To my - admittedly indifferent - eyes it seemed to go about its business with admirable measure, being fair to the individuals involved (Shawcross pointed out that the Queen herself has not welshed on the original contract with her people, even if some of the clauses now look a little out of date) while being properly sceptical about the institution. When we had an empire, as the historian Linda Colley argued, there was some point to the monarch - he or she acted as a sentimental glue to hold that extraordinary territorial bric-a-brac together. These days, though, the Empire has dwindled a little - in fact it might be represented, as it was in this film, by a cockaded governor inspecting the massed ranks of the Anguillan Brownies (with an admirably straight face, it has to be said - the man deserves his paradise posting).
Even if the sentiment lingers on in the shards of the Empire it doesn't seem quite enough on its own to justify the extensive - and expensive - panoply of monarchy. Sooner or later someone will ask why a tourist attraction should be so intimately bound to the constitution of a modern state. Actually, on the constitutional front there was a characteristically mischievous contribution from Alan Clark - who pointed out that the Act of Settlement already allowed Parliament to make changes to the monarchy. We don't need to worry about all that business of a president, he explained, we just need to vote in King Gary Lineker. Obviously he wouldn't be able to nick crisps off nuns in telly adverts any more, but otherwise I can't see any reason why it shouldn't work rather well.
Over the weekend BBC2 offered another chance to see Barbet Schroeder's strange film about General Idi Amin - an uneasy record of clownish power and terrorised sycophancy (people laughed at his jokes even more determinedly than they laugh at Prince Charles's, which is saying something). Last night, in Travels with My Camera, Channel 4 offered a different angle, returning to Uganda with Denis Hills, who was sentenced to death by Amin in 1975 for telling the truth about his genocidal brutality. Hills was saved after a bit of embarrassing grovelling from the then Foreign Secretary and was generally considered to be a bit of a nuisance - both by the diplomats who had to extricate him and the white community who were making a rich living out of Amin's hazardous patronage.
Now 81, Hills seemed as game as ever - travelling across the country to make contact with Kalisto, a former pupil who lives in the remote north - a beautiful, unfamiliar landscape of domed mountains. Hills is a rather admirable character but not, you quickly gathered, very easy to live with. Nor had he grasped the principle requirements of a television film, either. "You can't go around with that bloody thing pointing it all the time at people," he snapped at his long-suffering director, Sandra Hoggett, "It gets on our nerves... it's very bad manners". She deserves some credit for having the nerve to ignore him and even more for taking care of the irascible old bugger when the strain of the trip finally told on him.Reuse content