The Ellis Classics (1): After The King Spoke
It had an Australian hero, an Australian co-star, Australian producers (Geoffrey Rush, Emile Sherman) and that unique Australian melding of the piss-take and the lazy salute. And it showed the late king, Bertie, to have been a game, disabled, conflicted, suffering, crotchety, valiant fellow.
But it did more than that, not just for him but for the Royals in general. It put into our minds the thought that worse people make more money. And now, today, this week, when men of power routinely order the killing by drones and hit-squads of the daughters, sons and grandchildren of their opposite numbers, it is nice to have a Head of State who speaks up now and then for good behaviour, and peace in our time and is head of the least offensive Christian sect on earth.
Bertie kept his family in England under the Blitz, and in Buckingham Palace, a visible target, served as their human shield. He struggled with his affliction to utter great words of comfort and fortitude in London’s hour of catastrophe. His daughter Elizabeth served in the army, as a driver, his eventual son-in-law Phillip in the navy, as a lieutenant oft-times in peril on the sea. His grandson Andrew flew a helicopter in the Falklands War, attracting and evading heat-seeking missiles. His great-grandson Harry served in Afghanistan. His faraway heir, King William V, in his day-job pilots a rescue helicopter, a not-always safe contraption through the buffeting winds of coastal England.
In a past era of terrorist attack, the royal males walked behind the coffin of Lord Mountbatten, war hero and victim of an IRA bomb, for miles through London streets alive with possible threat. They are a bloodline not easily daunted. They show up for the service. They speak the speech.
And it is thought by the Murdoch press that because in a bugged phone valk a prince once used the word 'tampon' in private converse with his lover he shoulf not be king; but not by me. It is thought that because Prince Andrew is, like other ex-RAF survivors of war, a womaniser, his money should be cut off; but not by me.
And I’ll tell you why I think this.hy
It’s because if there were no royalty in England there would be instead a presidency, elective or not. And the president might not as good a fellow as Bertie, or Andrew, or William, or Harry. He might be Rupert Murdoch. He might be Richard Branson. He might be Tony Blair. He might be Conrad Black or some equivalent of James Packer, or Robert Maxwell, or Donald Trump, or someone with the money and the vulgarity to run for the position, run hard, as such men do for the presidency in America. And what a pity that would be.
Worse people make more money than Wills and Kate. George Bush makes more money, and knows less what to do with it. The Winklevi make more money, and want more and more of it, for having had a rather ordinary idea in 2003. A quarter of a billion they want now.
Those who watched the Royal Wedding were struck, like me, by the intellectual force of the occasion. Great music, chosen by the Prince, great words from the burnt martyr Cranmer, adequate, modest advice from the sonorous agnostic Rowan Williams, a man who has read a book or two and thought a bit about life’s meaning. And the young man who wed, at last, the girlfriend he met in a provincial university ten years ago and is obviously keen on her still, and who lately said at the site of the Christchurch earthquake, ‘Grief is the price we pay for love,’ of his mother who died violently and scandalously, and who goes to work in a rescue helicopter, seems to me a better role model for my grandson, soon to be born, than Rupert Murdoch or Jamie Packer, or Alan Jones, or Gerry Harvey, however much money they push towards the cleaning up of their act. (I would certainly accept Sir David Attenborough as the elective Uncle of England, but he is too decent and busy a man among his fossils, bugs and lizards to seek that improbable new position.)
The best countries on earth are constitutional monarchies: Holland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, Australia. Some republics are good places too: Austria, Germany, Switzerland, France. But the worst countries in the world are republics: Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Libya, Israel, Italy, Russia, China, Somalia, Mexico, the United States, and far outnumber the good ones.
And the reason for this is what it is supposed to be: tradition, good form, a royal example, a way of doing things that is legal, affirmed, accustomed -- unlike the shooting in the face before his grandchildren of a man accused but not arraigned for a crime the FBI did not suspect him of. Such things do not usually happen, now, under monarchies; but under republics, all the time.
The Royals of England pay for themselves in the tourists they attract, the films and miniseries they summon from the rogues of showbiz (are there better costume films than The Young Victoria, The King’s Speech and The Queen? I doubt it) and the sheer joy they bring to working-class women; and they rarely murder anybody - unlike George Bush, an elected president, who murdered fifty thousand children, and Ehud Olmert, an elected prime minister, who murdered three hundred. Their gaucheries, adulteries, power-plays and small corruptions cost their nation less than those of Berlusconi. They mostly mean well, and they do some good.
And they stayed in London under the Blitz. And who can say that was wrong?
God save the Queen.
Or perhaps you disagree.
This article was first published on the ABC website Unleashed, on May 16th, 2011.