The controversial fly-on-the-wall documentary about the Royal Family that was ‘banned’ by the Queen for ‘cheapening’ the image of the Firm offers a rare glimpse at the private lives of one of the world’s most famous families.
The film, simply titled Royal Family, caused a sensation when it was broadcast in June 1969, the result of a year of filming of the Queen and her closest relatives, taking in visits to Balmoral, holidays on the Royal Yacht Britannia and a behind-the-scenes look at official engagements and overseas tours.
Over 111 minutes, the royals were shown as a real family, eating, chatting and laughing, while dispelling some of the myths that had grown around them.
The film was commissioned by the Royal Family and was re-broadcast in 1972 to mark the 20th anniversary of the Queen’s accession and then, apparently on Palace orders, it was locked away and it has never been seen in full since — until now.
The entire documentary was uploaded to YouTube by a mysterious account several weeks ago and was viewed by thousands. It has since been removed after a copyright complaint by the BBC. The upload sparked a row between the broadcaster and Buckingham Palace, which is to retain control over who, when and how the documentary can be viewed. Questions remain over how the documentary ended up online.
Despite the Royal Family’s concerns, the film was welcomed by royal watchers and commentators. It grants a rare look at life behind the walls of Buckingham Palace, the sort of access that is almost unimaginable today, and reveals a good-humoured, decisive Queen who lives a private life that is in some ways very ‘normal’.
Here, Femail takes a look at the insights gleaned from watching the entire leaked documentary…
HER MAJESTY’S MESSY DESK
At work: The cameras capture the Queen working at a desk strewn with paperwork in what appears to be loosely organised piles. On two chairs behind her there are piles of books and there are stacks of paper on the sideboard too
Photos released of Buckingham Palace today show immaculately kept rooms with ornaments and photo frames placed just so. However the documentary gives a look at what the royals’ private offices might really be like – and the Queen’s is surprisingly messy.
The cameras capture the Queen working at a desk strewn with paperwork in what appears to be loosely organised piles. On two chairs behind her there are piles of books and there are stacks of paper on the sideboard too.
The Queen sorts through pieces of correspondence, placing one in a tray and another by her side. She also buzzes for an aide using an intercom system to her left-hand side. As the narrator explains, part of Her Majesty’s role is a decidedly un-glamorous office job.
Down the corridor is the Duke of Edinburgh’s private office which is neat and well organised in comparison. The paperwork on his desk is sorted into dividers and piles. At one point he speaks to an aide over the intercom to discuss the logistics for an upcoming visit to Cambridge University, debating whether he should fly there.
THE QUEEN DRESSED DOWN IN TROUSERS AND A T-SHIRT
Dressed down: The film shows the Royal Family on board the Royal Yacht Britannia. In a sign of the informal nature of life on board the yacht, the Queen is seen dressed down in a striped t-shirt and pair of trousers, with a pale blue cardigan worn over her shoulders. A brief glimpse of her feet shows she’s wearing what appears to be red plimsolls
The film shows the Royal Family on board the Royal Yacht Britannia. For decades the yacht, which was retired in 1997, offered the family a private escape and was enjoyed not only by the Queen and her children, but also Princess Margaret and her children. Prince Charles, Princess Anne and Prince Andrew honeymooned on the yacht.
The camera crew followed the family on one of their voyages, believed to have taken place in 1968. It is here where the Queen looks almost at her most relaxed. She is similarly at ease on a family picnic in Balmoral and with her children on the Sandringham estate, both of which were captured on film.
In a sign of the informal nature of life on board the yacht, the Queen is seen dressed down in a striped t-shirt and pair of trousers, with a pale blue cardigan worn over her shoulders. A brief glimpse of her feet shows she’s wearing what appears to be red plimsolls.
It is rare to see the Queen in such an informal outfit. More often, in the film and today, she is seen in a dress or a blouse and skirt.
The scenes on board the yacht also capture the Queen’s close relationship with her niece Sarah Chatto. At one point the Queen carries a young Sarah in her arms so that the little girl can see out to sea. Meanwhile her youngest son Prince Edward is held in the arms of a sailor so he can take in the sights.
PRINCESS ANNE THE DAREDEVIL
Thrillseeker: On board the Royal Yacht Britannia, Princess Anne, then aged 18 or 19, shows off her thrill-seeking nature when she takes part in a Navy training exercise. Seen above, the princess is carried between vessels on a pulley system
Princess Anne appears at several points in the film, including admiring racehorses with her mother and at a Buckingham Palace reception for the 1968 Olympics team.
On board the Royal Yacht Britannia, Princess Anne, then aged 18 or 19, shows off her thrill-seeking nature when she takes part in a Navy training exercise.
Standing in the middle of a group of sailors, the princess is fitted with an inflatable life vest. She steps forward without hesitation and is attached to a pulley system that is stretched between the Royal Yacht Britannia and a second Navy vessel sailing nearby.
In a matter of moments, Anne was lifted up off the deck of the second vessel and shimmied along to the deck of the Royal Yacht, where her family are watching.
As the narrator notes: one false move and the Princess Royal could find herself dropped in the waves below.
THE QUEEN DRIVING HER CHILDREN THROUGH SANDRINGHAM
Hands-on mother: In one particularly sweet moment, the Queen packs up her three youngest children and drives them in a Range Rover across the Sandringham estate in Norfolk to see a litter of puppies being kept in the kennels
The Royal Family walking to and from church at Sandringham will be a sight familiar to many royal watchers. Photographers are allowed to capture the royals attending the service, and the photos often make the Boxing Day newspapers.
