Fifty years after it was banned, a documentary about the British royal family reappears online

Myths are a legacy in the history of Britain. One of them says that on the evening of 21 June 1969 the city of London was affected by widespread water shortage for a few minutes. In question: Several people who flushed the toilet during the commercial break of a television program that aired that evening.

It is difficult to verify the veracity of this anecdote. On the other hand, we know that 22 million Britons actually turned on their television sets simultaneously on 21 June to watch that as one of the most-watched shows in the history of the small screen in the United Kingdom. What will happen. the much awaited episode of bowler hat and leather bootsNor is there a live broadcast of Beatles concerts, but documentary programs. royal family Aired on BBC One.

Reality TV before its time

At the core of the idea of ​​a documentary on the royal family, we find two men. On the one hand, Lord Brabourne, the creator and incidentally Lord Mountbatten’s son-in-law, Prince Philip’s uncle. On the other hand, Sir William Hesseltine, the press officer at Buckingham Palace from 1968 to 1972. Both believe that a documentary immersing themselves in the daily life of the Windsors would be an excellent idea, as far as it makes it possible to humanize the monarchy. , is considered to be rapidly away.

A day after its first airing, the film received more praise than criticism.


The infamous avant-garde Prince Philip is also in play. Above all, all three imagine that a film in this genre would be the perfect opportunity to introduce the general public to the Queen’s eldest son, Charles, before his debut as Prince of Wales in July 1969. Director Richard Cawston is hired for this. The reins of the project, and although some are skeptical, filming begins on June 8, 1968. It will last for a year.

In addition to countless representations of official ceremonies, the documentary has the originality to offer more informal scenes. For example, it opens with an image of Prince Charles in a bathing suit, enjoying a short water-skiing trip. Another sequence shows Queen Elizabeth buying Prince Edward an ice cream at a small village grocery store.

The royal family has been filmed during a barbecue in the gardens of Balmoral Castle or even joking around at the table. The comparison with reality TV is tempting, because some moments feel real. In retrospect, this was the main problem the film made for. “firm”An unpronounceable nickname referring to the entrepreneurial techniques of the monarchy.

keep distance, maintain reputation

A day after its first airing, the film received more praise than criticism. Some tell that he liked discovering the Queen in a new light, playing the mother with whom he could identify. “The film provided an intimate understanding of what the royal family is like as individuals, without jeopardizing their dignity or losing their sense of distance.”The next day, The Times wrote.

However, it is precisely at this point – at a distance – that opinions diverge: some commentators believe that the documentary shrugs off the part of the monarchy’s mystery that must remain buried. Others welcome this desire to reproduce themselves through new means of communication, but maintain that the documentary entirely goes against one of the tenets put forth by noted journalist Walter Bezhot: “We must not let daylight touch the magic.”

One user wrote, “I can’t tell you how happy I am to finally see this documentary!”


In other words, it is the secret of the royal family that is its strength, and that is because the presence of its members is rarer that they are expected. A principle also shared by some members of the firm.

“I really don’t know how to put it, but I never liked the idea of ​​this movie”Queen Elizabeth’s daughter Princess Anne explains in 2012 as part of the exhibition “The Queen: Art and Image” at the National Portrait Gallery. “I always thought it was a rotten idea. […] The last thing you needed was more access.”

If the film is shown again in 1972, the royal family soon learns it was a mistake. In addition, the documentary is placed under “Crown Copyright”, i.e. under the protection of the Crown. In addition to certain excerpts made public with reference to documentaries or exhibitions, royal family becomes completely inaccessible.

2021, the year of the mysterious reappearance

Completely inaccessible until this beautiful day in May 2021, during which the editorial staff of the English-speaking world warned their readers that the documentary had just leaked to YouTube. So a lucky few were able to watch it, or even download it, before it was quickly removed from the platform for copyright reasons.

This was without counting other Internet users who, a few weeks later, once again added the documentary to the video hosting site. The film is still available today – for how long? – To the delight of those who had never seen it, ardent fans of the royal family or simply lovers of history.

“I can’t tell you how happy I am to finally see this documentary!, A user writes. I’ve been waiting to see it since the early 1990s, when I first heard about it.”

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But what is the reason for this renewed interest in a documentary that has been missing for decades? These are only guesses, but we’re betting on the highly acclaimed Netflix series Crown, Which dedicated episode 4 of season 3 to the history of the documentary, which must have piqued the curiosity of the audience.

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About the Author: Rusty Kemp

Tv ninja. Lifelong analyst. Award-winning music evangelist. Professional beer buff. Incurable zombie specialist.

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