There were about 75 of them, reasonably well-dressed middle-class types, but they had come together for incendiary reasons. They want to light the fire that will sweep away the British monarchy after more than 1,000 years.
Sue Townsend, author of "The Queen and I," a satirical novel and now a play in which the royals are pushed out and forced to live in a public housing project, was one of them.Townsend is convinced the royal family wants to end the whole panoply of its gilded existence.
"Families become dysfunctional for a reason," she said, in reference to the marital breakups afflicting several members of the royal family. "I think they've had enough. The will to carry on with their duty is gone."
She suggested the royals be given "a decent residence" in the
country, with a dog, horses, a television set and a microwave oven. "A microwave would be absolutely necessary for them," she said, amid laughter. The implication was that they never have cooked a meal for themselves and wouldn't know how.
Townsend spoke at a meeting of Republic, an 11-year-old organization committed to replacing kings and queens with an elected, largely ceremonial, president.
Republic's leaders are in a buoyant mood. They have no doubt that the marital split between Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, and Princess Diana has strengthened their cause.
A recent poll, they said, found that 44 percent of Labor Party members of Parliament favored a republic. Apparently nobody bothered to poll Conservatives, since they are nearly all diehard royalists. A recent poll by the Daily Mirror, a newspaper identified with the Labor Party, showed 73 percent thought Queen Elizabeth II should be the last monarch.
Other polls showing that up to 85 percent of Britons support the monarchy are highly suspect, Republic leaders asserted.
Townsend said her choice for first president of the British republic would be heavyweight boxer Frank Bruno. "If you want a ceremonial president who's good at meeting people getting off planes, Frank's your man," she said.
A more serious note was struck by Michael Mansfield, a prominent civil rights lawyer.
"It is a complete anachronism and an obscenity that we have a situation in this country that is an abuse of democracy," he said. "We pride ourselves on being one of the leaders of the democratic world, but at the root of our own society is a total lack of democracy."
Roy Greenslade, media correspondent of the Guardian and former editor of the Daily Mirror, said he regarded the queen as the model of a modern constitutional monarch.
"But I'm not interested in whether we have good queens or bad queens," he said. "I'm against all kings and queens." He said the system was "anti-democratic, anti-egalitarian and anti-meritocratic."