THE 2022 COMMITTEE

Boris and BrendaWell, that was an interesting extended weekend. It began with Boris being booed by the peasants present at the Jubilee festivities and ended with him surviving by the skin of his teeth thanks to the spineless toadies within his own Party. Ah, yes, the Jubilee – part Olympics opening ceremony, part climate change propaganda broadcast, part Lord Mayor’s Parade, part Pride Parade, part 90s Brit Awards, part ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ finale, part Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, part celebration of all things military and all things eccentric, with Cliff exhumed as the Ghost of Eurovision Past whilst Sam Ryder carried the silver baton on and on and on. Leaving my largely student-dominated neighbourhood on Thursday afternoon was a relief – anticipating a noisy few days – though the on-foot exit was like navigating my way through a joint stag & hen do in downtown Ibiza (via Aintree) with a cast of thousands in wacky fancy dress. My destination was a more sedate residential location, though even there a bouncy castle drew in a dozen children whose combined vocal excitement gave the expected racket back home a run for its money. Mind you, none of this will happen again for decades, and the hyperactive kids leaping up and down on that inflatable edifice are probably the only ones around now who’ll be around then.

Brenda in her 70th year as sovereign has the luxury of infirmity as an excuse for only attending the events she can be arsed attending; the State Opening of Parliament received the Royal thumbs-down, whereas Her Majesty was more than happy to attend the horse show at Windsor a day or two later. Therefore, Brian was lumbered with once again settling into his Regency role during the majority of the weekend’s celebrations, sat beside the one son whose company he can tolerate, along with his gurning grandchildren. The BBC commentary was suitably supine as Auntie sought to reassure the viewers it hadn’t entirely abandoned its traditional adherence to Queen and Country, though it was undoubtedly a pleasure witnessing Sadiq Khan squirming in his seat at the abundance of Union Jacks and the absence of BLM banners. And then, as the last of the bunting succumbed to the elements, attention rapidly switched back to the PM. Suddenly, there were finally enough objections to Boris from his own Parliamentarians to trigger a vote of confidence in his leadership.

Jeremy cockney-rhyming-slang re-emerged from the backbench wilderness to make his opposition to Boris public, though the predictably infantile Twitter response from the Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries was characteristically dim and unhinged (never a good combination), probably helping to sway a fair few Tory MPs into siding with Theresa May’s Health Secretary; to paraphrase an archaic saying, with allies like that, who needs enemies? As the day wore on, the media was awash with Boris apologists reluctant to declare their own leadership ambitions till it was safe to do so; without fail, they constantly played the Ukraine card. ‘There’s a war on, so let’s move on’ seemed to be the mantra of the moment, even if the golden opportunity to confront the next General Election by refreshing the managerial dugout with time to spare was staring them in the face. Like a struggling Premier League club toying with sacking their coach mid-season in a bid to pull away from the bottom three, the Conservative Party only had a limited window to act before a relegation battle became terminal.

If Boris had lost the vote of confidence, he would’ve had to stand down and step back as a leadership contest took place without him as a candidate. This wouldn’t have been comparable to Churchill being booted out by an ‘ungrateful’ electorate exhausted by six years of war in 1945, however; the electorate had no say in this vote; it was down to Boris’s Parliamentary colleagues, and the notable absence of an outstanding challenger to take the PM’s place perhaps played a part in their indecision. Some might feasibly claim Boris has never really had the chance to display his Prime Ministerial credentials because Brexit took up all his time in the probationary phase of his tenure, and then the pandemic fatally derailed his premiership before it had even had the opportunity to get going, appearing as it did just a few months after his landmark landslide in December 2019. But that would be like saying Edward Heath never had a chance because of the Northern Ireland Troubles or the 1972 Miners’ Strike or the Oil Crisis that was a side-effect of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.

