Unseen footage shows ‘fun behind formality’ of Queen’s life

The Queen gave the BBC access to rare and personal footage for the exclusive documentary

Joanna Whitehead
Friday 27 May 2022 12:00
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Unseen Queen documentary captures young Elizabeth playing for the cameras

Personal footage of the Queen as she has never been seen before will be aired for the first time as part of the platinum jubilee celebrations marking her 70 years on the throne.

Opening up her home video archive to the public, the monarch will show the world glimpses of the “the fun behind the formality” and remember that she too was “young once”.

The clips, which span her life from being a baby pushed in a pram by her mother to her coronation in 1953 at the age of 27, will form part of a new BBC documentary titled Elizabeth: The Unseen Queen.

The Queen gave the BBC unprecedented access to hundreds of home-made recordings which have been held privately by the Royal Collection in the British Film Institute (BFI) vaults.

To introduce the film, the Queen recorded her own thoughts on the material, explaining how the footage was captured for her family’s own pleasure, as well as historical record.

In the message, which was recorded at Windsor Castle this month, the Queen says: “Cameras have always been a part of our lives.

Photo from the BBC documentary, Elizabeth: The Unseen Queen of Princess Margaret and Princess Elizabeth with their beloved father King George VI onboard HMS Vanguard in 1947

“I think there’s a difference to watching a home-movie when you know who it is on the other side of the lens, holding the camera. It adds to the sense of intimacy.

“Like many families, my parents wanted to keep a record of our precious moments together. And when it was our turn with our own family, we did the same.”

The 96-year-old adds that sharing the private collection would show a different side to the royal family.

She said: “I always enjoyed capturing family moments.

“Private photos can often show the fun behind the formality.

“I expect just about every family has a collection of photographs or films that were once regularly looked at to recall precious moments but which, over time, are replaced by newer images and more recent memories.

“You always hope that future generations will find them interesting, and perhaps be surprised that you too were young once.”

The 75-minute programme is largely narrated by the Queen herself, using clips and newsreel audio from her speeches to explain what viewers are seeing.

Her Majesty granted the BBC access to hundreds of home-made recordings (BBC/PA)

The footage begins with the Queen’s early life, where she is seen being pushed in a pram wearing a bonnet in 1926.

Later, she can be seen riding a tricycle as a toddler, examining flowers and playing and dancing with Princess Margaret.

Among the rare moments shown include a young Princess Elizabeth with her uncle Prince George, The Duke of Kent, who died in a plane crash in 1942 while on active service, and the King’s last visit to Balmoral in 1951.

It will also show the Queen as a young mother to Prince Charles and Princess Anne.

Charles is seen learning to use a spoon in his high chair, pushing his sister in a pram, treading a pile of lawn clippings and lifting his father’s trouser legs to look at his socks.

Elsewhere, Princess Anne can be seen giggling, throwing her rattle aside and trying to eat pebbles at the shore of a loch.

Memories also include the monarch’s first tour abroad to South Africa when she was just 20-years-old.

Moving footage also shows Prince Philip and the Queen as newlyweds in the corridors of Buckingham Palace, alongside film shot by the couple on her first solo tour to Canada in 1951.

Philip can be seen joking around in some clips that were filmed amid stormy seas.

Countryside walks and family holidays at Balmoral including King George VI’s last visit there in 1951, are also captured.

BBC Studios Productions creative director Claire Popplewell said: “I think the film demonstrates the love and fondness her majesty’s father, King George VI, had for his daughters Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret.

“There’s a scene of him playing football and doing rough and tumble with the two princesses as very young children that is particularly touching.”

She added that footage of Prince Philip was particularly moving.

“There’s a wonderful extended montage of Prince Philip – water-skiing, playing chase with a dog, riding the children’s toy vehicles – which, combined with the Queen’s words about him, is incredibly moving,” she says.

“Little things like successive generations wheeling small children around on wicker garden sun loungers give a sense of the family’s traditions.”

The last scenes show a composed Queen being photographed after her coronation, complete with family group shots, children wanting to race around and Philip looking kindly at his wife.

Ms Popplewell said: “Then in the final shot, just her, she smiles and swallows. That swallow is so very human.”

Additional reporting by PA

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