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The Lord Chamberlain's Office is a department within the British Royal Household. It is presently concerned with matters such as protocol, state visits, investitures, garden parties, the State Opening of Parliament, royal weddings and funerals. For example, in April 2005 it organised the wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles. It is also responsible for authorising use of the Royal Arms.

Theatre censorship

The Lord Chamberlain's Office had a more significant role in British society prior to 1968, as it was the official censor for virtually all theatre performed in Britain. Commercial theatre owners were generally satisfied by the safety this arrangement gave them; so long as they presented only licensed plays they were effectively immune from prosecution for any offence a play might cause. There were campaigns by playwrights, however, in opposition to the Lord Chamberlain's censorship, such as those involving J. M. Barrie in 1909 and 1911.

By the 1960s, there were many playwrights and producer who wished to produce controversial works. Theatre companies such as the Royal Court Theatremarker came into open conflict with the Lord Chamberlain's Office. Sometimes they would resort to such measures as declaring themselves private clubs for the performance of certain plays. The Lord Chamberlain's Office technically had jurisdiction over private performances, but had generally avoided getting involved with bona-fide private clubs. The various activist groups did not actually come up with solid legal loopholes, but the publicity they generated eventually resulted in the abolition of the role of official censor.

One play which did eventually receive a license to be performed in a public theatre was Lady Chatterley, the dramatization by playwright John Harte of D. H. Lawrence's novel Lady Chatterley's Lover. It was licensed on 12 August 1960 to be performed at Wyndham's Theatre in London's West End—but only on the following strict conditions, failing which the producer was warned, the theatre could be closed down.

The following is the text of a letter sent to the producer, Miss Wauna Paul, on September 5 1961 as negotiations proceeded:

 Lord Chamberlain's Office
 St James's Palace, S.W.1.
       Dear Madam,
                       "Lady Chatterley"
           I am desired by the Lord Chamberlain to inform
       you that he is prepared to license the play "Lady
       Chatterley" subject to your undertaking to comply
       with his requirements noted on the annexed sheet.
           Where matter is to be substituted for that
       deleted, it must first be submitted to the Lord
       Chamberlain, and in any case I am to ask for the
       submission of the dialogue it is proposed to insert
       at III-4
                                   Yours faithfully

       Appendix to letter to Miss Wauna Paul
       Dated 5 September 1961
                       "LADY CHATTERLEY"
       The following is disallowed:
           Act II-6A. The word ' ..cunt.. '   (twice)
                       The phrases 'It's thee down there.
                       And what I get when I'm inside thee.
                       And what tha gets when I'm inside thee.'
           Act II-33. The words ' .. Sir John Thomas.'
           Act II-34. The word  ' .. maidenhair ..'
           Act II-36. The word  ' .. fucking ..'
           Act II-37. The word  ' .. fucking ..' (twice)
   An assurance is required that the stage directions given in
   the manuscript will be implicitly followed, and notably:
   (a) that they will not be exceeded by Connie and
       Mellors at Act II pages 4–5.
   (b) the MS at Act II pages 33–37 speaks of a hayloft
       and 'we see nothing but straw', with Connie wear-
       ing a slip. In this scene:
       (i) no bed either actual or makeshift will be
           allowed, the only covering being straw.
       (ii)Connie must never wear less than the stated
           slip, which must be opaque, cover her
           breasts and be of adequate length.
      (iii)Mellors must be reasonably clothed, at
           least in pants.
       (iv)the action between Connie and Mellors must
           not exceed that described in the stage
           directions submitted.

None of that was unexpected. But, in fact, John Harte had decided at the outset not to include the infamous four-letter words which, he felt, were not needed. On the contrary, they would be likely to receive unwanted laughter from audiences at the most inappropriate times, which would interrupt the play. Frieda Lawrence had raised no objections to their exclusion. The subject never even arose. But the charade had to be continued with The Lord Chamberlain's Office to ensure that certain incidents onstage would not be banned when the play transferred from The Arts Theatre (technically a membership club) to a public theatre. For example;

  "Aye!" says Mellors in Act II-26; sitting up, his chest bare.

That was not allowed:

  "Mellors must wear an upper garment which may be open to his chest."

And when Connie puts on her slip over her head:

  "Not allowed. Connie must throughout wear an upper garment completely covering her torso."

After they made love, Mellors was not allowed to stand by the door in his shirt and bare feet:

  "Disallowed. Mellors must wear under garments visible below his shirt."

When Connie starts to dress, hurriedly pulling on her stockings;

  "This dressing must not include putting on of drawers, which must be understood to be
on throughout."

The Assistant Comptroller went to great lengths on 10 October 1961 to ensure by letter that the Lord Chamberlain's wished would be carried out:

  "From what I say above" [regarding exposed chests, Connie putting her slip over her head,
completely covering her torso, Mellors wearing pants, and Connie getting dressed in classical
Arletty form - in her French movies - by pulling on her stockings, and not forgetting to pull on
her drawers]; "you will appreciate, and in fact I am to make quite plain to you, that the Lord
Chamberlain will not allow 'Mellors' and 'Connie' to appear to be together under a blanket
in a naked condition whether this actually is or is not so. In allowing them to appear on the
stage under a blanket the Lord Chamberlain is making a very definite concession, and because
of this he asks me to give a particular warning that no love making beyond that actually noted
in the Stage Directions submitted will be allowed."

The official license was signed by "Scarborough, Lord Chamberlain" (otherwise Lawrence Lumley, 11th Earl of Scarborough).

As the Lord Chamberlain is a part-time position the day-to-day work of the Office is conducted by the Comptroller of the Lord Chamberlain's Office.

List of Comptrollers


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