BEST think of it as an extended, though still inadequate, thank-you. A brief consideration will concede that the Queen has provided TV, starting with the Coronation, with its most spectacular and brilliant moments, not to mention constant material with which to fill up news bulletins and documentaries. So The Queen: 70 glorious years (BBC1, Sunday), marking the Platinum Jubilee of her accession, was the least they could offer in return.
It was far more than a catalogue of key events and appearances: we were given a social and cultural, even political, overview of how things have changed both at home and abroad, and how Her Majesty relates to that momentous succession. Contemporary newsreel was balanced by comment from key figures — Baroness Bakewell, Alan Bennett, Germaine Greer, Sir Cliff Richard, Sir Paul McCartney — illustrating that peculiarly British transition from enfant terrible to national treasure (all you have to do is live long enough).
We saw not just the highs, but also the lows, of our recent island story: the appalling poverty and living conditions of the post-war nation whose crown she assumed; hostility to immigrants; the miners’ strike; industrial collapse. The transformation of everyday life and attitudes: technology and the Pill changing women’s daily drudgery and subservience; acceptance of same-sex relationships; an emerging multi-cultural and multifaith nation; IT revolutionising everything.
Clips from her speeches proved the Queen, in many of these developments, to be ahead of the game: the very opposite of a reactionary voice seeking desperately to bolster the status quo. And there were crucial moments of courage in the teeth of political caution: her visiting a mosque at a time of racial tension; the first monarch to visit Ireland since its partition; the handshake with Martin McGuinness. Almost nothing, of course, about her faith: today’s BBC cannot imagine that deeply held, observant Christianity could possibly be the source and spring of a generous life of committed service, open to radical development.
A far less rosy picture of our national culture emerged from The Decade the Rich Won (BBC2, Tuesday of last week and 25 January). This was an appalling recital of, from 2008 onwards, governmental economic intervention on an eyewatering scale: trillions of pounds pumped into the system to ensure that banks and financial institutions don’t collapse, bringing down with them the whole system. But every move made the rich richer and the poor poorer.
The savage welfare cuts to deal with the budget deficit devastated the lives of the most vulnerable, while successive revelations illustrated the industrial rates of tax avoidance managed by corporations and the super rich. Not daring to upset overseas investors, not daring to pursue tax avoidance, not daring to regulate off-shore havens or obscene annual bonuses — government policy has created a disgustingly unequal society.