Behind the Royal Image - Transcript

In collaboration with royal collection

The Infinite Monkey Cage

30/08/2014

A witty, irreverent and unashamedly rational look at the science of perception.

The Infinite Monkey Cage

On next: 17:00 PM

Behind the Royal Image

Programme Transcript

The Art of Monarchy: Behind the Royal Image

Programme 1

PRESENTER: Oh hang on a second. No, it's got three panes that window and I need ..

DEBORAH CLARKE: And that's got two, so ..

PRESENTER: .. a window with two panes. I think it's this one over here.

NARRATOR: I'm at Balmoral.

DEBORAH CLARKE: But you need a drainpipe as well.

NARRATOR: With Deborah Clarke from the Royal Collection.

PRESENTER: I need a drainpipe.

DEBORAH CLARKE: Actually, I think it might be here.

PRESENTER: Here it is. You're absolutely right.

NARRATOR: And we're looking for the exact spot on which a two year old child stood to have her photograph taken over eighty years ago.

PRESENTER: If I stand here looking like that, parrot two, three in front of me, dog to my right.

NARRATOR: At the time the photographer had no idea that he would one day become King George the Sixth.

DEBORAH CLARKE: I think that's correct, yes.

PRESENTER: Yeah.

NARRATOR: And the little girl, that she would one day be Queen Elizabeth the Second, and one of the most photographed women in the world.

PRESENTER: I think X marks the spot. Here it is.

NARRATOR: This year she celebrates her Diamond Jubilee, sixty years at the head of an institution whose history goes back much further. The monarchy has ruled for nearly a thousand years with only one relatively short interruption. That is quite an achievement. It is a success based as much on judgment as it is on luck. There is an art to monarchy which we will explore through the monarchy's art. The Royal Collection is one of the most wide ranging, remarkable and surprising collections of art and artefacts in the world and one of the most revealing.

PRESENTER: It's a cloth and the thread spun by Ghandi himself.

WOMAN: You can see from the shape and size of it that it was never a domestic spoon, it was never intended for eating or stirring or that sort of thing. It's obviously ceremonial.

NARRATOR: Held in trust by the current monarch for her successors and for the nation the Royal Collection is not encased in a museum, but one that takes you to the most extraordinary places.

PRESENTER: Going up to the tower the steps are surprisingly shallow. Oh, that will be the alarm. Oh well that's, that's very different. It's a sort of Santa's Grotto meets an Indian theme park. The chair is gold, the sofas are gold, the tables are gold, the piano, the grand piano is gold. Everything is gold. And what's not gold is white or crystal.

NARRATOR: These and dozens of other unique objects, some priceless, others no more than souvenirs, will shed fresh light on our relationship with the monarchy, our understanding of our history and just what it takes to be a successful sovereign.

MAN: These material objects are not just about the history of the monarchy but they're the public history of the relationship between King, Queen and people across centuries.

MAN: These things although trapped inside their glass cases are not mere historical curios but living, working objects. These are the equipment the Queen needs in order to do her job.

NARRATOR: Indeed they are. The crowns, gowns and articles of state are all there to bolster and convey a monarch's regal status. But the prize asset when it comes to convincing others of your right to rule is something all together more ephemeral. Image is the magic ingredient of a successful monarchy.

MAN: Very nice indeed. Fantastic.

NARRATOR: Encounter the royal image and the chances are that it was a carefully planned and produced production designed to give the right impression.

MAN: I am going to be bossy for a bit if that's all right.

NARRATOR: Around five hundred years ago that task might have fallen to a court artist like Hans Holbein.

HUGO BURNAND: The fingers are quite relaxed but just squeeze them and let them go.

NARRATOR: Today it's down to people like photographer Hugo Bernand.

HUGO BURNAND: What I'm doing now while I photograph looks a bit chaotic because I'm doing it while taking a photograph but for the Royal Wedding we had all that sorted out well in advance.

NARRATOR: Hugo's wedding pictures of what are likely to be a future British King and Queen have already become part of our social history. They'll join the many other official photographs documenting the lives and times of the royal family dating back to the nineteenth century.

