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

THE IDIOT SON

The only member of the Royal Family I’ve ever seen in person is no longer a fixture of said institution on account of the Grim Reaper. She was Princess Margaret, the Queen’s ‘Swinging’ sister who married a hip photographer and had a fling with a failed pop singer who became a gardener; she also (allegedly) had a penchant for marvelling at the notorious measurements of actor-cum-villain John Bindon – if the gossip from her one-time Caribbean hideaway of Mustique is to be believed. Anyway, nothing so scandalous informed the occasion in which I observed her zoom past in a black limo en route to open a new primary school around a mile from my own seat of learning at the time (1977). To me, she resembled an old-school movie star – like Greta Garbo; my memory tells me she was wearing white gloves and shades; but my memory is probably being its usual cheating bastard self.

Princess Margaret was easy to warm to depending on what you want from the lucky sods on the Civil List. If a hedonistic party animal who invites the likes of Peter Sellers into her bed, but also finds time to do her duty on behalf of charity and can be gently ribbed by the Pythons in the form of ‘the dummy Princess Margaret’ ticks the requisite boxes, so be it. Actually, that’s pretty fine by me. I always imagined Margaret would’ve been pretty entertaining company, not so heavy on the faux-social conscience lecturing that entered the House of Windsor with a certain Diana and appears to have infected the next generation with the kind of condescending designs for life best left in the ridiculous hands of Gwyneth Paltrow and co.

Then again, Brenda’s own children have been rather problematic in the public arena over the decades. Princess Anne came across as a bit of a saucy deb in her youth, but marriage and childbearing quickly gifted her with the sour-faced equine expression she’s worn (along with that curious Edwardian hair) ever since; Prince Edward has had to live with ‘It’s a Royal Knockout’ as his greatest cultural contribution for over 30 years; and what’s left to say about Brian that hasn’t already been said since his investiture as Prince of Wales half-a-century ago? Which leaves us with the man the Murdoch press once always referred to as ‘Randy Andy’. Ah…

In terms of content, the snippet of video footage from 2010 that emerged a week or so ago of Prince Andrew poking his head through the doorway of Jeffrey Epstein’s Manhattan residence and waving goodbye to the kind of young lady that tends to be mysteriously attracted to silver-haired millionaires doesn’t say much, really. It’s more about the context, shot as it was after said dead ‘playboy’ had already served a custodial sentence for soliciting prostitution from a minor and was a registered sex offender as a result. Bearing that in mind, one could say Andrew’s presence even at the time was questionable; in the light of more recent events, however, it looks ill-advised, to say the least. But, then, the Duke of York is not a man renowned for sound judgement.

There’s his on/off relationship with the equally unlovable Sarah Ferguson; the fact that the taxpayer footed the bill for the wedding of a daughter so far back in the line of succession that there’s more chance of Helen Mirren or Olivia Colman becoming the real Queen than her; and then there’s his dodgy acquaintances and business associates, the kind of company even Mark Thatcher would baulk at keeping. Jeffrey Epstein was merely one of many, though one with the potential to be the most damaging (even during his lifetime), regardless of the fact that the media still doesn’t recognise the distinction between paedophile and pederast.

What the rumours currently encircling Prince Andrew have proven yet again, however, is how much easier it is to believe the worst of an unloved public figure than a beloved one. When it comes to the House of Windsor, few elder members of the dynasty do themselves any favours in the eyes of the public, and Andrew is said to be the most pompous, self-important and arrogant of the lot, which – again – isn’t difficult to believe. He always strikes me as a bit thick, to be honest. The popularity he achieved back in his bachelor days as a soldier boy seems a very long time ago now; but let us not forget we are almost four decades away from both the Falklands War and Randy Andy’s brief, if sensational dalliance with actress Koo Stark, so that’s no surprise; the decades since have not been kind to Andrew’s public image, though he only really has himself to blame. The sordid stories doing the rounds at the moment seem to be being given credence mainly because Andrew rubs so many people up the wrong way.

For every person who regarded Jimmy Savile as a selfless charity fund-raiser and amusing eccentric, there were just as many who viewed him as a slightly creepy egomaniac with a remarkable absence of talent; both opinions held sway during Savile’s lifetime, though only one has been accepted as fact since his death – with other ‘offences’ posthumously taken into consideration, of course. Similarly, Andrew’s one-time friendship with Epstein, a figure whose after-life is being documented in terms that are now so boringly familiar, has given carte blanche for the resurfacing of long-standing grievances with a man it’s admittedly hard to like.

It goes without saying that the tabloid press is having fun with this story, but conspiracy theories and speculation naturally spread with far more speed online. Facebook in particular – which these days feels increasingly like the regional TV station to Twitter’s network channel – has seen an amusing abundance of the ‘I always knew he was a wrong ‘un’ attitude over recent days in relation to Andrew, with many commentators I’ve read lazily going along with assumptions that support their own lowly opinion of the man under the spotlight. As far as I can gather, no one in the real world (as opposed to cyberspace) has accused Andrew of anything on the alleged scale of his deceased acquaintance, just a discredited allegation he had ‘sexual encounters’ with the then-17 year-old Epstein masseuse Virginia Roberts/Giuffre back in 2001, something Andrew himself has unsurprisingly denied.

Personally, as long as he hasn’t done anything that has caused anyone serious harm, I couldn’t care less what a posh, pampered twit like the Duke of York gets up to behind closed doors. I can’t say I’m especially interested in him, even when his name is scandalously attached to the current contender for the Harvey Weinstein bogeyman-of-the-moment award. But I guess his unwise association with Epstein has played into the hands of Fleet Street’s endless baffling obsession with the Windsor’s and rekindled the press’s ceaseless determination to convince us we’re all so fascinated with the family that we want to read about them constantly. As far as I can see, we’re not.

