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British Royal Guards

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This is a British Media Trope about the King's Guard as it appears in fiction.

Whenever our ensemble cast goes on an adventure touring Britain (and by "Britain" we mean, of course, "London"), there's always going to come a point where one or all of our characters wind up at Buckingham Palace where they will, no doubt, encounter these oddly-dressed emotionless soldiers in giant, furry hats and red jackets who appear to be extremely disciplined and dedicated to following a strict code that seems to entail only two things:

  1. Marching in perfect synchronization at regular intervals.
  2. Standing completely still and unresponsive, no matter what is happening around or, more frequently, to them.

When played straight, one should always expect to see tourist characters trying to provoke an emotional response out of them (usually either laughter or surprise to a sudden "Jump Scare"), taking advantage of the guard's duty to remain still (often becoming the victim of a Motionless Makeover), or observing the surreal levels to which they adhere to their marching schedules and routines—especially the Changing of the Guard—with little to no consequences to the characters observing them.

However, this becomes more and more of a Discredited Trope as time goes by and can now effectively be considered a Dead Horse Trope. Silly hats and clothes aside, these guys take their jobs very seriously; guard duty at Buckingham Palace isn't a purely ceremonial posting like Arlington National Cemetery (and even they can intervene when a crowd gets unruly or disruptive), but part of the security arrangements for the UK's head of state, and while the rifles aren't usually loaded (but can be at any time), the bayonets certainly are functional. These guards are soldiers who were picked out because they were the best of the best, not because they were picked out at random. They are legally allowed to kill people who they deem as a threat to the royal family and they will violently barge past you if you don't step out of their way during marches. While they are supposed to remain at their posts, they are allowed to move if they have to change guards or they have to confront someone who's interfering with their duties. In addition, while they typically stand like silent statues while on guard duty at the palace, and rarely say a word while marching, the King's guard is well within their rights to bark orders to civilians that may interfere in their duties: expect a pointed stamp of the foot and a sudden shout of "STAND BACK FROM THE KING'S GUARD!" if you decide to try and fool around with them (and that's if you're lucky to get a warning first!). In short: they are not to be messed with or underestimated.

The ones in the red ceremonial coats are also just the tip of the iceberg, and dress like that primarily to draw assailants' attention away from the many plainclothes Guards who hang around incognito, and the fully equipped soldiers in vantage points. And the reason there are five whole Guards infantry regiments, plus two of cavalry, and one of ceremonial Horse Artillery? They're rotated between "public duties" and deployments abroad and have quite a long list of battle honours, including Afghanistan and Iraq. The Guards cavalry are an armoured cavalry regiment when not on ceremonial duties. The Royal Horse Artillery alternate between ceremonial duties, public displays, and terms of active deployment as regular artillerymen — although they leave the horses and limbers at home and are fully mechanized for this duty. They are responsible for firing the twenty-one gun salutes in Hyde Park and elsewhere on Royal occasions, and do so from pieces that last saw active service in WW1.

As The Other Wiki will tell you, guards at Buckingham Palace haven't even been posted outside the Palace's gate since the late 1950s because of the annoying tourists (likely trying to imitate a scene from I Love Lucy, below) as a measure to prevent any bad incidents for the good of the guards and the safety of the tourists. However, the guards posted at St. James's Palace are still stationed in areas open to the public.

Officially, of course, they're not actually called the "British Royal Guards". The five regiments are the Grenadier Guards, the Coldstream Guards, the Scots Guards, the Irish Guards and the Welsh Guards. You can tell the difference between them by way of the spacing of the buttons on those red jackets and the colour of the plumes (or lack thereof) on the bearskins (and there are many signs in the vicinity of Buckingham Palace that show pictures of the different uniforms so that tourists can tell who's on duty). Collectively, they're known as the Foot Guards and are part of the Household Division, which also consists of the Household Cavalry (the mounted ones, consisting of two regiments — the Life Guards and the Blues and Royals). The Royal Horse Artillery are not part of the Household Division, coming instead under the Royal Artillery.

