Queen Mary: How She Saved The Royals – Channel 5

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I’m loving Channel 5’s royal season.  However, they will go for these rather sensationalist programme titles!   But, whilst I wouldn’t say that Queen Mary “saved” the Royals, she certainly played a very important role, especially at two very difficult times.  And she’s such a fascinating person – I sometimes wonder what such an intelligent, cultured woman really thought about all the huntin’, shootin’ fishin’, goings-on at Sandringham!   As the programme pointed out, she was also a very significant influence on our current Queen, making sure that she and Princess Margaret got a better and wider education that they might have done otherwise, and showing her the importance of duty.

Channel 5 tends to go for gossipy biographers rather than historians, I wasn’t impressed by all the references to “Mary” when she was always known as “May” – either say “Queen Mary” or “May”, but not just “Mary”! – and I dread to imagine where they found that American newsreel which got Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s name wrong, but this was generally a very enjoyable programme.  OK, it didn’t say anything new, but it was good to see a very under-rated Queen getting the attention she deserves.  It was also quite poignant to be reminded that her first fiancé, Prince Eddy, whose life and death tend to be overshadowed by all the gossip and speculation about him (the programme did resist the temptation to trot out the Jack The Ripper rumour!), died during the Russian/Asiatic flu pandemic of the early 1890s, which killed over a million people.  But back to Queen Mary …

We heard a bit about her early life.  It didn’t say much about her time in Florence, which was a shame, and I could have lived with fewer comments about her mother being embarrassing, but we did hear about her family’s financial problems and the dignified way in which she coped with them.  Then on to her engagement to Prince Eddy, and her eventual marriage to his brother, Prince George, and how well their marriage turned out.

They were criticised for being bad parents, and it’s hard to argue with that. To some extent they were products of their class and times, but not all parents were like that: we’re always told what a happy childhood their future daughter-in-law Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon had.  Having said which, I do think the programme was a bit hard on her in that respect.  But most of it was about her public role rather than her personal life.  It’s easy to underestimate what a precarious position the British Royals were in during and immediately after the First World War.  Thrones were toppling everywhere.  In fact, that started even earlier, if you look at Portugal.   There was also the issue of the Royals’ German links.

But they came through it so well.  The programme paid particular attention to Queen Mary’s work with women, and talked a lot about how hard she and King George worked to build ties with working-class communities.  As it said, they were both very conservative people, and it can’t have been easy for them to do things in such a different way, going on walkabouts, visiting coal mines, and so on.  It also made the point that she was quite a shy person, and so much going about in public and meeting different people must have been hard for her.  The same with her second son, George VI, and maybe even to some extent with our present Queen.  But they all did it, because of their sense of duty.

The one who didn’t share that, of course, was Queen Mary’s eldest son.  You can argue the rights and wrongs of the Abdication until the cows come home, but, in the world of 1936, it was not possible for the King to be married to a divorced woman.  It was another very dangerous time for the monarchy, and Queen Mary helped to pull it through.  Some very good points were made about how previous Dowager Queens had faded into the background (although I think that was rather simplifying things) but she kept on going, and broke precedents in doing so.

And then it talked about her influence on her granddaughter, our present Queen.  I think she’d be incredibly proud of her, and also of what a good job many other senior members of the Royal Family, especially William and Kate, are doing a this very difficult time.  As it said, in times of trouble, the Royal Family provide unity and stability.  Queen Mary was a part of that during the Great War, and behaved with such dignity during the Abdication Crisis which must have been so difficult for her personally.  She was a naturally conservative person who adapted successfully to changing times, and I find her particularly interesting as someone who was so well-read and cultured at a time when education for girls was not prioritised and in some circles was even frowned on.

Thanks again to Channel 5 for this series of royal documentaries.  They aren’t saying anything new, but they’re interesting, and they’re comfortable, and really we need that at the moment!  And they’re nice.  There’s way too much nastiness around at the moment, now that the “Spirit of the Blitz” of the early days of lockdown has faded.  This was nice.  Hooray for being nice!

