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Royal revelations

22 March 2013


AS THE Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury prepared last weekend for their respective enthronements, and no doubt wondered how they might achieve long-term leadership that garners overwhelming approval from their followers, they could have done a great deal worse than watch Our Queen (ITV, Sunday).

This was an essentially respectful, positive account of Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee and Olympics year; but, besides inspiring affection for our Supreme Governor, it also offered some unprecedented intimacies and carefully managed revelations. The relation of monarch to PM; the closeness of the various members of the royal family; the Queen's sense of mischief - this is perhaps the best account that we have yet seen of all these widely acknowledged realities.

It was good to see Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic ministers enthusing about her symbolic power to heal divisions by simply visiting their respective churches, and we heard that a state banquet at Buckingham Palace could build political and diplomatic bridges like nothing else.

It seemed to me that the Jubilee's capacity to build communal fellowship and shared excitement, and the way in which it involved a far wider social range of people than might be expected, was glossed over too quickly last year by the media, who were desperate to get on to the Olympics. This film gave, perhaps, a truer record of public feeling.

The C of E is, of course, a branch of the Heritage industry; so we might learn a great deal from BBC4's series Heritage: The battle for Britain's past (Thursdays). I am finding this an engrossing account of the wide public interest in our ancient buildings. Not enough has been made of the paradox: the spread of wealth caused by industrialisation and urbanisation created leisure and education for mass appreciation of, and eagerness to visit, the heritage that was being swept away by these very social changes.

We heard how the 19th-century movement to protect, especially, prehistoric threatened sites clashed with the immemorial British right to private property. The tussle between the Government and the fledgling National Trust over who should take over the great country-houses that the aristocracy could no longer maintain was particularly acute around the time of the Second World War, whose mass destruction greatly quickened the sense that our physical history must be cherished.

The appreciation of ruins was also shared by Pagans and Pilgrims: Britain's holiest places (BBC4, Thursdays). Ifor ap Glyn is an engaging guide to what I find a curiously mixed documentary series. Just when his shallowness, his need to spell out what anyone vaguely interested in the subject will know already, and his mixing up of fantastical legend with hard historical data make me want to switch off, he comes up with a nugget of wisdom, or simply such personal commitment to trying to understand the continuing attraction of these hallowed sites (usually by immersing himself in freezing water) that I am disarmed, and conclude that, after all, it is well worth sticking with.

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