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THE ROYALTY/LOYALTY TRAP: Why Freedom of Speech is Affected

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(Article changed on March 26, 2013 at 06:27)

This one's on me America. Take a long, deep constitutional sigh of relief that you did the right thing. You can pride yourselves  on the ditching the royal yolk - even though you probably miss its fairy-tale qualities. Here in the UK? We're still dragging our sticky clogged feet, swallowing the yolk in our daily TV diets.  

This week, we were treated yet again to a yawning documentary about the royal family ('Our Queen'). I won't honour the transmission as propaganda. 'Triumph of the Will' was propaganda; royalty docs are just bad medicine from a bottle that is a hundred years past its sell-by date. The show did however ignite the usual spate of critiques, captured partially in Mark Lawson's Guardian article: 'Our Queen: the latest Royal TV tells us almost nothing'

Although there has always been a steady ground noise of frustration, one has to ask why any establishment challenges only ever go so far. Why do the critics always stop short?

The answer is simple, the media is stuck in the royalty/loyalty trap.

Intelligent, in - depth TV documentaries about the Royal family do exist . They have been made. The reason why no one has seen them is because UK broadcasters are too scared to air them. 

This is the real story.

Traditionally, the royalty/loyalty dance follows these steps. Broadcasters are initially attracted to the idea of a deeper investigation of royalty. These programmes might even reach the point of production. However, as the commissioners approach the moment of television reality or 'transmission', they begin to wobble with royalty/loyalty.   At first, wrenching out story elements for fear of slight offence. Then as the narrative unravels, the corporate lawyers walk out from behind the curtains, adding programme-killing legal provisos. This injects fear into the process. The end state sees the programme-maker observing a commissioner unspool with no recourse when the wounded show is finally put out of its misery. The programme-makers are making the programmes, the trouble is, the television executives are killing them at the printing press.

The royalty/loyalty trap is a body-politic condition in the UK compounded further by journalists. Professionally crying foul when they learn about any kind of compromised freedoms (a democratic feint really), they eventually are caught in the same rictus state of royalty/loyalty, always diminishing without a printed word (presumably walking backwards as they leave). It's a kind of freedom silence that really amounts to censorship.  Let's add some flesh to this.

The 'King's Speech' is an extremely well-made film with a seductive human-interest plot, prettily calculated to appeal to the smarter filmgoer. People who like that sort of thing, like that sort of thing. But for anyone who cares about historical truth, the film perpetrated gross falsifications. Read one of Christopher Hitchens' last brilliant analyses of the film script ('Churchill Didn't say that', 2011) for the full expose, better than I can reflect here:

Of course, when faced with these facts after Hitchens had so thoroughly wiped the Vaseline from the lens, the film's scriptwriter David Seidler immediately blamed this historical air-brushing on the producers who had cut all the best (most revealing) factual lines. We'll never really know who's telling the truth here but I suspect the hand of royalty/loyalty for the core historical distortions.

In pursuit of balance, with the over-romanticized impression of George VI piled high on the other side of the fulcrum, I directed and produced (2011) a follow-up drama documentary THE KING'S MONOLOGUE, a more grounded drama/documentary exploring granularly this rather odd little German dynasty. Again featuring GEORGE VI (our last king) but this time based on more extensive research of printed material, revealing at the same time significant, so-far-hidden Windsor family history.

And truth of course is a lot more interesting than fiction. The stuttering Royal (who, more unromantically stuttered because his father King George V used to beat him) ruminates on subjects as diverse as artificial insemination (Elizabeth and Margaret were conceived through this new scientific breakthrough), to hushed gay alliances, elicit affairs, as well as Edward VIII's only partially communicated admiration of the Third Reich. Edward took his honeymoon in Germany with Mrs. Simpson and was photographed both receiving and giving the Hitler salute (THE KING'S MONOLOGUE shows incidentally, unique footage of Edward VIII in Berlin with Nazi officials, wetting himself at a Wagner concert in 1936. Ok, he was simply jumping up and down a lot on his seat - but you take my point).

A lot of the core material for the documentary was, interestingly enough, drawn from books that were published throughout the world but unpublished in the UK because of the House of Windsor's sophisticated, legal scare tactics, the last book being 'The Royals',  by Kitty Kelly. Sales of this book in 2001/02 went through the roof in Australia and Canada but of course did not appear on bookshelves here in the UK.

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Christopher Templeton is the Scottish/Hungarian scriptwriter and director whose radio plays and television documentaries highlighted human rights abuses in the United States and Europe during the post cold war era of the 1990s. Templeton was born (more...)
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