The Crown is back. We rejoin proceedings at the dawn of a new era.
For after two glorious seasons with the marvelous Claire Foy playing the Princess and young Queen in her twenties and thirties, we now give way to the new age of Olivia Colman. The transition is neatly symbolised by a tactful discussion of a new Royal portrait for a new range of postage stamps. It is 1964 and the monarch is in her late thirties, what might normally be seen as her “middle years.”
Other changes are afoot too. Then, as now, a general election is in progress, resulting in the election of the first Labour Prime Minister of the Queen’s reign, Harold Wilson. Jason Watkins captures Wilson’s manner perfectly, although not yet his wit. In time, we now know Wilson would become the favourite of the Queen’s Prime Ministers. At this stage, however, both figures are wary of each other: the working class Wilson seems socially insecure and chippy while the Queen has heard an unfounded rumour from Prince Philip (Tobias Menzies – a good likeness) that Wilson is a KGB agent.
Elsewhere, another age comes to an end as the elderly Churchill breathes his last. In a rare piece of casting continuity, John Lithgow briefly resumes his role.
Suspicion also surrounds Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures, Anthony Blunt. Although not exactly a dead ringer for the art historian and Soviet spy, Samuel West is well cast as Blunt. West is a fine actor anyway but his lineage here is impeccable. His mother, Prunella Scales played the Queen in the Alan Bennett drama, A Question of Attribution, which was about Blunt and which parts of this episode strongly resemble. Blunt then was played by James Fox, whose brother Edward, incidentally played Churchill in The Audience, the Peter Morgan play which inspired this series. West also played the Queen’s father George VI in the (not very good) film, Hyde Park on the Hudson. His wife, the future Queen Mother was played by one Olivia Colman. West’s father, Timothy, of course, famously played George VI’s grandfather, Edward VII (and also played Churchill, several times), while Colman won an Oscar for playing the Queen’s ancestor, Queen Anne in The Favourite, earlier this year.
Fellow Oscar winner, Helena Bonham Carter is, of course, now cast as the Queen’s glamorous but troubled sister, Princess Margaret here, replacing the excellent Vanessa Kirby. The makers clearly feel obliged to feature Margaret frequently in this episode, presumably because of Bonham Carter’s star status, but aside from much drinking, rudeness, singing and fretting about her wayward photographer husband Armstrong-Jones (Ben Daniels), who is pictured motorbiking about a lot, she does little of interest.
The next episode promises to be much more Margaret-orientated…
Book review: Where Power Stops: The Making and Unmaking of Presidents and Prime Ministers, by David Runciman. Published by: Profile Books.
The premise is simple enough. David Runciman takes a look at some of the most interesting recent British and American leaders and sees what we can learn from their experiences of leadership. His choice of subjects is in itself fascinating.
Lyndon B. Johnson: a huge, cajoling, powerful figure, the choice of LBJ nevertheless seems slightly odd, simply because his tenure (1963-69) was so much earlier than everyone else included here. Runciman also inevitably relies on Robert Caro’s masterful biography of the 36th US president. Still unfinished, Caro’s magnum opus has barely touched on Johnson’s years in the White House yet. Let’s hope he gets to finish it.
Runciman has a talent for shedding new light on potentially over-familiar topics. All manner of leader is included here. Amongst others, the list includes: exceptional men who fell slightly short of the high hopes they raised on the campaign trail (Barack Obama), good leaders who trashed their own reputations on leaving office (Tony Blair), the highly intelligent and flawed (Bill Clinton and Gordon Brown), the decent but narrow (Theresa May) and the ultimate narcissist, the abominable showman (Donald Trump). The last of these should never have got close to power in the first place. Unhappily, he is the only one included here who is still there.
The fascinating story of the implosion of John Edwards’ 2008 presidential campaign will doubtless make a great film one day. As he never made it to the presidency, however, it doesn’t really belong here. But, overall, Runciman does an excellent job. The book is manna for political geeks like myself.