HUGO BURNAND: This one of Prince William and Catherine, I love that picture. The thing is that has an enormous amount of lighting in it. Masses. It took three days to set up. But it does look quite natural doesn't it? I mean that's what I wanted people to think.

NARRATOR: But what about the unofficial images? I'm not talking here of the random snapshots taken by mobile phone toting bystanders or even those gathered by a prying paparazzi. No it's the inside job that interests me - private portraits taken of or commissioned by those within. I'm referring to the royal on royal snap or the for your eyes only painting. Because they tell us something that the staged image does not. And that is what a sovereign was really like when the royal guard was down. If we're to grasp just how the monarchy has survived and thrived for so long we need to get a flavour of the personalities of the men and the women that were also our kings and queens. So back to that photograph taken at Balmoral with a drainpipe in the background. It's now part of the royal photograph collection housed at Windsor Castle which is where I went to see it.

PRESENTER: It's about the half the size of a postcard. I recognise a parrot and I recognise a dog. I'm not entirely convinced I recognise anybody else.

NARRATOR: Sophie Gordon is senior curator of photographs.

SOPHIE GORDON: Well the little girl is Princess Elizabeth. Behind her is her grandmother, Queen Mary. And standing next to Queen Mary is her brother the Earl of Athlone.

PRESENTER: It's a very informal portrait.

SOPHIE GORDON: It was taken as a family snapshot and at this particular time nobody would have thought that this little girl would grow up to become the Queen. You look at it. It is at one level quite an unremarkable family snapshot. Because of who the people are though of course it takes on a whole different dimension and has all sorts of historical resonances which looking back on it now we're able to lay on top of the image.

NARRATOR: That's a fair point. An image might be static but our interpretation of it can shift dramatically. Family photographs are usually only interesting to the photographer and the photographed as would have been the case here probably had fate not intervened. Now though to see our present Queen as a hesitant two year old trying at once to please her father or keeping a beady eye on the pet parrot owned by her grandfather is riveting and illuminating. It shows how family issues and relationships have played a major part in the history of the British monarchy.

SOPHIE GORDON: I think the photographs remind us that not only are we looking at the King or the Queen but we're also looking at a mother, a father, a sister, a daughter. And those are the relationships that come through in the photographs, the relationships, the tensions, the way that the little girl is looking at the photographer, it's a daughter looking at her father.

SIR DAVID CANNADINE: It almost gives the impression that they're like us.

NARRATOR: Sir David Cannadine, Professor of History at Princeton University.

SIR DAVID CANNADINE: And that may be important for us to think that we're like them. Whether they think they're like us is perhaps a different matter. And what exactly the private lives of the royal family have been and are I think it is impossible for the rest of us to know. But that particular image of the young Princess Elizabeth is also instructive in another way. If one thinks of British monarchs from George the fourth to now, it's arguably the case that the most successful monarchs were Queen Victoria, George the fifth, George the sixth and the present Queen and none of them was brought up expecting to be monarch. And one could argue that the least successful monarchs because they were unhappy or short lived were George the fourth, Edward the seventh and Edward the eighth, and they were the ones who of course were brought up expecting to be monarchs. So there's a rather cruel paradox there that if past precedent is any guide then the best way to ensure you have a good and happy and successful monarch is not to bring them up to be that.

NARRATOR: Yes but I think the photograph also tells us something specific about George the sixth the photographer. It shows him to be a proud and caring father, a man with a strong paternalistic instinct, a trait that was to serve him and the country well during World War Two when he won the hearts and minds of the nation with his sympathetic leadership. Of course by then photography was on the verge of becoming ubiquitous, not so though in the case of our next private royal image.

PRESENTER: So Sophie, in my hand I've got a small leather box with the initials PA on the front and if I open it up it's got a velvet inside and a lovely mirror. So why have you given me a mirror?

SOPHIE GORDON: This used to be the first photograph taken of a member of the royal family and so the initials PA stand for Prince Albert. It looks like a mirror now because over time the image has gradually faded.

NARRATOR: Disappeared more like but not before a copy of the original was made. And for the first time we have here a real image of a member of the royal family, unmediated by an artist. Although faint it is clearly of Prince Albert and what he happened to look like on that day in Brighton in eighteen forty two. Unlike the family snap of Elizabeth this shows a man enthralled by an exciting new medium. He wants to try it out, understand its potential, see what he looks like.

