Inside the Controversial Royal Family Documentary the Queen Hid From the World

It was an instant hit with the public, but the royal family hated it.
IMAGE YOUTUBE/ Smithsonian Channel

Imagine having access to a program much like Big Brother, but with the British royal family as the television show’s guinea pigs. 

Very few staunch royalists know of the existence of such a program—a documentary that aired only once in 1969. Royal Family was commissioned by the monarchy in an attempt to win over the favor of the general public. The idea of a monarchy in 1960s was already archaic, and palace life seemed worlds away from real life.The Queen’s subjects could no longer relate to her.

The documentary’s motive was to show her subjects that she and her family were just like them. For an entire year, cameras followed the royal family and captured candid dinner conversations, family barbecues in the countryside, and snow days with the young princes.

When it came down to the actual editing, Queen Elizabeth’s only comment was that it was too long. The nearly two-hour film had already been trimmed down immensely, what with 38 hours of footage safely stored away in the BBC Archives.

Finally, on June 21, 1969, it aired on television, with 37 million viewers tuning in. It was an instant hit with the public, but the royal family hated it. The Queen ordered it to be taken down and hidden away from public consumption.

In a later interview, Princess Anne said, “I’ve never liked the idea of the Royal Family film. I always thought it was a rotten idea.” As public figures, she and her brothers had already grown up in the spotlight and shooting the film momentarily threatened any ounce of privacy they had left.


“The attention that had been brought on one ever since one was a child,” she explained, “you didn’t want anymore, and the last thing you needed was greater access. I don’t remember enjoying any part of that.”

Conservatives had a point. They thought it too invasive and telling of the royal family’s personal lives. At that time, the Queen’s normalcy was shocking. Conservatives found it almost scandalous to watch the Queen store her food in Tupperware, The Royal Central said.

Everything in moderation, the saying goes and experts at that time seemed to agree. Journalist Sir Peregrine Worsthorne offered, “Initially, the public will love seeing the royal family as not essentially different from anybody else and in the short term, letting in the cameras will enhance the monarchy’s popularity,” which holds true with initial public reception, but he later added, “In the not-so-long run, familiarity will breed, if not content, well, familiarity.” The Queen was still a queen after all, and while as a person she’s no different than anybody else who drives, makes jokes, and cares for her children, her position as head of state and monarch are weighty titles that set her apart. The magic of royalty exists primarily because it remains such a mystery ensconced in a grandeur that only a few in this world get to experience.

While the royal family is putting more effort into their visibility these days—to the extent of assigning an official position for social media manager—it's still unlikely its members would be more open to the idea of such a forward documentary today. Taking into account that we've only really heard the royal family speak during official engagements and we've never seen the royals with a hair out of place (save for the odd paparazzi shot), it's unlikely that they would want their prim and proper image compromised. As for the matter of privacy, let's give them what little they have left of their time away from the glaring public eye.

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h/t: Smithsonian

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Hannah Lazatin
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