The King and I: A Royal Suggestion

September 14, 2022

This is a true story (‘whatever you mean by true’, to adapt what the Prince of Wales said on a different matter. Some of the facts that follow can easily be checked).

My recollection begins with the visit some years ago of Charles, then Prince of Wales, now our new King, to Manchester. His journey was to include a visit to the University and to its Business School, where I was a junior lecturer at the time.

For the royal visit, the staff were deployed doing scholarly things around assorted class-rooms large and small according to student numbers.

I had the good fortune of being in a well-ventilated lecture room which could accommodate many more that the eight students taking my option on creative problem-solving. We were to demonstrate the Manchester Method of learning and problem-solving, working around a large A1-sized flip-chart, similar to those still found on easels outside meeting rooms during business conferences. 

The students were briefed to act as if they were not being scrutinised by the heir to the throne. Sniffer dogs had already confirmed that the room, like the rest of the building , held no bombs.

More or less on time, the door opened, and a large policeman with a large black beard loomed at the doorway. I recognised the figure of the Chief Constable, James Anderton, already a nationally known celebrity.

He scanned the room, and escorted in HRH and one of two other dignitaries. The students and I were fulfilling our ‘don’t notice the Prince’ act. 

The flip chart was filling up with ideas on the carefully selected topic ‘how to make city living more attractive‘.

The students were cheerfully adding ideas at a speed that forced me to abbreviate what was being called out, and act as an idea-warden holding out my non-writing arm to slow the flow of ideas. I sensed our time on stage was much shorter than Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame. Movements behind me suggested the show was coming to an end. The Chief Constable was preparing to usher out the royal group. But as he was leaving, the Prince of Wales intervened briefly, and pointed to me and then the flip chart. Time stood still. ‘Make architects live in the places they design’ he said, ‘Write it down.’

So I did. The illustrious guests departed. I am left with one regret…

I wish I had kept that piece of flip-chart paper.