 

 

 

Three Royal documentaries – Our Queen At War (ITV), Prince Philip (Channel 5), Princess Anne (Channel 5)

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Three Royal documentaries – Our Queen At War (ITV), Philip: the King without a Crown (Channel 5) and Anne: the Daughter who should be Queen (Channel 5).  None of them said anything we haven’t heard umpteen times before, but they were all quite interesting, especially so as I think they must have been filmed after lockdown – the first “lockdown era” documentaries I’ve seen which haven’t actually been about coronavirus issues.  The opinions of the “experts” were either just given by voiceover or else given over video links from their homes.  I think ITV had tarted theirs up a bit, but the Channel 5 ones were clearly home videos made on Zoom or Tik Tok or something similar.  And the ITV one used animated graphics, which was something different.   I’m not sure how the Queen’d feel about her teenage self being shown as an animated graphic, but I’d like to think she’d be quite amused by it!

With no live sport, soaps on ration, and no way of filming new episodes of most programmes until the end of lockdown, TV channels couldn’t be blamed too much if they just showed a lot of repeats – but they’d gone to the trouble of making these new programmes, and they deserve some kudos for that.

The one about Prince Philip was on first, and this really was largely just recycling old stuff.  Out came the video clips of Charles and Diana’s wedding, Diana’s funeral, etc etc, for the umpteenth time!  I’d really have liked to hear more about Philip’s early years, which aren’t discussed nearly as much – but, to be fair, the title of the programme made clear that it was about his role as consort.  The family stuff, whilst interesting, had been said a million times before, as had the sorry tale of his having to give up his naval career, but I enjoyed the discussions about his work, especially the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme.  It was an hour’s decent watching, anyway.

The one about the Queen’s wartime experiences followed a few days later.  Again, a lot of this was, whilst interesting, same old same old – the speech that she made from Windsor in 1940, and the bombing of Buckingham Palace, and she and Princess Margaret mingling with the crowds on VE Day.  I rather enjoyed all the romantic bits, though.  One of these days, history will see the Queen and Prince Philip’s relationship as one of the greatest royal romances of all time.  Walking round the grounds at Windsor hand-in-hand when he was on leave from the Navy.  Bless!   And, as the programme said, having a boyfriend (for lack of a better word) who was on active service gave the then Princess Elizabeth a greater understanding of what so many other women at the time were going through.

The general point of the programme was to emphasise the fact that the Queen, despite her privileged position, shared many of the wartime experiences that other people did, and how the war years shaped her; and it did a good job of that.  For one thing, we were reminded that she and Princess Margaret actually saw a flying bomb going overhead, before it landed very close by, at Windsor Racecourse. There were even some bits I don’t think I’d ever seen before, such as shots of evacuees from Glasgow on the Balmoral estate.  And I loved seeing the film clips of the Queen driving a truck whilst she was in the ATS!   Those clips aren’t often seen.  This was a very good hour’s TV, especially at the moment with the wartime generation proving such an inspiration during the coronavirus crisis.

Just as a slight aside, though, the fact that they’re now the oldest members of society means that the wartime generation have been hit very hard by this horrible virus.  It’s very sad to read about war veterans or Holocaust survivors, who’d come through so much, having their lives finally ended by this awful, awful thing.

Finally, we had the programme about Princess Anne.  I don’t know whether the title was just meant to attract attention or whether someone genuinely thought it was a valid statement.  I can’t imagine for one second that Princess Anne even wants to be Queen, and there’s certainly no “should” about it: she’s not the eldest.  And, whilst I think she’s amazing, it’s probably a job for someone a bit more tactful!  She is great, though!

One of the “experts” mispronounced everything from “primogeniture” to “governess” which was rather annoying, but it was a very good programme otherwise.  We went back through Anne’s early years, and how the media were quite negative about her in the early 1980s, and she was overshadowed by Diana and Fergie as well as by Charles, but how she earned huge respect because of her work with Save The Children and other charities.  There was also quite a lot about her equestrian career.  It didn’t mention A Question of Sport 🙂 , but it did mention her being Sports Personality of the Year in 1971, and competing at the Olympics on 1976.  It also emphasised the fact that she’s often been the first British Royal to make overseas tours to places which are sensitive for one reason or another, notably the Soviet Union – a very good point.

