Duke of Windsor’s butler’s memoir in sale

The American socialite Wallis Simpson is dubbed a ‘Queen Dictator’ who never loved Edward in newly-discovered memoirs by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor’s former butler.

Such are the royal revelations, one of America’s biggest television producers hoped to turn them into a series decades ago. But the memories of life with King Edward VIII and twice-divorced Wallis, the woman who sparked his abdication, stayed under wraps – until now.

Norma and Alan Fisher pictured after they retired from royal duties
Norma and Alan Fisher pictured after they retired from royal duties – Credit Rare Book Auctions Hansons

The unpublished memoirs of Alan Fisher (1930-2006), a man from the slums of Manchester who rose to become one of the most sought after butlers in the world, are going under the hammer. They will be offered at Rare Books Auctions, Bishton Hall, Staffordshire, on June 4 guided at £3,000-£5,000. The lot includes a never-before-seen photo of Edward in royal robes, as if dressing up as a king, with Wallis at his side, and an equestrian portrait given to the butler by his royal employer.

High-Society Memoirs

The memoirs lift the lid on high society courtesy of a man who served royalty, the rich and famous. As well the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Alan worked for Bing Crosby for 17 years, Ralph Lauren and Robert Lehman of Lehman Brothers. Alan’s last formal engagement in the 1980s was butler for Charles and Diane, the Prince and Princess of Wales. 

Alan Fisher's memoirs
Alan Fisher’s memoirs – Credit Rare Book Auctions, Hansons

Alan famously said: ‘The perfect butler sees all, hears all and tells nothing’. He lived this definition until his death in 2006. But in c.1978 he put pen to paper to record memories of his six years, from 1954, serving the Duke and Duchess of Windsor at their home in Bois de Boulogne, France. With him was his wife, Norma, maid to the Duchess of Windsor. The servants resided on site in ‘The Cottage’.

Alan wrote: “The Duchess taught me everything I know – twice over. She had impeccable taste, was impeccable in the way she dressed and lived her life. I was very aware that I was living a part of history. It was a great thrill…they lived on a scale that far surpassed the Royal Family’s. When you have worked for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor you’re not going to impress me if you’re Rock Hudson or Carol Burnett.” 

However, he found the Duchess difficult and ruthless and on one occasion told her to ‘stick her job’. He also believed she never loved Edward. The king abdicated the British throne in 1936 to marry her, sparking a constitutional crisis.

Alan wrote:  “He was in love with her to hundred per cent of the time. She was in no way in love with him. So many of her actions spelt it out so violently. Of course she had a façade she kept up publicly…There must have been many moments in both their lives when she looked at him and thought of all that might have been. It must have made her extremely bitter.”

Unseen slide of Edward, Duke of Windsor, dressed as a king in royal robes with the Duchess of Windsor
Unseen slide of Edward, Duke of Windsor, dressed as a king in royal robes with the Duchess of Windsor – Credit Rare Book Auctions, Hansons

Alan’s memoirs reveal he heard the Duchess of Windsor before he met her and that she would never have been happy with being ‘Queen Consort’ as ‘Queen Dictator’ suited her better.  He also noted that she continued to host dinner parties while her husband was dying.

Unseen picture of Edward, Duke of Windsor, dressed as a king in royal robes, a role he gave up for the Duchess of Windsor
Unseen picture of Edward, Duke of Windsor, dressed as a king in royal robes, a role he gave up for the Duchess of Windsor – Credit Rare Book Auctions Hansons

Face-to-face Meeting

During the Duchess’s first visit, a guest remarked, “There’s forty people in there and there’s only one bloody voice you can hear – hers!”.  He also reveals being told, “Alan, Her Royal Highness wants you to get a haircut immediately.”  Consequently, he felt “very insecure and extremely nervous at the thought of our first face-to-face confrontation”.

He described the moment vividly: “Next, the sound of the high heel on the cold marble slowly descending. She moved towards me. My heart was really in my mouth. Finally the candlelight caught the flash of diamonds, of which there were plenty. There was a warm smile and an outstretched hand. The utter surprise of the deep deep violet of the eyes, the voice thanking me for joining the household and hoping I would be very happy with them…This is 1954 and it may have been her halcyon days. Clothes were at their most attractive. Dior was alive, Balenciaga, Givenchy – all the great houses of haute couture helped keep her at the pinnacle of fashion.”

Of the Duke, he wrote: “As he was Royal and I was British, I never felt annoyed…His blond gold hair, his turquoise eyes all seemed to blend in with his Joseph’s outfits of many colours – and many there were…After being a footman for two years in Paris, the Duke asked me to be his valet…I liked the Duke enormously.”

Describing his near-resignation, Alan recounts the night on which some windows hadn’t been secured, [the Duchess said] ‘You know, Alan, if you don’t want this job, there are plenty of people who would really like it’.

