Leading Article: The Prince puts his cards on the table

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The Independent Online
WHEN the heir to the throne decides to submit to a television documentary of inordinate length and unusual intimacy, his search for public approval is bound to invite sceptical comment. None the less, the Prince of Wales and his advisers must have been reeling yesterday morning.

Between the parade of commentators pronouncing from the sanctity of their own private lives upon the conduct of his marriage, and the newspaper that said he was not fit to be king (although more than 60 per cent of those in its own poll said he was) Prince Charles received the roughest treatment of any member of the Royal Family in recent memory. It was an unedifying chorus of humbug and, as the dust settled, it seemed out of step with the way many citizens felt after watching all two-and-a-half hours of the film.

The Prince emerged from the documentary as a man driven by an inherited sense of duty so powerful that it seemed almost to belong to another age. He endures a routine of protocol and ceremonial that would subdue the blithest spirit. He was brought up in a spartan public school and matured in the armed forces. His values, tastes and instincts are identifiably those of an older ruling caste. Perhaps that is what makes him so uncongenial to some who like to think of themselves as our new Establishment.

Prince Charles agreed to the making of the film because he believed it worthwhile to hold himself up for judgement by public opinion. In that he has probably shown himself shrewder than instant reaction suggests. It was clear that he addresses concerns and causes that are not merely unfashionable but which are positively shunned by politicians. His Oxford speech on Islam and the West, to take one example, was well-crafted and influential. His zeal to improve life for young people from the inner cities stood as an unspoken rebuke to those who believe that there is no such thing as society.

In his own way, the Prince seemed to be holding out a vision of his future reign as a different kind of monarchy. It could be less hidebound, not shackled to an established church, more flexible and responsive to a Britain that has changed beyond measure since Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne. The Prince of Wales has quietly set out the values he strives to uphold. He deserves the courtesy of a fair hearing.