These are the kind of crises in which Prime Ministers prove their mettle; and – speedy vaccine rollout aside – Boris blew it. Whether the dodgy cronyism in the awarding of Covid contracts, or the dispatching of infected elderly patients from hospital back to care home, or the belated revelation (and begrudging apology) of Partygate, the PM has used up all lingering vestiges of approval for his slapdash antidote to the careerist conveyor belt professional politician – at least amongst the voters. The Tory faithful beyond Westminster Village have not been as sanguine as Members of the Cabinet when it comes to Boris’s antics. MPs returning to their constituencies for the Jubilee Bank Holiday have been confronted by angry constituents who were no longer prepared to cut the PM any more slack, and it was probably this abrupt awareness of their own perilous position as much as anything else that persuaded 40 percent of dithering Honourable Members to voice the concerns of these constituents when the 1922 Committee had no option but to invoke the confidence vote.

Theresa May survived the same situation in 2018, yet that pyrrhic victory hardly strengthened her position and she fell on her sword within a matter of months; one suspects Boris, in mirroring his predecessor’s success, will not be so quick to buckle under pressure. He will no doubt have to be dragged kicking and screaming from Downing Street, regardless of what the country is telling him. Boris may have retained the favour of 211 of his fellow Tories, yet 148 declared their opposition to his continued rule, which is a fairly devastating statistic. Boris now has an uninterrupted twelve months at the helm before the next General Election, and the Conservative Party will discover if sticking with him will reap benefits at the ballot box or herald the dreaded Labour/SNP coalition that was evoked as a warning by scaremongering Tories faced with the prospect of their captain being forced to abandon ship. The pandemic can no longer be relied upon as a convenient excuse if Boris fails to deliver the goods over the coming year, so now is the time for him to show what he can do – if he can do it.

Boris has a stay of execution for the moment, then – even if his authority is utterly shot to pieces by a mess of his own making. Her Majesty, on the other hand, is seeing out her days on a crest of warm affection that her descendants cannot call upon. Making an increasingly rare appearance on the Buckingham Palace balcony beside a carefully-chosen cast that didn’t include her disgraced favourite, Brenda looked her frail age as she watched what will undoubtedly be the final flyby of the Red Arrows undertaken in her honour. If one strips away the flaccid frivolity of much that constituted the official Jubilee spectacle in the capital, there was a strong feeling of an era ending amidst the token flag-waving.

This is a woman who has occupied the throne for longer than most of us have been alive, someone whose face we see every time we post a letter or slot a card into an ATM, however infrequently we do either of those things these days compared to when we were younger. She has been there throughout the premierships of 13 of Boris’s predecessors, stretching all the way back to his hero Sir Winston; and there’s a strong possibility she may even outlast her incumbent PM’s shaky reign and offer her hands to be kissed by his successor before she signs-off and permanently hands over to her unpopular heir. What Boris wouldn’t give for that kind of staying power.

© The Editor

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QUEEN AND COUNTRY

Brenda BarbieAmidst all the silly ceremonies and inexplicable rituals set in stone so old it has a vintage comparable to that lot on Salisbury Plain, there was one glaring absence from the State Opening of Parliament this time round: the bejewelled crown was present, though the head upon which it traditionally sits wasn’t. Naturally, there were no Charles I-type shenanigans responsible, merely a monarch too elderly to undertake a task only pregnancy had previously excused her from – and the last time that happened was almost 60 years ago. Her past understudy in such exceptional circumstances was the Lord Chancellor, but so throwaway is that ancient office these days that the prospect of incumbent idiot Dominic Raab reading the Queen’s Speech prompted Brenda to bring Brian off the sub’s bench he’s occupied for the last seven decades. Indeed, it would appear the Prince of Wales is gradually taking on the role of Regent in all-but name, and notable public events his mother has always been the hostess of, such as Trooping the Colour and Remembrance Sunday, will probably be ones old age will force her to host by proxy from now on.

Obviously, with this year characterised by the unprecedented spectacle of a Platinum Jubilee, Her Majesty’s presence at one or two of the big celebrations to mark the unique occasion seems necessary, so it’s possible she’s conserving her energy by prioritising them over more routine duties. At the age of 96, however, it’s pretty clear that whatever is planned for this summer’s Jubilee schedule will most likely be the final outing for the ageing sovereign at a major public event. The Queen has already announced Buckingham Palace will henceforth be no place like home; Covid prompted the flight from London to the seclusion of Windsor and it would seem the relocation is now permanent. As is commonplace with anyone of such advanced years, she also appears to be quietly settling her affairs now that mortality is close at hand. Not every 96-year-old has such a prestigious roll-call of possessions to bequeath, of course, so she has a little more to attend to than simply deciding which of her kids inherits the dressing table.

