Royal Family (film)

Royal Family (also known as The Royal Family)[3] is a British television documentary about the family of Queen Elizabeth II. It originally aired on BBC 1 and ITV in June 1969. The film attracted over 38 million viewers in the United Kingdom, and was sold around the world and seen by an estimated 350 million people.[4] The Queen later had the documentary banned;[5][6] it has not been shown on British TV since 1977,[7] and access to view the film was heavily restricted.[8] In early 2021 it was leaked and published on the internet.[5][6] The film remains available to view on the video-sharing platform YouTube[9] and the digital library website Internet Archive.[10]

Royal Family
Title screen
Written byAntony Jay
Directed byRichard Cawston
Narrated byMichael Flanders
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original languageEnglish
ProducerRichard Cawston
Running time110 mins[1][2]
Production companiesBBC, ITV
Original networkBBC 1, BBC 2, ITV
Picture format4:3 (576i PAL), Colour
Audio formatMono
Original release21 June 1969 (1969-06-21)


Royal Family was commissioned by Elizabeth II to celebrate the investiture of her eldest son, Charles, as Prince of Wales.[11] It was directed by Richard Cawston,[12] with the script by Antony Jay,[13] narrated by Michael Flanders.[8] The film was jointly produced by the BBC and ITV.[14]

It was the idea of William Heseltine, then royal Press Secretary, and the television producer John Brabourne (son-in-law of Lord Mountbatten), who both believed that showing the family's day-to-day life on TV would help to revive public interest in an institution widely seen, in the Swinging Sixties, as out of touch and irrelevant.[15]

Cawston was approached in March 1968, and filming began on 8 June at Trooping the Colour. A total of 43 hours of material were shot for the documentary. Editing started in March 1969, while filming came to an end in May.[15] All scenes had to be agreed by an advisory committee chaired by the Queen's husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.[16] However, Cawston was allowed to shoot everything he wanted, later recounting "I never asked for things which I thought would be in bad taste; therefore, there was never any question of asking for something that would have to be turned down". The Queen saw the film in its entirety one month before the broadcast.[15]


The 110-minute documentary covers a year in the Queen's life. It gives an insight into the private side of the family, as well as the role of the monarchy in the 20th century.[12] A typical day sets the tone, beginning with an official audience, followed by lunch and an afternoon garden party. In the evening, the Queen chooses a dress to wear to the opera.[15]

President Nixon with the Royal family at Buckingham Palace, 1969

Later in the film she, Prince Philip, and their children enjoy a barbecue at Balmoral Castle, Scotland.[8] In another scene, the Queen buys Prince Edward an ice-cream from a shop, contrary to a myth that she never carries money.[17] At one point, Charles is practising the cello when a string snaps in his younger brother Edward's face.[16] Members of the family are shown eating breakfast, watching television,[18] water-skiing, playing host to the British Olympic team, and having lunch with Richard Nixon, then President of the United States.[16] The film includes a royal tour of South America and also shows Princess Anne visiting a gas rig in the North Sea.[15]

At the end, the Queen is shown discussing with her family an earlier conversation with the Home Secretary, who had described an unidentified guest at the palace as a "gorilla", a term she found to be "very unkind". However, she recounted her meeting with the guest by saying, "I stood in the middle of the room and pressed the bell, and the doors opened and there was a gorilla. And I had the most terrible trouble in keeping — you know, he had a short body and long arms."[19]


Royal Family was first broadcast on BBC 1 on 21 June 1969, and on ITV the following week on 28 or 29 June.[20][8][21] It was later broadcast in Australia on 21 September 1969. It was seen by 30.6 million viewers in the United Kingdom.[22] The commentary had to be altered slightly for American audiences in a version that was broadcast in the US.[15] Owing to the film being seen by three-quarters of the British public at the time,[23] there was no televised Royal Christmas Message in 1969, with a repeat of the film shown simultaneously on BBC1 and BBC2 on Christmas Day instead.[24] Elizabeth issued a written message to avoid the possibility of over-exposure.[25] The documentary was shown on BBC 2 on 6 February 1972 to mark the 20th anniversary of the Queen's accession to the throne.[26] It was last aired on television on BBC 2 in August 1977 as part of the channel's Festival 77 celebration of the Queen's Silver Jubilee.[7]

The film, protected by Crown copyright, has not been shown since the 1970s, as in later years it was deemed to be "of its time and for its time".[16] According to Heseltine, "we put very heavy restrictions on it because we realised it was a huge shift in attitude".[16] In the 1990s, the film could be viewed privately at the BBC, by researchers, with permission from Buckingham Palace, for a fee of £35. Broadcasters have been allowed to use short clips in other documentaries;[8] for example, as part of the BBC's The Duke at 90 in 2011, to celebrate Prince Philip's 90th birthday, or during the BBC's coverage of the death of the Queen in 2022.

In 2011 it was announced that clips would be made available for public viewing as part of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations. It formed part of an exhibition called Queen: Art and Image, which also featured photographs of the monarch from across the years.[27]

In 2021 the film was leaked and published online. It was later taken off YouTube due to a copyright claim, after the BBC sought to have it removed.[5] It was later reuploaded by several channels and was not taken down.[28]


Royal Family has been accused of revealing too much about the royals. David Attenborough – at the time, controller of BBC 2 – warned Cawston that his film was in danger of "killing the monarchy".[8] According to a letter Attenborough wrote at the time: "The whole institution depends on mystique and the tribal chief in his hut… If any member of the tribe ever sees inside the hut, then the whole system of the tribal chiefdom is damaged and the tribe eventually disintegrates".[23] The film critic Milton Shulman wrote "every institution that has so far attempted to use TV to popularise or aggrandise itself has been trivialised by it".[22]

