Madeline Clark, the daughter of former Daily Mail journalist Harry Procter, tells the story of the night her father and a group of other Fleet Street journalists managed to gatecrash Prince Philip’s stag night.
If my dad, Harry Procter, were alive today, I have no doubt he would be relishing the opportunity to re-tell the story of how he managed to “gatecrash” Prince Philip’s private stag party while working as a Daily Mail reporter in the 1940s.
The private party, the night before Prince Philip’s marriage to the then future queen, was supposed to be a secret affair. But the news was leaked, and Fleet Street’s finest – including my dad and Daily Mail photographer George Elam – were rushed across to the Dorchester Hotel. Frustratingly, they weren’t allowed a step further than the entrance lobby.
As other disgruntled journalists and photographers gathered outside, Harry hatched a plan. He walked over to a nearby telephone box and made a cheeky telephone call to Lord Louis Mountbatten.
He politely asked whether there was any way the Daily Mail could be granted permission to take a group photograph of Prince Philip, Lord Mountbatten and their naval colleagues as it was such an “historic naval occasion”. Lord Mountbatten relayed the message to Prince Philip and, much to their amazement, they were told “come up Daily Mail”.
The other journalists soon got wind of what had happened and complained bitterly (as my dad said later, they had a point). At the end of the evening, a few other journalists and photographers were eventually allowed in, dashing George Elam’s hopes of getting the scoop of his career as his photographs would no longer be exclusive.
But by all accounts a jolly time was had by all – particularly when Prince Philip, in a playful mood, took hold of one of the photographer’s cameras, pushed them all onto a settee and insisted on taking a photo of the press. “You’ve had your fun,” he said. “Now let me have a go!” Harry later recalled.
Harry and George Elam were adamant it was George’s camera Prince Philip used and, apparently, George treasured that photograph afterwards. But others begged to differ. During the confusion, it seemed, no one could be quite sure whose camera was borrowed by whom.
But the fun and games didn’t end there. The story goes that so many photos had been taken that a pile of used flash bulbs had accumulated. In a mischievous mood, Prince Philip grabbed a handful and began pelting George and Harry with their own used flash bulbs. “One thing I discovered,” Harry wrote afterwards, was that Prince Philip “was a darn good shot with a flash bulb”.
Harry, who died in 1965 aged 48, tells the full story in his autobiography The Street of Disillusion. Harry was an investigative journalist who spent eight years with the Daily Mail before joining the Sunday Pictorial (now the Sunday Mirror). He also worked for the Daily Mirror.