However the documentary goes much further and offers a look at the private goings-on at the Norfolk estate.
The Duke of Edinburgh is seen sat at an easel, painting a landscape, and the young princes shriek during a snowball fight in the grounds.
In one particularly sweet moment, the Queen packs up her three youngest children and drives them in a Range Rover across the estate to see a litter of puppies being kept in the kennels.
She waves to staff on duty and chats happily to young Edward who asks if he can have one of the puppies. ‘We’ll have to see if they are able to come out in the snow,’ the Queen replies. Prince Andrew, sitting on the back seat with his big sister Anne, gazes out the window at the snow-covered landscape.
On arrival at the kennels, Princess Anne urges Edward to ‘jump’ down from the car before reaching in to lift him down when he hesitates. The little boy runs over to the puppies and pats one on the back, declaring: ‘This one is mine!’
THE QUEEN AND PRINCESS ANNE WATCH HORSES IN BERKSHIRE
Shared passion: The Queen and Princess Anne watch horses with a trainer during on private outing to Berkshire
As well as official engagements like royal tours and visits to local organisations, the documentary offers a look at how the royals spend their time privately.
One such moment shows the Queen and Princess Anne on an early morning visit to the Berkshire Downs, where they watch horses galloping past.
The Queen, dressed in tweed, offers her verdict on the horses. ‘That one has rather good action,’ she says of one, prompting her trainer to agree. The trainer also suggests one might work as a ‘new polo pony for Prince Philip’.
The Queen and Princess Anne also share a joke about one of the horses being slow, although the exact wording is difficult to hear.
PRINCE EDWARD LEARNS TO READ
Private lessons: The documentary shows a five-year-old Prince Edward in lessons at Buckingham Palace. The young prince was in a small class alongside some ‘cousins and friends’, including Sarah Chatto, the narrator explains
In another scene: Prince Charles shows his youngest brother (right) how his cello works. The sweet interaction reveals Charles’ kind and patient nature with his younger siblings, and Edward hangs on every word his brother says
The documentary shows a five-year-old Prince Edward in lessons at Buckingham Palace. The young prince was in a small class alongside some ‘cousins and friends’, including Sarah Chatto, the narrator explains.
Sitting next to the schoolmistress, Edward slowly and deliberately reads aloud from a book about a cat and a dog. After he comes to the end of his section, he is praised by the teacher who tells him how well he has done.
The film reveals Prince Andrew, then nine years old, is at boarding school. A brief shot of Prince Andrew on the football pitch captures a teacher shouting: ‘Prince Andrew, mark the wing!,’ revealing how the young royal would have been addressed at school.
At the time the documentary was being filmed, Princess Anne was taking private French lessons, while Prince Charles was continuing his education ‘across a broad range of topics’.
How the making of Royal Family was depicted in series three of The Crown
In episode four of the third season of The Crown, the royal family take part in a documentary which sees cameras follow them during their day-to-day lives, to prove how ‘normal’ they are.
It’s Prince Philip’s (Tobias Menzies) idea as he tries to improve the family’s public image with the one-off programme.
In one scene, where they are filming the show. the royals are seen sitting down together for what’s portrayed as a rare family gathering to watch the documentary on TV.
Olivia Colman’s Queen Elizabeth appears to cast an awkward glance as she sits with Princess Margaret, played by Helena Bonham Carter, and Marion Bailey as the Queen Mother.
A producer tells them to be ‘unscripted’ and natura.
Erin Doherty’s Princess Anne then quips: ‘This is nothing like a normal evening, if it was a normal evening we’d all be on our own in sad isolation in our individual palaces.
‘It wouldn’t be crowded like this, this is like some kind nightmare Christmas.’
The Queen mother then asks for a drink, before the crew cut.
Later, the family meet to watch the show. In one scene Carter’s Princess Margaret jokes ‘they got your good side mummy’ as they film the Queen mother from behind.
A film crew from the BBC are seen in The Crown. The Netflix show showed scenes of documentary makers filming the Royal Family watch television
In the fourth episode of The Crown, the Queen (seen above) and her family take part in a fly-on-the-wall style documentary. It is Prince Philip’s idea to boost their public image
It’s Prince Philip’s (Tobias Menzies) idea as he tries to improve the family’s public image with the one-off programme. But this isn’t true
The Netflix show sees the royal family to gather to watch the documentary, that was universally panned. However, in real life there was positive reaction
Princess Anne (Erin Doherty) is seen watching the documentary about her family in a scene of the Crown, from season 3, episode 4
The Crown cast remade the infamous ‘barbecue’ scene from the documentary, where The Queen calls a salad dressing ‘too oily’ and Princess Anne declares it ‘a failure’
VERDICT: SOMEWHAT TRUE
The Royal Family did take part in a 1969 documentary, which was a combined effort between the BBC and ITV, in a bid to show they were just like their subjects.
However the programme was greeted with enthusiastic praise, not universally panned as The Crown suggests.
The idea for the documentary, which aired in June 1969, came from the Palace’s new royal press secretary William Heseltine (an Australian public relations expert), rather than the Duke of Edinburgh, as The Crown shows.
He wanted to encourage public support for a monarchy that was increasingly seen as out-of-touch.
The programme was met with widespread praise and proved so popular that it was aired again that same year and once more in 1972.
It hasn’t been broadcast in full since but clips from the documentary were made available as part of an exhibition for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee 2012.
However, for the most past the original documentary remains under lock and key with researchers having to pay to view it at BBC HQ, after getting permission from Buckingham Palace first.