As for the State Opening of Parliament, it still seems odd not to see Her Majesty occupying the throne in the Lords with old Philip alongside her, what with the pair of them having been a guaranteed fixture of the event from before most of our mothers met the milkman; but then there are several elements long associated with the ceremony that are gone now – especially the one-time highlight of waiting for whatever witty remark would emanate from the Beast of Bolsover when the moment came for Black Rod to march into the Commons chamber; no Dennis Skinner, no Duke of Edinburgh, and now no Brenda – no, things ain’t what they used to be where this particular occasion is concerned. Apparently, the Queen watched proceedings on the telly at her retirement home of Windsor Castle, though seeing someone else sitting in her seat, and flanked by Camilla and William to boot, was possibly an even more surreal experience for her than the average viewer. As for what followed the somewhat different pomp and circumstance part of the occasion, however, nothing much had changed at all. It was the same old flannel.

Coming in a post-pandemic cost-of-living crisis, this Queen’s Speech presented the Opposition with plenty open goals, but the leader of HM Opposition was still busily preoccupied with last year’s crisis. In an effort to sell himself as an honourable man prepared to fall on his sword in a way Boris declined to when he was charged and fined for breaking Covid restrictions, Sir Keir Starmer has dramatically declared he will resign as Labour leader if found guilty of similar misconduct in the so-called (wait for it) ‘Beer-gate’ scandal. Yes, maybe now those who formulated, implemented and supported the restrictions will belatedly realise precisely how ludicrous it was that someone could be fined for the unforgivable crime of having a drink and a bite to eat in company. I don’t doubt Starmer will be exonerated, something he himself probably knows or else he wouldn’t have volunteered to make the Labour Left’s day by promising to quit. Again, a politician assumes the electorate is stupid enough to take a statement at face value and not see through the wafer-thin ulterior motive; but, hey – plenty people fall for it, so why wouldn’t Starmer engineer such a stunt?

A story emerged on the same day of the Speech that a customer in a Brighton branch of Tesco had come across a distinctive tin of budget baked beans on the shelf, described as ‘Boris Beans’. According to the blurb on the packaging, Boris Beans come in a ‘tasty austerity sauce with misery guaranteed’; it sounds like a Banksy product, and being right-on Brighton, chances are it probably is. At the same time, it could be seen as an ingenious riposte to Environment Secretary George ‘Useless’ Eustice, who advised the plebs to buy the cheapest goods in the supermarket in order to save money – as though the idea had never occurred to them or that they might actually have no choice but to buy the cheapest goods in the supermarket with food prices up 2.7% on 2021. What this episode highlights is the widespread anger at the state of affairs this administration is presiding over whilst seeming both careless and clueless when it comes to solutions – not to mention not giving a f**k.

News that BP recorded a £4.9 billion profit during the first three months of 2022 hardly helps alter the popular perception that the people are being shafted by The Man in all his numerous guises. The Government is particularly perceived as being out of touch, with even a minor Minister like Eustice exhibiting the ignorance that comes with detachment from the reality of life lived beyond Westminster Village. There’s no reason why someone from a privileged or at least materially comfortable background can’t empathise with the less fortunate and try to improve their lot – the majority of the institutions established to help the needy during the Victorian era were founded by the wealthy and powerful, lest we forget; but all too often today it feels as though there isn’t the desire there to do likewise by those in a position to act. It just seems like most couldn’t care less – and that indifference appears at its least empathetic when embodied by a rich Tory MP. It was highly visible in the Con-Dem Coalition of a decade ago, of course, and nothing seems to have altered since.