A review in The Times concluded that Cawston's film had given the nation "an intimate understanding of what members of the Royal Family are like as individual people without jeopardising their dignity or losing the sense of distance".[29] The journalist Peregrine Worsthorne remarked: "Initially the public will love seeing the Royal Family as not essentially different from anyone else … but in the not-so-long run familiarity will breed, if not contempt, familiarity".[18]

In later years, some blamed the film for a growing lack of deference towards the monarchy. However, William Heseltine had no regrets, calling it "a fantastic success".[16]

In the 2016 Netflix series The Crown, the episode "Bubbikins" features the filming of the documentary, showing the conception, execution, and reactions.[30]

In 2021, The Telegraph took the opportunity to review the film after it was leaked on the internet: "the Windsors are totally unguarded, natural, non-media trained, it's like watching the original reality TV show … the family don't know how they are expected to behave on camera, so they just behave like themselves".[31]

See also


  1. "Royal Family (1969)". IMDB.
  2. Chris Ship (29 January 2021). "Why the 1969 Royal Family film was hurriedly taken down from YouTube". ITV News. Retrieved 31 January 2021.
  3. "The Royal Family (1969)". BFI. Retrieved 2 October 2019.
  4. "Royal Family first transmitted". History of the BBC. BBC. Archived from the original on 30 November 2019.
  5. Ward, Victoria; Mendick, Robert (28 January 2021). "Royal documentary banned by the Queen is leaked 50 years later". The Telegraph. London: Telegraph Media Group. Archived from the original on 28 January 2021. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  6. Moore, Matthew (29 January 2021). "Royal documentary banned by Queen is leaked on YouTube". The Times. London. Archived from the original on 29 January 2021. Retrieved 29 January 2021.
  7. "Festival 77: 1969 Royal Family". Radio Times. BBC Genome (2805): 43. 11 August 1977. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  8. Richard Tomlinson (19 June 1994). "Trying to be useful: Twenty-five years ago, the Windsors attempted to re-create their public image …". The Independent on Sunday. Archived from the original on 11 June 2015.
  9. "Royal Family (1969)". YouTube.
  10. Royal Family (1969) is available for free download at the Internet Archive
  11. Bastin, Giselle (Summer 2009). "Filming the Ineffable: Biopics of the British Royal Family". Auto/Biography Studies. 24 (1): 34–52. doi:10.1080/08989575.2009.10846787. S2CID 220313542. Retrieved 21 August 2013.
  12. Alan Rosenthal (2007). Writing, Directing, and Producing Documentary Films and Videos (4 ed.). SIU Press. pp. 72–73. ISBN 978-0-8093-2742-3.
  13. Hardman, Robert (20 October 2011). "Yes, Ma'am". The Spectator. Retrieved 16 August 2013.
  14. "Royal Family - BBC One London". BBC Genome. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  15. Alan Rosenthal (1972). The New Documentary in Action: A Casebook in Film Making. University of California Press. pp. 201–209. ISBN 978-0-520-02254-6.
  16. Robert Hardman (2012). Her Majesty: Queen Elizabeth II and Her Court. Pegasus Books. pp. 211–214. ISBN 978-1-4532-4918-5.
  17. Hardman, p. 212. Quote: "Others scoffed at the sight of the Queen paying for an ice cream in a shop - mindful of the myth that she never carries money."
  18. Nick Fraser (2012). Why Documentaries Matter. Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. pp. 38–39. ISBN 978-1-907384-09-7.
  19. Ledbetter, Carly (29 January 2021). "A Rare Royal Family Documentary Briefly Hit YouTube. Here Are Its Most Shocking Moments". HuffPost. Retrieved 5 December 2022.
  20. "bfi | Features | Britain's Most Watched TV: 1960s". 22 November 2005. Archived from the original on 22 November 2005. Retrieved 2 October 2019.
  21. Limited, Alamy. "Stock Photo - Jun. 20, 1969 - Royal Family first complete film portrait of British Royalty: Ready for its BBC television premiere on Saturday, June 21st, and on ITV on Sunday June 29th". Alamy. Retrieved 1 October 2019.
  22. Ian Bradley (2012). God Save the Queen: The Spiritual Heart of the Monarchy. A&C Black. p. 202. ISBN 978-1-4411-9367-4.
  23. Tominey, Camilla (28 January 2021). "The 1969 Royal Family documentary revealed an ordinary family placed in an extraordinary situation". The Telegraph. Retrieved 28 January 2021.
  24. "Royal Family - BBC One London - 25 December 1969". BBC Genome. Retrieved 29 January 2021.
  25. "A Point of View: The story of the Queen's Christmas speech". BBC News. 28 December 2014. Retrieved 23 January 2019.
  26. "Search results". BBC Genome. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  27. Anita Singh (13 January 2011). "Royal family documentary revived four decades on". The Telegraph. Retrieved 21 January 2019.
  28. "The banned 1969 documentary on the royal family has been leaked on YouTube. The documentary, long rumoured to have been quashed by the Queen, has been uploaded to YouTube, removed, and reuploaded again". House and Garden. 29 January 2021. Retrieved 31 May 2022.
  29. Milton Shulman (1973). The Ravenous Eye: The Impact of the Fifth Factor. Cassell. p. 119. ISBN 978-0-304-93851-3.
  30. Rieden, Juliet (23 November 2019). "The True Story of the Royal Family's BBC Documentary, Which Hasn't Been Seen Publicly in Decades". Town & Country. Retrieved 12 April 2021.
  31. Bennion, Chris (28 January 2021). "Fascinating and charming, the BBC's Royal Family humanises the Windsors far better than The Crown". The Telegraph. Retrieved 28 January 2021.

Further reading

This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.