Last Night's TV: Royal male didn't deliver fairytale ending

The Queen's Wedding, Channel 4; All-New House of Tiny Tearaways, BBC3
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The Independent Culture

One good thing to come out of the Charles and Diana business is that we're now over royal fairytales. The bad news is that they've been replaced by royal conspiracy theories, which aren't necessarily any healthier, or more plausible.

The Queen's Wedding worked quite hard to present the marriage of Her Maj and the Duke as the fruit of a Machiavellian plot by Lord Mountbatten, who was determined to use his impoverished nephew's undoubted good looks (he had wavy blond hair and a smart sailor-suit back in those days) to the best conceivable advantage. Royal pundits (a slightly desperate, pathetic breed, I always think: Gyles Brandreth is one) were wheeled on to accentuate Mountbatten's ambition and mendacity, and the narrative made what seemed to be some large assumptions: for example, that Mountbatten conceived his scheme the very first day Elizabeth and Philip met, when he was a naval cadet and she was 13. The attraction was, we were led to believe, almost instantaneous, though the only supporting testimony was extracts from The Little Princesses, Marion Crawford's memoir of her time as Elizabeth and Margaret's governess, a particularly sugary example of the fairytale approach to storytelling.

The narrative prompted a few questions, too. For example, what were the mechanics of Mountbatten's manipulation, given that during the crucial years he was mostly overseas doing his bit to hold the Empire together in Burma, and then dissolve it in post-war India. It's true he lobbied to have Philip made a British subject (not "citizen", as the programme put it - the optimism of the terminology seemed particularly out of place in this context), but it's a stretch to say this was a ploy to make him more marriageable. Philip was a prince without a country, his father having been thrown out of Greece, and saddled with a surname that sounded, to put it mildly, German, being a member of the house of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburg; and he'd been educated in Britain and had served in the Royal Navy. The most they could come up with was that Philip was photographed playing cricket - spin-bowling, I suppose.

Having done everything it could with the conspiracy version, and got to the point where Liz and Phil were engaged, the programme went all out to talk up the controversies over their wedding in 1947. Courtiers were hostile to Philip because they thought he was "unpolished" - and how very wrong history has proved them - and on the make. "In Royal terms," the narration pointed out, "Philip was a boy from the wrong side of the tracks," although I'm not sure that the "In Royal terms" part doesn't pretty much cancel out the "wrong side of the tracks" bit. There was evidently some muttering among the lower orders about his foreignness, though there was some disagreement as to whether it mattered more that he was a Greek or a Kraut; and there was considerable outrage at the expense of the wedding - one point that the programme might have made more of was that previous Royal weddings had been private affairs. The public lavishness of this one suggests that if there was a conspiracy, it was between the Royals and the Labour government to distract everyone from the sheer grinding misery of post-war Britain. In retrospect, it's odd that George Orwell didn't put a Royal wedding into Nineteen Eighty-Four when he wrote it a year later.

Still, the fact is that compared with the last 25, frequently horrible years of royal history, the late 1940s really were an age of fairytale, when poor boys could marry princesses and live happily ever after. These times were, in all honesty, a bit dull, and it's futile to pretend otherwise. If the producers really wanted to rock the idyll, they'd have spent a couple of minutes reminding us what this marriage managed to do to the children it produced.

Meanwhile, I have a loyal suggestion for the House of Windsor: given that their current brand is so tarnished, and that they've never been shy of re-branding in the past (remember the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha?), why not change their name to the House of Tiny Tearaways? Not only does it have proven popularity, but it isn't at all a bad description. This would then leave the TV series, All-New House of Tiny Tearaways, in need of a new title: can I suggest "Come, Let Us Gasp at the Awfulness of Working-Class Parents", which seems to capture the spirit? At the moment, the principal drama in the house revolves around Sammy, a 21-year-old mother of four (including triplets), with another one on the way - a self-involved, lazy, sulking cartoon of feckless motherhood. I felt deeply uncomfortable with the way the programme serves up her patent immaturity and lack of education - the social and moral sort, not just GCSEs - for our entertainment. Then again, there is Sammy's husband, David, a jug-eared, shaven-headed, Middlesbrough-strip-wearing ferret of a man, who is the most patient, attentive husband and father you could wish to see. His example is almost enough to persuade me that the programme has some real value, and isn't just a gawp-fest. Almost.

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