It goes without saying that there is usually at least an effort on the part of a Government when delivering the promise of a ‘package’ in a Queen’s Speech to give the impression they care. Ordinarily, the Queen’s Speech tends to be loaded with tantalising offerings intended to persuade the people the administration in power isn’t merely a collection of indifferent political freeloaders blind to the sufferings of those they purport to serve. Having said that, there appeared to be very little in this one that offered anything to the vast chunk of the population paying for the disastrous policies of the past couple of years; calls for an emergency budget on the part of Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP to help those struggling to survive were brushed aside by Boris. ‘However great our passion and commitment,’ said the PM, ‘we cannot simply spend our way out of problems.’ Considering the state of the economy and the size of the national debt, he has a point; but who’s responsible?

In less than a month, the working week will be put on ice once more, though not so we can all be confined to quarters again; this time we will positively be encouraged to indulge in the kind of social gathering Keir Starmer is threatened with a retrospective fine for indulging in. The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee ‘long weekend’ will begin on a Thursday and last till Sunday – four whole days in which we can pack up our troubles in our old kit bag and smile, smile, smile; none of us (nor Brenda) will ever have an opportunity to do so again, so we may as well.

© The Editor

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NO SWEAT

AndrewThe best part of 20 years ago I recall catching a snippet of a ‘documentary’ about perma-tanned harpies preying upon young footballers at the kind of social gatherings that so excite the authors of online headlines. None of those interviewed on camera expressed any signs of victimhood and were fairly brazen re their intentions when approaching said sportsmen. Not that they were a new breed, mind; had they been around 30 or 40 years earlier they’d have behaved the same around rock stars, who were the footballers of their day. Rock mythology of the 1960s & 70s is abundant with the user-names of groupies who were as much a fixture in the hotel rooms of the era’s musical aristocrats as the TV set poised to be hurled through the window; even though their roles reduce them to anecdotal footnotes in the overall story of cultural conquest, it’s something they themselves don’t appear unduly concerned about (if their kiss-and-tell autobiographies are to be believed, anyway).

Uncomfortable as it may be for contemporary commentators to accept, the fact is that some young women in their late teens and early 20s are predatory when it comes to famous, wealthy men – however physically unattractive, charmless and retarded such men might be. They take the commonplace craving for a man who will provide them with financial security to the max, pursuing their intended target with a ruthless determination that says as much about their own absence of probity as it does the moral compass of their intended. Therefore, should anyone really be surprised that the prospect of sleeping with a member of the British Royal Family might be regarded as an impressive notch on the bedpost of such a character? The sob story of Virginia Giuffre is a case in point.

Had any genuine non-consensual sex between the-then 17-year-old American and the Prince taken place, one assumes no out-of-court settlement would have sufficed; said ‘victim’ would have rejected a monetary package and would have demanded her day in court, to prove once and for all that she had been subjected to a bona-fide sexual assault for which the perpetrator being named and shamed was belatedly punished. As we all now know, however, Ms Giuffre (or her legal representatives) has accepted a payment from the Duke of York amounting to between £7.5 and £12 million. The result of this field day for the legal profession is that both parties can claim a hollow victory – Ms Giuffre playing the ‘MeToo’ card and receiving a pay-out that implies her alleged abuser has something to pay out for, and Prince Andrew sweeping the whole sordid business under the carpet with a handsome donation to the Giuffre hush fund.

It’s telling that the main topic to arise from the entire grubby affair is the source of the settlement paid out by the Queen’s favourite child. Ever since his ill-advised TV grilling by Emily Maitlis in 2019, Prince Andrew has undergone a humiliating financial dressing-down; his days as a ‘working royal’ came to an abrupt end following his televised summit meeting with the ‘Newsnight’ hostess, when his delusional arrogance was exposed to the nation and his numerous military titles were quietly removed as a consequence. The truth of his association with the disgraced, deceased pederast (not paedophile, despite the MSM’s tiresome assertion) Jeffrey Epstein has forced him into a grovelling apology, publicly disassociating himself from the glorified pimp and his effective ‘Igor’ Ghislaine Maxwell in order to save his own skin. The fact that his equally desperate ex-wife Sarah Ferguson has done likewise as she attempts to distance herself from the man who loaned her £15,000 in 2012 to pay off a debt amounts to jack shit in the eyes of HM’s subjects, who are being encouraged to feel aggrieved that their taxes are being spent to bail out Brenda’s son. And Andrew’s own income doesn’t necessarily paint a portrait of penury.