Another inaccuracy in the media is that often the guard is quite small, or at least only average height (hence the great big hats). In fact, the Foot Guards traditionally insist on recruits being at least six feet tall.

If you're really in a mood to play games with these guys, don't expect to come out unscathed. Reality Is Unrealistic; you have been warned.


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  • One Looney Tunes story involved Daffy Duck trying to get a British Royal Guard to laugh. He fails so very, very miserably. Though, as a crazed Daffy said as he was being taken away, the guy was indeed laughing on the inside.
  • One of Paul Coker's "The Shadow Knows ..." in MAD had a bunch of tourists making silly faces posing next to a BRG. The shadow version of the guard was angrily chasing the frightened tourists away and waving his bayonet at them.
  • Buckingham Palace is guarded by giant robot versions in Mega Robo Bros. In book 1, they're hacked by Robot 23 to attack the royal family, who are saved by Alex and Freddy.

  • A Visa Check Card commercial plays with this trope by featuring a young man in jeans and a gray T-shirt standing perfectly still outside Buckingham Palace and staring while people ask him questions and try to figure out what he's staring at and otherwise leave him to contend with the elements of nature. At the end, a British Royal Guard marches up, stands beside him and says, "Dry cleaners wouldn't take a check again, eh Nigel?" Nigel marches off and is later seen in formation with a group of traditionally dressed guards.
  • There's a commercial for chain restaurant Red Robin, wherein a pair of tourists, a husband and wife, are trying to get the guard to react. The husband finally sings the first part of the Red Robin jingle, and the guard chimes in with the last part, "YUM!" The husband cackles with triumph.
  • How do a group of kids get a guard to move? By tempting him with the delicious taste of Honeycomb Cereal of course.
  • Blue Bunny Cadbury chocolate commercial has the family attracting the refrigerator guard's attention with ice cream.

  • The Beatles movie Help! features a small battalion of marching guardsmen immediately collapsing mid-march after inadvertently getting hit with knockout gas.
    Ringo: It must be their tea break.
  • Shanghai Knights: Roy plays the part of the annoying tourist. Chon Wang (who was a Chinese guard himself) does not approve of Roy insisting they're a "tourist attraction." After failing to provoke a reaction, Roy gives the guard a friendly pat on the shoulder, and receives a Groin Attack with the butt of the guard's rifle in return. Apparently, at least in that universe, the guards are allowed to react if you touch them.
  • Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me has a montage where Austin and Felicity get a royal guard to "participate" in a Motionless Makeover, although the guards eventually do break their stillness to chase after Austin and Felicity at one point as well.
  • Garfield: A Tail Of Two Kitties has a bit with Odie peeing on one of the statuesque guards. Unfortunately, this is enough for the guard to take notice and chase after the cat and dog.
    Garfield: The British are coming! The British are coming! [To Odie] Well, you made him crack, anyway!
  • In the spy comedy Arabesque, there is a scene where the two protagonists (played by Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren) have some difficulties retrieving a McGuffin after it was stepped-on by a British Royal Guard.
  • Patriot Games: When first seen while Jack Ryan and his family are touring London, the still guard trope is played with briefly; Ryan's eight-year-old daughter tries to get the attention of one of the guards by doing an improvised tap-dance in front of him. After getting no response, she salutes and says, "I'm impressed." Minutes later, when Sean Miller and his terrorist accomplices attempt to assassinate Lord William Holmes, the guards quickly snap into action to protect him, and for a moment mistake Jack as being one of the terrorists, due to him having picked up a gun one of them dropped. Thankfully for the Ryans, the attackers are all dead or incapacitated by that point.
  • The Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen direct-to-video release Winning London includes a scene where the twins and their friends attempt to make the guards laugh. It doesn't work. (Though the blooper reel does show that the guys playing the guards did break a few times.)
  • A Royal Night Out parodies this, as the Buckingham Palace guards snap to attention whenever the princesses walk by - one of them even doing so while in the middle of reading a magazine.
  • In Sharknado 5: Global Swarming, the guards in London remain stoic and don't move during a Sharknado. Fin yells at them that protecting the Queen is their job, which finally gets them to move and gun down several sharks.
  • In Paddington (2014), while searching across London for the explorer that visited his uncle and aunt in Peru, Paddington finds himself at Buckingham Palace, where he meets a guard who allows the bear to take shelter from the rain in his booth. The guard even reveals he keeps a sandwich, a flask of tea and a few small cakes under his hat, which he shares with Paddington.

