Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Phil the Greek

People sometimes ask: if you're a republican, why do you watch films about the Royal Family?
Well, I also watch programmes about serial killers but that doesn't mean I think society benefits from the existence of serial killers.
There's actually a similarity there: both are aberrations. Both are like us and yet not like us. And both are the subject of a weird fascination.

ITV's The Duke, a portrait of Prince Philip, was one of the worst examples of the genre. It was monumentally boring, economical with the truth and sycophantic. As with similar documentaries about the Queen, we had a succession of servants, friends and family making him sound like some kind of polymath. Not forgetting his distinguished naval career, his sporting prowess, his sparkling wit, etc, etc.
And, according to one contributor, my title is incorrect because he's not Greek but Danish. Does anyone care?

The programme told us that Philip had invented a role for the Queen's consort. But it didn't tell us that he had no choice but to re-invent the role because from the very beginning he was marginalised and kept firmly in his place by the Queen.

The first break with precedent was that the royal house and the Queen's children did not take Philip's surname. This contrasts with what happened in the case of Victoria and Albert, where the royal family took the name Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (until it was changed to Windsor because of the First World War.) But, partly through pressure from the Cabinet, the name did not change from Windsor to Mountbatten, to the anger of Philip and the even greater fury of his uncle, Lord Mountbatten.

The other difference from the situation with Prince Albert is that the Queen has always kept Philip away from her consitutional duties as Head of State and not given him access to the State papers that she has to work on every day. In contrast, Albert acted as Victoria's private secretary and was intimately involved with affairs of state. Indeed, it almost amounted to a joint monarchy.

I can share one previously unpublished, if trivial, story that contradicts the programme's assertion that the Queen is content that Philip is the one who wears the trousers.
Someone who worked in the hotel industry told me that about 50 years ago the Queen and Philip were attending a function together. Several times the Queen signalled to Philip that she was ready to leave. He was enjoying himself and ignored her. Eventually she summoned a waiter and gave him a folded piece of paper and told him to deliver it to Prince Philip. The waiter, as you would, managed to surreptitiously unfold and read the note. It bore the curt message: "The Queen will be leaving in three minutes."


At 7:00 AM, Blogger Tim Footman said...

I think 'Phil the Dane' suits him better than 'Phil the Greek'. I see him donning a spiked helmet, leaping in his longboat, and laying waste to massive swathes of Tyneside. Rather than sitting in a white-tiled taverna, discussing Aristophanes and eating squid.

At 4:28 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

tim: that's a fair point.
A member of my family has a Greek boyfriend so when I meet him I'll broach the subject of Aristophanes.
But I think I'll pass on the squid.


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