This was a skill that the most senior royal courtiers needed until recently. Some managed better than others, as Alistair Lexden noted in a letter published in The Daily Telegraph on 20 January.
SIR -- The ancient office of Lord Chamberlain will soon have a fresh incumbent (report, January 16).
The new holder of this august post will no doubt be relieved to know that about eight years ago the duties ceased to include walking backwards before the Sovereign at state functions. Those who were quite good at it in the past sometimes had to cope with an unruly companion, the Lord Steward.
Viscount Sandhurst, a very successful Lord Chamberlain under George V, recorded in his diary what happened at a state banquet for the President of Brazil in May 1919: “the long walk backwards from the Bow Room where the King and Queen received to the Ball Room I managed all right, but Farquhar [Lord Steward] was awful. Had it been a race Farquhar would have been disqualified for bumping and he was never in step. He bumped me, then recoiled and bumped again.”
Farquhar, about whom I have published a short biography, survived for another three years before finally being sacked.