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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 November 2007, 13:31 GMT
The monarchy: 1968 v 2007
Royal Family
1968 was the first time the Windsors allowed the cameras in
The new BBC documentary series on the monarchy comes nearly 40 years after the Royal Family first let the cameras into their home for a ground-breaking film about their lives. How do the two programmes compare?

Two-thirds of the British population sat down in June 1969 to watch the BBC documentary Royal Family, the first in-depth look at the life of the Windsors.

The camera crew had spent 12 months filming during the previous calendar year and such was its impact that the Queen saw no need to give a televised Christmas speech at the end of the year, issuing a written message instead.

Publicity for Monarchy in 2007 was rather more eventful, engulfing the BBC in a storm when a trailer was edited out of sequence and shown to journalists.

But putting that controversy aside, how did the first episode of the new series compare with the original?


1968: Viewers of Royal Family were spoilt for choice at seeing the Windsors at ease - having a picnic, decorating the tree, watching television. But the sight of the Queen rummaging through her purse in a sweet shop near Balmoral, to buy bullseyes for six-year-old Prince Edward is one image that stays in the memory. Who said the monarch never carries cash? There is also a touching sequence - made so by the sensible absence of commentary - of Prince Philip taking young Edward rowing. 2007: There are few sights of the royals off-guard in the first episode but the Queen arrives for the infamous Annie Leibovitz photoshoot a little irritated. "I'm not changing anything. I've done enough, dressing like this, thank-you very much." Getting dressed into such an elaborate costume has been quite an ordeal and when Leibovitz suggests removing the crown, the Queen has a prickly response. Leibovitz says afterwards she admired her "feistiness" but she was clearly used to more malleable subjects.


1968: The Queen and Prince Philip tour Brazil and Chile. At a football match in Rio they receive bemused applause. Brazil has "90 million people who have scarcely heard of Britain and never seen a queen", says the narrator. But the reception in Santiago is rapturous with crowds lining the streets and waving Union flags. The couple made 2,500 handshakes in 14 days and held 104 engagements. 2007: The state visit to the US provokes obsessive preparations on the part of their hosts. A hotel in Virginia installs a new toilet seat in the Queen's suite, where the linen has been washed four times and the tags removed from the towels. At the White House, every piece of chandelier crystal is polished. The crowds are full of praise for the Queen's longevity and grandeur. "We have no palaces," said one.


Trooping of the colour 2007

1968: Cost-cutting is nothing new to the monarchy. The film explains that the palace has recently undergone "efficiency studies" to trim finances. The splendid royal yacht Britannia is in service and there's a wonderful reference to the ship's company always wearing soft shoes on deck and using hand signals, to preserve the quiet below. Making a more general point, the film notes that "the balance has shifted from armies to defend the Empire to exports to defend the pound". 2007: The documentary opens with the Leibovitz photoshoot and narrator Tim Piggot-Smith says choosing a celebrity photographer to mark the state visit to the US suggests the monarchy is increasingly aware of the need for PR. "Asking her to capture the Queen is positively daring and a sign of the Palace's growing media sophistication." The Queen's visit to the US this time around is more inclusive than 50 years ago when there was segregation of blacks and whites, and native Americans could not participate.


1968: Prince Philip was displaying his unique brand of humour 40 years ago. "What's the tie? Alcoholics Anonymous?" he asks one decorated war veteran. Both at home and abroad, the film demonstrates the Duke of Edinburgh's and the Queen's knack for small talk, after 15 years of practice. 2007: The Duke of Edinburgh has lost none of his frankness and there is a difference of opinion between him and an expert on 17th Century American forts when the prince insists that horses roamed Virginia before the Spanish arrived.


1968: Before being introduced to the Queen, the new American ambassador is drilled on how he should enter the room. One step forward, left leg first, then bow, he is instructed. He carries off the steps a little nervously but then becomes tongue-tied when asked by the Queen about where he is living. "We're in embassy residence," he says, "subject to some discomfiture as a result of the need for elements or refurbishing and rehabilitation." Nerves can strike even the most senior diplomat. 2007: President George Bush appears relaxed at the set-piece speech, making a joke about "the look only a mother could give" when a slip of the tongue implies the Queen was at the 1776 celebrations. But away from the full glare of the cameras, he appears rather uncomfortable and leaves the small talk to wife Laura. Back-slapping intimacy is not an option with the Queen. But the bumpy ride he gives Gordon Brown on his golf buggy a couple of months later indicates there are other weapons in the president's social armoury deemed inappropriate for Queen Elizabeth II.


1968: Every Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Harold Wilson is driven 1,000 yards from Downing St to Buckingham Palace for a private audience with the Queen, just as Churchill, Disraeli and North did before him. "It's the moment when democracy and monarchy meet," says Piggot-Smith. Wilson sensibly puts his pipe out before entering the palace and the Queen gives a beaming smile before asking him if he has been in the House today. The atmosphere seems relaxed before the meeting proceeds behind closed doors. 2007: Tony Blair makes an entrance that is almost a carbon copy of Wilson's, with the handshake, bow and address. They discuss the Queen's forthcoming visit to the US and there are no signs of awkwardness in front of the cameras. But they have had 10 years together in which to become familiar. In a moment that underlines her staggering breadth of experience during her reign, she notes to Blair about the trip: "I did find myself saying to them [American officials] 'it's not new to us because we were there 50 years ago.'"