His Sunninghill Park Windsor residence – a wedding present from Her Majesty in 1986 – was sold-off through an offshore trust courtesy of the good old British Virgin Islands for £15 million in 2007; he also receives a Royal Navy pension of something in the region of £20,000 a year as well as a stipend from the Duchy of Lancaster revenues. However, the fact his post-Maitlis reduction in income (a loss of around £250,000) has cost him dear perhaps leads to speculation that Brenda herself will have to raid the piggy bank in order to cover Andrew’s legal fees and/or expenses for dining out with his daughters in Woking. Of course, the Queen’s income itself is a well-documented and endless source of fascination for Fleet Street; the thought that Brenda might be forced to root around her purse to fund Andrew’s pay-off to Virginia Giuffre is something which we are supposed to be getting hot under the collar about, though I suspect we’ve all known individuals whose mothers routinely come to the rescue of when indiscretions committed by their precious boys need burying. A current ITV series on the Krays has served as a reminder of how some mums will always turn a blind eye to their offspring’s activities if they contradict the perfect picture the matriarch cherishes in her head.

Mind you, Brenda has enough to worry about where her ageing sprogs are concerned; the first media missive launching her Platinum Jubilee year may have been an attempt to finally lay to rest any lingering Cult-of-Diana resistance regarding the late Saint’s replacement in the marital bed, yet any concessions to Queen Camilla have been somewhat overshadowed this week by the news that police are embarking upon a ‘cash for honours’ investigation into Brian’s charity, the Prince’s Foundation. His ex-valet was chief executive of the Foundation until last November, when he was reported for allegedly having offered an honorary knighthood to a Saudi citizen. Although HRH is not directly involved with the running of the charity, the news that Inspector Knacker is investigating an organisation of which he is president – under the Honours (Preventions of Abuses) Act 1925 – means another unsavoury story encircling a leading member of the House of Windsor threatens to deflect attention from Brenda’s 70 years on the throne.

In some respects, reaching an out-of-court settlement means ‘the firm’ will be spared the further embarrassment that would undoubtedly have arisen had the Duke of York been let loose in a US courtroom. His old man certainly couldn’t be relied upon to avoid saying the wrong thing in public, but Andrew’s capacity for putting his foot in it is now recognised as even more potentially disastrous. The Emily Maitlis interview was a sublime example of just how clueless he is when it comes to the huge divide between his own perception of himself and how he is perceived by the general public. From the pizza anecdote to the claim he is incapable of sweating, Andrew’s attempts to salvage a reputation damaged via his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein failed spectacularly and reduced him to a laughing stock. The fact he expressed no regrets over the Epstein connection during the Maitlis interview – something he has now finally backtracked on – didn’t help either.

As Ghislaine Maxwell is left to rot in gaol as the sole can-carrier for Epstein’s sex-trafficking empire, Prince Andrew may have evaded a similar fate, yet his association with such a sleazy pair is something that has not only cost him (or his ma) financially; it has also fatally scarred him as a public figure probably for life now. A token offer of a donation to support victims of sex trafficking has been received with both scepticism and outright opposition by charities, though Andrew’s advisers have no doubt viewed such a gesture as one of the few remaining avenues with the faint prospect of redemption left open to him. But it’s too late, anyway; the damage has been done and it seems pretty permanent. Even if he isn’t a ‘nonce’, the fact a sizeable chunk of the public now think of him as such is a belief from which there is no going back. If you come across as an already-unlikeable individual and then have that label attached to you, it’s pretty much over.

