Christmas Day “Queens”

The year was 1965. There were ten of us. We had been selected to be ‘Queen’ for four-and-a-half minutes on Christmas Day that year. I couldn’t contain my excitement!

Our voices would be heard reading Queen Elizabeth’s speech in our own languages – Swahili, Italian, Russian, Turkish, Portuguese, Spanish, Malay, Chinese, Greek and Persian.

The other nine ladies were all members of the BBC Overseas Service. I was included by virtue of my husband’s job with the BBC Far Eastern Services.

As Philip Jackson wrote in the Daily Mail, the idea was to read the speech in the way the Queen would, if she could speak the language. The difficult part was getting just the right amount of mimicry into it. Too much and it might turn out a la stage, television and film actress Eleanor Bron, and that would never do!

We were each handed a sealed envelope marked “Confidential”. Inside was a copy of the Queen’s speech in English. It was our job to translate it into our own language.

When he met with the ladies, Jackson said he found some of the them were impressed by the role, some nervous, and some downright blasé about having been chosen for the job. Giovanna Mogil of the Italian Section had done it before. “Just another job”, she told Jackson, with a shrug of her shoulders. Nina Dimitrievitch of the Russian Section was also an old hand at the game but she thoroughly enjoyed it “because the Russian people are very interested in the royal family”.

Nineteen-year-old Athina Tsitsis from Greece, who had lived in London for six years and admitted that her English was better than her Greek, was doing it for the first time. She had been practising hard. “The secret of a successful interpretation is to study the Queen’s way of talking and attempt to talk in the same manner”, she explained to Jackson. “I will have to talk more slowly than I usually do and be serious and dignified.”

When time came for me to record my speech, I closely followed Athina’s sound advice. In the end we all got it right, so right, we were told, that in a lot of the countries, the listeners were quite convinced it was Queen Elizabeth herself talking their language.

20130728-131711.jpg
The BBC’s Christmas Day “Queens”. I am seated second left.
The full “royal” line-up : Front row – Esin Ongorn (Turkish), Marina Samad (Malayan), Maria Teresa Ousa (Portuguese), Zeyna Seif Hamoan (Swahili), Nina Dimitrievitch (Russian), Giovanna Mogil (Italian).
Back row : Frances Kwan Lowe (Chinese), Athina Tsitsis (Greek), Edurne Agos (Spanish), Parvin Sarfi (Persian) – Daily Mail, December 21, 1965

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