I remember the negative press she used to get, and was very pleased that this programme was almost entirely complimentary about her hard work and no-nonsense attitude.

She does a sterling job!   As do all the other senior royals – and they’ve been doing what they can in these difficult times.  Thank you to them, and thank you to ITV and Channel 5 for taking the trouble to make these new programmes.  I enjoyed all three of them.

Inside the Crown: Secrets of the Royals – ITV

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Watching this was like spending an hour reminiscing with old friends – some laughs, some sighs. They had a nerve calling it “Secrets of the Crown”, though. What secrets?!  At one point, they produced a document from the archives, and announced that … ta-da … it had cost £50 to hire all the chairs for the Queen and Prince Philip’s wedding. Hold the front pages!   And they must have spent a good five minutes discussing the creases in Diana’s wedding dress. I wasn’t really expecting any great revelations, though, and it was easy watching. And they kept going on about what a wonderful team the Queen and Philip make, and how theirs is the longest royal marriage in British history. Bless 😊.   Unsubtle use of “the Crown” in the title.  I haven’t got a Netflix sub, so I’ve never seen “The Crown”, but I’ve never been sure that I want to.  But I do like things like this.

This was supposed to be about balancing love and duty. A few bits had clearly been hastily shoved in at the last minute, after Harry and Meghan jumped ship, but I assume the rest of it had been filmed a while ago and that the timing was just a weird coincidence. Out came all the old stories! Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, and whether or not they sympathised with the Nazis. The establishment not being overly chuffed with Princess Elizabeth wanting to marry Prince Philip, and how she stood her ground. Was she ringing Philip from the telecommunications carriage on the train, during the 21st birthday tour of South Africa?  No idea, but I hope so. The much-told stories of how Queen Mary mistaking the traycloth that Gandhi sent them as a wedding present for a loincloth, and how people sent Princess Elizabeth their own clothing coupons – proving how wrong those grumpy MPs who said that people weren’t in the mood for a big royal wedding were. Never trust MPs!

The one part of the programme where they deviated from the traditional view of things was whilst discussing Princess Margaret and Peter Townsend.  Most people take the view that Princess Margaret decided she didn’t fancy giving up her royal status, but this showed documents agreeing that she could keep her royal status, and her Civil List income, and generally carry on as before, and that all she’d have had to give up was her place in the line of succession, which was irrelevant anyway because Prince Charles and Princess Anne were ahead of her. Their interpretation of events was that she just decided that Peter Townsend wasn’t Mr Right after all.   Who knows?  I don’t think anyone buys all that “mindful of the teachings of the church” stuff, though!

Then they brought up all the speculation in the late 1950s that all wasn’t well between the Queen and Prince Philip.  See, all the Royals get hassle from the press.  Remember all those headlines about “the Duchess of Pork”, “Sophie and the Fake Sheikh” and “Waity Katy”?  And it’s not just here – it happens to the royal families of other countries too.  How Harry and Meghan can be so self-obsessed as to make out that the media are picking on them in particular is beyond me.  Look at all the grief Camilla’s had to put up with.  It must be horrendous, but keep calm, be dignified, carry on, and it passes.

They were very even-handed, in this programme, with Charles and Diana, which I was impressed with – it annoys me when people try to vilify one or the other of them.  Can we just accept that it was a bad match?  They’re hardly the first people to have made bad choices of partner, and, if they’d been any other couple, they’d have split up very soon after the wedding.  It’s sad, though.  Easy to be wise after the event, but, looking now at the pre-wedding interviews, it was so obviously a disaster waiting to happen.  I’ve seen better chemistry between complete strangers.  Oh dear 😦 .

