TV film embarrasses the reign in Spain: A documentary on the King has landed him in controversy, writes Phil Davison from Madrid

Phil Davison
Monday 18 January 1993 00:02
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A British television documentary, in which the presenter, Selina Scott, got a revealing glimpse behind the walls of the Spanish royal household, has caused a furore in Spain, even before it was screened here.

It has helped spark big personnel changes at Zarzuela palace, where King Juan Carlos and his family live. The Spanish national television channel, TVE, postponed showing the film, for which it is said to have paid pounds 8,000 for the rights, after suggestions that it is 'frivolous' and makes a fool of the King. TVE bowed to public and media pressure on Saturday and screened the film last night.

Highlights, extracted still pictures or transcripts, had already found their way into millions of Spanish homes. The glossy weekly magazine Panorama issued an edited videotape of the programme with last week's edition and had to reprint to keep up with demand.

In the film, made by ITV, the King is seen as somewhat joltily in control of a helicopter and needs Ms Scott and a palace mechanic to show him how to start some of his powerful motorbikes. The mechanic simply presses the starter button, causing a blushing monarch jokingly to cover the camera lens with his crash helmet.

One magazine, Tribuna, enterprisingly printed a still picture taken from the documentary, showing the King gazing down from his yacht at the precise moment when Ms Scott's swimsuit strap has slipped tantalisingly from her shoulder during a dip. To most British viewers, it all no doubt made the King more human and likeable. The average Spaniard in the street would agree. The problem here is partly a result of jealousy among the Spanish media at Ms Scott's rare access to the royal family at leisure.

The film was also undoubtedly a catalyst in deeper and long- running issues involving the monarchy's changing, increasingly modern image and its traditional relations with the military.

Days after another weekly magazine, Epoca, published a cover story, headed 'The King and the pretty reporter', showing Juan Carlos and Ms Scott posing and smiling for the camera, Zarzuela palace announced that the longtime Chief of the Royal Household, General Sabino Fernandez Campo, was being replaced.

The general was known as 'the brains behind the throne', and described himself as 'a kind of Pepito Grillo' (the Spanish version of Jiminy Cricket, the cartoon character who tries to keep Pinocchio in line), for his key role of adviser to a king known for what Epoca euphemistically described as his 'clandestine escapades'.

The general played down the role of the British documentary in his replacement and said he had asked to be allowed to step down at the age of 75 this spring. But he conceded that he had found the film 'frivolous', and had advised the King last year against doing it.

Friends, however, said he had been shocked and disappointed at the brusqueness of his replacement - by a diplomat, Fernando Almansa - but that the Selina Scott issue had been 'merely the straw that broke the camel's back'. Interviewed after his replacement this week, General Fernandez Campo, a veteran of the Spanish Civil War on the side of Franco's nationalists, said he had occasionally had 'different criteria' with the monarch and spoke of 'subterranean tensions. I can tell the King something once, maybe twice but never a third time,' he said.

The implication was that the King's decision to entertain Ms Scott was symbolic of his desire to modernise the image of the monarchy and enhance its democratic credentials.

Friends said the general's conflict with the monarch began last June when the Chief of the Royal Household was left to handle damage control after Juan Carlos mysteriously 'disappeared', reportedly to visit 'a friend' in Switzerland. The general can be seen looking on sourly in the background as Ms Scott interviews the King at various locations.

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