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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 March 2006, 15:18 GMT
Senedd speech prompts royal laugh

By Nick Horton
BBC Wales news website

Rhodri Morgan
Rhodri Morgan limbering up for some verbal gymnastics
Rhodri Morgan may be Wales' first minister now, but it took him a long time to reach the top of Cardiff Bay's slippery pole.

During the tortuous history of Welsh devolution, he is only the second man to have landed the job (after Alun Michael), and then only at the third time of asking (after losing previous Welsh Labour leadership contests to both Ron Davies and Alun Michael).

So you can't blame him for trying to rack up a few more firsts in his time left as Wales' number one.

And on 1 March, 2006, he did the trick again, with an adept tickling of the Queen's funny bone.

Mr Morgan cracks jokes wherever he goes: over a pint in Canton Labour Club; on Newsnight with a baffled Jeremy Paxman (Paxo: "Are you going to stand again for the Welsh Labour leadership?" Morgan: "Do one-legged ducks swim in circles?" Paxo: "Is that Welsh for yes?"); or at the opening of the new home of Welsh democracy, with Her Majesty among an appreciative crowd.

Before the first minister gave his welcoming speech in the Senedd, you almost expected an MC to appear ("right you lot, give it up for Wales' leading veteran gagmeister, Rrrrrhodrrri Moooooorgan!").

Well, for me, it's because if we here follow too closely the traditions of the original senate of ancient Rome, it means that at some point, I get to be stabbed in the back by men wearing sandals
Rhodri Morgan on his wariness over the name Senedd

There was plenty of serious stuff, of course, about the building "symbolising the pride of a nation in the home of its legislature on the one hand but without tipping over into opulent overstatement".

But it's his comic turn that gives Mr Morgan the edge.

Whatever his other skills, it put him there at lunchtime on St David's Day 2006 - with Wales as his stage, and top royals and leading parliamentarians from around the world his audience.

The Queen in the new Welsh assembly chamber
We are amused: the Queen enjoys herself in the Senedd chamber

(Interesting, by the way, to see so many outspoken anti-devolutionists queuing eagerly to join other VIPs inside an institution they bitterly opposed. Outside, meanwhile, uninvited and entirely unbitter, was one of the main figures in the pro-assembly campaign of 1997, a man who worked his socks off for this day but simply glad to watch, wrapped up against the swirling snow.)

Back inside the Senedd, Mr Morgan produced his line about how churches have shifted St David's Day back this year because it clashes with Ash Wednesday.

Mocking his own slightly shambolic image and the time last year he was caught in traffic and was late for the Queen at the Royal Welsh Show, he confessed: "Well, I've been late to gatherings before but never, I admit 24 hours late and never in such distinguished company."

Sandal stereotype

Then there was his reminder that one "metropolitan parliamentary correspondent" (Welsh code for "snooty London journo") had compared the original assembly chamber in the building next door as "resembling the passenger lounge in an ageing cross-channel ferry".

The swanky hi-tech new chamber, however, had been more favourably likened to Star Trek's Starship Enterprise.

"So that's progress for you," he said. "Boldly going into the future which, on this occasion, managed to arrive both on budget and on time."

The Queen outside the Senedd building, with Rhodri Morgan, Duke of Edinburgh and Dafydd Elis-Thomas
The Queen with Prince Philip, Rhodri Morgan and Dafydd Elis-Thomas
This was not an occasion for controversy, but he could not resist the minor squabble over the "degree of wariness" over the name Senedd.

"Why?" he asked. "Well, for me, it's because if we here follow too closely the traditions of the original senate of ancient Rome, it means that at some point, I get to be stabbed in the back by men wearing sandals."

Do Liberal Democrats still live up to their sandal-clad stereotype? He didn't say.

The royal author Brian Hoey told BBC Wales later that it was the first time he could remember seeing the Queen laugh like that at a public speech.

Perhaps that was doubly notable because, according to Mr Hoey, the Queen had been firmly against devolution, although she had come to accept change.

Her United Kingdom may not be what it was. But Her Majesty can still definitely be amused.

See clips of the opening ceremony

Richard Rogers on the "homely" Senedd

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