Quentin Tarantino – The Iconic Filmmaker and his Work, by Ian Nathan. Published by White Lion
One day, nearly thirty years ago, a young bearded man in a black suit ran across a road and was immediately hit by a car. Despite flying into and breaking the car’s windscreen, the hoodlum is soon on his feet again and pointing a gun at the unfortunate driver. As the scene is filmed from the driver’s perspective, it almost feels like we, the ones in the audience, are the ones being carjacked.
The carjacker was one ‘Mr Pink’ played by Steve Buscemi. The film was Reservoir Dogs and with its release, the career of film director, Quentin Tarantino had begun.
The years ahead would see the film’s director, Tarantino become so cool that for a while, it seemed possible that the name ‘Quentin’ might actually become cool in itself. In the end, despite the continued popularity of artist Quentin Blake, this never quite happened. But, as with his earlier fine, nicely presented coffee table books on the Coens and Tim Burton, distinguished film critic, Ian Nathan’s book on the video shop employee turned director, reminds us why Tarantino largely deserved all the subsequent fuss that was made about him.
The 1990s was a great time for Tarantino. Reservoir Dogs, a film about a robbery we never see and notorious for an ear removal scene we also never see, featured career-best performances from all its excellent all-male cast. Perhaps only Harvey Keitel and Steve Buscemi have done better work elsewhere and even they are better in this than anyone else.
Why is it called Reservoir Dogs? The book suggests the issue – as with the answer to the question, “who shot Nice Guy Eddie?”- is a mystery known only to Tarantino himsel). My own theory: the main characters’ behaviour resembles a pack of wild, stray dogs living near a reservoir, fighting each other, betraying each other to survive. But I’ve no idea whether this has any basis in fact. Do stray dogs even live near reservoirs and behave like this? I’ve no idea.
The Nice Guy Eddie ‘mystery’ is more easily explicable, however. The ‘shooting’ of the character, played by the late Chris Penn, was actually the result of a technical error. The ‘squibs’ which stimulated his gunshot wounds went off, exploding prematurely. Tarantino, cannily recognising the potential for controversy, deliberately left the mistake in the finished film. So basically nobody shot him.
Next up, was Pulp Fiction, the film where Tarantino fulfilled his promise. Then came Jackie Brown, the Kill Bills, Inglourious Basterds, the westerns and this year’s triumphant but flawed Once Upon A Time in Hollywood. I am fully aware I have not covered Tarantino’s body of work fully here. Rest assured: Ian Nathan does. The lone exception is Once Upon A Time… which is touched upon, but was obviously released too late for the book.
But in every other respect, as a crash course in Tarantino, this is second only to watching the films themselves.
Payton Hobart really wants to be president. He really, really wants it, in fact. He seems to have planned out every detail of his two terms in the White House already. And he is only seventeen years old. He seems to the living example of why anyone who wants to be president enough to successfully go through the process of being successfully elected is probably precisely the wrong person to be doing the job.
Netflix’s new comedy drama begins with Peyton (Ben Platt) launching his campaign for election to the position of student body president of his Santa Barbara high school. This proves to be a surprisingly big deal fought with almost all of the intensity of the actual presidential elections, Hobart imagines one day fighting himself. Indeed, that’s the plan for the series too: future seasons of The Politician aim to focus on different political campaigns occurring throughout Peyton’s life. The brilliant opening title sequence (which uses the excellent 2005 song, Chicago, by Sufjan Stevens) depicts Peyton the politician being created by a Frankenstein-like process of alchemy, before offering his hand to greet the viewer.
