Philip, As Usual, Says Nothing
The Duke of Edinburgh gave two television interviews last week, reluctant concessions to the medium to mark his 90th birthday, and said very little of interest in either of them.
His lofty reticence apparently upset many viewers, who responded to the performances with a catalogue of pejoratives that included snooty, sarcastic, condescending and rude. Philip’s repertoire of peremptory responses shouldn’t have surprised anyone, least of all the unfortunate interviewers, Fiona Bruce for the BBC and Alan Titchmarsh for the commercial opposition, who spent their allotted time squirming in their seats as Philip devised various ways of not answering their questions, while making it obvious that he found some of them downright absurd. Philip does, after all, have what in law enforcement circles is sometimes called ‘previous’.
“So, you’re ninety….” Fiona began to observe, in her opening gambit, before Philip interrupted her with a sneering, “Well done”. If Fiona wasn’t seen to blush, it was probably because she evidently spent an inordinate amount of time in the make-up department before going on air.
After that distinctly unpromising early exchange it was pretty much downhill all the way. Poor Fiona – not one of the BBC’s more aggressive interlocutors, it has to be said – tried valiantly to get Philip to respond, but he was having none of it, and she lacked the disrespectful spark that a Jeremy Paxman might have introduced to the proceedings. Watching the interview unfold over forty minutes became, if you felt sorry for Fiona, excruciating, or, if your sympathies were with the Queen’s consort, entertaining.
I’m among those who find it easy to respect Philip for not wanting to talk about his achievements. Nor can I blame him for not wishing to share his inner thoughts on monarchial controversies, including – no, especially – his own curious upbringing as a virtual orphan, having lost his mother to mental illness and his father to a demanding mistress. As for his views on social issues, he’s constrained by constitutional protocol, which may be just as well.
For I have to admit that I’ve never been an admirer of His Royal Highness. All those famous off-the-cuff jokes – of which the two interviewers understandably made a great deal – were usually not so much inappropriate as unfunny, the gales of laughter that greeted them more deferential than natural. I’m also prepared to believe, admittedly in the absence of evidence either way, that in private he’s an unbending authoritarian and a reactionary of the old school.
In truth, then, I’d rather not hear what he has to say about religion, politics or any other social issue of importance for fear that the results might be embarrassing for him, the monarchy and the nation. Can you imagine the uproar if – and this is strictly for the sake of argument, you understand – HRH should suddenly open up to assert that Hitler had some good points, that the darker races had a lot of catching up to do with the lighter ones, that birching of criminals ought to be restored and that homosexuality was a disease? I emphasize that these in no way represent views he has either expressed or hinted at. Still, I’d be prepared to bet a decent amount of moolah that our Phil is no closet socialist.
Those desperate to know the truth may one day be rewarded by some posthumous muck-raking biography. Meanwhile, I’m happy that for the closet door to remain securely locked.
Better, I say, the rude and reticent prince we don’t really know than the jolly and open one we might not care for.
June 13, 2011