  • Patriot Games by Tom Clancy depicts the more serious side of them, as when the Prince of Wales is attacked by terrorists the guards come running. They almost stab our hero with their bayonetsnote . Later, Ryan is invited into the unit's private pub for a drink and given a bearskin (the tall, fancy hat) as a gift, in gratitude for his actions during the attack.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Sherlock episode The Sign of Three features a guard as one of the clients. He is shown remaining absolutely still and expressionless while on duty, and changing with the appropriate theatrical stiff arm waving. Tourists take pictures with him and such, but none of them make an active attempt to bother or get a rise out of him. He does, however, have a stalker who is using him as the test subject for a murder.
  • The above picture comes from a Mr. Bean skit where the title character would do an assortment of increasingly pesky things to a guard in preparation for a posed photograph, all while the guard remains perfectly still. It all basically amounts to one hell of a Motionless Makeover. Among the things Bean does to the guard, he polishes the trigger of his gun, trims the guard's mustache to resemble Hitler's, and decorates him with flowers. At the end, the guard receives his orders to march to his next post, just before the picture could be taken.
  • I Love Lucy's European vacation story arc during the show's fifth season began in London where Lucy visited Buckingham Palace and missed out on seeing the Queen when she became preoccupied with desperately attempting to get a guard to crack a smile. If one looks really closely, one can see the guard's lips curling up slightly. This scene originally aired four years before the Queen's Guard ceased maintaining posts outside Buckingham Palace and prior to several controversies between foreign tourists and the guards in Real Life.
    • The exact same routine was copied verbatim in Ethel Merman's television special Merman On Broadway.
  • In Bones, when Brennan and Booth go to London they suspect a palace guardsman of killing the Victim of the Week, but it turns out he only beat the guy up for sleeping with his sister. While waiting for the guard to finish his tour Booth taunts him, knowing that he can't react. When Booth discovers the truth about the two, he apologizes to the guard who very subtly acknowledges Booth with his eyes.
  • Due South:
    • Constable Benton Fraser mimics these guards' "statuesque" reputation whenever he stands on guard duty at the Canadian Consulate, as does his junior, Constable Renfield Turnbull. Once, when Fraser is stuck in a (metaphorical) well, he sends his half-wolf/half-dog Diefenbaker to get help; Dief patiently waits in front of Turnbull until his tour is up, at which point he finally barks the news about Fraser to him and Turnbull is able to respond.
    • In one episode the Canadian ambassador and Meg Thatcher reflect that they could probably replace Turnbull with a waxwork dummy.
    • Other episodes feature the local children trying to get whichever Mountie is standing as sentry to react to teasing and pranks. A good example of the latter has a kid eating a melting ice cream and dripping it onto Fraser's carefully spit-shined boots. It doesn't work, of course.
  • Played mostly straight in "The England Show" episode of Married... with Children. Blonde, nubile Kelly literally wraps herself around the guard and gets no response, even after telling him, "I'm stupid, too!" Peggy gets nothing after telling him "My husband sells women's shoes for a living." (Though the surrounding crowd finds it hilarious) She then realizes that the best way to get the guard to smile is to take one of Al's shoes and let the guard get a good whiff of the odor. Of course, he doesn't smile until she takes the shoe away. He then passes out, to much applause from the people gathered.
  • The opening of the second season of A Bit of Fry and Laurie has the two comedians playing with a guard. The guard charges Laurie when he gets too close.
  • Played with in an episode of Full House when Joey and his Girl of the Week were going to meet the Queen of England. Joey attempted to get a rise out of one, presumably failing. He turns away, and the guard then kicks him.
  • In the Hallmark Channel movie A Royal Christmas, the prince and his girlfriend do everything they can to get a reaction out of the royal guards, who of course, stand impassively no matter what. They do break into huge grins at the end, when the couple marry.
  • At least once one of these was a guest on What's My Line?. He appeared in the full get-up and the panel was blindfolded to prevent recognition. Despite this, Arlene Francis was forced to disqualify herself due to recognizing his name, though the rest of the panel was unable to figure out his occupation, so he won the full prize.
  • Cutthroat Kitchen:
    • Referenced in a British Pub Food challenge. Alton shows up in a guard's furry hat and auctions off forcing one chef to give up five minutes of cook time to "stand guard" wearing the hat - also warning that if they fall out of attention, they'll be fined. Once Chef Tim is given the hat, Alton does all manner of things to get him to break - tickling him with a feather, shouting through a bullhorn, dropping money in front of him - to no avail. Alton even compliments him once his cook time resumes. Turns out that Tim was a member of ROTC in high school.
    • In "A Dingo Ate My Dutch Baby," the dish for the second round is bangers and mash. The first sabotage is as follows: force both opponents to take turns standing guard, meaning only one can cook at a time while the other stands guard. Whoever stood in the guard house had to wear the British Royal Guard hat.
  • Averted on Downton Abbey: Lord Grantham and Mr Bates served together in the Grenadier Guards, but by the time the series starts (in 1912) their service (in The Second Boer War) is long past, and we never see them in the Guards' public duties role. Interestingly, the characters are both played by actors of the correct proportions to be Guards; Hugh Bonneville is 6'2" and Brendan Coyle is 6'0", and both men are appropriately broadly-built as well, easily satisfying the Household Division's requirements.

