For those who missed the recaps of the first three episodes, you can catch up here, here, and here. With that, let’s get into this season’s fourth episode, “Bubbikins,” which covers an event I had completely forgotten about when predicting what would be shown this year: the Royal Family documentary. The episode merges three separate events that actually occurred: a poorly received interview by Philip, the filming and release of a two-hour special on the Royal Family, and the arrival of Philip’s mother, Princess Alice, at Buckingham Palace.
All three are important in their own right, but the problem is the timeline in which they are presented. The episode ostensibly takes place in 1967, the year in which a Greek revolution forced Alice to be evacuated to England, at which point she took up rooms in Buckingham Palace with her son and daughter-in-law. However, the other two events – the interview and documentary – took place in 1969. The documentary was in fact timed to be released shortly before Charles was invested as Prince of Wales, an event depicted later in the season. So, understanding that filming began in 1968, it all occurred before the interview. In other words, we’re playing it fast and loose with time here.
Taking them one-by-one, let’s start with the interview. This was presented largely factually. Philip sat down with Meet the Press and in an intersection of straight-forwardness and sarcasm shared that the family had indeed had to sell a yacht and he might be forced to give up polo. Needless to say, the remarks were as poorly received then as they would be today.
The episode depicts this gaffe galvanizing Philip to dream up the documentary, but in fact it was the brain child of Lord Brabourne, Earl Mountbatten’s son-in-law, who came up with the idea, believing it was a good idea for the Royal Family to embrace the medium of television. The idea was specifically to publicly introduce Charles ahead of his investiture given that hitherto he had been tucked away in Scotland and then Cambridge focused on his studies. Philip was enthusiastic of the idea, while the Queen was more cautious, and the rest of the family was very much against it, but fell in line with the Queen’s wishes. In the years since, Princess Anne has said publicly that she thought it was a “rotten idea,” so her attitude in the episode rings true.
The release of the documentary garnered significant attention because nothing like it had ever been attempted. It showed members of the Royal Family being extremely ordinary – sitting down to breakfast, gathered around the television, etc. It also showed them carrying out their public function, so their normalcy was cut up between very un-relatable moments. Contrary to how the episode portrays it, was seen as a rousing success at the time, though not necessarily to the family itself. What proved controversial about the film came in its aftermath – it is now seen as lifting the veil on the monarchy too much, and exposing the Royal Family to a level of interest and attention just as Charles and Anne were coming of age, and of course, setting the state for what Diana would have to deal with later on.
The episode states that the film has been tightly sealed since its release. In fact, it was broadcast again in-full in 1977 during the Queen’s silver jubilee. Clips of it have been released here and there, including in 2011 to mark Philip’s 90th birthday. But the general thrust of that message, that the Queen wised up to the documentary’s implications, is fair.
More fiction from the episode is the presence of a Guardian reporter trashing the Royal Family. That specific journalist didn’t exist, nor did the precise situation in which he is handed an interview with Anne, but ends up sitting down with Alice while she tells him her entire life story. The point of this, I believe, is to finally do some justice to Philip’s mother, who is only shown briefly in the second season, and referenced as being a “bad mother” who suffered from mental health issues. The reality is, of course, more complicated. A while back I wrote up a long post on Philip’s parents, which you can read here.
The conclusion shows Alice and Philip reuniting, and while there’s no way to know exactly how Philip felt about his mother by the late 1960s or whether any conversation like this ever took place, we don’t know that it didn’t, and I’m on board for Alice finally being given her due. She was an interesting and admirable woman whose life was almost astonishingly dramatic – if this is how she’s going to have her moment in the sun, then so be it.