“That was all I needed. I flung the silver onto the the chair she was sitting on along with the gloves I was wearing. I said, ‘Your Royal Highness, you can stick your job. I don’t need this kind of nonsense from you or anyone else. Jobs are not that hard to come by. Thank you’. I do not have total recall, but as my anger and words were so short, I’ve never forgotten them. She screamed, ‘Go to bed. Go to bed. You’re tired. You’re obviously tired’. My last words were, ‘Yes, Your Royal Highness. Please remember, I may be tired, but I’m not drunk,’ and away I went. 

“I realised I’d burnt my boats behind me, and I was really very sad. It had all come to an end even before it began, but I told myself that I couldn’t have let her dominate my life … especially when one was working at full tilt. We were not playing around out there. It was work with a capital W.”

The following morning, the Duke had a meeting with Alan and suggested he was feeling ‘unwell’ during this ‘uncontrollable outburst’, to which Alan said, ‘Your Royal Highness, no one can work as hard as we do and take that kind of an upbraiding at that hour unless they’re completely mad or incapable of finding another job. I am neither’.”

The matter was amicably resolved: “From that day to the day I left some fourteen months later, she never once crossed swords with me…No one had a more fertile mind than the Duchess. Her wit was remarkable…We’d both won really. I wanted to continue working there. She wanted me there.”

Windsors’ Relationship

On the subject of the Windsors’ relationship, Alan wrote: “She knew how weak he was, and it must have often struck her with a more dominant man, might the crown of England sat on her brow?…She would never have settled for being the Queen Consort. I think Queen Dictator would have been nearer her title…Don’t for a brief moment, kids, ever believe she would not have been capable of it. She could be ruthless, and with the assurance she was Queen of England until the day she died, it would have given her all the assurance she needed.”

Alan also revealed: “I found out later that even though the Duke was dying of cancer of the throat, and it must not have been pleasant, almost to the end the Duchess continued giving dinners when she should have been looking after the poor Duke, making his last moments as happy as she could so easily have done. It took so little to please him. Certainly any small gesture from the Duchess was all important to him. 

“One night, two or three evenings before he actually died, he asked Sidney to call the Duchess. She was giving a dinner for twelve that evening. In she came, going on about her new dress. Did he like it. Had he noticed it, etc.

“Senility slowly took hold…She said how she liked Prince Charles. She said, ‘I heard from him some time ago. He wants to come and stay. I suppose I’ll have to gather some young people for him’. I feel confident that Prince Charles had never written asking her to stay. The whole thing was a figment of her imagination. Why, I’ll never figure out.”

Dressing the Duke

Another extract details the difficulty of dressing the Duke in a hurry: “That was when the shit hit the fan. He knew he was late, and it would be murder trying to fasten his shirt, keep him still long enough so you could tie his bow tie, get his trousers on, his shoes and socks, and to add to the comedy, one always laid summer evening socks on one arm of the chair and winter socks on the other arm of the chair, and he would choose accordingly to how he felt – warm or cold. But in the rush, he would constantly take one winter and one summer sock, and he’d look down and say, ‘Alan, you’ve given me odd socks’…Finally you’d get him dressed and on his way, leaving you as limp as if you’d been in World War III…The worst thing to me was the Duke should decide to wear his kilt.”

Jim Spencer, director of Rare Book Auctions, said: “This is an extraordinary and immensely readable work. Every line is quotable. Reading through it, I get a crystal sense of this utterly private little world. I can smell the bottles of burning perfume; I can see the ivory and gold swizzle-sticks stirring up the champagne bubbles; I can hear the Duchess’s heels on the cold marble. 

“It’s written with such humour and humanity that it must surely appeal to a publisher. It’s not quite Jeeves and Wooster, but there’s certainly a feeling of the quiet dignity, intelligence and tact that comes from someone who is ostensibly a servile valet. As Alan himself says in these memoirs, ‘You didn’t care how idiotic you appeared if it saved the day’.”

The manuscript, comes to auction through family descent. Siblings Georgina Edwards and David Summers, stated: “Alan and Norma Fisher were our uncle and aunt. We inherited the manuscript and memorabilia following their passing.  We had all grown up hearing stories regarding their life in service and have been lucky enough to visit many royal palaces and celebrity homes because of this connection.  

“We believe Alan was in advanced negotiations with a US television company to make a series out of his memoirs. Included in the papers is an envelope from The Konigsberg Company, part of 20th Century Fox. I suspect Alan knew Frank Konigsberg through Bing Crosby. Bing encouraged Alan to share his memoirs of his time with the Duke of Windsor for historical purposes. Konigsberg was one of Hollywood’s biggest talent management agents.

“We do not wish to keep the manuscript and picture (equestrian portrait of Edward)  simply stored away in a box at home in Kenilworth (Warwickshire). It would be far better for someone to own and appreciate them, and for the story of Alan and Norma’s time with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to be passed on.”