The opening episodes of Ryan Murphy’s series are very twisty and bubble over with exciting story possibilities. Imagine Tracy Flick (Reece Witherspoon) in 1999’s film Election magnified by ten. Peyton is slick and like Kennedy, Bush and Trump before him has been born rich. He seems to inspire a phenomenal amount of loyalty in both his girlfriend Alice (Julia Schlaepfer) and his campaign team (played by Laura Dreyfuss and Theo Germaine). But he also seems erratic and clearly has skeletons in his cupboard. What is his exact relationship with his handsome rival, River (David Corenswet)? Are they gay or bisexual? In fact, this probably isn’t a problem: everyone seems to be bisexual here. The whole thing is a bit like a 1980s Bret Easton Ellis novel at times.
There are other intriguing elements notably potential running mate, Infinity Jackson (Zoey Deutch: daughter of Back to the Future’s Lea Thompson), an apparently sweet-natured character dominated by her horrendous, gold-digging grandmother (an excellent Jessica Lange). Peyton himself is dominated by his own bohemian Lady MacBeth-like mother (another Oscar winner, like Lange and also great here). River’s girlfriend, Astrid Sloan (Lucy Boynton) also seems like a potentially interesting character, at least at first. The fine actor Bob Balaban also gets a high billing here as Peyton’s step-dad, but is barely in it.
Sadly, like a morally bankrupt politician, the series does not live up to its early promise. Perhaps that’s the problem with planning several seasons in advance like this: the creators seem to have lost interest in this story and started setting up the next series a few episodes before the end. The election story-line fizzles out. The mid-season episode, ‘The Voter’ depicts an apathetic student totally ignoring the election day events occurring around him. This is an interesting idea which might have provided a fresh new perspective on events: not everyone at Peyton’s school (or in society generally) is obsessed with politics, after all. But the voter (played by Russell Posner) is clearly anything but typical. He is far more drug-obsessed, girl-obsessed (a point over emphasised with far too many shots of him checking girls out) and violent than anyone around him. The episode is a complete dud.
Despite these flaws and too many irrelevant musical interludes from the talented Platt, however, The Politician is still well-acted and compelling enough to make it worth viewing. But as Peyton himself is once cruelly described, this is more Gerald Ford than Barack Obama.
The answer lies within Chris Mullin’s excellent 1982 novel, A Very British Coup. Written in the dark days of early Thatcherism, Mullin envisaged a future (the late 1980s), in which Perkins, a working-class hero and onetime Sheffield steelworker leads the Labour Party to an unexpected General Election victory on a manifesto not dissimilar to the one Labour lost on in 1983. Perkins’ Labour Party is thoroughly socialist and the new government quickly embarks on fulfilling the radical agenda it has been elected on: dismantling Britain’s nuclear deterrent and leaving NATO, breaking up the newspaper monopolies, redistributing wealth and more.
Needless to say, the establishment: the civil service, the media and the security services are horrified. They immediately begin conspiring with the US (who, viewing things through a Cold War prism, see Britain as having “gone over to the other side”) in a bid to thwart the programme of the democratically elected government. It is a great read.
Mullin was writing at a very volatile political time. In 1980, the new Thatcher government was already proving to be such a complete disaster that it seemed hopelessly doomed. For much of 1981, the SDP, not Labour, seemed set to replace them. By the post-Falklands summer of 1982, the resurgent Tories again seemed unbeatable, as indeed, proved the case, the Iron Lady having staged her own very British coup in the South Atlantic. We are in very volatile times again now. The future in the Brexit era is very hard to foresee.
In this long-awaited sequel, Chris Mullin (now a former Labour MP himself) creates a convincing near future which cleverly not only seems sadly only too plausible but which also makes sense in the context of what has happened in the earlier book.
It is the 2020s. With Brexit having proven a miserable failure, serious consideration is being given to a humiliated Britain going crawling cap in hand and applying to rejoin the EU. Trump has left office, but has left the international situation thoroughly de-stablised. Today’s leaders have left the political stage. A King is on the throne, as he was in the earlier novel. Labour seemingly locked in perpetual opposition under an ineffectual woman leader seems poised for a takeover by the former aide of the recently deceased former Prime Minister, Harry Perkins, Fred Thompson (Mullin isn’t much of a one for glamorous character names). As so often happens, Perkins, the scourge of the status quo in life is now hailed by left and right alike as a great leader of the past, now he is safely dead. Thompson was played by Keith Allen in the acclaimed 1980s TV version of the book is still middle aged (Mullin admits to some authorial sleight of hand here: only ten years have passed since the events of the first book, not thirty or forty).
But can Fred Thompson succeed in leading Labour back to power and restoring Britain to it’s former glory? Will his family difficulties or a rising tide of violence threatening to engulf British politics get in the way?
The Daily Telegraph describes this book “preposterous.” Presumably, they mean “preposterous” in the sense that it doesn’t mindlessly back Brexit or shamelessly back Boris Johnson’s leadership bid as that newspaper did.
This is perhaps – like Thompson himself -not quite the equal of its illustrious predecessor. But it is a fine sequel and an excellent, short-ish read.
(Special awards for people who manage to stay alive long after you think they’ve died). 1. Olivia de Haviland (103). Actress. Star of Gone with the Wind (1939). Born before the Russian Revolution. To put things in perspective, the three other stars of Gone with the Wind died in 1960, 1967 and 1943. 2. Bill Tidy: Cartoonist. Used to be on TV a lot. A British, non-perverted Rolf Harris (85). I’m sure that’s how he’d want people to think of him. 3. Kirk Douglas (102). Born 13 years after the first aeroplane flew. “I’m Spartacus!” “I’m Spartacus!” “I’m…very old.” 4. Sirhan Sirhan (75). Assassinated Robert Kennedy in 1968. In prison ever since. 5. Lady Clarissa Eden, the Countess of Avon (99). Niece of Churchill. Widow of Sir Anthony Eden (1897-1977) who was Prime Minister (1955-1957) before Theresa May was born. She was the second wife of Eden, one of only three divorced men to become British Prime Minister. The third was Boris Johnson. 6. Former senator Bob Dole (96). Widely seen as too old when he ran for US president in 1996. Sample jokes from the time: “Dole was hit hard by his divorce…his first wife got to keep the cave.” “When Clinton sees a glass of water, he thinks: ‘oh dear. It’s half empty’. When Dole sees one he thinks, ‘oh great! Somewhere to keep my teeth!’” 7. Sidney Poitier. Actor (92). Huge in the 1950s and 1960s. 8. Rose West: murderer. Not that old (65). A bit surprised she’s still around though. 9. Frank Williams (88). The vicar in Dad’s Army. 10. Betty White (97). Last of the Golden Girls. 11. Jerry Lee Lewis (83) Musician. Great Balls of Fire. 12. Kim Novak (86). Star of Vertgo. 13. Tippi Hedren (89). Why do birds suddenly appear, every time she is near? 14. Dick Van Dyke (93). “I’m Dick van Dyke! I hope you are too” Google him and it comes up with ‘Dick Van Dyke causes of death’. But he isn’t dead. Diagnosis: Old.
Director Stanley Kubrick considered withdrawing the film soon after release in response to tabloid reports that groups of young men had been launching ‘copycat’ manned space expeditions to the planet Jupiter.
Conspiracy theorists have speculated that Kubrick made the film as part of a plot to fake the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landings. This is, of course, nonsense. He was already too busy faking the Vietnam War.
The final line of the film is “My God! It’s full of stars!” This claim is untrue: in fact, there are no Hollywood stars in it. Leonard Rossiter is literally the most famous person in the film and even he hadn’t been in ‘Rising Damp’ then.
The apes at the start of the film are speaking in genuine prehistoric dialect. Roughly translated, they are saying things like: “God, this is taking a while to get going isn’t it?” “Hey! Watch what happens when I throw this bone in the air!” and “Shit! Where did that big black thing come from? That wasn’t there just now…”
Ever the perfectionist, Kubrick made one extra throw the bone in the air 7,674 times, even before he switched his camera on.