    Music Videos 
  • The video for Fergie's "London Bridge", Fergie touches, caresses, flirts with and in general appears to be trying to get another sort of "rise" out of one of the Royal Guards.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Bloom County had a strip where sort-of newsman Skip Limekiller is filming a piece in front of one of the guards, and reels off the usual cliches, ending with something like "I could even suggest his mother is a hairy-faced yak." The guard immediately and indignantly replies.

    Other Media 
  • Street performers in London use this getup as an alternative to the Living Statue. No, the other kind.
  • Maisy and her friends encounter one, an owl-person, in the My Friend Maisy picture book Maisy Goes to London and Maisy takes a photo. The narration describes the guard as very serious. "He doesn't even smile."

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000: The guards of the Imperial Palace, the Adeptus Custodes, have a similar myth of stoicism attached to them, and they are authorized to kill anyone who harasses them.
    • In the lore, there are several 'tiers' of Custodian Guards, the most important and reverential of which is to stand on guard beside the Emperor's Throne. Some of these Custodians stand at their post, motionless yet alert, for decades before they are relieved.

  • The traditional opening number of the Crazy Horse cabaret shows in Paris? Female dancers wearing stripperiffic British Royal Guards uniforms with white gloves, furry hats, spaulders, garters and boots and nothing else, with a choregraphy based on the Changing of the Guard.
  • In the Gilbert and Sullivan musical Iolanthe, Private Willis is one of these, and he sings a solo while no one's looking.