HELEN RAPPAPORT: And it's such a hauntingly handsome image, even though it's very fuzzy, that first Daguerreotype taken in Brighton.

NARRATOR: Historian and writer Helen Rappaport who is currently working on a book on the birth of photography and has written extensively about Prince Albert.

HELEN RAPPAPORT: He was an extraordinarily handsome man.

PRESENTER: Do you think he had a sense of the medium's impact even back in ..

HELEN RAPPAPORT: Yeah.

PRESENTER: .. the mid eighteen fifties?

HELEN RAPPAPORT: Yeah. I think he was really visionary in his promotion of photography.

NARRATOR: Prince Albert's interest in and support of photography when in his mid twenties was an early indication of the man he would become. He was in many ways a progressive who had relatively liberal ideas. He led reforms in university education, welfare, the royal finances and slavery. And he took a special interest in applying science and art to the manufacturing industry. The monarchy and its subjects had to adapt to an age where technological discoveries were transforming Britain and the world. It was Albert rather than Victoria who realised that this was a time to lead the inevitable change rather than grudgingly follow and in so doing he defined their reign and the age. And this is the man we're seeing in the Daguerreotype, an early adopter who thought there was no time to lose when it came to learning about the subtleties of how to look good on camera.

PRESENTER: We have two portraits of Albert here taken at the same time. One where he's taken the classical oil painting pose. The other one he's looking down the barrel of the camera.

WOMAN: Yes.

PRESENTER: And he looks much less sure of himself.

WOMAN: That's right. I think this is different types of poses being adopted and tried out and there's a certain element of experimentation at this time. The way that one got oneself photographed, I mean it was still very new technology and the different types of portraits, all the possibilities of the camera were relatively unexplored. So these early portraits represent that, different types of portraits emerging from one session. There are of course constraints as well. When this photograph was taken Prince Albert would have had to have sit motionless for a number of minutes, if not longer, and we know that there was bad weather which meant less light so a longer exposure. One of the ways that photographers got their subjects to sit still was to use neck braces so he would have been literally pinned down unable to move for several minutes so that then gives this sense of formality, of stiffness perhaps in the pose.

PRESENTER: Because he was stiff.

WOMAN: Yes.

HELEN RAPPAPORT: One thing I should have said was that all the royals had this incredible passion for photography.

PRESENTER: I wonder why.

HELEN RAPPAPORT: It gave them a chance to record personal private moments of intimacy I suppose that they at least could share amongst themselves and that got away from all the formality of a lot of their public life.

PRESENTER: So Helen, these were private images they were creating.

HELEN RAPPAPORT: Yeah. I think photography gave them the ability to be informal and kind of chuck off all the robes of state and be normal people.

WOMAN: This would have been purely private. Daguerreotypes are in any case unique objects. They're not intended to be reproduced and printed in multiple copies as if you were using a negative. You can see from the size of the object it's small, it fits in the hand. It's a small, intimate object designed to be carried around.

NARRATOR: That sense of a portable, private picture designed to be held in an intimate inner pocket of a royal garment was not new. Before the Daguerreotype, before the passport photo, there was the miniature painting, a credit card sized portrait that ..

DEBORAH CLARKE: Just nestles in the palm of a hand. It's really neat isn't it?

PRESENTER: It's the, it's the size of a badge really isn't it?

DEBORAH CLARKE: Yes.

NARRATOR: I'm in the Palace of Holyrood House in Edinburgh with the Royal Collection's Deborah Clarke to examine a miniature portrait painted over three hundred years before Prince Albert first had his photograph taken.

DEBORAH CLARKE: It would have been made to have been carried around, you know it's very portable.

PRESENTER: It's an exquisite object.

DEBORAH CLARKE: It's absolutely beautiful yes. He's painted against this brilliant blue background and so he really sort of almost glows against this background I think.

PRESENTER: Is this oil paint on board?

DEBORAH CLARKE: No it's watercolour on velum and the velum was attached to a card, often a playing card, and then painted with an incredibly fine brush.