The song ‘Daisy Bell’ was not Kubrick’s first choice for the famous HAL shutdown scene. He had originally planned to use the song, ‘Cinderella Rockerfella’ sung in duet with another computer voiced by Barbara Streisand. This didn’t happen only because Kubrick never thought of it.
Although authentic-looking, very few of the scenes were actually shot in space.
Stanley Kubrick originally planned to film the movie in real time, starting in the prehistoric era.
Some viewers reported finding the film overlong. Some even claimed it was longer than the actual year, 2001 itself, including those who had watched it during the year, 2001.
A pilot for a spin-off TV sitcom , ‘You Can Call Me HAL,’ in which the computer sang ‘Daisy Bell’ during the credits and occasionally killed people was made, but never aired as it was shit.
Some have noticed that if you move the letters of the name ‘HAL’ one letter back in the alphabet it spells out the initials: ‘GZK’.
Things which the film predicted correctly about the year 2001: there would be some were people around doing stuff with computers and space. Things it got wrong: manned space expeditions to Jupiter, computers don’t usually take that long to shut down, classical music wasn’t that popular.
Kubrick was reportedly disappointed that very few people really thought the flying bone had actually turned into a spaceship.
He also was surprised so many people guessed the ‘twist’ that the planet of the apes at the start was supposed to be Earth.
Alternative names for the film which were considered were: Million Dollar Space Baby, The Keir Dullea Movie, Monolithicent, Kubrick’s Pube and The Apes of Wrath.
Ten ways in which the world would really have been different without the Fab Four…
The hit Danny Boyle film, Yesterday envisages a world in which the biggest band of all time had never existed. But what if they really hadn’t? Consider…
First things first: the early series of Thomas The Tank Engine would not have been narrated by Ringo Starr. Someone else would have to have been found to do it instead, wasting considerable time and expense.
The career of the talented multimedia artist, Yoko Ono would have been allowed to continue without interruption, rather than being crudely sidetracked.
“Yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog’s eye, crabalocker fishwife, pornographic priestess, man, you been a naughty girl, you let your knickers down, I am the eggman, we are the eggmen, I am the walrus, Goo goo g’joob”. Out of context, such lyrics would just sound like drug-induced nonsense. Imagine!
The career of fashion designer Stella McCartney would never have happened. This would obviously…er…have huge effects for everyone.
It is quite likely (although not certain) Linda McCartney’s vegetarian and vegan food range, would not have been launched. Julian Lennon would have not had a 1984 number 6 hit with ‘Too Late For Goodbyes’ either.
Pete Best would probably feel better about how his career has gone.
None of the Beatles’ post-Beatles careers would have occurred. Imagine no Mull of Kintyre. No Frog Chorus. So This Is Christmas. Imagine no…Imagine.
The film explicitly stated that the Beatles-influenced Oasis had never existed either, in which case, isn’t it a bit surprising Jack didn’t have a go at an Oasis track too? Although perhaps not Cigarettes and Alcohol, as cigarettes are another one of the things that don’t exist in this world. One wonders if Oasis would still have existed in some form anyway or how strongly they or other bands would have been affected by the Beatles’ absence. Would Madonna sound the same? Would Lady GaGa? Would Martin Amis have written in the same way? Ultimately, we will never know.
The Monty Python film, The Life of Brian would not exist as it owes its existence to George Harrison financially bailing the film out, as he wanted to see it himself. Eric Idle’s post-Python parody, The Rutles would also not exist.
Needless to say, the Beatles’ films, A Hard Day’s Night, Help! and Yellow Submarine would never have been made without The Beatles. Nor would any films inspired by them such as Backbeat, the little-seen Across The Universe. Or Yesterday.
