Royal Family

1 9 6 9 (UK)

While the Queen is traditionally seen on television each year on Christmas Day delivering her annual speech to the Commonwealth, it took a young Australian called William Heseltine in 1969 to inspire the most decisive turning point in the relationship between the modern British Royal Family and television as a communication medium.

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As Private Secretary to then Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies, Heseltine had been personally picked by Prince Philip to come to London.

The Prince wanted the media-savvy Aussie to shake up Buckingham Palace’s press office, controlled for 20 years by the dinosaur-like Commander Colville, whose frank and open contempt for journalists had earned him the title of the “anti-press” officer.

Immediately struck by the contrast between the Queen’s chilly public image and the wry, often funny persona when she relaxed, Heseltine urged the making of a TV documentary that would show royal life from the inside.

The result was Royal Family, first screened in Britain in June 1969 and soon shown in 140 countries.

People saw the Royal Family grilling steak and sausages at Balmoral. The teenage Anne lit the fire. Prince Philip wielded the spatula with the aplomb of a practiced barbecuer, the Queen made the salad, and Charles mixed the dressing.

Even more remarkable, people heard the Queen engaged in ordinary conversation that seemed so human and different from her stilted formal speeches.

Royal Family was hailed as a triumph, but a private door had been opened that at times over the following three decades, the Royal Family would probably dearly have loved to shut and bolt.