Barbecuing Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth buys an ice cream: suddenly the reality version of The Crown shows up

Queen Elizabeth (second from left) is having lunch with her family: Princess Anne, Prince Philip and Prince Charles (left to right) at Windsor Castle in 1968, while filming the documentary, which followed the British Royal Family for a year.Image Getty Images

The monarchy must move with the times, but not too fast. That has always been the motto of the British Queen Elizabeth. Therefore, at the end of the Swinging Sixties, she allowed television cameras into Buckingham Palace, so that the population could see that the Windsors were just a normal family. But she regretted that.

She ordered the BBC to put the documentary in a safe. Somehow, half a century later, the stored images found their way to social media.

The idea for The Royal Family, as Richard Cawston’s documentary was called, was created after the success of The life and times of Lord Mountbatten, a reality soap avant la lettre. In the spirit of the reformist 1960s, the people could see that the Windsors were mortals. Thus viewers saw a barbecuing Prince Philip, a cycling Charles (in tweed) and a queen buying an ice cream. The nation cried when toddler Edward got the snapped string in his face from the cello his older brother Charles was playing.

The Royal Family, based on a year of filming, was a huge success at the time, at least commercially. Three quarters of the British watched the hour and a half at the time fly-on-the-walldocumentary broadcast by both BBC and ITV. The BBC managed to sell the broadcasting rights to 125 countries. Part of the proceeds went to the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. The BAFTA awards, the UK version of the Oscars, were made with money from The Royal Family revived.

But there was skepticism from the start. Young net boss David Attenborough was concerned about the intrusion of mysticism that the royal family must rely on. “You are killing the royals with the movie you are making,” he warned director Cawston. That turned out to be not too bad, but on closer inspection the queen was not happy with opening the palace gates for the television. She resolved never to do such a thing again, and told the BBC to put the documentary away for good.

Sat for years The Royal Family, on which the sitcom The Royle Family is based, in a secure archive, under the heading Religious Programming. At the beginning of this year the film suddenly appeared on YouTube – distributed by a certain ‘Philip Strangeways’. The video was removed by order of the BBC, but ten thousand people had seen it. In addition, it has been downloaded and distributed online. Lucky for the Windsors: The Royal Family is less exciting thenThe Crown.