What goes on tour: a fictional account of Queen Elizabeth's 1954 Australian tour

More than 75 per cent of Australians turned out to catch a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip during the 1954 tour. Picture: Getty Images

More than 75 per cent of Australians turned out to catch a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip during the 1954 tour. Picture: Getty Images

  • The Tour, by Andrew Mackie. Michael Joseph, $32.99.

When 27-year-old Queen Elizabeth sailed into Sydney Harbour on February 3, 1954, she practically stopped a nation. It was the first time a reigning British monarch had visited Australia, and during her 58 days down under, an estimated 75 per cent of the population turned out to catch a glimpse of Her Majesty.

She visited 57 cities and towns in those 58 days, travelling by plane, train, ship and car from Cairns in the north, Perth in the west to Hobart in the south. She watched a surf-life saving session at Bondi and opened a session of parliament in Canberra.

On March 6, 1954, a camera crew following the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh caught a very private moment in this very public tour. The pair were at the O'Shannassy Chalet in the Yarra Ranges and the footage depicted the front door flying open and Prince Phillip charging out followed by a pair of tennis shoes and a racquet. The Queen followed, screaming at him to return.

Not that one can imagine this happening now, but after a discussion with the Queen's attendants, the camera crew destroyed the footage, and in return were allowed to film her candidly on the grounds of the chalet.

It was this idea of what was going on behind the scenes of this mammoth tour, what private moments were happening, that was the spark for The Tour, the debut novel of acclaimed film producer and distributor Andrew Mackie.

"I was inspired by the fun that could be had by dropping feuding twin sisters into this delicious incident," he says.

Author Andrew Mackie has long been fascinated by the Royal family. Picture: Supplied

Author Andrew Mackie has long been fascinated by the Royal family. Picture: Supplied

Nineteen-year-old twins Violet and Daisie can't believe their luck when they are recruited as maids to accompany the Queen's Lady In Waiting on the Royal tour to Australia. Is leaving England just the thing they need to get their lives back on track or will the rifts and rivalries in every family, Royal or otherwise, tear them apart?

Mackie - whose executive producer credits include Ride Like a Girl, Candy, Sweet Country, Holding the Man and On Chesil Beach - started writing the story as a screenplay, but something wasn't quite working. He decided to turn it into a book, in part as a great research exercise if it were to one day make it to the screen.

"With the screenplay, I just felt like I didn't understand the characters enough and so the book was a really great way to develop that," he says.

"But over time the book became such an undertaking, I had no idea about the work that would have to go into it, that it became the lead project.

"Screenwriting is a completely different creative art form, it's very different to writing a novel, and in some ways much tougher, because you're not just satisfying your own creative urges, you're essentially writing from a commercial perspective as well.

"There are all these considerations which work their way into the script which you free off, to a large extent, when you're writing a novel."

He thoroughly enjoyed entwining fact and fiction throughout the story, stumbling across paraphernalia from the tour, working out how it would fit in.

"I've always been drawn to films and screenplays that have that historical context," he says.

"As a film distributor, we find audiences just gravitate towards true stories.

"It's trying to make the best of both worlds, you have the true story of the tour and you have this complete fantasy laid over the top of it."

It would be fun for a few weeks, but imagine doing it your entire life? I think she's pretty amazing.

Andrew Mackie, author of The Tour, on Queen Elizabeth

Mackie has always been fascinated by the Royal family - his company Transmission Films released the best film Oscar winning The King's Speech - in particular by Queen Elizabeth II.

"She has just been a consistent presence throughout our lives and she's always been calm and kept carrying on.

"Some of the Royal family seem more intent on the carrying on bit, but she's always been this enduring presence."

The Australian tour fascinated him for its sheer scope.

"It was mind-boggling when you think about it, 57 towns in 58 days. Imagine even trying to organise it without email or even a fax machine," he says.

"She really put in the hard yards - 80,000 kilometres! She had to go out every day and meet people every day, from schoolchildren to politicians, have the same conversations again and again. It would be fun for a few weeks, but imagine doing it your entire life? I think she's pretty amazing."

The Tour, by Andrew Mackie. Michael Joseph, $32.99.

The Tour, by Andrew Mackie. Michael Joseph, $32.99.

For all the wealth and abundance of the royal lifestyle, Mackie agrees that the public is fascinated by what their private lives must be like. We read what we read in magazines, take from films and television series, but we never really know. He deliberately avoided watching The Crown while he was writing the book, but is keen to catch up with it now.

Mackie's film career began when he was a teenager.

"I fluked a job at Greater Union when I was about 18. You'd watch films and book them into cinemas, program their locations, it was an amazing first job."

Some of his all-time favourite movies include Raiders of the Lost Ark, Die Hard, Blue Velvet, Goodfellas and Taxi Driver.

"Raiders of the Lost Ark was the movie that made me want to try and be in the film industry, it was everything a film should be."

Does a good film have a different effect than a good book?

"I find a good film gives you a more immediate emotional charge for obvious reasons, but I find good writing can settle deeper into you," he says.

"I don't really know how to articulate this properly, but I feel like there are some books I've read, like Catcher in the Rye, that have sort of settled into my soul a little more deeply, even probably more so than most films do.

"The texture and the theme and the kind of tone of that novel just seeped into me in a way that it would be hard for a movie to do. A movie is a little bit more of a single shot, single blast experience. Some films I just love, but I do think books have more of an opportunity to kind of insinuate themselves into your DNA."

Has he read any good books that he would like to turn into a film? Reese Witherspoon seems to have forged a new path in film making, taking books to the big screen, starting with the adaptations of Cheryl Strayed's memoir Wild, Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl and Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies.

"There are books that I've read that I love, that I would like to turn into films such as Hannah Kent's The Good People," he says.

"But the films that I would like to see, the question is whether they could be financeable and whether you could attract the cast and raise the money and all these sort of practical considerations. I'm so used to sort of leading with those practical considerations that I sort of talk myself out of ideas almost as quickly as I have them sometimes."

This story What goes on tour, stays on tour first appeared on The Canberra Times.