Finally, the latest generation of royal couples. High, and well-deserved, praise for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and especially for the Duchess. As for the Sussexes, enough’s been said about them over the last few weeks, and may they stay out of the headlines like they claim they want to.  But it was the Queen and Prince Philip who were the stars of the show.  As great royal romances go, theirs is right up there.

So, like I said, it was like reminiscing with old friends.  But there were definitely no secrets revealed!

Albert: The Power Behind Victoria – Channel 5

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This was very watchable, and impressively accurate by Channel 5’s standards. I don’t know why it claimed to be telling an “unknown story”, given that it didn’t say anything that hasn’t been said a zillion times before – although it’s the first time I’ve ever heard anyone describe Prince Albert and Sir Robert Peel as having had a “bromance” (I love that idea!) – but it was still interesting.  What have Channel 5 got against Queen Victoria, though?  First, they showed that series which wildly exaggerated the tension between her and her children, and then, in this, they pretty much made out that she was hysterical and unstable.  Give the woman a break.   Be virtually imprisoned by your mother until you’re eighteen, and then produce seven children in nine and a half years (and another two later), and I think most people would be a little less than cool, calm and collected.

I think Queen Victoria must have been really worried about people thinking she was unstable. There are various theories about what caused George III’s problems, and I still go with the porphyria theory even though a lot of people don’t, but, at the time, it would just have been classed as “madness”.  Given the 18th and 19th century ideas about the “taint” of hereditary madness, any sort of irrational behaviour in his descendants – and Victoria was certainly temperamental, and prone to some extreme reactions – would have caused mutterings.  She’d have been so upset by this programme L .

I myself could well have done without all the comments about hysteria and instability and the suggestions that politicians preferred to deal with Albert because Victoria was “unstable”, not to mention the remarks about Victoria being entirely reliant on her husband. It sounded more like a run-through of some of the main arguments put forward against women’s suffrage than anything else.  OK, there was some element of truth in it, but it wasn’t half exaggerated – just as much of what was in Queen Victoria and her Tragic Family was exaggerated.

The stuff about Prince Albert, though, was fairly good – even if it was by no means “an untold story”. It was presented as a docu-drama, which seems to be the “in” format these days, and is more entertaining than the old-bloke-sat-behind-desk format.  I’m not sure why they had to give young Albert such a weird hat and haircut, though.  He looked more like Windy Miller from Camberwick Green than a handsome prince!  We got all the usual stuff about him initially being unpopular and seen as a scrounger, kicking out Baroness Lehzen, Osborne House, Balmoral, Christmas – as was pointed out, Albert didn’t actually introduce Christmas trees to Britain, but he probably can be credited with popularising the idea of the cosy family Christmas that we still know and love today! – and his closeness to his eldest daughter.  The presenters did seem determined to show Albert as an ideal father, in contrast to Victoria who was shown as being a rather cold mother, and jealous of Albert’s relationships with their children.  Victoria certainly wasn’t going to win any mother of the year awards, but I’m not sure that Albert would exactly have been up for father of the year either.  The Prince of Wales certainly wouldn’t have thought so.  The term “control freak” springs to mind!  But not according to Channel 5.

OK, the way they presented the personal stuff wasn’t great! Much better was what they said about Albert’s contribution to public life.  This was the great age of progress, reform, improvement … all those Victorian ideas.  Science and industry – not only the advances themselves, but the way people got on with them.  Contrast the way in which railways sprang up all over the country with today, when it takes the councils months just to fill in a pothole!   And the idea of civic duty – think Josephine Butler and her campaign against the Contagious Diseases Acts, or  Elizabeth Fry and her campaign for prison reform, or all the girls’ schools (like the one I went to) founded in northern cities by local bigwigs, not as businesses but out of a sense of public duty.  Think the Co-operative Movement, and the friendly societies. Athenaeums.  Public libraries.  Victorians really got on with things!  All right, all right, none of those examples involved Prince Albert, but that was the sort of culture that he was involved in promoting.

