Heritage

See Rare Photos from Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret's WWII-Era Christmas Plays

The pair's productions made the holidays during wartime a bit more bearable.
IMAGE GETTY IMAGES / LISA SHERIDAN
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During World War II, young royals Princess Margaret and Princess Elizabeth were tucked away in Windsor. To pass the time, they made their own fun—especially around the holidays.

One activity stands out, if only for its production value: the royal sisters' Christmastime plays. It was 11-year-old Margaret who first proposed the idea of putting on holiday pantomimes to Royal School head Hubert Tannar. She got the idea from an earlier school concert that benefitted the Royal Household Wool Fund, an organization which provided comforts to WWII soldiers.


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Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother (left), Princess Margaret (center left), and Princess Elizabeth (center right) during a rehearsal for Cinderella in 1941.

Tannar himself wrote and produced what would eventually be four plays, staged each year from 1941 to 1944. The first production was Cinderella, followed by Sleeping Beauty, Aladdin, and finally Old Mother Red Riding Boots.

All four fell into the distinctly British category of the pantomime (or "panto"), a comedic, musical performance staged during the holidays. It's commonplace for roles to be gender-swapped in a panto, and indeed, Elizabeth played male roles in three of the four plays: Prince Florizel in Cinderella, Prince Salvador in Sleeping Beauty, and the titular role in Aladdin. Her younger sister Margaret, however, exclusively appeared in women's roles.


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Hubert Tannar (left) leads Princess Elizabeth (second right) and Princess Margaret (right) in a rehearsal for Aladdin.

Elizabeth's performance as Aladdin even has a place in her love story with Prince Phillip. During his Christmastime visit with the royal family, he watched the then-Princess perform in the panto. According to Time, it wasn't long after that Elizabeth's grandmother wrote to a friend about their budding relationship, saying that the pair had "been in love for the past eighteen months. In fact, longer, I think."

Photographs of the four pantos, as well as an archive of scripts, programs, and more, surfaced in 2013 when they went up for auction. The historical treasures were a part of the estates of Hubert Tannar, who passed away long after the war, and Cyril Woods, who in his youth starred alongside Elizabeth and Margaret.


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Princess Elizabeth as Prince Charming acts alongside Princess Margaret as Cinderella.

Woods went on to work for the Crown Estate Office at Windsor up until his death in 2001, and according to the Daily Mail, enjoyed an enduring friendship with the Queen. In 1990, the monarch even requested that Woods write down his memories of the pantos. His recollections, titled "The Royal Pantomimes," are now a part of the Royal Archives.

This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.

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