© The Editor

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THE COURT JESTER

DukeQuestion: What have Igor Stravinsky and the Duke of Edinburgh got in common? Answer: Nothing that I’m aware of, which is why Radio 3’s ‘Composer of the Week’ suddenly mentioning the ancient Greek’s name in the middle of something by the eminent Russian composer during its daily lunchtime slot caught my ear. The programme was playing quietly in the background when I noticed it wasn’t following the script; pretty quickly, I guessed by the tone of the gate-crashing announcer’s voice that the time had finally arrived to fly the flag at half-mast and all that. I suppose when anyone makes it to within a whisker of a century, there must be an awareness that the end could come at any moment; sure, we all know a bus or a mugger’s dagger or a sudden terminal diagnosis could bring that moment about prematurely, but if you manage to get as far as, say, 80, I reckon you must be conscious that another ten years will be a bonus, let alone fifteen or twenty. Prince Philip being such a public figure for such a long time has meant most of us have probably been expecting today’s announcement for a while; it’s just a surprise it took so long to get there.

The last twenty years of his record-breaking 69 as the Queen’s Consort have largely seen the Duke of Edinburgh playing the part of the most high-profile granddad-prone-to-saying-inappropriate-things in the country. During the slow and painful post-Diana infiltration of the Royal Family by a strain of touchy-feely Wokery utterly alien to a man of Philip’s generation, he has enjoyed a seamless transition from cantankerous middle-age to ‘I don’t give a f**k’ old age, whereby every private faux-pas picked-up by a journalist’s microphone has been tolerated (and secretly relished) as an unavoidable side-effect of advanced years. We’ve all had grandparents like that and we cut them the kind of slack denied the young; remarks that, had Philip made them 20-30 years before, would have provoked sensational headlines came to be dismissed in more recent times with a shrug of the shoulders and a muffled chuckle because that’s just the kind of amusing shit the elderly come out with. In fact, we were probably robbed of the Duke’s best gags, for I suspect they came during strained family dinners. I mean, with children and grandchildren like that, there would’ve been no shortage of material for Philip to work with.

Like Donald Trump, Prince Philip was one of those household names many were reluctant to admit were funny because what made him funny is what we’re not supposed to laugh at. Moreover, whereas everything about Trump which is so undoubtedly objectionable can make laughing at him when he says something funny difficult for some, the Duke of Edinburgh being such a long-serving member of an institution which continues to divide opinion often meant responding to any humorous gaffe would be in constant combat with negative feelings concerning his privileged position. It’s no wonder social media reaction to his death is either the fawning and occasionally nauseating ‘dedicated servant of the nation’ kind or the frothing-at-the-mouth, anti-monarchy rant, both of which to me say more about the commentator’s opinions on the institution Prince Philip represented rather than the man himself.

One of the ironies about the Duke of Edinburgh was the fact that, for a man who came to embody an establishment, he entered it as very much an outsider looked down on by those who ran that establishment in the 1940s. He was the ‘poor relation’ and a foreigner, to boot. He was routinely reminded of his lowly status and made to feel inferior by courtiers, private secretaries and the rest of the inner circle that keep ‘the Firm’ ticking over when he married Princess Elizabeth in 1947. Understandably, he had a small albeit intense chip on his shoulder for a while, confronted by the same diminished sense of emasculation as Victoria’s Albert when his young bride found herself Queen Elizabeth II within five years of their marriage. However, rather than running crying to the media and playing the victim by accusing the ruling elite of being ‘institutionally racist’, he took them on and eventually won. Philip certainly had as much of a difficult and dysfunctional family background as anyone responsible for more recent bad behaviour in Royal circles, but he didn’t play upon it in a way that would be expected today.

Philip’s sterling wartime service in the Royal Navy had helped his eligibility as a suitable suitor for the heir to the throne, but when one considers two of his brothers-in-law were fighting on the other side during the conflict we have just one of the tricky factors that made his beginnings so complicated. His four sisters all married German princes at a time when Nazism was on the rise and they wholeheartedly embraced the ethos; even if doing so was a means of survival, the association – coupled with the lingering toxic shadow of the Duke of Windsor’s fascist flirtation – never really left Philip or his generation of royalty. His formative years were scarred by disruption, beginning when he was just a babe-in-arms as a military coup forced Philip’s uncle, King Constantine of Greece to abdicate and provoked the family’s frantic flight from his birthplace. Philip’s childhood was spent shuttling between England, Scotland, Germany and France as his mother had a mental breakdown and was committed to an asylum whilst his father buggered off to Monte Carlo. I wonder what Oprah Winfrey would’ve made of all that.