    Video Games 
  • Her Majesty's Spiffing: In the game's intro cutscene, you see the Queen walking through Buckingham Palace, which is of course full of British Royal Guards. The secret mission control is even staffed with them, decked out in full uniform.
  • Killing Floor's "London's Finest" character pack includes Captain Wiggins who is dressed as such a guard, although his uniform isn't exactly in the best shape.
  • In Watch Dogs: Legion, five to six members of the Queen's Guard, also called Royal Guards, can be found in front of Buckingham Palace and are all recruitable, albeit only with an upgrade that grants the ability to change enemy disposition towards DedSec since the Guard, like members of the enemy factions Albion and Clan Kelley, will always be initially distrusting of the hacker group due to DedSec being considered a terrorist organization. Befitting their Real Life status as professionally trained soldiers, an operative recruited from the Guard typically comes equipped with a high-powered assault rifle and a great chance of gaining the "Physically Fit" perk to have more health.
  • The E3 trailer for ZombiU features one such guardsman. He's lost his hat, but he's still using his bayonet to decapitate zombies with ease. And the box art features a zombie guardsman, hat included.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons:
    • "The Regina Monologues" sees the family vacation in London, where Homer crashes their car through the front gate at Buckingham Palace and into the Queen's carriage. Royal guards beat Homer senselessly but stop half-way through to observe the Changing of the Guard. Homer's beating continues at the hands of the next group of guards on duty.
    • In Bart vs. Australia Homer mistakes a U.S. Marine posted outside the American Embassy for one of these guards:
      Homer: Hey! Are you like one of those English guards who can't laugh or smile or anything? [makes noises and faces at him and gets punched in the face] Ow!
      Marine: No, sir! U.S. Marine Corps, sir!
    • "Goo Goo Gai Pan" sees Homer mistake Shaolin Monks for this, and pulls some faces at them. The monks respond by subjecting Homer to a protracted beatdown that culminates with one of them ripping his heart out, showing it to him, then putting it back in.
  • Flushed Away features an American couple teasing a guard in the sewer rat version of London.
  • Subverted in Family Guy episode "One If By Clam, Two If By See", where Peter tries to get aboard a British ship carrying beer, believing the guard won't move. Much to his surprise, the guard kicks him, to which Peter says "Hey, I thought you guys never move!" and the guard responds "Nope, that's only our women."
  • The title characters of Pinky and the Brain once had to tip one over (Cow Tipping) to get into a club. The guard falls like a tree.
  • Punch!: In one episode, when Jordan goes to Buckingham Palace, he sees one of the guards outside. He decides to lift the guards hat out of curiosity, and discovers his forehead is huge.
  • In Johnny Bravo, the title character once confused a mall security cop for one of these, who as it turns out was just bored.
  • In The Bremen Avenue Experience, the "London Town" sequence in "Barrett's Story" includes a human British Royal Guard and the Giant Foot of Stomping from the Title Sequence of Monty Python's Flying Circus.
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Princess Celestia's Royal Guards act like this at times. In "A Bird in the Hoof" Rainbow Dash tries to get a couple of them to react, making small talk and funny faces. The guards don't respond to her at all, causing Rainbow to admit defeat (and boredom), noting that they're good - too good. They react instantly, however, when Fluttershy tries to get past them, until Twilight Sparkle vouches for her. At the end of the episode, Rainbow Dash convinces Philomena to tickle the guards' noses, finally getting them to laugh.
  • The Great Mouse Detective features, in its final act, two such guards being easily beaten up by henchmen. It's pretty insulting.
  • In Jackie Chan Adventures, Jade tries to attract the Royal Guard's attention (being the nearest authority figure) to report the Magisters' attack, but fails.
    Jade: Help! Bad guys are attacking my uncle! (guard doesn't react) What kind of proper authorities are you!?
  • Seen at a glimpse in a trailer for the Axe Cop animated episode "Zombie Island... in Space", the Queen of "London, England" is flanked by a couple of guards, who don't move a muscle when she's captured by a giant zombie robot.
  • The Animated Adaptation of Max and Ruby has an episode in which the title characters visit "Bunningham Palace" and Max attempts to get a smile out of one of these, or their bunny counterpart anyway.
  • Inspector Gadget episode "The Infiltration", which takes place in England, features Chief Quimby posing as a guard to give Gadget his assignment. Gadget tries to take advantage of the situation by telling the Chief to say nothing if he could have a raise. The Chief just hands him another message that says 'No'.
  • In "The Scarecrow" from Toot & Puddle, Toot travels to London and encounters a couple of these. He tells one of them that he likes his costume, which gets him a wink, and he poses for a picture next to the guard. He later purchases an outfit that lets him dress up just like one and wears it to a costume party back home in Pocket Hollow. They later resurface in "It's a Mystery" in which one of them is Toot's friend, Ronald. He won't talk or otherwise respond while he's on duty, but Toot and Puddle later visit him at his home and he serves them a full English tea.
  • One of the supporting characters in Little Princess is one, albeit one that is a Cloud Cuckoolander.
  • In Cars 2, Mater tries to get one of these to laugh shortly before his knighting ceremony.
  • In "A Little Einsteins Halloween," the Little Einsteins are stopped by one when they try to trick-or-treat at Buckingham Palace. They sneak by him by clapping to a beat when music plays and stopping when the music stops.
  • In the Total Drama World Tour episode "I See London," the first part of the challenge is to engage in "the Changing of the Guard." Which, in this case, means that each team has to strip-search a motionless guard to find a clue hidden somewhere in his uniform. While singing.

