mon 15/07/2024

Prince Philip at 90, ITV1 | reviews, news & interviews

Prince Philip at 90, ITV1

Prince Philip at 90, ITV1

Awkward mix of interview, overview and documentary

Tepid fare: The Duke of Edinburgh interviewed by Alan Titchmarsh

David Frost and Richard Nixon. Melvyn Bragg and Dennis Potter. Parky and Ali. The list of seminal TV interviews is a relatively short one, and it's not about to get any longer.

Alan Titchmarsh’s hopelessly mismatched bout with Prince Philip saw the Queen’s "liege man of life and limb" endure not so much a meaty grilling as an obsequious basting in Titchmarsh’s uniquely bland brand of conversational oil.

The royals are enjoying a distinct upswing at the moment, what with Wills and Kate's nuptials and last week’s trip to Ireland. On 10 June, Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark (“Philippos – friend of the horse”, deadpanned his cousin King Constantine, who had a touch of the Jackie Gleasons about him) will be 90, and although the occasion may not hold quite the same cachet as this year’s big fat royal wedding, it no doubt seemed as good a time as any to try to bark up a show of public affection for the unlovely old boy.

This awkward mix of interview, overview and documentary attempted to cast the Duke of Edinburgh as an irascible national treasure but the concept never really flew, partly because its subject had no intention of playing ball. Indeed, he seemed to take some pride in the fact that he's a hard man to like. When Titchmarsh tried to paint the Prince's attachment to various charitable causes and committees in a warm and philanthropic light, he brushed the implication away like so much dandruff. “I don’t do it for my own amusement,” he muttered. “I was asked to do it.”

PrincePhilipPrinceCharlesQatarStateVisitZ8fAcOOzxAjlThis is a man for whom the very modern notion of “personal fulfilment” is anathema. His motto, said his cousin, the splendidly named Lady Myra Butter, is: “Just get on with it”. Indeed. At one point, watching his withering responses to Titchmarsh's fatuous questioning, I experienced a nasty flashback to the time I interviewed Lou Reed.

“He isn’t a great one for saying thank you and he isn’t a great one for saying sorry,” said veteran royal watcher Hugo Vickers. Quelle surprise. Some mischievous editing made his deliberate rudeness rather enjoyably explicit. “He makes people feel at ease,” mumbled cousin Constantine, barely bothering to make the notion sound even remotely plausible, as we were shown footage of a room full of people laughing nervously while Philip cheerfully insulted them. He clearly favours the shock-and-awe approach to meet and greets: drop a bomb and then shuffle away chuckling. Later Constantine compared Philip’s "people skills" to those of JFK, which we can only presume was a private joke

His daughter was, notably, the only royal child on show. His often turbulent relationship with his sons, particularly the eldest, was explained by Gyles Brandreth (who apparently adds royal biographer to his many other achievements) as the neccesary result of a clash between a pragmatist and a romantic. Princess Anne claimed that as a father Prince Philip “put some work into it, he made efforts to be there”, perhaps because he had experienced a blatantly dysfunctional early life. By his teens his father was living with a mistress and his mother was spirited away to a sanatorium following a nervous breakdown – he wouldn't see her again for several years. He finished his schooling in Gordonstoun where, according to Anne, he learned “the ability to self-determine”. And how.

We were, I think, supposed to picture him on the roof with a hammer and a bag of nails

The Duke didn't deign to comment on any of this, of course, public confession and therapy-speak not being the done thing in royal circles. Instead, Titchmarsh tiptoed around several elephants in the room in the manner of a drunk man weaving through heavy traffic, now and then parroting some unintentionally hilarious line. I particularly enjoyed the one which told us that while at Cheam the Duke's “four sisters left home to marry German princes”.

Anything even vaguely controversial was fielded-cum-speculated-upon by a rather threadbare squad of talking heads. Their presence allowed the programme to make passing mention to such thorny subjects as Diana and her divorce (during which period the Duke acted as compassionate intermediary rather than Mr Nasty, apparently) but it was notable that the only real show of emotion he displayed was over a boat. The Royal Yacht Britannia was decommissioned in 1997 and he still seemed bereft at the loss: “She was as sound as a bell,” he sniffed.

queen-prince-2Buried somewhere in the middle of all this terribly tepid fare was the rather downbeat story of an impatient, dynamic man chafing against the proprieties of an outmoded institution while at the same time doing his utmost to uphold its absurd values. Described by Lady Butter as a "boisterous and bullish" child ("and he hasn’t really changed much as a person at all”), Prince Philip was a handsome "Viking" who strutted through his wartime naval career into the arms of Princess Elizabeth before everything rather skidded to a stop in 1952.

The king’s death and Elizabeth’s coronation condemned him, as Brandreth put it rather neatly, to “measure out his life in handshakes”. What does he do? We didn’t really find out. We learned that he posed for sculptures and oversees various committees, but the programme yearned to pin something a little grander to the Duke's breast.

There were vague hints at WWII heroics and a rather desperate attempt to credit him with the design of the Royal Yacht. “I knew about ships, I’d been at sea,” he said, casually disparaging the efforts of some poor civil service chappie who had originally been handed the task. After the 1992 fire at Windsor Castle Titchmarsh told us that the Duke “spearheaded the restoration and took action to raise the money”.

We were, I think, supposed to picture him on the roof the following Monday with a hammer and a bag of nails, or perhaps loitering at the door rattling a tin. Instead, we were left to contemplate the rather more melancholy reality of a man who has spent the past six decades looking aghast as a queue of people edge slowly towards him and he tries to think of something vaguely contemptuous to say.

The Prince clearly favours the shock-and-awe approach to meet and greets

Share this article


Interesting review,thank you. I watched this docu with intrigue.Seemingly,Prince Philip was a man who appeared quite dislikeable,yet under that screen possibly lay a man of feeling,squashed by his odd and sad family background.Alan Titchmarsh appeared frightened of him,and understandably so. An unlikely match for The Queen,Prince Philip has followed in her shadow,and made alot of powerful waves along the way,but for all that,they have stuck together through very tough times.Its perhaps to his credit that now,at the grand old age of 90,he and Her Maj are still a couple.

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters