Fergie, Andy, L.A. Still Loves You

Times Staff Writer

The Southern California visit of the Duke and Duchess of York has been profiled and pounded by two London newspapers as a brash, vulgar, excessive, weak-humored exhibition by two royals flushed with a touch of lower middle class.

Now Los Angeles has put up its dukes--as if in defense of its own youngsters, and certainly in protection of a young couple it clearly has adopted, received and perceived as crown jewels.

“I’m offended by the criticism, absolutely,” snapped the city official.


“Awful,” sniffed the civil servant.

“Bloody awful,” snorted the expatriate journalist.

And Bee Lavery, the city’s chief of protocol, said she may talk to Mayor Bradley (“he found her (the Duchess of York) great fun and by the end of dinner they were calling each other ‘Tom’ and ‘Sarah’ ”) about sending letters to the editors of London’s Sunday Times and the Observer.

Few Hearts and Flowers

These were the weeklies--both senior, generally respected newspapers of national distribution--that last week attacked the royal visit of Prince Andrew and his wife, the former Sarah Ferguson, to Southern California with more vinegar than a lorry load of fish and chips.

The Duke of York, said the Sunday Times, “was an overanimate young man with a carnivorous grin who, no matter how many dinner jackets he wore, would still look like a Third Division footballer (soccer player) out for a good time at the Hippodrome.”

The duchess, continued the censure, “looked as if she’d just won third prize for her Carmen Miranda impersonation in an end-of-pier show at some forgotten resort.”

Both, said the Observer, proved it is quite possible for noblesse to be too obliging.

And if there was one incident that capped Britannia’s blush, noted both newspapers, it occurred at the black-tie UK/LA Gala at the Biltmore Hotel. A partying politician, Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles), had cried from the floor: “We love you, Fergie.” Fergie tossed back from the podium: “I’ll see you later.”

This--plus the well-photographed beaning of her personal secretary with a breakaway bottle at a special-effects studio--were considered by both newspapers to be stand-up material worthier of Benny Hill than the Duchess of York.

In Los Angeles, however, it was Fleet Street’s carping that was considered no laughing matter.

‘Second-Hand Perspective’

A spokesman for the British Consulate pointed out that both stories had been written “from a second-hand perspective” by reporters who had not accompanied the royal tour. Further, their comments “did not reflect what I took to be the consensus among the British and American press that did cover the tour, who were here in Los Angeles.”

And so said two British newsmen--both based in Los Angeles --who covered every leg and breath of the tour.

“From everything I saw, I thought they did a fantastic job,” noted Terry Willows, who reported the visit for London’s Today. “They put a lot of hard work and time into it and got a great reception everywhere.”

Was Willows offended or embarrassed by any act or antic of the couple? “Absolutely not. Everybody I saw, all the British people I saw--reporters, photographers, spectators--felt a sense of pride rather than shame.”

The Carmen Miranda reference, several observers of the tour said, was a blunt affront to the royal dress sense. Even, one said, to fans of the late Carmen Miranda.

“Criticizing the Duchess of York’s fashions was completely undeserved,” said a spokesman for Bullocks Wilshire, a sponsor of several tour events. “She dresses with a conservative base with a great deal of flair, especially for color. Her style is refined, in very good taste . . . she dresses with substance, elegance and sophistication.”

City protocol expert Lavery was a little more prosaic: “Her dinner dress was gorgeous and a (Yves) St. Laurent and I would die to have it.”

Jill Amadio, a public relations consultant for several British companies in California, attended five functions with the royals and acknowledged that Fergie “was dressed differently from what Americans know of royal family fashions.

“But I thought her outfits were lovely, quite elegant. I loved her hats, her snood, the pins that said ‘L.A.’ . . . Boy, I was proud of her.”

John Hiscock, a correspondent for the London Daily Mail, attended the Biltmore dinner and said the Duchess of York “did a very good job . . . she won over a lot of people, she was lighthearted, funny, natural and very down to earth.”

Yet he could see where such radiance might cause problems among rigid monarchists who still believe royalty should be seen, not heard, and greeted at reverent, silent distance from beneath deep bows and sinking curtsies.

“I think she (Duchess of York) represents the new royals, very much so, and the new Britain and the trend toward more informality when the royals meet with the public,” Hiscock continued. “That’s the way things are going . . . .”

At best, several British newsmen agreed, the critical commentaries were a genuine reflection of this period of transition for the royal personae.

At worst, others suggested, the hacking was nothing more than cheap shots by Sunday newspapers which traditionally (and often inventively) search for the new angle, the more outrageous, slant on days-old stories already milked dry by Britain’s daily press.

Or as Trevor Valentine, executive director of the British-American Chamber of Commerce put it: “This drooping down of once respectable newspapers to the level of the rest of the tabloids.”

Valentine said that he also was interviewed by the London Sunday Times as part of its general coverage of the royal tour and the UK/LA arts festival. He said his “general and quite positive comments” were published as “terrible negatives . . . outright lies attributed to me.”

‘Unqualified Success’

What was ignored, he said, was that the royal couple had visited Los Angeles “to put Britain in the forefront of people’s minds in America . . . that the (UK/LA) festival . . . was an unqualified success.”

On the other hand, tour newsmen said, nobody could deny the news of Fergie’s exchange with Torres. Nor its public interpretations, pro or con. A member of British royalty had handled a heckler with all the cool of an English summer.

“I think it is the first time that anyone has seen any member of the royal family dealing with a heckler rather than just ignoring one,” Hiscock commented. “It came as a bit of a surprise to even veteran royal watchers.

“But I think she did the right thing, passed it over lightly and moved on and handled it very well.”

Ruth Elwell, wife of Phil Elwell, British-born owner of the Ye Old King’s Head pub in Santa Monica, was at the dinner at the Biltmore. She applauded Fergie’s first-round knockout of Torres.

“There were 900 people there and it was the first time that the Duchess of York had spoken to so many. So her voice was quavering. But she was doing her best and there he (Torres) was saying: ‘We loooove yooooou, Ferrrrrrgie.’

“And he kept it up and she was losing her train of thought. She kept stopping. He was interrupting and there were people whispering and finally she turned to him and sorted him out.

“I didn’t think what she said was vulgar at all.”

Nor did Torres.

“Not at all,” he said several days later in a telephone interview from Sacramento. “I felt rather flattered . . . (also) extremely fortunate that I was able to spend even a short time in a conversation with the Duchess of York. I found her to be an absolutely enchanting, dynamic lady.”

He said he was “astonished” by the British press’s criticism of an incident where the Duchess of York displayed “a tremendous sense of bravado and an ability to connect with people.”

He said he hopes she wasn’t offended by him or his remark made in “the spirit of enthusiasm and affection.”

If he had to do again, would he withdraw the remark?

“That’s a good question. I don’t know.”