It was a right royal message

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The Independent Online
Tonight I have to go to the theatre in Bath to see an Alan Ayckbourn play, which is going to be interesting, because I expect everyone else in the theatre would rather be at home.

In other words, I imagine that the sort of people who like to go to see Ayckbourn plays are also the sort of people who would not want to miss the Princess of Wales pouring her heart out on Panorama.

It is a matter of complete indifference to me, of course. I shall be quite happy sitting in the stalls, apparently following the play, but actually glued to my earphones and my wrist television set.

In any case, the important thing about Diana's interview is not what she says or how she says it, but how it will affect Christmas. For there is a widespread rumour in the newspapers that if the BBC goes ahead and broadcasts this interview with Diana, then in revenge the Queen will refuse to let her Christmas message go out on the BBC and the BBC will be a completely Queen-free zone.

This does not appal me. Far from it. But my father would have been appalled. So would my great-uncle.

When I was a young lad, we were usually invited to spend Christmas Day in the home of my great-uncle and my equally great-aunt, who liked to make it a big family affair with never fewer than a dozen relations.

There was lunch and games and sometimes a long walk, but whatever else was happening there was always the Queen's Christmas speech. We would break off whatever we were doing at 3pm (drinking coffee in well organised years, laying the table in badly organised years) and gather round the TV set to see the grey and white pictures of Her Majesty doing her Christmas message, during which there was a reverent silence.

There was also a reverent silence long afterwards. On the subject of the Queen's message, I mean. No one ever discussed it, or asked each other what they thought of it this year, or even asked each other whether they agreed with Her Majesty.

No one said: "Well, shall we do what the Queen says? Shall we behave towards each other with greater compassion? Shall we be more serious about the Commonwealth of Nations?" It was as if the Queen had never uttered her message. It was vitally necessary to listen to it, but quite unnecessary to do anything else about it.

It was, in short, like the other great thing that everyone paid lip-service to but never took any notice of: Christianity. My father sent me to schools where they had chapel once or twice a day, but never once did he and I ever talk about religion. Once a year we listened to the Queen, but never once did I ask why we had to listen to this dreary broadcast, this embarrassing lecture which made even school sermons seem interesting, delivered in a thin monotone like someone who has been desperately miscast in an amater dramatics production, but who cannot have the part taken away from her because she is the producer's daughter.

I did once ask my father a question about the Royal Family. I must have been about 14 or 15. I said one day that I found it incomprehensible that the country should pay the Royal Family so much money. (Ahead of my time, here.)

"What do they do for it?" I asked him. "What does the Royal Family do to justify all that expense?" He goggled at me in silence for a moment. "My God," he said. "I don't believe it. I've hatched a revolutionary."

Thereafter, for several years, whenever he introduced me to people, he would say: "And this is my son, the Communist." At the time this made me furious but, looking back, I think I was wrong. I think I should have been grateful that it took so little effort to be typed as a subversive. One complaint about the Royal Family and I was a Bolshevik!

"If I am a Bolshevik," I said to my father one day, "wouldn't I want to have the Royal Family shot?"

"Well, don't you?" he said.

"Not at all," I said, "it would only gain them more sympathy."

"You are a heartless rogue," said my father. "Remind me to cut you out of my will."

Ever since my father died, I have missed conversations like this, with each side trying to wind the other up. I wish my father were here now, so I could tell him there would be no Queen's Speech this Christmas and see what he said.

I think I know what he would have said. "Good for the woman. I know what she is up to. She's going to record her message privately and have it sold on video in the shops. At last she has had the sense to make some money out of it."

He may have a point there.