Friday, May 20th, 2022

Backstage Billy : the story of the QUEEN MOTHER’s loyal and faithfully queer butler


The British Monarchy has always been subjected to the worse gossipmongers.  In Tudor times that would have resulted in one losing one’s head.  But it wasn’t until the arrival of Diana Spencer at the Court in the 1980s that took the whole subject up to a whole different level.  Not only were the Family now considered fair game for the Tabloid press, but is was the start of a new culture where the Royals were now officially no longer off-limits From then on every story, wherever true or not, was shared as publicly as possible with not a single regard to any consequences.

Part of this new development should be blamed on the Establishment themselves surrounding the Palace and who were very inexperienced in the world of public relations thinking it way beneath them.  And we know om hindsight how they mistakenly allowed Diana’s marriage to become such a public spectacle and farce.

On the other hand, the Family and their close advisors are also not beneath creating their own rumors when they want to discredit anyone who has dared to ‘offend’ them.

The late William Fallon falls into this category when a UK Channel 4 documentary does something of a hatchet job of his time as the Queen Mother’s ‘right-hand man’ for some 50 years.  Fallon’s is a glorious story of a regal ‘upstairs and downstairs life’ that has all but disappeared these days.  The film is based on a memoir by  Tom Quinn in 2015 called Backstairs Billy: The Life of William Tallon, the Queen Mother’s Most Devoted Servant.  However with both Tallon and H.M both dead the documentary .seems to be based on gossip much more than fact.  It doesn’t stop it from making for compulsive viewing BUT we would have still liked to be able to separate fact from fiction.

Tallon came from a working-class family in the Midlands.  It was the early 1950s and Britain, still suffering from war rationing, looked up to the glamorous lifestyles of the Royal Family.  Aged just 15, he wrote to Buckingham  Palace looking for work and was rewarded with the post of a junior footman.  Two years later he was seconded to nearby Clarence House where the newly widowed Queen Mother was setting up her own Court. 

Tallon was part of a Clarence House staff of 30 spilt into two factions  The Upper House was made up of Officials who ran HM’s Diary and Business etc,  and Below Stairs who did the physical work to keep the House functioning.


Although homosexuality was still illegal back then it didn’t stop the Palace from hiring so many gay men to help QM.  Five years into his service, Tallon fell in love with Reg Wilcock a fellow footman, and they lived together as boyfriends for the next 50 years.


Over the years Tallon progressed to be the head of the household,  and Reg became his deputy.  It led to one commentator remarking they were two old queens working for a real old queen.


The very handsome Tallon was outrageously flamboyant and made all his work for the Queen Mother like one big theatrical production.  Sadly filmmaker  Stephen Finnigan has no witnesses to back him about this and we are left to judge from the archival footage and photographs. Finnigan does get one ex-disgruntled footman to relate to Tallon’s bullying of other staff and making unwanted passes at other staff members.  It sadly presents an unchallenged view of the possible seamier sie of Tallon’s nature.


However what is extremely clear is how very close he and the Queen Mother were, and not just because they were both big drinkers.  But also how he was entrusted to look after a very young Prince Charles and Princess Anne who would come to stay when the Queen went away on some official tour.  It was also the QM who managed to persuade Palace Officials to allow Tallon & Reg to move into the small gatehouse at Clarence Place and turn it into a real home.


In 1991 when the QM was already 90 years old Tallon slipped up nig time when he invited a young boy back to his house late one night.  The boy was an ex-rent boy and thief and his visit somehow made the front page of the tabloids.  Knives were sharpened by Official now determined to have Tallon fired, but the Queen Mother refused to agree.  She allegedly actually said …..how nice it was of Tallon to take him in from the rain.


Ten years later a very sick Princess Margaret died, followed very quickly by the Queen Mother who was aged 102.  By then Tallon had been with her for over 50 years ….. much longer than her late husband The King.


Now Tallon was really on his own (Reg had died 2 years previously)  and unable to cope in the real world. Despite the fact he was continuously stalked by the UK Press, to his credit he never spilled the beans once.  The film shows him now becoming a socialite on the London part scene, but also his sad rather ignominious end.  It was an end of an era on so many levels  but sadly not fitting for this queen amongst queens



Posted by queerguru  at  16:50

Genres:  documentary

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