Queen Elizabeth welcomed her British subjects into the palace for a 1969 documentary. While she was trying to humanize the royal family, she only succeeded in causing a national water shortage. Here’s what went down… and what didn’t go down.
Much Needed Humility
The summer of 1969 saw Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, Bill Russell winning his 11th and final NBA championship, and Bryan Adams getting his first real six-string down at the Five & Dime. In London, Queen Elizabeth was figuring out how she could soften the image of the royal family.
The son-in-law of Lord Mountbatten, Lord Brabourne, suggested the family use television to help boost their image. The royal family has always had a flare of mystique to it, but the swingin’ 60s made that look lame and crusty. Prince Philip thought the idea would help strengthen the monarchy, and Elizabeth gave her consent. Despite protests from her children, filming began in 1968 for Royal Family.
A Proper Event
On June 12, 1969, the broadcast was screened to the commonwealth. The documentary had some high points. Elizabeth accompanied Prince Edward to go buy sweets. Prince Charles seemed dashing on a waterski, and Prince Philip showed off his piloting skill. The documentary had its fair share of critics though. It’s hard to relate a family who lives in a palace, carouses about silly guests, and fobs off-world events.
Tuned In By The Millions
In terms of sheer numbers, the operation was a complete success. 30 million people watched the broadcast in Great Britain alone, well over half the population. It’s believed that the documentary caused a surprising side effect. During intermission, viewers in London all went to use the toilet at once, causing a water shortage. You can’t imagine Elizabeth ever factored that in.
Did It Work?
Decades later, opinions are still mixed on Royal Family. Some critics think it was a paradigm shift in how Elizabeth was seen, while others believe it just opened the family to more criticism. One royal cousin, Lady Pamela Hicks, opined: “They were criticized for being stuffy, and not letting anybody know what they were doing, and my brother-in-law helped do up a film, and now people say, ‘Ah, of course, the rot set in when the film was made.”
Her point was that you just cannot please everyone. It seems the royal family did not lie about what it saw, for it only ever allowed the documentary to be aired in full once more. After 1977, only brief clips have ever been shown again. Perhaps it’s out of fear of another water shortage. The whole documentary, sans the toilet incident, would unsurprisingly become a subject on The Crown.