Today Prince Philip died. Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark was the Queen’s husband and had the title Prince Consort and was known as the Duke of Edinburgh. He was probably best known for running the award scheme for young people that involves volunteering, physical training, skills development and an expedition; he was also well-known for a series of ignorant racist remarks he made to both adults and children when representing his country abroad or carrying out duties here in the UK. Nearly all the BBC’s radio channels (including the digital ones), local and national, and their two main British TV channels have cancelled normal programmes for the rest of the day to run “news specials” on the prince’s death (and interviews, obituaries and the like, mostly no doubt containing fawning coverage of his life) while politicians have announced that there will be no further press conferences (in the middle of a pandemic in which more than 100,000 people have died in the UK alone) nor appearances on weekend political shows. I tuned in on the way back from a delivery run this afternoon; Radio 4 had replaced its You and Yours programme with royal coverage and the tone of it was pretty sickening and rather embarrassing.
There were a bunch of the corporation’s royal correspondents, and maybe some regular journalists, but Nicholas Witchell among them, spouting off ridiculously obsequious and sycophantic nonsense about how central the prince was to national life and what a special place they have in our hearts, and how people will mention “Elizabeth and Philip” in the same manner as they talk of “Victoria and Albert”. All of this is nonsense. If we mention “Victoria and Albert” it is mostly in reference to the London museum of that name. There are a few other buildings named after Prince Albert, notably the Albert Hall in Kensington and the Albert Bridge over the Thames in west London. Albert died quite young and Victoria famously spent the next several years mourning him, appearing in public only rarely and even then dressed in black. The idea that Prince Philip has a great place in the public consciousness is simply wrong. We just know he’s there, some of us do the award (I haven’t) and those of us involved in charities they are patrons of at a high level (I’m not) have to remember our HMs and HRHs on the few occasions we are at events with them. But that’s about it. It’s the Queen and the younger royals that people have actual feelings about; when there’s a moment of national crisis, we hear from the Queen and some of us tune in and listen and some of us don’t.
Social media, of course, didn’t stop and I saw a thread of the various racist remarks Phillip had made during his life — asking a woman in Kenya who was presenting him with a gift if she were actually a woman, a comment about “slitty eyes” in relation to the Chinese — as well as a remark to the Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner that “it’s a pleasant change to be in a country that isn’t ruled by its people” as well as the father-of-four’s comment that, if reincarnated, that he would like to come back as a deadly virus so as to reduce the human population — the ugly face of environmentalism, the type that favours ‘cuddly’ big animals over poor people driven from their homes for wildlife reserves and whose livestock these animals often menace. Someone else drew our attention to his coat of arms which features “a representation of a wild man (or Hercules) girt about the loins with a lion skin, crowned with a chaplet of oak leaves, holding in the dexter [right] hand a club”, i.e. a nearly-naked, very muscly man, which some people find hilarious. Footage of tributes on numerous advertising billboards on motorways were also posted.
I felt some sadness for the Queen; I don’t know her, of course, but a few years ago I lost both my paternal grandparents within a few months of each other. My nan died of a stroke (the result of congestive heart failure) and then my grandad’s health declined precipitously over the next few months. It happens a lot, though clearly the Queen will not have been solo caring for Prince Philip for several years at the expense of her own health. But it’s not befitting of a democracy for all public radio and TV broadcasts to be put on hold for the rest of the day, or even longer, because of the death of one person who was not that important, just because of his status. I have no problem with there being TV shows about his life, but the enforced saturation coverage and atmosphere of “national mourning” for someone most of us did not know, makes us look like a banana republic, albeit without the bananas or the republic.
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