After siring one heir and a trio of spares, it can’t be said that Philip didn’t do his duty, though the fact that three of his four children ended up divorcing their spouses whilst his own marriage spanned 74 years is perhaps more indicative of the different era that spawned him. It’s hard to imagine any marriage lasting that long now, but ‘duty’ was as important an issue to Brenda and her husband on the domestic front as it was in terms of service to the country and the Commonwealth. However begrudgingly he may have accepted his role as Consort in the beginning, Philip gradually settled into the part and was able to develop solo projects such as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme and becoming the patron of upwards of 800 organisations. He even opened the 1956 Melbourne Olympics on his own as part of a trip on the Royal Yacht Britannia that also took in a visit to Antarctica. Even when finally retiring from public life at the age of 96, he still demonstrated his reluctance to slow down when involved in a car crash near the Sandringham Estate in 2019. 97 at the time, it was probably a good idea for him not to be behind a wheel, though who else but Her Majesty would have the nerve to suggest so?

Once described by David Starkey as ‘HRH Victor Meldrew’, the reputation of the Duke of Edinburgh that most of us found the most interesting thing about him emanated from numerous ill-timed jokes usually made when meeting members of the public, many of which he claimed were wrongly attributed to him. Still, it livened up the institution with a bit of light relief, I suppose; and one could be generous in seeing him as the comedian to Brenda’s straight man. Even though the last year or so of his life appears to have been dogged by ill health not uncommon in an individual pushing 100, it’s nevertheless hard to picture Her Majesty without him beside her. Queen Victoria had 40 years as a professional widow, but at the age of 94 such a lengthy spouse-free spell is not a prospect her great-great-granddaughter has to look forward to. Wonder how long it’ll be before the next edition of ‘Composer of the Week’ is interrupted? Hmm, sounds a bit like the kind of tactless question the Duke of Edinburgh might have posed, that.

© The Editor

RETURN TO BRENDA

Brenda and the BeatlesA royal record is poised to be broken, though unlike the publicity afforded Queen Elizabeth II’s overtaking of Queen Victoria last September, this one ‘officially’ doesn’t count and probably won’t get much in the way of coverage. Brenda may turn 90 today, solidifying her position as the oldest sovereign Britain has ever had; but if she makes it to May 11, she will have surpassed the titular reign of James III, the reign that never was. History knows him as The Old Pretender, but the King across the Water was never crowned, his birth as a Catholic heir leading to the Glorious Revolution of 1688. To those loyal to the Jacobite cause, James Francis Edward Stuart was always recognised as the legitimate King of England, Scotland and Ireland, and as such reigned in a parallel universe for 64 years.

James succeeded his dethroned father James II aged just 13. By contrast, Brenda was 25 when she ascended to the throne in 1952, seven years older than Victoria had been when she became queen in 1837. But her maternal genes are made of strong stuff; the Queen Mother was over 100 when she died, lest we forget, so it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that there could even be an unprecedented Platinum Jubilee on the horizon. I don’t suppose anyone anticipated this when Princess Elizabeth was informed of her father’s death whilst on a royal tour of Kenya. George VI had reigned for just sixteen years. In fact, anyone over, say, fifty-three the day we entered what was trumpeted as the New Elizabethan Age would have already seen five different monarchs occupying the throne; by contrast, to have been born just before the reign of Elizabeth II began, one would now be within a year or two of retirement age.

The longer the reign, the more potential for change in the wider society, and it could be argued the changes that have taken place since 1952 are on a par with those that took place during the Victorian Age. When Victoria became queen upon the death of her uncle William IV, she was the only legitimate living child sired by any of her grandfather George III’s notoriously rakish sons. She was born into a transitional era that had seen both the end of Napoleonic domination of Europe and the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, with the pendulum of power swinging away from France towards Britain. The woman who ended up being associated with a strain of prudish Puritanism was actually a product of the Regency and was in possession of all the hedonistic frivolity that went with it during her spell as Europe’s most envied marital prize. It was strait-laced husband Albert (the son of a philandering rake himself) and his determination not to repeat his father’s mistakes that redesigned the image of a battered brand and turned the royal household from a hotbed of disreputable debauchery to the nation’s moral barometer.