NARRATOR: The object of all that artistic love was Henry Fitzroy, the Duke of Richmond, who was the illegitimate son of Henry the Eighth. The miniature portrait was painted in fifteen thirty four, two years before Fitzroy died at the age of seventeen. Dressed in what to the modern viewer looks like a swimming cap and a rather effeminate nightgown he has something of a ghostly appearance.

DEBORAH CLARKE: He's pale and he's got these rather deep shadows under his eyes and rather, almost like sunken cheeks.

DR ANNA WHITELOCK: I mean Henry Fitzroy's been really overlooked by historians.

NARRATOR: Doctor Anna Whitelock is a lecturer in early modern history at the University of London.

DR ANNA WHITELOCK: But of course at the time I mean there were different moments during Henry's reign where people really did expect Henry Fitzroy to be named. I mean he was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, became Duke or Richmond. I mean you know he was really built up by Henry as a very, very important figure in English politics.

PRESENTER: I guess that Henry has accepted him as his own son, i.e. the name Fitzroy, King's son, because he's hedging his bets. He's determined to have a male heir. He hasn't had one yet. Should a male heir not appear at least he has this child to fall back on.

DEBORAH CLARKE: I think that's right. By the time the portrait was painted he hadn't named him as his heir but he was his only male child at the time.

NARRATOR: The art of monarchy demands that you must leave an heir, preferably male in the fifteen hundreds. It was the issue that defined the reign of Henry the Eighth that nearly tore the country apart and that changed the Church forever. But this private image, small, portable and just to the right size to fit into a breast pocket maybe hints at a more compassionate side to the Tudor tyrant.

DR ANNA WHITELOCK: This picture isn't a mini me. When we have pictures of his son Edward just after he becomes King, he's literally trying to fill his father's shoes. You know although he's not got a kind of prominent codpiece he is sort of trying to strut his stuff. So he really is very consciously trying to be a kind of mini me Henry the Eighth. This isn't. It's certainly not a threatening, imposing image.

PRESENTER: The dress is so extraordinary.

DEBORAH CLARKE: I think at the time you would find that people would wear sort of informal dress around the house, not just in their bed chamber. It's more sort of informal wear to wear round the house but not the kind of wear that you would receive guests in.

PRESENTER: That's really interesting. So another way of looking at this portrait is that it's a very informal presentation of a very important character.

DEBORAH CLARKE: Which makes it extremely unusual, yes.

PRESENTER: And Henry the Eighth was extremely fond of this boy wasn't he?

DEBORAH CLARKE: Yes I mean he lavished quite a lot of gifts and wealth on him.

DR ANNA WHITELOCK: Henry and Henry had a good relationship. I mean the sort of letters that we have and the gifts that we know that were exchanged between them do point to quite a good relationship. And I think maybe this is a kind of quite an intimate picture of a son that's perhaps a son rather than as an heir. It's not a political picture, it's a personal picture, and perhaps that is also indicative of their relationship.

HUGO BURNAND: Bring your face that way a little bit. That's it. Now lean forward over that right hand. That's it.

NARRATOR: Back at Hugo Bernand's Notting Hill studio the sound of the image maker's coercive patter intermingles with that of the camera's shutter.

HUGO BURNAND: I certainly don't use any sort of Photo Shop or enhancement like that. I really am photographing the individual. And I'll tell you that we'll do Photo Shop on the teeth and the double chin just so that you'll relax. The camera doesn't lie, genuinely, it doesn't lie and what you see is genuinely that person, that character, that smile. That's how they are. They are human people with sense of humour and they relax as well and I think that comes through.

NARRATOR: Up to a point. I'd say that all images have an element of manipulation, either during their creation, selection or distribution. Some ..

KATE HEARD: What we've got here is three prints ..

NARRATOR: .. such as the early nineteenth century mezzotint portrait of an elderly George the third ..

KATE HEARD: .. showing the genesis of the image ..

NARRATOR: .. have been subject to all three.

PRESENTER: It's not a genesis, it's transformation isn't it?

KATE HEARD: It's a very big change.

NARRATOR: Kate Heard is the Curator of Prints and Drawings at the Royal Collection.

KATE HEARD: What you see here is a very early proof and George the Third is shown leaning on his hand looking to the side with that really long beard, long hair.

PRESENTER: It's sore of Dumbledore out of Harry Potter meets King Lear.

