In 1954, the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II undertook a royal tour of the colonies to meet her new subjects. She was accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, and the usual bevy of ladies in waiting and staff. The Tour, the debut novel by Transmission Films producer and film distributor Andrew Mackie fictionalises this journey from the point of view of two young women who have been hired for this journey.
Twins, Violet and Daisie Chettle, have recently lost both their parents. Their mother was the only victim of the Great Fog of London who did not die of hypoxia; instead, she was hit by a bus whilst out with Daisie looking for a missing pet rabbit. Their father, who died some time later, died of lung issues stemming from exposure to the fog.
As twins often are in books, the two girls are as different as chalk and cheese. Violet is the good, dutiful daughter who immediately goes out and finds work for herself after their father’s passing. She becomes a maid at Lady Althorpe’s London home, quickly learning how to behave, and never to question why an unmarried housekeeper is referred to as ‘Mrs’.
But Daisie, who was always Daddy’s Girl, is slower to find work that she would deign to perform. Daisie is supposedly the ‘fun’ twin, but she’s also the nastier of the two. And, though she is constantly doing the wrong thing, she always seems to win through. When the girls meet an attractive (but extremely rude) young man named Bill at the cinema, it is Daisie and not Violet to whom he is drawn – despite the fact that the twins are identical.
The romance is short lived, as Daisie (now also working for Lady Althorpe) is invited to accompany their employer on the Royal Tour, as she is in fact one of the Queen’s chief ladies in waiting. When Althorpe’s first choices, and then one of her second, fail to adapt to the various inoculations required to travel so widely abroad, Violet too is invited. And, so they set off, and disaster after royal disaster ensues.
There were a number of things which kept me from being fully immersed in this book. Touted as perfect for fans of The Crown, I was struck by the disparity in depths of the two. While The Crown uses cleverly structured episodes to make a story about Britain’s most privileged family into the story of a nation, The Tour feels familiar and somewhat more narrow in its focus.
I was immediately wary of the opening chapter, when the death of the Chettle’s mother seemed to follow too closely to the Great Fog episode of The Crown, in which Venetia Scott (Churchill’s fictional aide) is also killed when she is hit by an unseen bus. It was perhaps this similarity which made it difficult for me to sympathise with Daisie – who blames herself for the accident – throughout the book.
Likewise, the novel is structured as a series of episodes told from the twins’ alternating points of view. But, while Violet seems to be very relatable in her struggle to win through when everything seems to be going wrong for her, Daisie is entitled and cruel to her sister, even when it is her eyes the reader is seeing through. The narrative of one twin being the pretty one and the other one being the ‘good’ but downtrodden one is used too often for the characters to not be more fully developed.
True royalists will most likely delight in getting to experience the royal tour from the inside, and will enjoy the way that Mackie has played with the historical record. There are moments of levity and absurdity within the book, and a central mystery involving a long lost aunt which will also appeal to those looking for a light and quick historical romp.