1968: The Queen gives direct input into the wording of her speeches and changes parts that she thinks could be improved. Foreign Secretary Michael Stewart tells the programme it is important that her oratories must be relevant and not just platitudes, although they must avoid making political points. 2007: Forty years on, she is still meticulously checking and amending what she has to say, adding a mention of the Virginia Tech massacre to the speech she makes on arriving in the US. One of Stewart's successors Margaret Beckett is in tow, following a long tradition that foreign secretaries accompany state visits.


1968: The documentary was broadcast at the time of the investiture of Prince Charles and the focus is very much on the heir to the throne. The opening sequence features him water skiing, fishing and cycling - this is an all-action prince. The film, which adopts a reverential tone, promises a look at the life the prince is to inherit. And he's still waiting... 2007: There is a distinct change of emphasis for the modern documentary. This time the Queen is centre-stage and the over-arching theme is her endurance in a changing world. There are one or two sceptical voices included but admiration and respect dominate the responses from high-profile contributors.

A selection of your comments appears below.

One thing that grated was the American insistence on referring to Her Majesty as the Queen of England....
Gina, Swindon

It was a well-made documentary, thank-you BBC. It showed me the UTTER wrongness of a system that lowers everyone beneath a single family by accident of birth - a family whose interests and values don't represent mine in anyway whatsoever. In the interests of balance I expect a series on the republican struggle for democracy - the passionate struggle for all the people to be able to elect our head of state. And IF the PEOPLE choose Liz Windsor to represent us abroad then fine !
Carl Pierce, London, England

The BBC spends too much time eulogising this archaic institution. Apart from that, I am an ardent admirer of the service offered by the BBC and valued it's reporting highly during long periods spent overseas. I remember waking up cheering in Tripoli, Libya, to a BBC overseas report of the Entebbe rescue by the Israeli airforce and commandoes.
Tony Burleton, London England

It is sad to note that some people are so quick to criticise the monarchy. To the republicans, would you really want a President Blair or Brown? I think the Royal family is an exceptional vehicle for our country, and many others, both internally and internationally. There is no monarch, and perhaps individual, who is as widely recognised or universally respected as the Queen, and as her subjects we should be very proud. This is a feeling I believe was carried through in this programme.
Will, Devon

The film was an exercise in prurient desire to peek into a forbidden world. This family is still German in attitude and surrounded by stuffy courtiers no mater how English their name change 90 years ago. Thr European Royals show ours the way to live in a modern world. If Diana had lived imagine how she would have changed them for the better
Jon, London

My immediate though was "when does she get a rest?" as she seemed to be propelled from one event to the next with barely a second to relax. For an 81 year old I think it's quite a feat, and if I have half her energy at her age I'll be very happy.
Liz , London

An interesting documentary. I don't think we learned anything especially new, but it did occur to me that there is a political benefit to having a monarch as head of state: the monarch is apolitical, she has no direct powers over the democratic process and provides a strong sense of stability, this is something a republic cannot have as the head of state can potentially change every four years.
Dan, Guildford UK

I thoroughly enjoyed the documentary and the insight it gave into how our royal family are perceived abroad. The one criticism I have is that there were too many shots of the gardens, or buildings. We know what the Palace looks like I would prefer to see more interaction between the Queen and her officials.
Thomas Moseley, Ipswich Suffolk

The BBC should learn a lesson from last night's documentary. It didn't need hype or spin - it was a fascinating programme.
Helen, Dorset

The first film was wonderful and I have seen it several times. I watch every documentary about the Monarchy and thoroughly enjoy each one. I look forward to seeing this. If you have any doubts about people in USA wanting to see them - check on how many went to see the movie The Queen... and bought the DVD.
Cathy Hollowell, Houston, Texas, USA

I thought it was a wonderful insight into the hard work and commitment Her Majesty has given the world and it makes me feel very proud to be one of her subjects. I will just say that I am not particularly proud of British history especially relating to the Empire and what 'we' did to achieve it and maintain it but in the world of terror, fear, hardship and suffering, it is good to see another side of our history portrayed in a way that gave a balanced view and showed just how much the Americans look to us. I thought Dubya looked a bit of a clown though, nothing we or the BBC did, just an honest portrayal!
Gary, Sunbury

OK, another BBC production to help prop up this undemocratic, incredibly wealthy family, so now how about a series looking into the Republican movement and the advantages of a truly democratic system?
Richard Wells, Luxulyan Cornwall UK

I wondered if the brand new towels and sheets were washed four times on orders of the Queen herself, her staff, or it was a decision made by the Americans? The film didn't make it clear whose instruction it was - but could imply that all her sheets and towels at home are always washed four times. In this age of worrying about the planet and green issues, that seems an appalling waste of water and energy.
Wendy, Rickmansworth

"...her endurance in a changing world." Sounds about right, she is reminiscent of a time well gone, thankfully.
Stephen, Caerphilly


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