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Princess Margaret Tribute supplement: The Industrial Princess The Midland Connection; John Revill and Andrew Davies look at Princess Margaret's long association with and frequent visits to the region.

Byline: John Revill and Andrew Davies

Princess Margaret championed the arts and academia, industry and charities, children and young people in her long association with the Midlands As an enthusiastic patron of the arts, she opened Birmingham Rep theatre in 1971, and had been president of the Royal Ballet since before the time the Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet relocated and became Birmingham Royal Ballet in 1990.

Speaking yesterday, ballet chief executive Derek Purnell said the Princess would be greatly missed.

'She recognised the move to Birmingham as a great opportunity for the development of the company,' said Mr Purnell. 'She came to Birmingham fairly regularly to see the company performing and support various events.'

One of her earliest visits to the Midlands was a twoday visit to Birmingham and Walsall in May 1951.

The main shopping centre in Walsall became a mass of flags and bunting on her arrival for the unveiling of a war memorial, and she also visited a chain factory. The following day she was greeted by thousands of people at the British Industries Fair in Castle Bromwich - she was later dubbed the Industrial Princess thanks to her frequent visits to factories in the Midlands such as Land Rover in Solihull. The May visit also included laying the foundation stone for the College of Technology, Commerce, and Art at Gosta Green.

Nine years later, a suntanned and smiling princess returned to Birmingham, resplendent in her honeymoon outfit of a sunshine-yellow loose coat over a matching yellow silk dress.

She visited the Bishop of Birmingham, attended a youth rally at St Chad's Church In Rubery, then dropped in on a family living nearby.

In 1962 she returned to the Midlands for a whirlwind seven-hour visit to the Black Country with her husband Lord Snowdon.

The weather was so foggy the pair's plane had to be talked down by the control tower at Birmingham Airport as visibility was reduced to 200ft.

Also that year the princess, her husband, and the Queen attended the consecration of Coventry's ultramodern new Cathedral.

Princess Margaret constantly made headlines during her lifetime, but on one visit to Birmingham she saw how news was made.

The princess and Lord Snowdon arrived to open the new Birmingham Post and Mail building on October 26, 1965 - the first time a member of the Royal Family had opened a British newspaper office.

Sir Eric Clayson, then chairman of the newspaper group, greeted the royals and took them on a guided tour of the pounds 7.5 million premises in Colmore Row.

Princess Margaret's main duty was to press the button to start the giant new rotary presses.

She was taken down to the main operational level - where the lines of presses, each 80ft long and 34ft wide, print copies of The Birmingham Post, Evening Mail and Sunday Mercury.

Mr R W Briginshaw, General Secretary of the National Society of Operative Printers and Assistants, asked her to accept a union card.

Then an honorary member, the princess pressed the button to start the presses rolling.

But when Lord Snowdon attempted to push the 'speed up' button he was told: 'You can't touch that - you haven't got a trade union card.'

Lord Snowdon reached into his pocket and produced his own National Union of Journalists card and pushed the button firmly.

In October 1971 the theatre and ballet-loving princess attended a royal gala opening of the new pounds 1 million Rep theatre.

The princess also had a long association with the University of Keele, and was its chancellor between 1956 and 1986. In June 1977 she conferred an honorary degree on the former Home Secretary Roy Jenkins, and also saw the electronic music workshop, where she heard music based on the song of the hump-backed whale.

Her association with Keele University was not all plain sailing, and for three years she was banned as students feared special branch investigation whenever she visited. She eventually returned in December 1981 and danced the night away at the Christmas ball.

In July 1978 she got away from her illness and divorce worries to visit the World Powerboat Championships at Chasewater, Staffordshire.

She took everything in her stride - including mud several inches deep, and the miraculous survival of Italian racer Renato Molinari after his boat flipped over and broke up just yards from her.

In April 1981 she attended a charity lunch to help raise money for a special leukaemia unit at East Birmingham Hospital, where she presented cheques for pounds 250,000. When Margaret came to Worcestershire in April 1986 to open a new council house for Bromsgrove District Council, she went on a walkabout among the 600-strong crowd - but the visit cause a row when a girl from Anglesey was chosen to present the princess with flowers rather than a local girl.

In July 1987 she met Guides from all over the world at Blackwell Court Scouting Centre, near Bromsgrove, where she helped celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Girl Guides Association Ranger Section in her role as president and chairman the council of the Girl Guides Association UK.

As president of the NSPCC, she confronted the grim issue of child sex abuse when, in July, she met staff at two Birmingham centres set up to combat the problem. She officially opened the NSPCC Woodside child care unit in Chelmsley Wood, and watched a video reconstruction of children slowly revealing through dolls and play how they had been abused by their parents.

The princess also met staff at an NSPCC centre in Bartley Green.

Also that year she called in at Warwick Castle - but the visit sparked a panic among her entourage when the posy due to be presented to her by eight-year-old Yvonne Clarke was lost. A replacement rose was plucked from the gardens and presented to the princess. Bouquets were replaced by a bundle of asparagus when she made a flying visit to Evesham to open a multi-million-pound shopping centre and public library in May 1990!

Then in October she visited the Hippodrome in Birmingham to open new rehearsal rooms before watching a a rehearsal of a new work and in October 1991 she returned to the Rep theatre she opened in 1971 to open its new pounds 4.5 million extension .

Princess Margaret's final visit came in June 1995 when she caught a glimpse of a medical future where surgeons guide minuscule robots along diseased arteries at a conference at the NEC.


The princess inspects Pony Society teams during a visit to the National Pony Show at Malvern, while at Keele University Margaret confers degrees on students in her capacity as chancellor; Clockwise, from above, dressed in the uniform of a Chief Ranger of the British Isles and Commonwealth, the princess visiting Wolverhampton in 1956; meeting members of the Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Hippodrome in 1990; visiting The Birmingham Post and Mail offices; Princess Margaret is welcomed in Solihull by a company of Girl Guides
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 11, 2002
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