of 1981; SU President 1981-1982

"This cutting from the Sheffield 'Star' (right) is entitled 'The Princess and the Rose'. At my graduation in 1982 we and guests were bused to the Victoria Hall in Hanley. Each graduand had to file across the stage in front of HRH Princess Margaret, Chancellor, to have their degree conferred upon them. One student produced a single red rose and presented it to HRH much to her surprise and then delight and much to the approval of the graduates and guests. It was only when I returned to my home in Sheffield that I saw this article about the event - I did not know the student himself."

Steve Barks (1982)

princess-rose The article reads, in part "Sheffield student Neil Fisher (1982) became a Prince Charming when he saw Princess Margaret in distress. For when he saw the Princess tiring during a marathon awards ceremony, he stepped up and gave her a red rose,... He picked up the rose from a table decoration and handed it over... She smiled, took the rose and said "Thank you."... Princess Margaret, Chancellor of the University, carried the rose during the rest of the ceremony and was seen to be still holding it when she left."

"How times have changed. HRH was not well thought of in my time. At the time Keele was having to contend with a one-third cut in its UGC budget. The Student's Union hoped HRH would perhaps use her influence on our behalf. This was not forthcoming. So. A friend of mine, Mark Bartholomew, and I in the summer term of 1982 drafted a motion to a Union General Meeting calling for the Keele SU to unilaterally withdraw recognition of HRH as the University Chancellor and mandating the Union to organise an election for a successor. It got all sorts of 'negative' press (Daily Mail, Daily Express etc frothing at the mouth) and resulted in the then Vice-Chancellor David Harrison writing to me informing me that he held me 'personally responsible' for the publicity. I think a lot of us at the time were a little embarrassed that HRH had any association with Keele at all. Her involvement was nominal, to say the least. I attended the 'Royal Ball' of 1981 at which I remember watching her dance with SU President Mark Thomas."

Mark Ellicott, Class of 1986; Union Officer 1986-1987

"In 1976, prior to the graduation ceremony, my flat, which I shared with Sylvia Morris (Tomkins), Elaine Killerby (Smythe) and the late Sue Chapman in Barnes J Block, was chosen for a visit by Princess Margaret. We were briefed on how to address her, curtsey and it was made clear that we should not to speak unless spoken to. Princess Margaret viewed our kitchen - living area as well our individual bedrooms and was charming whilst retaining a distinctive regal presence. The ceremony itself, of course, took place in the blistering summer of 1976 and I recall that we all suffered dressed in our gowns, not least Princess Margaret who glistened with perspiration as she left the stage. Interestingly, the Birmingham Post, which reported on her visit, highlighted that, after student protests over noisy crickets were unheeded, the visit of Princess Margaret heralded the arrival of three van loads of Rentokil employees to silence the offenders. I have to say, however, that I do not recall this at all."

Alison Walton (Broome), Class of 1976

"I remember her smoking during my entire graduation ceremony at Kings Hall in 1980. I guess people smoked more in those days. I don't think she wanted to even be there by the bored look on her face. I can't blame her for that after sitting through one as an Open University senator. As far as history reveals she was perhaps a black sheep of the family and probably would have been fun to know. However, the institution that she represented (royalty) is not something I supported then or now. I expect she would have been interesting to know!"

Alex Hunt, Class of 1979

"I graduated in 1978. At the King's Hall. It all went smoothly and I was pleased to receive my degree from Princess Margaret. However, there was some nervousness as the previous year she had messed up her speech. I could say that during the period I was there it was wonderful to have such a colourful and obviously very well-known Royal as our Chancellor. I'm very proud still of the BA and Cert Ed I received. I was talking to a relative last week who lectures at Manchester University. She hadn't realised I'd been to Keele. She said Keele has a great reputation at her university for Health Care and Medicine. It's so good to see Keele come up so far whilst retaining its very special and distinguishing characteristics."

Paul McCarthy, Class of 1978

"I graduated in 1978. I remember her smiling at me, but it was a diffident smile. I felt a bit sorry for her at the time, having to sit there with all those loutish students passing in front of her. She was quite a little lady too..."

Richard Berry, Class of 1978

"She pulled out of the 1981 summer graduation ceremony due to a 'cold' so unfortunately I never did get to see or meet her. I believe the then Vice-Chanceller confired my degree. However, I recall the real reason was due to perceived indiscretions by either herself or other members of the royal family - however I can't remember the precise events and can find nothing out, so I would imagine it's long been forgotten. Hopefully some other 1981 graduates have longer memories than mine! Richard Eldridge, Class of 1981

I have a vivid memory of my close encounter in 1963. The then Vice-Chancellor, Dr Taylor, approached me one day and asked if I would be escort and table companion to Princess Margaret at her forthcoming visit to Keele. I was happy to accept, and a few days later I received a very official looking pass to the Clock House from Staffordshire Police. On approaching the Clock House on the visit evening I was struck by the large number of police in the bushes and shadows, something most unusual in those very relaxed and informal days at Keele. It was a bit spooky. However there was a great contrast on entering. Nothing could have been more easy and friendly than when I was introduced to the Princess and her then husband Tony Armstrong-Jones.
I have read that Princess Margaret very much enjoyed her chancellorship of Keele and took a close interest in her role. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that this was serious and worthwhile, while her press image was not the best. My impression of spending three hours as her escort and table companion was of someone of high intelligence, sharp wit, a strong force expecting to get her way, but above all someone totally in awe of, and full of admiration of her sister.
At supper we talked a lot, including about music and theatre which she clearly enjoyed. We had both recently seen "Cranks' in London, a mould-breaking review, and she got very animated and excited talking it through in detail. I will never know whether the slightly different food she had was because there was a security taster, or because she was used to asking for what she wanted, but it was a memorable evening"

John Mosesson, Class of 1965

"Both I and Anne Pearson, who was to become my future wife, received our degrees from Princess Margaret."

Jim Docking, Class of 1958

"During her visit to the University HRH paused at and commented with interest on the yoghurt display in the new shop in the Student Union building."

Fred Huganir, Class of 1976