Saturday 19 January 2019

He's still grouchy at 90

The Duke at 90 (BBC1)

AN AMUSING sideshow during Queen Elizabeth's visit to Ireland was waiting for the gaffe-prone Prince Philip to put his foot in it. But aside from him humorously enquiring if Guinness is made from Liffey water -- a quip so mild it could only offend those with skin as thin as moth wings -- His Royal Rudeness was on his best behaviour.

But don't be fooled. The Duke at 90 proved that age has done nothing to soften his crusty, spiky hide. Having crushed that obsequious garden gnome Alan Titchmarsh like a beetle in a similar ITV programme a couple of weeks ago, it was time for him to turn his beady eye and angry eyebrows on the BBC's Fiona Bruce.

You wonder why television channels insist on licking up to Philip when he clearly doesn't want to be licked, yet it was the uncomfortable tone of the encounter that made it such guiltily entertaining viewing.

"You're 90 this year," began Bruce. "Oh, well done!" sneered Philip. Bruce wondered if there was anything of which he was particularly proud. "No. What have I to be proud about?" What did he think about his life. "Who cares what I think?"

"How do you think of yourself now?" she asked. "I don't, I'm just here. I just lived my life. I haven't been trying to psychoanalyse myself all this time."

Titchmarsh had gone route 1: grovelling sycophancy. Bruce's questions were slightly tougher, but only in the way a Mars Bar is slightly tougher than a Milky Way. She tried asking him about the infamous slitty eyes slip-up in China; he waved it away with a snarl about how it was a joke, taken in the right spirit on the day, that the newspapers, and especially the reporter from The Times, had blown up into a controversy.

Obviously, he didn't like the media, ventured Bruce (rather obviously). "I didn't want to do this, either, since you ask," he said. "I suppose it's part of the business There's an inevitability about it."

It came as a slight surprise to find, during the lengthy gaps filled by a potted history of Philip's life, that he used to be something of a moderniser. It was his idea, in the 1960s, to have a BBC2 documentary crew record life in the royal household for a documentary called simply Royal Family.

Clips from the film showed him to be a very hands-on father -- which makes you wonder how most of his children, and especially his eldest son, turned out to be such dysfunctional wrecks.

Bruce, of course, didn't pursue that line of questioning, nor did she challenge him about how he can square his love of hunting with his reputation as a committed conservationist (he's president of the World Wildlife Fund).

Given that the Duke comes from a generation and a background where opening your jacket button in public counts as an unseemly display of self-indulgent emotion, Bruce's attempts to get him to open up about his feelings were doomed from the outset. The one segment where he displayed anything resembling openness was when he spoke about his love of being a naval officer (he saw action in the Second World War), a career he had to abandon once he married Elizabeth and became the royal consort, destined to spend his life walking two paces behind his wife in public. But Bruce blew it when she suggested the early days of the marriage were carefree. "How could it be carefree?" he growled. "I was a naval officer. It was a profession! You've probably never had a profession, so you probably don't know what it means."

That last remark, outrageous as it was, was delivered with an unmistakeable twinkle of mischief. Despite cooing appraisals from David Attenborough and Joanna Lumley, the Duke did nothing to dispel his image as a grouchy, unreconstructed, reactionary old goat.

But you have to say one thing for him: he's very much his OWN grouchy, unreconstructed, reactionary old goat.

The Duke at 90 ***

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