Having grown up in an era in which the appearance of a movie or slide projector could either empty a room or put its occupants to sleep, it's easy to sympathetically vibrate with those who want to duck and cover after reading the words "never-before-seen home movies and previously unseen photographs" in the description of a television program.
Those who withhold judgment in light of such a formidably boring set of phrases might be happy they did. The home movies shown in Royal Memories: Prince Charles' Tribute to the Queen aren't the equal of someone's chronicle of a late '50s trip to Disneyland; they are glimpses behind the palace gates and velvet ropes of Britain's Royal Family that reveal an engaging humanity that usually is eclipsed by regal pomp.
The hour-long PBS special will be broadcast Sept. 2 at 8 p.m. ET (check local listings). It's the personal reminiscence of Charles, Prince of Wales, conceived of and personally overseen by him to commemorate his mother's Diamond Jubilee. His commentary illuminates movies, photos and newsreel footage, some of which he had never seen, others he hadn't seen in a long time. It is a well-designed and executed commemorative from a proud son who wanted to share the reasons for that pride with others.
When it was broadcast in June by the BBC, some London reviews included the following: "Probably the most intimate look at the Queen throughout her reign" (Daily Mail); "He provided an affectionate, candid and emotional commentary to the pictures, offering a new insight into family life behind closed doors" (The Daily Telegraph); "Of all the commemorative, reflective (and sometimes glutinously sycophantic) programmes on air, it struck to the heart." (The Times).
If the British papers found it new, genuine and special, just think of how the eyes of ocean- and culture-removed Yanks may be opened.
John Bridcut, who produced the program, answered some TVWW questions, and his comments will make watching this special even more enjoyable:
Whose idea was it to do this special?
It was Prince Charles's idea.
Was it he who came up with the idea?
Once into preproduction, was he active in planning?
Yes, it was his idea to look at private moments recorded in The Queen's home movies, and at some public events of The Queen's reign via newsreels of the day. He chose particular photographs in The Queen's photograph album, and he asked The Queen for her permission to use the home movies in the film.
Any background into how this unusual look at the private lives and reminiscences of the family that can be shared would be great. Timeline would be helpful.
The project was first discussed with me in December last year, but active planning did not begin until February. Then it was quite difficult to find filming slots in the Prince's diary, which is normally planned about a year in advance, and was particularly busy this spring because of the extra duties he was undertaking to represent The Queen at various Diamond Jubilee events. For instance, he visited Canada in the middle of May, which was the busiest time for the film in terms of editing it, and getting his approval.
We began filming in March, when we spent a day reviewing news archive material which was projected at Highgrove, his home in Gloucestershire. The next day we filmed in the private quarters at Buckingham Palace, where the Prince looked through the photograph albums, and we also filmed in the Principal Corridor, which runs the whole width of the building, as well as the Balcony Room (the room behind the balcony facing the Mall: the Royal Family appears on this balcony on great occasions [e.g., the wedding of Prince William and Catherine last year]). Neither of these locations is normally filmed, and it required special permission from The Queen.
After Easter, we visited Balmoral Castle in Scotland, where The Queen spends her summer holidays. This was during a very cold spell in April, and once again The Queen gave special permission for us to film inside the Castle, which is normally out of bounds to television crews!
We filmed in the Hall, the Library, and the Dining Room. It was in the Library that the Prince opened the battered wooden box containing the cans of film, and we projected the home movies on a screen in the same room.
In May, we filmed with the Prince of Wales in the state rooms of Windsor Castle (rooms not open to the public), and we also filmed in the Grand Corridor of The Queen's private apartments. This elegant, curved blue-green corridor was built by King George IV in the early 19th century. In mid-May we filmed The Queen and the Prince jointly visiting the Lancashire town of Burnley. After that, the Prince went to Canada, and when he came back, he completed the filming on Monday May 28, four days before the film was due to be transmitted.
We delivered the film to the BBC on Thursday May 31, 24 hours before the screening on BBC One. This was unusually tight — though no later than had originally been envisaged, owing to the Prince's trip to Canada, which precluded his viewing of the film earlier than the final week of production.
Which Royal residences are featured in the special?
Balmoral Castle, Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and Highgrove House.
With some of the films he views, he remarks that it either has been a long time since he has seen them or he's not seen them at all. This may be a silly question, but are the films and photo albums kept by the Royal Family, similar (but much grander) than the way non-royals keep them — or are they part of a government or formal Windsor archive?
The films and photograph albums are kept in The Queen's private collection. I don't have the details of exactly where they are housed, but they are not part of any government archive, nor are they part of the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle, as I understand it.
How involved was Prince Charles in post production? Did he and/or the Queen have final approval?
The Prince was indeed involved in post-production to the extent that he viewed a rough cut of the film with me, and made comments about it that stage which I as producer absorbed and discussed with him. I was then able to address these points in the fine-cut of the film.
Editorial control rested with Crux Productions and the BBC, but the Prince's approval of the film was required before transmission, in the same way as would be the case for any presenter/author of a film. In this case, there was no voiceover in the film: the Prince's voice provided the only commentary, and so it was essential to the production that the Prince approved the use of his own words in the film. The Queen's approval was not required for the film, apart from the fact that she gave her permission for the use of her cine film and photographs, and for filming within Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle and Balmoral.
How was the program received in England?
The film was shown at 8 p.m. on BBC One on Friday 1 June, when it achieved an audience of 7.76 million. It was shown again the following Monday in the early afternoon, when it was watched by a further 2.5 million viewers. These figures are unusually high for a documentary on BBC One.