The popular TV cartoon series, He-Man and the Masters of the
Universe ran from 1983 until 1985. Essentially designed to promote the Mattel
toy range of He-Man action figures, the series was based around Adam, a prince
on the planet Eternia and his ongoing struggle for control of Castle Greyskull
with his rival, the malevolent Skeletor. By declaring “By the power of
Greyskull!” Adam could transform into the all-powerful He-Man. There were a
whole host of other characters, plus a spin-off entitled She-Ra in 1985, aimed
Despite being set on a mythical world, He-Man would often end with
a straight to the camera moral message to the audience from some of the
characters. These were sometimes edited out of the British transmissions.
Here are just some of them:
no magic drugs (He-Man)
today’s story Ilena tried taking a magic potion which she thought would help
her. Well, she found out there aren’t any magic potions. And you know what?
There aren’t any magic drugs either. Anytime you take one from anybody but your
parents or your doctor, you’re taking a very big chance. Your gambling with
your health, maybe even your life. Drugs don’t make your problems go away, they
just create more.”
Skeletor would be especially well advised to stay off cocaine as he doesn’t
have a nose.
when doing practical jokes (Man-At-Arms)
“You’ve all seen how Orko’s magical tricks don’t
always go the way he planned. Sometimes they backfire on him. The same thing is
true of practical jokes. Sometimes they don’t go the way you planned, and you
or someone else can get hurt. So be sure and think twice before playing a joke
or a trick on anybody. It might not go the way you planned and someone could
wind up losing a finger or an arm, or maybe even an eye. And no joke is worth that
is it? See you again soon.”
Bloody hell! An arm or an eye? What sort of practical
jokes were they thinking of? One involving a chainsaw???
Respect Magna Carta (He-Man and Teela)
“A very long time ago a wonderful document came into being. It was called
the Magna Carta.”
“It was the first big step in recognizing that all people were created
equal. But even though more laws have been passed to guarantee that, there are
still those who try to keep others from being free.”
“Fortunately Queen Sumana realized in time that only by working together
could her city be saved. And that’s the way it should be. Together.
they had Magna Carta on Eternia too then? I didn’t know they even had it in the
ram things too much (Ram Man)
today’s story I sure was busy. Boy, did that hurt. Ramming things may look like
fun, but it really isn’t. Trying to use your head the way I do is not only
dangerous, it’s dumb. I mean you could get hurt badly. So listen to Rammy, play
safely and when you use your head, use it the way it was meant to be used, to
think. Until later, so long!”
that? If you’re ramming while reading this, please stop immediately. Ram Man
(not to be confused with ‘Rainman’) was a minor character. He’s wrong about
this though. Ramming is definitely fun. Ram Man, thank you man.
Sleep properly (Orko and Cringer)
“Hi, today we met some people who had slept for over two hundred years.
Well, we don’t need that much sleep, but it is important to get enough sleep.
So here’s some things to remember. Don’t eat a lot before going to bed, a glass
of milk or a piece of fruit makes a good bedtime snack. Try to go to bed at the
same time every night, and avoid any exercise or excitement before going to
bed. Well, goodnight. Oh, goodnight Cringer!”
eating fruit before bedtime really help you sleep? I’m not convinced.
all have a special magic (Sorceress)
“Today we saw people fighting over the Starchild, but in the end
her power brought these people together. It might surprise you to know that all
of us have a power like the Starchild’s. You can’t see it or touch it, but you
can feel it. It’s called love. When you care deeply about others and are kind
and gentle, then you’re using that power. And that’s very special magic indeed.
Until later, good-bye for now.”
was clearly to busy building a nest to read the first moral, Sorceress. Stay
off the magic drugs!
Your brain is stronger than
any muscle (Man-At-Arms)
“Being the most powerful man in the universe isn’t all that makes He-Man such a great hero. Being strong is fine, but there’s something even better. In today’s story He-Man used something even more powerful than his muscles to beat Skeletor. Do you know what it was? If you said, ‘his brain,’ you were right. And just like a muscle, your brain is something you can develop to give yourself great power.”
I’m not sure Man-At-Arms was
the best choice to put forward this argument, to be honest. He has “university
of life” written all over him.
Play it safe (He-Man and Battle Cat)
He-Man: “I’d like to talk to you for
just a moment about safety. When we go to the beach there are lifeguards there
to watch out for our safety. Crossing guards are in the street for the same
reason, to help protect us. Now things like that are fine, but we can’t count
on someone always being around to protect us. We should practice thinking of
safety all the time. So don’t take a chance. And that’s true whether you’re
crossing a street, or driving a car. Think safety.” Battle Cat: (Roaring)
The beach? ‘Crossing
guards’? Has He-Man been to Earth at some point? And what does “practice
thinking of safety” mean? Nice of Battle Cat to contribute here too. Much
Learn from experience (He-Man and
He-Man: “As we’ve just seen Skeletor went
back into the past to make evil things happen. In reality no one can go back
into the past, that’s only make-believe. But we can try to learn from the past,
from things that have happened to us, and try to apply them toward being better
people today. Remember, it’s today that counts. So make it the best day
possible. Until next time this is He-Man wishing you good health and good
Battle Cat: (Roaring)
Learn from he mistakes of
history. But also live for today: that’s all that matters. Make your mind up,
No job is unimportant (He-Man)
“Have you ever had a
job to do you thought was boring and unimportant. We all have. Opi did. But no
job is unimportant. Opi learned that if he’d done the little jobs his father
gave him, things would not have gone wrong. So remember, any job worth doing is
worth doing well. No matter how dull it may seem at the time. Bye for
Sadly, this one isn’t true.
Some jobs are both boring and unimportant. Writing the moral messages at the
end of children’s TV cartoons, for example.
Fighting is bad (Teela)
“Some people think the
only way to solve a difference is to fight. Skeletor for example, his answer to
every problem is fight. He doesn’t care who’s right or wrong. He thinks that
might makes right. Well, it doesn’t. He-Man knows that, even with all his
power, he always tries to avoid fighting. Fighting doesn’t solve problems.
Fighting only makes more problems. See you soon.”
Bloody hell! This is a bit
rich. He-Man spends half of every episode fighting.
Read a book (He-Man)
“I hope you enjoyed
today’s adventure. You know television is not the only way to be entertained by
an exciting story. There is another way; it’s called reading. And one of the wonderful
things about books is that they allow you to choose whatever kind of adventure
you like; a trip with an astronaut, an adventure with the great detective
Sherlock Holmes, a comedy, anything. You can find it in a book at your school
or neighbourhood library. Why I’ll bet there are even some good books right in
your own home just waiting to be read.”
In other words, in the immortal words of the 1980s UK kids’ show, ‘Why Don’t You?’ “switch off your TV set and go out and do something less boring instead.” Especially now this episode of He-Man has finished.
There is now not a single person on the entire planet who was alive at the same time as Queen Victoria.
She was born two hundred years ago in May 1819. It was a
different world then. Napoleon Bonaparte
and Beethoven were both still alive. The Peterloo massacre occurred in
Manchester that summer.
Victoria died in January 1901. By that time her funeral
procession was able to be filmed and thus seen by more people than any who had
witnessed the funerals of all previous English kings and queens combined. There
were 1.6 billion people alive on the Earth then. Every one of them has since
died, the last of which probably in 2017. 7.7 billion others have now replaced
Princess Alexandrina Victoria was born in the last year of
the reign of her grandfather, George III, who despite being incapacitated by
madness by that point, was the longest reigning king in English history.
Victoria would herself exceed his record of sixty years on the throne by the
end of the century. Some of her subjects such as the composer Arthur Sullivan
(of Gilbert and Sullivan), Treasure Island author Robert Louis Stephenson and the
playwright Oscar Wilde lived their lives entirely within her reign. In 1819,
however, her own succession looked uncertain.