KATE HEARD: Absolutely. And King Lear's a really interesting comparison because King Lear wasn't performed at this time. People were very acutely aware of this comparison with a King who was unwell, unable to rule through his illness.

NARRATOR: And ill he was, neither sound of mind nor body. And yet there was a pressing need for images of the King to be widely circulated in the latter half of his reign and Linda Colley, Professor of History at Princeton University explains.

LINDA COLLEY: There's the loss of the American colonies after seventeen seventy six and there's the French Revolution after seventeen eighty nine so monarchy, national prestige are brought into question in a new way. But simultaneously there's a very specific problem. For the last twelve, ten years of his life he can't be relied on to be let loose in public, he can't travel, he's blind. So since you can't see the real monarch any more a lot of attention has to be given, even more than before, to disseminating different visual versions of this strange, reclusive, people assume now mad, King.

PRESENTER: So this is how we start then who looks at it and decides it won't do?

WOMAN: Can we skip to the end and then come back to the middle?

PRESENTER: Yes we can. Yeah.

WOMAN: So I can show you what happens.

PRESENTER: Well the end is very different. He's had a, quite a significant hair cut.

WOMAN: Absolutely.

PRESENTER: The beard's gone.

WOMAN: Yes.

PRESENTER: A lot of the hair's gone.

WOMAN: Yes. It's been very significantly trimmed and we have evidence that this trimming was done at the Prince Regent's request. This is where the middle print comes in ..

PRESENTER: Right.

WOMAN: .. and also two prints in the British Museum. All three of those prints are marked up with the trimming in pencil. It's quite hard to see cos it's black on black. What was circulated is that final image you see with the trimmed hair with that wonderful inscription on it.

PRESENTER: What's interesting I think about this image is it's supposed to portray the King in his eighties. The country knows that he's degenerated badly, that his mental faculties are not really there and yet here we are with somebody who looks profoundly intelligent and philosophical.

WOMAN: Yes.

PRESENTER: Who has got plenty of life in him and plenty of brain power purring away in his skull. It's a fake.

WOMAN: Well it isn't a fake in a sense because we're told that this is how the Prince Regent felt that he looked.

PRESENTER: Or the Prince Regent felt he wanted him to look.

WOMAN: This is true. We could argue that one. But it is also a sympathetic image of a man who is no longer wearing, he's not shown as a King any more.

PRESENTER: There's no crown.

WOMAN: There's no crown. There's no sceptre. He's not wearing a wig. He's not dressed in the sort of robes of state. We know that by this point the country is being ruled by the Prince Regent, is being managed by the Prince Regent.

PRESENTER: Yes he's a benign figure in this.

WOMAN: He's a benign figure. There's no need in some senses to show him as the ruler because the past ten years he hasn't effectively been the ruler of the country.

NARRATOR: It's not clear whether these alterations are the work of an embarrassed son seeking to bring back some dignity to his ravished father, or the actions of a future King already showing that he was fully in charge of the royal image. Either way, what is plain to see, is the vulnerability of an old man, frail and mortal, the end of a human life being played out on a public stage. But as our next image shows sometimes it is the very private picture that will reveal the inner truth.

PRESENTER: There's certain reverie going on in her eyes isn't there?

WOMAN: I don't think so. No.

WOMAN: Oh well it speaks volumes to me.

NARRATOR: And me. As author Helen Rappaport concludes the Royal Collection's eighteen forty three painting by Franz Winterhalter is ..

HELEN RAPPAPORT: A one-off, as a portrait of a monarch. I've never ever seen such an intimate, sexual yearning kind of portrait of a Queen as this.

NARRATOR: I asked the Royal Collection's Anna Reynolds how she thought the Empress of India might have reacted to this particular portrait being in the public domain.

ANNA REYNOLDS: I think she would be quite, not necessarily upset but perhaps not happy to see how frequently it's reproduced nowadays, just being so readily available to everyone. That was definitely not her intention when she commissioned it.

NARRATOR: It's actually rather moving. We have this abiding image of Queen Victoria as a stern, grey haired matriarch who was always dressed in black, armed with a disapproving stare, the grandmother of Europe and yet here she is as a twenty four year old Queen dressed seductively with a yearning, come hither look in her eyes.

