Last Party at the Palace: High Society

Matthew Macfadyen narrated this Channel 4 Documentary in December 2007.

The Telegraph had the following to say about the Last Party at the Palace:

marking the 50th anniversary of the demise, in July 1958, of one of high society’s “most elaborate and archaic aristocratic ceremonies”. Namely, the presentation at court of the year’s fresh crop of debutantes, or marriageable young virgins of good breeding. For 200 years these curtseys before the monarch marked the beginning of the “Season”, the annual round of balls, parties and sporting events that for debutantes doubled as a four-month hunt for a husband with prospects and, preferably, a title. Why exactly the young Queen Elizabeth II decided the 1958 presentation should be the last was, oddly, not explored here. (Other than to quote her sister Princess Margaret’s opinion that “every tart in London is getting in on the act”.) Instead, the film fell back on familiar ground, opening out the subject to explore how it was representative of wider changes in society as a whole. So we heard for the gazillionth time how the postwar period, especially the 1960s, was a time of massive social upheaval. How all social certainties and the deference of centuries crumbled in the face of hairy young men with guitars and the advent of the mini skirt. And everyone became a rebel overnight. Some elements of the otherwise enjoyable film were fascinating: the rigidity of decorum, the social engineering, the sexual naivety, the incredibly low educational horizons that meant just four of that year’s 1,400 debutantes went on to university. Then there was the fact that two 1958 debutantes became very real rebels, one a leading communist (Teresa Hayter), another a convicted IRA art thief (Rose Dugdale). Others went on to careers on the catwalk, in art and writing – very admirable, though one suspects they might have been slightly less impressive had they been compared with the achievements of other less privileged women of the period. Damningly, not one of the 1958 debutantes interviewed bemoaned the passing of this most iconic of old ways. Here, it seems, was one “tradition” that could happily stay dead and buried.

2 Clips can be found on the Channel 4 website