With fourteen grown-up children, George III’s legacy should have been secure. But following the sudden death of his granddaughter, the Prince Regent’s daughter, Princess Charlotte in 1817, it became apparent not one of his children had produced a legitimate heir to succeed them. Victoria, the daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent, was the result of the subsequent “baby race.” She was fifth in line to the throne at the time of her birth, but by 1837, when her uncle William IV died, Victoria became Queen at the age of eighteen.
Perceptions of the Victorian era have changed steadily as society
has gradually transformed in the years since 1901. Arguably, little really changed until 1914, but the
trauma of the First World War did much to undermine the Empire and accelerate
social change. One day in January 1924, the King, George V wrote in his diary. “Today
23 years ago dear Grandmama died,” he wrote. “I wonder what she would have
thought of a Labour Government”. By the 1920s, women could vote, and motor cars
were becoming more prevalent. In 1926, the General Strike occurred. Old
traditions persisted, however. George V enjoyed a warm public response to his
Silver Jubilee in 1935, an event that doubtless evoked nostalgic memories of
Victoria’s Golden and Diamond Jubilee celebrations in anyone then older than
their forties or fifties and thus able to remember them. Victoria, herself, had
in fact, not celebrated her own Silver Jubilee, there being no tradition of
celebrating them in 1862. She had at any rate been grief-stricken following the
death of her beloved Prince Albert in December 1861.
November 1936 saw the destruction by fire of the Crystal Palace
constructed for the Great Exhibition in 1851. The timing seemed apt: the
monarchy was now in its most serious crisis of the post-Victorian era. George V
had died in January, his son Edward VIII abdicated in December: a major trauma
for the Royal Family, the wounds of which would not heal for decades.
1937 was thus a coronation year with the reluctant George VI being crowned, a century after his great-grandmother had started her long reign. The line of succession now strongly suggested, Britain would have a new Queen one day. That was assuming the King’s wife, Queen Elizabeth didn’t now give birth to a son. This was quite possible: she was only 36 at the time of the coronation and until the 21st century, a son always overtook a daughter (in this case, Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret) in the line of succession. But this didn’t happen.
Incidentally, the year 1937 also saw the release of Victoria
the Great starring Anna Neagle. Although very reverent in its portrayal of the
monarch’s early years, the Lord Chamberlain initially banned the play it was
based upon as it used a member of the Royal Family for its subject matter.
The years ahead would see more change. Although the war,
reinforced notions of patriotism and led to a rise in support for the monarchy,
by the half way point of the century with the empire fast unravelling,
Britain’s Victorian heritage was increasing looking like a thing of the past,
perhaps unsurprisingly fifty years after Queen Victoria’s death.
But then in 1952, her great-great granddaughter succeeded to
the throne, accompanied by her husband, himself one of Victoria’s great-great-grandsons.
Elizabeth II was only the sixth ruling female monarch in English history. Any
Briton in his fifties or over would have seen five new kings or queens come to
the throne in the previous fifty years. As we know, this has not happened again
in the nearly seventy years since. At the start of the Queen’s reign, both the
Prime Minister and Opposition leaders, Churchill and Attlee had been young men
at the time of Victoria’s death.
Harold Macmillan who was Prime Minister at the start of the sixties, was the last PM to be born during Victoria’s reign. The Sixties, more than any other decade, for good or ill, would see much of the residual spirit of the Victorian age vanish forever.
Probably, it was inevitable. Even by the early Sixties, only
people of retirement age could remember the closing years of Victoria’s reign
at all. Even then, these memories were likely to have been eclipsed by memories
of bigger events since, such as the two World Wars and Great Depression. But even allowing for that, with the rise of
tower blocks, the Beatles, free love, the contraceptive pill, decolonisation
and the liberalisation of laws on divorce, and homosexuality – the pace of
change was too great for any Victorian sensibility to survive.
Today, we view the Victorian age with mixed feelings: a
golden age of literature and change undoubtedly although our other opinions
might well be determined by our political outlook, However, what cannot be
denied is that it was a decisive, transformative and crucial period in British