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The US coverage of Prince Philip’s funeral, held at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor on April 17, was largely devoid of the respect and gravitas worthy of a man who’d dedicated his life to public duty.
Granted, there was mention of his unparalleled commitment to the Queen, his impressive Naval and wartime service and his ample charitable endeavors, but still much of the commentary focused on the tenuous relationship between Princes William and Harry. Having been advised not to travel due to her pregnancy, the Duchess of Sussex’s absence was laboriously examined, as was Prince Philip’s inauthentic portrayal in The Crown.
Additionally, there were multiple eye-popping flubs. One anchor sparked a sexism row when she questioned why Princess Anne was included in the procession, while an “expert” suggested Princess Margaret’s former husband, Antony Armstrong-Jones, 1st Earl of Snowdon, was part of the cortège despite the fact he died in 2017.
Overall the extended programming was mediocre at best, which is why I’m hoping the BBC’s tribute to the Iron Duke, set to air in the UK next Wednesday, is subsequently broadcast worldwide.
Showcasing never-before-seen footage from the Queen’s private cine-film collection, Prince Philip: The Royal Family Remembers will present “an unrivalled portrait of a man with a unique place in royal history.”
Originally conceived to mark what would have been his 100th birthday in June, the hour-long documentary featuring interviews with more than a dozen family members, will include clips of the prince’s personal office, study and library as well as a series of images reflecting his devotion to the Queen.
According to the BBC there will be “poignant recollections, plenty of humour and numerous fresh insights” into the character and legacy of a man who was, in many respects, a “royal pioneer.” In a preview for the special released last weekend Prince William said, “He’s always been a huge presence behind everything we have done.”
Though he was routinely branded a brusque and uncompromising fellow prone to the occasional gaffe, Prince Philip was more than just a short-tempered caricature of a grumpy old man.
Yes, there were times when he was impatient, intolerant and insufferably rude, but more often than not the depiction put forth was inaccurate and unfair. In response, journalist Michael Holden wrote, “Those who knew him said his reputation hid an urbane wit, devotion to his family, love of sport and a dedication to the business of being royal.”
Indeed, his outspoken manner belied his fervent desire to get things done and an inner longing to cut through the crap.
As Prince Edward told Britain’s ITV shortly after his father’s death, “He had a wonderful sense of humour, but of course, you can always misinterpret something or turn it against them, so it sounds like it’s not right. But anyone who had the privilege to hear him speak said it was his humour which always came through and the twinkle in his eye.” He was, as Prince Harry said in a trailer for the doc, “Unapologetically him.”
Respectful as he was of the institution of monarchy, Prince Philip loathed the royal flummery that came with it. During a visit to the Chesterfield College of Technology he told students and staff, “A lot of time and energy has been spent on arranging for you to listen to me to take a long time to declare open a building which everyone knows is open already.”
A natural-born leader whose role demanded he defer to his wife, he wrestled with the constraints imposed by royal life, particularly those that forbid him from giving his children his own surname. Nonetheless, despite not having a constitutional position he embarked on a relentless schedule determined to make himself as useful as possible. Upon his retirement in August 2017 Buckingham Palace calculated he’d completed 22,219 solo engagements since the Queen’s accession in 1952.
Descended from a royal family turfed off its throne, Philip recognised the monarchy’s survival hung on public support. A great moderniser, he pushed back against courtiers resistant to change and encouraged them to adapt and evolve in order to meet society’s changing needs.
During a trip to Canada he once said, “If at any stage people feel that the monarchy has no further part to play, then for goodness sake let’s end the thing on amicable terms.” Writing about the institution’s function in 1977, however, he also observed, “People still respond more easily to symbolism than to reason,” indicating his belief in the monarchy’s significance to national identity.
In the wake of his death much was written about the duke’s vast range of interests. His sporting prowess was celebrated, his charitable efforts applauded and concise long-read obituaries provided further insight into his myriad pursuits. The epitome of masculinity, Philip was arguably something of a renaissance man and yet, for all the column inches dedicated to his life, very little was said about the kindness and compassion that lurked beneath his seemingly gruff exterior.
A touching anecdote previously shared in an autobiography by Conservative Party MP Norman Tebbit, perfectly illustrates who Prince Philip was.
In October 1984, Margaret Tebbit, Norman’s wife, was partially paralysed in the Brighton bombing. A few years later she and her husband were invited to a State Dinner at Buckingham Palace. Given she struggled to eat with cutlery, Margaret really didn’t want to go. Norman phoned the palace and expressed her concerns, but he was assured all would be well.
Arriving for the dinner, Margaret was mortified to discover she’d been seated next to Prince Philip. As the appetisers were served he made no reference to her physical ailments, nor did he stand on ceremony; instead he handed his cutlery to the footman and proceeded to eat with his fingers. Following his lead, Margaret was able to do the same. Of course, the evening’s menu had been pre-planned to be eaten by hand, but Norman Tebbit claimed it was Prince Philip’s idea.
Next Wednesday, as they pay tribute to their late patriarch’s extraordinary life, Prince Philip’s children and grandchildren will have an opportunity to offer their “personal thoughts and reflections.” In turn, viewers will likely garner new appreciation for the man Zara Tindall says, “Was always there.”
Averse to flattery and fuss, the duke probably wouldn’t take well to a 60-minute program extolling his traits, but considering we rarely hear from family members about one of their own, the special represents a priceless first person account.
After more than seven decades of public service, Britain’s oldest-lived royal male and the longest-serving consort in British history, leaves an irreplaceable void. But, for a clan that’s been decidedly fractured of late, the Queen will undoubtedly be glad to see her family united in honour of her husband of 73 years. From the teaser alone, it’s clear the Windsors miss Prince Philip so very much, but as Prince Charles points out in the clip, “We were lucky to have him for nearly a hundred years.”Internet Explorer Channel Network