Random thought. If Robert Peel hadn’t died in 1850, relatively young, might Albert’s work have been a bit less London-centric?   The programme went on about the Royal Albert Hall, the Science Museum, the V&A, etc – yes, all very nice, but all in That London.  OK, railways made it easier for people to travel to London from elsewhere in the country, but Albert doesn’t seem to’ve made too much effort to get involved with projects anywhere else.  Hmm.

On a more positive note, it was pointed out – and this was also shown in the ITV drama series Victoria – that he first made his mark, particularly impressing Sir Robert Peel, with a speech at an Anti-Slavery convention.  The history of abolitionism in Britain, the US and elsewhere is fascinating, and very important: it was probably the first big “cause”.  Incidentally, it should be remembered that Prince Albert arguably stopped Britain from being dragged into a war with the United States in 1861.  But, whilst it would have been a step too far for the Queen herself to have addressed the meeting,  it was considered quite appropriate for her husband to do so, and also for Robert Peel to be at the meeting – and this was at a time when, obviously, slavery was still legal in several places, notably the United States and Brazil.  Royals have their wings clipped now, and, to some extent, political leaders do too.  Be diplomatic.  Imagine a senior politician today making a speech like Gladstone’s “bag and baggage” one.  But Albert was able to speak out about the number one cause of the day.  And he did.

He got involved with so much else, as well – as a “support and patron”, as the programme said, but royal support and patronage does such a lot to boost any cause. And a lot of it was in really unfashionable areas.  Calling him “a champion of the working classes” was probably exaggerating, but his interest in improving public sanitation is well-known, and hardly the sort of thing people would have expected a prince to be getting involved with.  I think it was reasonably fair comment to say that he made some of these causes “mainstream” – although people like Edwin Chadwick (three cheers for the Mancunian!) and James Kay-Shuttleworth (from Rochdale) had been calling for improvements in living conditions for the working classes long before Prince Albert came along.  The programme didn’t mention them.

And the Great Exhibition was probably his greatest triumph. All the nastiness and sneering in the press, trying to knock something down before it’d even got going, saying it was going to be a waste of time and money – some things never change, do they?!    That was where the money for the museums came from.  Yes, it made a huge surplus – funny how that rarely seems to happen with big public projects these days!  Albert’s triumph.  Britain’s triumph.  The programme sadly, though, failed to mention one of the most important things about the Exhibition, that it had the world’s first modern pay toilets, for which you had to spend a penny, hence the expression.  Sorry, that’s really lowering the tone, isn’t it?!  It did mention that cheap tickets were available, so people from all classes were able to attend.  Albert’s triumph.  Britain’s triumph.

How much did Prince Albert influence the world we live in today? It’s very hard to say.  He was a part of something: he didn’t create the Victorian world.  But he certainly played a huge part in it.

And did he work himself into an early grave? We still don’t know how he died, and we probably never will.  Typhoid fever from bad drains, the original version?  Stomach cancer?  Crohn’s Disease, as suggested in this programme?  Coupled with obsessive overwork, weakening his health.  Very sad.

He was 42. His son-in-law, Emperor Frederick III of Germany, died at 56.  He had 14 years longer than Albert but, as his father lived to be 90, he only had 88 days as emperor, and he was too ill by then to do anything.  For all the good work Albert did in Britain, I think what he wanted even more was to see his daughter Vicky, who, as the programme said, was very like him, and her husband, bring about liberal reforms in Germany.  Well, Albert died ten years before German unification, but it was probably something he hoped would come.  That side of things never got a look-in in this programme.  Fair enough – the programme wasn’t meant to be about Germany.  But no-one questions the fact that Frederick was a great admirer of his father-in-law.  Had he (Frederick) lived longer, Germany would probably have developed very differently, and maybe there’d never have been a First World War, and then there’d never have been a Second World War.  Everything could have been so different.  And a lot of that would have been down to Prince Albert.

It wasn’t to be. But Albert certainly achieved a fair amount, and is well worthy of admiration and respect.  I just wish that the makers of this programme hadn’t found it necessary to knock Queen Victoria so much.  Channel 5 really does seem to have it in for her.  Thank goodness that ITV hasn’t!