Who'll save the Queen?
'I'm so ugly. No boy will ever want me.' Thus spoke Sarah Ferguson in an
early scene from 'Andy and Fergie's Love Story', a Sun royal comic
strip, in 1986. In the final picture the couple walk down the aisle arm-in-arm.
Andy turns to the reader and says: 'Gotcha!'
I can't vouch for the authenticity of this version of events, as the BBC
has withdrawn all copies of the souvenir wedding video on the grounds that
it would be 'distasteful' to sell it. On that, at least, we can all agree.
If newspaper 'royal watchers' like Andrew Morton are to be believed, an
updated 'Love Story' would have to include Fergie running around the first
class cabin of a plane with a paper bag over her head, throwing bread rolls
and sugar at her father. Nor could there be any avoiding the mock-knighting
of a dog at a party, or numerous other tales of misbehaviour.
In one scene, staff would be seen muttering that 'the shouting and screaming
were more appropriate to a block of council flats than a royal palace'.
And one footman would say 'quite openly' that 'come the revolution', things
will change. Personally, I expect to hear even more regal screaming and
shouting when the phrase 'royal separation' once again refers to the head-from-shoulders
variety, but you know what he means. And it's shocking to hear him say it.
It's shocking because for the past 50 years or so there has been an unspoken
agreement that it is wrong to criticise the royal family, on the grounds
that they can't defend themselves. Now, it's plausible enough to argue against
criticising those who have no source of redress. But the reason the royal
family 'can't defend themselves' is that their loyal advisors and ministers
make sure they don't have to. In this respect the royals have a clear advantage
over child molesters, gangsters and other indefensibles who are forced to
explain themselves from time to time.
Experience has taught the royals that it pays to keep their mouths shut
and get on with minding the family business. After all, they've got nothing
to gain from a discussion of their position, and a whole country to lose.
But all good things come to an end, and the end could be nigh, if you believe
the newspapers. You know something's happening when 'The Sun says':
'The royal [note that little 'r'] story will run and run. Until the day
the people finally recognise that hereditary rulers are an absurdity.' Even
the specialist royal publications have been giving the Windsors some funny
looks. The Elizabeth II Collectors Issue compliments them on being
'the epitome of privilege and the antithesis of popular democracy', and
explains that the recent BBC documentary Elizabeth R was made to
'remind us that the Queen's there and why she's there'.
Of course, every royal documentary is carefully planned to deal with whatever
image problem currently besets the monarchy, but the problems have grown
more tricky. The first one, at the end of the difficult sixties, tried to
pass them off as a regular family (look - no neckties!). Later efforts have
emphasised their 'working lives'. But today the focus is restricted to the
three members of the family who have not yet become an embarrassing liability:
the Queen Mum, Gawd bless 'er, Princess Di ('the national dish') and the
Sir Alastair Burnett's portrait of the Queen Mother plunged to new depths
of sycophancy, even by the standards normally inspired by this wonderful
old girl. An offer of a rose to sniff was accepted according to courtly
etiquette: 'Oh Ma'aaam, yes! Oh yes...yes...yes!' Later we
see the ceremonial unveiling of a plaque. The cord snaps, but no problem - the
Queen Mum skilfully opens the curtain by hand. Sir Alastair's voice coos
dreamily: 'Makes it look so easy, doesn't she?'
That programme backfired disastrously, so the new film of a year in the
Queen's life took a self-consciously business-like approach. 'You have a
room of your own, do you?' HM inquires of an old lady in a nursing home,
'that must be rather nice, isn't it?'. A little later she is discussing
the case of a prisoner who 'helped the authorities' during the Strangeways
prison riot. 'I should think anything to do with Strangeways is rather interesting',
she says, in the tone of a woman politely perusing a primary school nature
table. We don't catch her equerry's reply ('Indeed Ma'am. They share cells - I'm
told it's rather nice').
The Queen is the last monarch to be completely cut off from the real world.
During her Jubilee, curtains were painted on to the windows of derelict
houses on her procession route. When she visited a place where I used to
work, a special toilet was built for her. It had a red velvet seat and nobody
else was allowed to use it. When the great day arrived, the real 'royal
watchers' were out in force. Not the debonair press 'insiders', but the
loyal subjects who queue all night with tartan blankets and camping stools
for the privilege of pressing their faces against the railings for a glimpse
of the royal hat.
No doubt some of them will queue for The Victoria & Albert Museum's
new exhibition 'Sovereign', subtitled '40 Years of Service'. But as services
go, only British Rail is getting a worse press. You've Been Framed thrashed
Elizabeth R in the TV ratings. Perhaps the future lies with those
who also serve by sitting and waiting outside the gates. Although for many
of them this service is its own reward, there are others who crave public
acknowledgement. So they've begun to privatise one of the Queen's services - the
Fount of Honour. 'Recognition for devoted monarchists' is now available - at
a price - through the classified pages of Majesty and the rest. Buy
yourself a title - you've earned it. Some may say this cheapens honours,
but remember, not everyone can afford them under the official system.
Queen Victoria and Edward VII both expected to see the end of the monarchy
in their lifetimes, and now the same concern seems to be concentrating royal
minds once more. The Queen's Royal Anniversary Trust is funding a 'Royal
Things To Do' education pack. The Queen Mother now has her own kettle, so
she can spare her staff the trouble of fetching her tea. Grand gestures
both, yet still the nagging feeling remains that it may be too little, too
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 43, May 1992