October 24th, 2004


Prince Harry comes out of a night club. The paparazzi mob him. He lunges at one and cuts the man's lip. Pictures are published showing a red-faced prince being restrained by his bodyguards. Oh dear!

He is driven away with his head buried in his hands.

The British monarchy has had its good times and its bad times. This is one of the worst. Ever since the death of Princess Di the family has been under close and hostile scrutiny.

This very bad patch follows a very good patch. From about 1890 to 1970 the royals were a national asset. Though practically powerless they embodied the national myth. Their strength as symbols depended upon the rest of us knowing very little about them as people. And this depended upon the media keeping us ill-informed or- in other words- failing to do its job.

When I was a kid the Queen was a woman in fancy dress with a porcelain complexion who appeared on biscuit tins. She was only marginally more real than the tooth fairy. The adults around me talked of her as if she and Jesus were closely related.

And now the media intrudes and the Royals are hunted like foxes. The Queen is a sour faced old lady with an inexplicable taste in hats. She has managed to preserve a little of her aloofness, but the rest of her family have been pitilessly exposed as dim, sulky, arrogant and out of touch. Charles is widely despised and hated for the way he treated his wife. Even those who don’t hate him think he’s a bit of a clown.

They’ve been told they must change- preferably by going down the Scandinavian route and exchanging the coaches and limousines for bicycles and bus passes. But they don’t and they won’t. There’s no very strong public appetite for getting rid of them, so the show seems set to limp on and on.

More yobbishness outside night-clubs, more tabloid exposes, more butlers’ tales.

More low-grade entertainment.

Who does it serve and what’s the point?