Sixty Joyless De-Britished Uncrowned Commonpoor Years (1949-2009)

Elizabeth II Vice-Regal Saint: Remembering Paul Comtois (1895–1966), Lt.-Governor of Québec
Britannic Inheritance: Britain's proud legacy. What legacy will America leave?
English Debate: Daniel Hannan revels in making mince meat of Gordon Brown
Crazy Canucks: British MP banned from Canada on national security grounds
Happy St. Patrick's: Will Ireland ever return to the Commonwealth?
Voyage Through the Commonwealth: World cruise around the faded bits of pink.
No Queen for the Green: The Green Party of Canada votes to dispense with monarchy.
"Sir Edward Kennedy": The Queen has awarded the senator an honorary Knighthood.
President Obama: Hates Britain, but is keen to meet the Queen?
The Princess Royal: Princess Anne "outstanding" in Australia.
H.M.S. Victory: In 1744, 1000 sailors went down with a cargo of gold.
Queen's Commonwealth: Britain is letting the Commonwealth die.
Justice Kirby: His support for monarchy almost lost him appointment to High Court
Royal Military Academy: Sandhurst abolishes the Apostles' Creed.
Air Marshal Alec Maisner, R.I.P. Half Polish, half German and 100% British.
Cherie Blair: Not a vain, self regarding, shallow thinking viper after all.
Harry Potter: Celebrated rich kid thinks the Royals should not be celebrated
The Royal Jelly: A new king has been coronated, and his subjects are in a merry mood
Victoria Cross: Australian TROOPER MARK DONALDSON awarded the VC
Godless Buses: Royal Navy veteran, Ron Heather, refuses to drive his bus
Labour's Class War: To expunge those with the slightest pretensions to gentility
100 Top English Novels of All Time: The Essential Fictional Library
BIG BEN: Celebrating 150 Years of the Clock Tower

Monday, 9 July 2007

Royals should be dull and dutiful

Craig Brown gets it right with "We prefer our monarchy dull and dutiful". This is what Beaverbrook was meaning two posts below, though I think it would be more correct for Mr. Brown to say "royals" instead of monarchy. We prefer our monarchy to be anything but dull, when it provides the elevating spectacle of pomp and pageantry. He means to say dull and dutiful royals.

I don't want to be a party-pooper, but I can't rustle up the same enthusiasm as my colleague Andrew O'Hagan did earlier this week at the sight of Princes William and Harry bopping around and performing the Mexican Wave at last weekend's Wembley concert in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales.

"They danced, they sang, they had a few drinks, and repeatedly they joined in the Mexican Wave," wrote O'Hagan, jubilantly. "In other words, they enjoyed themselves, something that hasn't happened so very much since the days of Charles II." It is this public fun-loving that O'Hagan believes will guarantee the future of the monarchy. "They seem as if they might know something about the country that will sustain them and believe in them and over which they will rule," he wrote. He concluded that Prince William is "not a moribund figure of the past, but a perfectly pleasant-seeming person with values his future subjects can recognise. And without such a figure, the Royal Family might have been done for."

In fact, the Royal Family has produced many - perhaps too many - fun-lovers since the days of Charles II. George IV grew so merry on his wedding night that his bride, Queen Caroline, complained of feeling neglected. "Judge what it was to have a drunken husband on one's wedding day and one who passed the greatest part of his bridal night under the grate, where he fell and where I left him," came her huffy despatch from the marital chamber.

King Edward VII, too, devoted the better part of his life to eating, drinking and making merry. In the spring of 1881, the newspapers were so full of news of the size of his debts that the Hotel Bristol in Paris, where he was staying, was besieged by so many money-lenders' agents that they had to be dispersed by the police.

Far from being a moribund figure, he installed an American bowling alley at Sandringham, enjoyed making his guests stand as cockshies while he pelted them with snowballs, and, in 1875, was delighted when, dining at the Café des Anglais, the voluptuous Cora Pearl was served up to him on a silver dish, naked save for a few sprigs of parsley and a string of pearls.

