This television screenshot taken on July 29, 2012 shows footage shown during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics featuring British actor Daniel Craig playing James Bond escorting Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II in the halls of Buckingham Palace. — AFP photo

Sunday September 11, 2022 08:59 GMT

PARIS, September 11 – The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II – broadcast live for eight hours straight by the BBC in 1953 – was the first major event of the television age.

Six decades later, at age 86, she showed a surprising gift for comedy, joining james bond star Daniel Craig for a skit in which the two appeared to parachute into the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics.

And she topped UK TV ratings last year with her carefully choreographed final Christmas message, a tradition she started in 1957.

But did that mean the Queen – who often floated above criticism drawn by some members of her family – could be seen as a media savvy?

Royal biographers are divided over the mental space the Queen granted to the media, which she kept at a respectful distance during the seven decades of her reign.

She may have been officially the first British royal to embrace social platforms, with 12.3 million Instagram followers, although few believe she ever cared much about her online profile.

“Real Acting”

But she knew how to play a role.

Frank Cottrell-Boyce, who co-wrote the Olympics action hero skit, as well as the one starring beloved fictional character Paddington Bear for his platinum jubilee this year, praised his “brilliant” comedic timing on Friday. .

“It’s real acting that’s going on there. Paddington isn’t really in the room,’ he told the BBC of this latest sketch, in which the Queen claimed she kept a marmalade sandwich in her purse at all times.

She decided early on to embrace the mass media, said historian Robert Lacey, like her grandfather George V.

The queen saw radio and television as a “means of speaking directly” to her subjects, he told AFP.

Her first radio show was at just 14 when she spoke to British children at the start of World War II.

Over time, his Christmas speeches evolved from rather stilted affairs in a ballgown to highly sophisticated fireside chats – his office or parlors neatly dressed with family photos to reflect his theme.

“Innate reluctance”

But the Queen was less keen on leaving the cameras behind the curtain to peek into the private lives of the Windsors.

Royal biographers like Andrew Morton – whose study of his strained relationship with his sister Margaret appeared last year – suspect the Queen’s innate reluctance has not helped her complicated ties to the media.

It was the family themselves who made the first dent when her husband, Prince Philip, invited the BBC to the palace in 1969 to film the Flying On The Wall documentary, Royal family.

The Queen’s press secretary at the time, William Heseltine, admitted in 2019 that “the Queen was a reluctant convert, but became much more aware of the possibilities and was ready to participate in the actual filming”.

The documentary was full of awkward scenes of barbecues and family breakfasts, with the Royal Family using Tupperware and Philip wondering if the Queen’s father was ‘crazy’.

Naturalist David Attenborough, then a top BBC executive, even warned he risked “killing the monarchy”.

The film hasn’t been shown since the 1970s, apparently at the request of the Palace, and has been taken down every time it appeared on YouTube.

“Mystic of the Monarchy”

Despite this experience, historian Morton said the Royal Family “hitched their wagon to television in the 1980s…and thus traded the mystique of monarchy for what you might call the superficial applause of studio audiences” .

The author said the palace has always tried to portray the royal family “like a swan, gliding beautifully across the surface of British society” despite the internal dramas.

Their press office, known as ‘Abominable No Man’ because they always used to say ‘no comment’…set the agenda,” he said. on the American public television channel PBS.

“They defined what was private and what was public and they moved it when they wanted.”

Rather than undermine the institution, the British anti-monarchy group Republic has long argued that the media and the royal family have a symbiotic relationship.

“There’s a huge disconnect between the media’s portrayal of public attitudes (towards the Royal Family) and how people actually feel,” its leader Graham Smith said.

He pointed to a poll saying most Britons were “not interested” in the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations earlier this year.

“If this is the public response to a celebration of his reign, then the monarchy will be in serious trouble” with King Charles, he added. —AFP