"Whether or not history repeats itself," said Max Beerbohm, extending the famous epigram, "historians repeat each other".
With due respect to his memory, it's the first line that I'm interested in and I'm tempted to amend it as follows: "history repeats itself but in mildly surprising ways". This isn't particularly epigrammatic. But then the history I see being repeated isn't of the earth-shattering sort. I don't have an academic brain. It's more a version of the bagless Dyson vacuum cleaner that picks up the awkward fluff between the edge of the carpet and the skirting board.
Take the Earl of Wessex's spat with his family over the filming of his nephew at university. It struck me that history was repeating itself twice in this particular instance. Firstly, it seemed that the Earl was falling into line with certain royal predecessors involved with Edwardian-era "floosies" or Tudor "low-lifes". In his case, Wessex's dalliance is with a film production company that he owns, and the world of public relations, into which he's married. Both seem to be bringing him trouble by the bucket-load.
He was told by the men in the grey morning-suits yesterday to hand over the footage, and ordered to attend Buckingham Palace at His Majesty's Displeasure. The public too, is being invited to revile the boy, irredeemable as he is by either kingship or military service – he marched out of the Royal Marines fairly quickly, as I remember.
But Eddie has been doing the public a service with his sequence of documentaries on his relatives. Let's face it, with their track record of broken marriages, diplomatic gaffes, tax-avoidance and accumulation of unaccountable wealth, the Royal Family needs a bit of scrutiny, even if it comes from one of its own with a camera.
In this, history is also repeating itself because Edward Windsor, as he was then, was the key victim of a break-through royal documentary in 1967. Cameras were allowed into the household, to show the public how "normal" the family was after all. The one memorable scene came when Princess Anne was warming up for cello practice – as happens with most normal families – only for one of the strings to snap and whack young Eddie across the bonce. While Anne and the others giggled, Eddie cried and stomped. You don't have to be Anthony Clare to see the importance of this moment in the Earl of Wessex's internal landscape, and how he's now getting even, using the same medium that tormented him.
The wheel of history has turned full circle for Marvin Gaye too. He is not a member of the Royal Family, although he did once upset Princess Margaret by failing to turn up at a charity concert. Gaye, my favourite singer of all time, is back in the news because one of his songs, "What's Going On", has been played so frequently on American radio stations recently that it has been re-recorded by various artistes as a tribute to the prevailing national mood.
It's a classy track, with jazz-tinged orchestration and ethereal vocals, but when it was released 30 years ago, it was considered highly controversial and anti-establishment. This was because its lyrics, and those of several songs from the eponymous album, were all about America's racial under-classes, the predominance of military spending, damage to the ecology, brutal inner-city policing and bad race relations.
Quite why it has become a hymn to bruised unity, I don't know. Marvin can't answer because he was shot dead by his demented preacher dad in 1984 but, if I may, I'll let one line from the song speak for him: "war is not the answer, falling in love can conquer hate". If this sentiment is being taken from the song then perhaps Marvin, and Edward, would approve of history's twists after all.Reuse content