Philip: Prince, Husband, Father review: a fitting tribute for the most honest member of the monarchy

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

ITV’s documentary gave insight into how Duke of Edinburgh’s modernisation of the Royal family was never truly appreciated in his lifetime

Philip: Prince, Husband, Father review: a fitting tribute for the most honest member of the monarchy
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (1921-2021)
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (1921-2021) CREDIT: ITV

Towards the end of Philip: Prince, Husband, Father (ITV), contributor Gyles Brandreth was asked what the Duke of Edinburgh would have made of this documentary. He imagined the Duke would have said: “Another stupid programme. Why aren’t you living your own life?”

Actually, it wasn’t a stupid programme. Lots of royal documentaries are, existing only to fill gaps in the schedules and supplement the pensions of former royal correspondents. But this one felt entirely appropriate, a tribute to the man who was the Queen’s “strength and stay” but also an extraordinary figure in his own right, whose role in modernising the monarchy was never fully appreciated during his lifetime.

Memories of the Duke were interspersed with archive footage of interviews that he gave over the decades. In one, he was informed by then Sunday Times editor Harold Evans that he had topped a readers’ poll to find “the most fascinating and exciting man of the 20th century, dead or alive”, beating Sean Connery and President Kennedy. 

He seemed rather tickled by it. One thing that came across well in this programme was how good-humoured the Duke could be, and how happily at ease when meeting members of the public – at least until the press pigeonholed him as gaffe-prone and the tabloids began chronicling his children’s marital embarrassments.

That interview, incidentally, is available online in its entirety: a 1968 edition of Meet the Press, hosted by Ludovic Kennedy. It is well worth a watch, and so interesting to see a member of the Royal family confidently answering whatever question was thrown at him. Compare and contrast with the younger royals, who are all over the media these days but speaking only in stage-managed, PR-approved soundbites.

Prince Philip with Princess Elizabeth on their wedding day in 1947
Prince Philip with Princess Elizabeth on their wedding day in 1947 CREDIT: Getty

The talking heads in the programme were chosen with care. Besides Brandreth there was Martin Palmer, who co-founded a charity with the Duke and developed a great bond with him. “I grew up on a housing estate… I never expected to be in a position of having this kind of friendship with a member of the Royal family,” said Palmer, adding that his background mattered “not an iota” to the Duke.

Palmer also provided commentary on the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. Many, wrongly, believe it was the Duke who insisted that young Princes Harry and William walk behind their mother’s coffin. Palmer pointed to a moment when, believing they were hidden from the television cameras, the Duke put a consoling hand on William’s shoulder. “Here is a grandfather who is trying to help his young, very vulnerable, grandson struggle through this awful moment. He knew what it was like to be a member of a dysfunctional family and he did his damnedest to make sure that did not happen to his grandchildren,” he said.

I could have done without royal commentators trying to psychoanalyse the relationship between the Duke and the Prince of Wales, and I’m not quite sure what Joanna Lumley was doing here other than to sprinkle superlatives in that lovely, Lumley way (“gorgeous… ravishing… utterly charming”). But overall the programme was a rather fitting tribute.

Leave a Reply