Early on during the fourth episode in the new season of The Crown, Prince Philip gathers the royal family — including his wife, Queen Elizabeth II — to deliver some very exciting news.
They are about to become reality TV stars!
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The year is 1969. He has just given a disastrous TV interview describing the palace as hard up for cash. To make ends meet, the family even sold a yacht. The prince is worried he might have to quit polo.
So, to boost the image and worth of the royal family, Prince Philip invites the BBC to make a film about them — a documentary. But the family doesn't quite understand what he's talking about, staring at him as if he were explaining a taxi meter.
Princess Margaret's husband Tony, a photographer, jumps in to explain. "It means no acting," he says. "No artifice. Just the real thing, like one of those wildlife films."
Suddenly, the Queen Mother perks up.
"Oh, I like those," she says.
In roll the cameras.
Fact: The documentary, titled Royal Family, was made in real life, though it aired before Prince Phillip was a dunce on TV.
Fact: It was a smash hit, with more than three-quarters of the country tuning in. (Take that, Kardashians.)
Fact: Queen Elizabeth II was not a fan.
In fact, she banned Royal Family from being shown again in its entirety, relegating the two-hour film to a sort of loosely held palace secret known only to those lucky enough to have tuned in the first time.
Why she regretted the film is not, like so much else about the Queen, known entirely.
Some historians and commentators have suggested the film, while popular with the proletariat, cheapened the monarchy by lifting its veil. In making that point for BBC History Magazine, historian Sarah Gristwood quoted Victorian essayist Walter Bagehot: "We must not let in daylight upon magic."
The daylight, on The Crown and in real life, revealed triviality and more than a whiff of out-of-touchness.
On the show, the characters watch the documentary showing the Queen doing paperwork. By golly, she must even review important papers while tending to her horses. Her grasp of politics and the issues of the day seems detached, at best. Greeting an ambassador, she remarks, "World problems are so complex, aren't they?" (In the real life film, the Queen makes this comment to President Richard Nixon.)
There are dinners to plan, honors to bestow.
And what does the Queen do to recharge from all this magisterial stress? In a fictionalised clip aired on The Crown, which news accounts and clips of the real documentary confirm to have more or less happened, the Queen and family retire to Balmoral, their Scottish castle. They barbecue. Prince Philip mans the grill. The Queen tends to the salad.
It's a "scene everyone remembers" from the documentary, wrote Gristwood, who also described other notable scenes:
… the Queen was also shown feeding carrots to her horses, watching a sitcom on television and driving her youngest son, Edward, out to the village shop to buy sweets. Prince Charles was seen water-skiing and working on his college history essay; practising the cello until a string snaps in his little brother Edward's face. (Carefully, among the scenes of the family's sporting pleasures there were none of deer stalking or shooting — the fear being less that they would seem more bloodthirsty than elitist.)
Those scenes weren't shown on The Crown, though. Perhaps the writers thought they would be overkill. After all, viewers of the show have already witnessed, in two seasons and counting, the royal family displaying concerns and behavior and wealth and privilege and power that is unfamiliar to most inhabitants of Earth.
No attempt to seem normal will reveal anything other than the opposite of normal.
Take, for instance, a 90-second clip the Queen allowed the National Portrait Gallery to show as part of her Diamond Jubilee celebration. It's still bouncing around the Internet.
She's eating breakfast at Buckingham Palace with her husband and kids. She is telling a story, part of which involves her ringing a bell to allow someone in — a man with long arms and short legs who apparently looks like a gorilla.
The Queen could barely keep a straight face during the meeting.
"I had the most appalling trouble," she says.
Prince Charles, 21 years old and in suit and tie, laughs and laughs.