© The Editor

OH, DANNY BOY…

Some interesting stats for social media-savvy types appeared in the most recent edition of ‘Private Eye’; they related to the disproportionate nature of online outrage generally arising from the latest one-day wonder on Twitter. According to these stats, the best Twitter can manage in terms of active daily users is around 134 million; compare this to Facebook, boasting an estimated 1.5 billion, and it’s blatantly obvious that Twitter isn’t quite the be-all-and-end-all arbiter of social mores its most prominent users – ‘young, highly educated and having higher incomes than average’ – give the impression of it being. The same quoted study claimed that 80% of Twitter’s tweets emanate from just 10% of its most prolific practitioners. Twitter’s high proportion of usage amongst mainstream media figureheads and zero-hour intern journos (for whom Twitter is the contemporary cyber equivalent of the old-school snout) is undeniably disproportionate, but Fleet Street’s desperate reliance on Twitter as a source of non-serious news has undeniably amplified its importance.

As with all other online platform pies I personally have a finger in – Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Amazon, Vimeo and a couple of blogs – Twitter for me is merely a promotional tool; others randomly air their thoughts and they’re welcome to do so; that’s not my bag, but I don’t dispute the right of anyone else to use Twitter as a vehicle for railing against The Man if that’s what they regard Twitter as. When it comes to prominent names on Twitter, a guaranteed million-plus ‘likes’ is a given, whether their tweet is a response to a headline or a personal portrayal of domestic dullness. The medium’s isolation from traditional print propaganda or terrestrial TV means relenting from the customary fawning over the House of Windsor – which those arcane outlets pretend is a reflection of public feeling – can easily provoke the mortification of the Ancien Régime if an individual user doesn’t play ball.

Danny Baker’s ‘controversial’ tweet of a fully-clothed chimpanzee in the style of the PG Tips commercials that featured on British TV ad breaks for a good thirty years or more is the latest missive to spark outrage of a duration that has probably been and gone by the time this post appears. So be it. That perhaps says more about the here today/gone tomorrow timespan of social media than it does about my own motivation to respond to the current hysteria with an allegedly measured perspective. Such is the sensitivity surrounding the mixed-race parentage of yet another sprog to pop out of the regal vagina that an additional layer of tiptoeing has been grafted onto the archaic deference reserved for Her Majesty’s descendents, making it even more impossible to issue an observation that doesn’t adhere to the Nicholas Witchell manual without the anticipated ‘off with his head’ cries echoing in the ears of the treasonous.

On one hand, it’s possible to regard Danny Baker’s tweet as a disgruntled reaction to the current flood of OTT middle-class brownnosing from that rarity in British media these days, the working-class; no doubt many who aren’t employed to set aside twenty-odd pages of the Mail for this ‘story’ expressed little more than a shoulder-shrugging ‘meh’ to the latest rush of Diana-esque coverage where an oblivious babe-in-arms is concerned. An inversion of this blanket exposure was given a few months ago to the birth of Shamima Begum’s third child, an unfortunate cherub whose future was less secure and whose life has already been sadly extinguished.

The naive idea that the birth of a blue-blood baby would somehow ‘bring the nation together’ at a time when the nation has never been more fragmented along lines of class, region and religion is, of course, quite daft – and maybe one more indication of just how out of touch our media masters truly are. Around three or four years back, I was exposed to a genuine voice when scanning the newspaper rack in Sainsbury’s as an old lady turned to me when confronted by front pages declaring how William & Kate would struggle to deal with a newborn and growled – ‘As if either of them will have to change a bloody nappy in the middle of the night.’ Funny how neither the Mail nor Express nor BBC1, ITV or Sky ever seem to point their microphones in the direction of a member of the public expressing such an opinion; much easier to stick to the jolly groupies camped outside London hospitals for days when looking for pliable plebs.

Prior to Danny Baker’s intervention, my own gut reaction was ‘Ah, another privileged parasite sucking on the taxpayer’s tit’, and then – realising that made me sound like some demented old communist – I reverted to ‘meh’. My reaction was the same as any to a photograph depicting an aged couple I’m not related to being officially introduced to another great-grandchild: yeah, great for them, but who’s really bothered other than them?

One difference between me and Danny Baker is that he is accustomed to tweeting thoughts, opinions and reactions in a jokey manner whenever news of this nature breaks; and he did so again when being bombarded with excessive media ejaculations over the addition of another name to the Civil List (or whatever they call it these days). I don’t blame him for that, but the ill-advised choice of photograph to illustrate his indifference was bound to provoke outrage from those who see racism in everything in the same way Mary Whitehouse used to see sex in everything. And in an era in which the BBC responds to any threat to its ‘diversity’ agenda by instantly taking the positive discrimination axe to any employee who risks tarnishing the brand, it was inevitable Baker would be dismissed.

I’ve no idea if Danny Baker tweeted the same image to accompany the last (non-mixed race) royal birth, but maybe this particular immaculate conception pushed him into a ‘God, not this again’ mindset and he opted for said photo without considering the racial connotations that were bound to be evoked. I’m prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, as I’ve never detected any BNP-like leanings in anything he’s been involved in – and I’ve read the first two volumes of his entertaining autobiography as well as watching the fictional TV depiction of his 1970s youth, ‘Cradle to Grave’. But it’s all-too easy today for any tongue-in-cheek critique of the establishment to be labelled as beyond-the-pale, and Danny Baker’s track record of not giving a shit when confronted by the weight of that establishment was reflected in his casual employment of an image that the more cautious would have baulked at posting. It was silly and misplaced, yes; but where we are now means it was destined to result in an instant P45 as much as if he’d posted a Photoshopped snapshot of Oswald Mosley fronting the Black & White Minstrels. He should have second-guessed that, really.

© The Editor