Tut, tut, tootsies, oh, my!

August 21, 1992|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,London Bureau

LONDON — London--Everybody in England is in his usual place: God is in his heaven; the queen is in her palace; and Sarah Ferguson is back on the front pages.

Once again the errant daughter-in-law of the queen of England, reluctant and tempestuous wife of Prince Andrew the hapless, has hit the tabloids, and even the front pages of the quality press.

Topless she is and, for want of a more delicate description, in a posture of carnal enthusiasm.

And with an American no less -- 37-year-old oil tycoon John

Bryan who proves, if nothing else, that bald men can be appealing to a British blue blood.

If someone were inventing all this stuff it could make a good soap opera, possibly titled "The Young and Restless Royals." Or maybe, "The Restless Raunchy Royals."

So what has the "Duchess in Disgrace" -- which is what the Evening Standard is calling her -- done this time? She was incautious enough to be caught by the eye of a camera necking with Mr. Bryan topless on a poolside chaise longue in St. Tropez.

Hardly a position to be caught in with one's "financial adviser," which is what Mr. Bryan has been masquerading as all these months.

The photographs are, perhaps, the most compromising ever of a member of the royal family. They were published yesterday in the Daily Mirror, after the High Court rejected Mr. Bryan's attempts to have them suppressed. They were also published in Spain, Switzerland and Germany.

By today they are expected to come out in a supermarket tabloid in the United States for the delectation of royal watchers across the pond.

The picture that has caused most of the uproar throughout Britain is one of Mr. Bryan kissing the Duchess' foot. Many found it most shameful. Others decided it was dreadfully exotic, a bit Oriental for a British duchess.

Sky News, the satellite television operation that has become a fierce competitor with the BBC, yesterday ran an interview with a sexologist on the sexual use of toes in certain cultures. They also did a special on feet. Nothing sexual. Just feet.

The very newspaper that published the pictures, Robert Maxwell's old tabloid, the Mirror, raised the question -- with a delicious affectation of innocence -- of what the affair might do to the Royal Family's standing in the land. Everybody agrees it will nosedive.

"Fergie's antics plunge Royal Family into its biggest crisis for more than half a century," the paper screamed, as if it had nothing to do with it all.

Meanwhile, down at the pub schadenfreude reigned. Schadenfreude? That's a big word intellectuals here like to throw around. It means to take delight in the pain or embarrassment of others.

As one observer noted some weeks back during the sex and infidelity scandal involving the arts minister David Mellor and the actress Antonia de Sancha, these things have nothing to do with sex, but rather with embarrassment.

Sex doesn't interest the British, she wrote. Embarrassment is their vice. Schadenfreude. No one was taking any secondhand pleasures from contemplating the ecstasies Mr. Mellor's might have derived from his intimacies with Ms. de Sancha. What they enjoyed was his embarrassment.

And so it is with the Duchess of York. She has served this peculiar need often enough in the past. This time, however, most people agree she has outdone herself.

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