    Real Life 
  • In an incident caught on video, an annoying tourist demonstrated exactly why you don't mess with the King's Guard: He stupidly grabs the guard by the shoulder, only to find himself immediately at the business end of a SA80 rifle with mounted bayonet in the hands of a very angry trained soldier yelling in his face. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence said that the guard had an entirely appropriate reaction.
  • On a lighter note, this guy posed for a photo with a royal guard at Buckingham Palace and engaged in some good-natured comic riffing, proving that it is possible to succeed in getting a guard to break up laughing.
  • Sometimes human nature takes its course and even the King's Guard aren't immune from slipping and falling.
  • In 2012, a particularly brainless tourist decided that he would try to climb the gate to Buckingham Palace, an event that was caught on camera. The Coldstream Guard stationed inside the courtyard beyond was carrying a loaded SA80 rifle, and had carried out the full procedure prior to firing the gun before the tourist relented. Had the moron been any slower, he may well have been shot for his idiocy.
  • During the Trooping of the Colour ceremony in 1981, an unhinged assailant fired what turned out to be blank rounds at Queen Elizabeth II, causing her horse to bolt and gallop away, giving her an uncomfortable minute or so in the saddle until she was able to calm and control her mount. The first two people to confront and capture the attacker were soldiers of the Scots Guards who were lining the parade route. Even though their rifles were unloaded for ceremonial duty, and they were confronting a clearly armed man, neither hesitated in literally defending the monarch's life. It is believed that both men were formally admonished for breaking ranks without permission - but their commanding officer apologised afterwards and shook both by the hand, then promoted them.
  • In one video a guardsman posed in a photo for a child's birthday and in another video, a guard in Sweden played with a child. It's still not the best idea to test them or mock them, as they will give strong responses to people who cause too many problems or break too many rules.
  • Canada has those too, which makes sense since it's a Commonwealth nation. They are also more ceremonial in nature, with many of them not being issued live ammunition outside of heightened security risks. They're active at the Citadel of Québec, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Rideau Hall. Some have also crossed the pond to serve at Buckingham Palace.
  • South Korean soldiers in the Joint Security Area at Panmunjeon, the demilitarised zone that straddles both Koreas, are in sunglasses, short sleeves and at a tense alert. Like the bearskin-wearing Guards, they will not move or react to visitors but they are still working soldiers in an active warzone. Any attempt to interfere or, heaven help you, get passed them to the northern side will be met with resistance.
  • The Presidential Guard in Greece is very similar to the King's Guard. Ceremony purposes? Check. Historical outfit that is wildly out of place in the modern era? Check. Complete refusal to leave their post until relieved even when their guard post is on fire and their uniform is currently smoldering and burning from the heat? Check.
  • Vatican City has the famous Pontifical Swiss Guards, protectors of the Pope. While their colourful uniforms and old weaponry can make the tourists laugh, it is one of the oldest military units in the world and every one is a professional trained soldier (specifically having served the mandatory term in the Swiss Army and then received further training) and sworn to defend the Pope. They have been extra serious about their job since the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II in 1981.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): British Royal Guard, The Queens Guard, Queens Guard, Kings Guard, The Kings Guard


A Great Uniform

In "The Scarecrow" from "Toot & Puddle," Toot encounters the equivalent of one of these in his World of Funny Animals, a bear. He manages to get a wink out of the guard, as well as a photo op.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / BritishRoyalGuards

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