With Victoria as the figurehead, Britain spread its imperial wings and was ruling over almost a quarter of the world’s population by the time of her death aged 81. Its navy acted as the maritime world police and its language, culture and industry circumnavigated the globe. After Bonaparte, Victoria became one of the first internationally recognisable public figures, with her iconic properties as the reincarnation of Britannia the nineteenth century’s equivalent of the Che Guevara poster that used to be an obligatory addition to the bedroom walls of every campus dormitory. When she celebrated her 1897 Diamond Jubilee, the event was marked everywhere from Calcutta to Cape Town, from Sydney to Singapore, and from Montreal to Malta.

During Victoria’s reign, transport went from horsepower to steam power and then the internal combustion engine. Advances in industry built railways and laid cables under the ocean to open up a new lines of communication, whilst advances in science and medicine saved lives and (in the case of Darwin) rewrote the history of mankind; social reformers attempted to do something about the kind of poverty we’d now associate with the Third World; the working-class was given a voice with the formation of trade unions and extension of the voting franchise; demands for women’s rights became organised; and the flourishing of the Arts in particular helped establish Britain as the cultural capital of the world. Dickens, Thackeray, the Brontes, Eliot, Gaskell, Trollope, Hardy, Lear, Carroll and Wilde all produced their literary masterpieces on Victoria’s watch; the Pre-Raphaelites rocked the galleries and Elgar embarked upon his distinguished musical journey, whilst photography and then moving pictures brought us one step closer to the twentieth century. The formation of police forces and improvements in street lighting via gas and, eventually, electricity made the streets safer, the Gothic Revival gave dramatic new architectural skylines to the towns and cities in which those streets were situated, and rising literacy levels, not to mention civic museums, libraries and swimming baths as well as the codification and new professionalism of sports such as cricket, tennis, golf, association football and both strains of rugby aided in the intellectual and physical improvement of Victoria’s subjects. When she finally passed away in January 1901, the country that mourned her was very different to what it had been in 1819.

And what of the country inherited by Victoria’s great-great-granddaughter half-a-century later? The slow recovery from the ravages of war was still a work-in-progress with many of the new queen’s subjects living in housing that had been condemned as unfit for human habitation decades before, the class system had been temporarily fractured by conflict and was attempting to revert to its pre-war distinctions, television had yet to supplant radio or the cinema as the medium of the masses, corporal and capital punishment were still enforced, National Service continued to interrupt male civilian lives, homosexuality and abortion remained illegal acts punishable with prison sentences, illegitimate birth was a social stigma, mass immigration from the colonies hadn’t yet altered what was a predominantly white society, and the nation’s Prime Minister, Churchill, was approaching eighty. Sixty-four years later, the same monarch presides over a different country in a different century.

The year of Elizabeth II’s Coronation saw Crick and Watson discover the structure of DNA, an early sign that the new queen was about to begin her reign on the cusp of changes that would radically transform the monochrome kingdom in ways comparable to those that Elizabeth’s great-great-grandmother had overseen. These changes are perhaps more evident and within living memory, so don’t necessary need to be recited like the ones that occurred during Victoria’s reign; but even those of us whose lifetimes haven’t yet spanned fifty years have witnessed dramatic alterations to everyday life that in many cases would have been pure sci-fi in 1952. The technology that enables me to write this piece as well as enabling you to read it, wherever on the planet you happen to be, is just one.

Whatever one’s opinion of her or the institution of monarchy in general, Elizabeth II’s place in the history books is already ensured, with the next landmark on the list being just three weeks away. It would therefore be somewhat churlish not to wish her a happy birthday on yet another day in which we’ve all seen her face again – even if that was only due to pulling change from our wallets and purses.

© The Editor