ANNA REYNOLDS: I think she's being depicted here as a wife and as a lover. It's not the mother, it's not the sovereign, it's really just intended for her husband's eyes.

PRESENTER: So this is a very private portrait because she looks foxy. There's no point getting away from that. You know her hair's down, her dress is off her shoulders. She's looking away from the painter with faraway eyes. Her lips are parted. This is a very sensual painting.

ANNA REYNOLDS: It definitely is sensual. And I think what lends it that air of sensuality in particular is the fact that her hair is down but it's not all down. It's half down. So she's in the process perhaps of undressing. Perhaps she's been out to a ball and this is the side of her that only her husband sees. It's the side that she's preparing to perhaps get ready for bed.

SIR DAVID CANNADINE: That Winterhalter portrait of a young and rather luscious Queen Victoria is I think hugely interesting.

NARRATOR: Professor David Cannadine again.

SIR DAVID CANNADINE: Because we tend to have this notion of the Victorian era, the era to which the Queen gave her name as a very repressed and straight-laced and prudish world where even piano legs were thought to be so erotic that they had to be covered up. The fact is that Queen Victoria herself, as that Winterhalter picture suggests, she had this astonishing animal passion for life. There's a marvellous entry I think when she says you know "My seventieth birthday. How I wish I was thirty again". And that sense of this extraordinary animal magnetism and will to live and in some senses I think passion for life, is perhaps among her most endearing qualities. And I think that side of her connect us more closely with her than we might in other ways expect.

PRESENTER: And informs what she did.

SIR DAVID CANNADINE: And I think informs what she did.

NARRATOR: The portrait shows Victoria acknowledging a side of her character that must have in part informed her as a woman and as a queen. There is something very contemporary about her attitude in the portrait. She is confident in herself, her sexuality and her husband. It does in a way sum up what the two of them achieved together and that was to modernise the monarchy, to take it down a hierarchical peg or two and present a more humble, at times domestic public face.

WOMAN: The most poignant thing of all was in a letter the Crown Prince Fritz, Vicky's husband sent, after seeing Albert laid out in his coffin at Windsor, he wrote and told Vicky that he saw that the Queen had had placed in Albert's hands a copy of this image. And that ..

PRESENTER: So he was buried with a copy of this image.

WOMAN: He was buried holding that image. For me as a woman that said it all. That's her saying I am going to miss, as she said in her diaries and letters, my lovers arms around me. I am going to miss my husband sexually as a woman. This is nothing about being Queen, this is what she missed about him as a woman and that's why her grief was so extreme.

WOMAN: There is that sense that the monarchs are public property and they're being really passed around and seen in shop windows but this I think is Queen Victoria trying to take some of that back and say you know there's a side of me that I want to keep separate from that. You can't devote your whole self to being sovereign I think.

NARRATOR: But in the long term maybe a private image is not actually an option for a king or a queen. After all even Victoria's highly personal and very private portrait can often be seen on public display. And we shouldn't forget that all the private pictures we've looked at throughout this programme have only been made available to us by the monarchy. It understands the immense power of the image and crucially what to reveal and when. Images from the past as well as the present are there to serve. But one constant theme that has struck me is that the private side of the public image gives us a valuable glimpse into the true characters of those who have ruled over us for centuries. They show our kings and queens to be real people with their own enthusiasm and insecurities, desires and dreads. They also reveal that if the monarchy wants to survive then flexibility in keeping up with the times are essential. Whether that is Henry the Eighth acknowledging a bastard son or Prince Albert's enthusiastic support for photography, tactical expediency and being aware of what is going on around you is an integral part of the art of monarchy. In the next programme we put the Royal Collection on a war footing.

MAN: It's six foot eight and a quarter inches long.

PRESENTER: That's a ridiculous size for a sword surely. Totally unusable.

NARRATOR: We examine six very different items covering seven hundred years.

WOMAN: This is a horizontal painting which takes up the whole of this wall.

NARRATOR: That show how the monarchy has survived war.

WOMAN: It's unmistakable yes.

NARRATOR: And thrived in peace.

WOMAN: It's storytelling really.

END OF TRANSCRIPT

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