Reinventing The Royals, TV review: This royal appointment wasn't worth the wait


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The Independent Culture

Reinventing the Royals finally made it to our screens last night, six weeks after it was first scheduled for broadcast.

At the time, the BBC said their last-minute decision to shelve the documentary was due to "a number of issues including the use of archive footage", but there was speculation in the papers that Prince Charles was "furious" with the documentary's content. But can we trust what the papers say about the royals, anyway? Handily, that was exactly the topic of this two-parter presented by ex-Panorama editor Steve Hewlett.

Hewlett was an editor on Panorama back when it broadcast Martin Bashir's interview with Princess Diana, but the story he wanted to tell here began in August 1997, in the Paris underpass where the Princess was involved in a fatal car crash. During the outpouring of grief that followed, the public sought somewhere to place blame and alighted on two equally viable candidates: the press, accused of hounding her to her death, and the royal family, alleged to have made her miserable while she was alive. Thus began the most recent battle in the centuries-old war of monarchy vs media.

Unsurprisingly the latter group was much better represented in this documentary, which included interviews with old favourites like Nicholas "that bloody man" Witchell and long-time BBC royal correspondent Jennie Bond on gossipy form. More of a coup, was the presence of Sandy Henney, press secretary to Prince Charles from 1993 to 2000 and all were united in their grudging admiration for the real dark prince of press manipulation, Mark Bolland.

It was Bolland, Prince Charles's deputy private secretary, who initiated "Operation PB", to help ease Camilla into the public eye. According to the colourful stories told here, his years as Charles's "Blackadder" were great fun and everyone had a ruddy marvellous time, all except Prince Edward, who often found himself cast as the stooge in Bolland's schemes. Like that time his production company, Ardent, was caught breaking an embargo on filming Prince William. But was that really what happened? "You've got to ask, where did the story come from? And why was it spread?" said Ardent producer Paul Watson.

Hewlett was already asking these very questions about every major monarchy story of the past 20 years. Still, no one has yet asked the most pressing question of all: who gives a toss about the royal family? Aside from the royal correspondents, that is.