Lionel's day of laughs (and a telling off) with the Duke, rooftop snipers and the SAS!

Torbay Weekly

It was day Lionel Digby was to remember for the rest of his life - a day of SAS men, rooftop snipers, a smile from the Queen and a tongue-in-cheek ticking off from Prince Philip.

The said death of the Duke of Edinburgh has brought the memories flooding back for history lover and well-known Torquay businessman Lionel who has also spent a lifetime with film stars and studios supplying all kinds of period costumes from his local hire shop.

The memorable day came in July, 1988, when the Royal couple were in Torbay to celebrate the 300-year anniversary of the landing of the Prince of Orange in Brixham in 1688.

Lionel and his 'team' were involved in a pageant as part of the celebrations. The IRA were active then and the security forces were taking no chances.

He says: "I, my sister Roberta, my son Lawson and three other members of the costume shop were dressed in military uniform of the period.

"The security was strong, with police and SAS everywhere. We had to be in Brixham before six in the morning, as the town was to be shut off before the arrival of the Queen and Prince Philip, who had come to watch the re-enactment of the landing and pageant on the Brixham fish quay.

"The current Prince of Orange was arriving by boat, and we were the guard of honour to escort him in a horse-drawn carriage from the pier to the pageant.

"As the Prince of Orange landed and came ashore, we had three actors with blank-firing muskets to fire a volley in the air. They were facing outwards from the Royal Box and I remember a security person saying to them: "'When you bring your guns up into the air and fire a volley, bring them back down and keep facing to the front. If one of you turns with a raised rifle that man up there will take you out.”

He pointed to a sniper on the roof of one of the buildings.

"During the performance I was also approached by a well-dressed gentleman who asked me who was in charge of the horse and carriage," said Lionel. "I told him that I was. He then pointed to a very large car with dark windows and said: "If you hear a siren, make sure you keep control of that horse and carriage, because I've got to get that car from here to there.

"He was pointing to where the royal party were sitting on a rostrum. He must have been in their protection team."

After the pageant, the Queen and Prince Philip left for lunch on the Royal Yacht, which was in the bay. All those who took part in the pageant were told to line up on the quay, as they were then coming back to meet them

Lionel remembers: "The guard of honour, with me in charge, were the first in line. As the royals approached, I gave the command 'Present pikes'.

"My sword, which was resting on my shoulder, sharply came forward to the salute, but as I was wearing a very large bicorn hat, the blade caught the right hand corner of the hat and turned it sideways on my head.

"I will always remember the smile that broke out on the Queen's face, but she did not laugh as the Prince did."

He said the Prince spoke to his sister and asked: “Are you Dutch?” She replied like Eliza Doolittle: "Naaaahhh, I'm English!” which gave the Prince a laugh.

The Duke then turned to Lionel's son, Lawson, and joked: "“You haven't shaved this morning. On parade without shaving?”

Lawson replied: “What do you expect? We had to be here at five o'clock this morning!”  which also got a laugh from the Prince."

Lionel summed it up: "All in all, it was a very successful, long and enjoyable day."