Before 1936, royal jollity tended to leap-frog generations. After the solemn Victoria came the sybaritic Edward VII; after the clock-winding, stamp-collecting George V, the cocktail-shaking, knickerbocker-wearing, banjo-playing Edward VIII, who was himself succeeded by his shy, stammering brother George VI. The present Queen, with her preference for duty over merriment, has broken the sequence, but what of her grandson William?

One of the morals to be drawn from this alternating sequence is that the British public is far more priggish than Andrew O'Hagan will allow; when all is said and done, we prefer our monarchy dull and dutiful. From time to time, we may kid ourselves that we want them to "sing openly", as Earl Spencer put it at his sister's funeral. But the moment we spot them singing too openly, we might just start wondering whether the bargain we have struck with them isn't a little one-sided. We can revere them, or we can watch them having fun: we find it very hard to do both at the same time.

We want a touch of solemnity, even a touch of awkwardness or aloofness, not a group of all-round family entertainers. "Oooh, I wouldn't have her job for all the money in the world" is the stock phrase that has long been as familiar in every village shop as the ting! of the bell as you open the door. Yet it is as much a demand as a lament: if ever the job began to look too pleasurable, all those clucking villagers would start seething with resentment. This means that, even on their foreign travels, we require the Royal Family to look happy, but not too happy: the moment they step off the plane into the beaming sun they must, at very least, be obliged to sit through a tribal dance or a military parade.

The height of royal fun in recent years was, of course, The Grand Knockout, now popularly known as It's a Royal Knockout. Princes Edward and Andrew joined Princess Anne and the Duchess of York in dressing up and mucking about with a motley selection of stars from stage and screen, including Meat Loaf, Anthony Andrews, Kevin Kline, Mel Smith, Billy Connolly and, oddest of all, George Lazenby, the counterfeit James Bond. A number of them dressed up as giant vegetables and threw toytown hams at one another. The show was hosted by Stuart Hall, Les Dawson and the excitable Su Pollard from TV's Hi-de-Hi!

It proved a dead loss, ending with Prince Edward exiting the post-show press conference in a hissy fit after his question to journalists - "What did you think of it?" - had been met with an embarrassed titter. Many commentators have dated the decline of the Royal Family from that moment, and with some reason: overnight, they had changed their script from the Divine Right of Kings to Carry On Queening, and now it had all ended in tears.

I suspect that, with her bat-like radar for public image, Diana, Princess of Wales knew instinctively that gloom goes down better than glee with the British. We liked Princess Margaret as the tragic princess, unlucky in love: the moment she looked as though she was having a high old time with a hippy in Mustique, we turned on her.

The next in line for public censure was Princess Michael of Kent, whose unpopularity owed much to the suspicion that she enjoyed being royal a little too much.

Diana knew better. Not for her any larking about dressed as a parsnip: while the others were fooling around with Su Pollard and George Lazenby she simply sat back and watched. And later, whenever she sensed the public turning against her, she knew that all she had to do was look sad and lonely, whether outside the Taj Mahal or in Kensington Palace with the crew from Panorama. It is easy now to forget that the Glenda Slaggs who led the tearful tributes to her on her death were the very same people who, a few weeks earlier, had been tut-tutting at her for living it up in a swimsuit on a luxury yacht with a dodgy Egyptian playboy in tow.

At the moment, the British public likes to see its two young princes bopping about, but that is because we have not yet forgotten the forlorn sight of them walking behind their mother's coffin 10 years ago. When this memory passes - and the public memory is short - then our priggishness will return and we will tut-tut, once again, at any sign of exuberance or independence.

Decades ago, Private Eye ran a cover showing Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon beaming away in the back of a limousine. But the speech- bubbles told a different story. Princess Margaret was saying something rude to Lord Snowdon, and Snowdon was snapping back: "Just shut up and keep waving!"

Like it or not, that remains the most apt job description for modern royalty, and I doubt there will be any let-out for Prince William or Prince Harry.