Britain's Royal family Nazi salute controversy: Skeletons in the Closet at the House of Windsor
We shouldn't be questioning the decision to print the pictures of Queen Elizabeth giving a Nazi salute, we should instead be asking why it wasn't done years ago
Published 19/07/2015 | 02:30
Perhaps the self-importance and back-covering get a little wearisome somewhere between page four and page eight. You can have too much of a killer scoop of their "Royal Heilnesses" playing Nazi salutes on the lawn at Balmoral 83 years ago.
You can also swamp a sliver of history in portent. But was the Sun right to get hold of, and then print, these pictures of long ago? Of course: even the palace - expressing mere "disappointment" - can't confect too much outrage now.
The then-Prince of Wales, a once and briefly future king, was a charming, libidinous idiot.
He dabbled his toes in the fascist stream that ran through the 1930s. He belonged instinctively to a gullible ruling class that longed to bring "order" and "control" to a tumultuous decade. His roots in Saxe-Coburg-Gotha bloodlines couldn't be buried too deep.
He might in fact have been Hitler's chosen figurehead for a submissive Britain a few years later.
This is the man caught here in a few clips of ancient film, teaching his sister-in-law and two young nieces techniques of saluting the German dictator.
For those who only know of him as a lovelorn bit player in movies about stuttering monarchs, it's a useful reminder that things weren't always picture perfect in the royal garden.
There is absolutely no reason not to publish it.
In fact, the real question isn't whether it should have filled page one of the Sun - but why it didn't make the front of the Mirror 53 years ago.
Like Ireland, British political history operates to a 30-year rule. If you want to see the Cabinet minutes on Suez or the Falklands, you have three decades to wait.
But royal history - including home movies sealed in archives - is different. Here, access is partial and grudging; here, family diaries, photos - and German war records - are kept out of sight. Royal "privacy" reigns. Which is why there are so many pursed lips over the leak of these 17 seconds of film.
Read more: Palace and Paper Clash over Publication
Were they somehow stolen? The Sun - and a managing editor there, who used to run the Press Complaints Commission - claim they came by a legitimate route: and, anyway, given the time passed and the subject matter, ritual cries of "privacy" seem derisory.
Of course, the royal family has long sought to shield any unscripted activities from public gaze. Of course, for durability, they seek to build and inhabit a regal cocoon.
The Queen Mother, far steelier than her later cuddly image, was a prime operator of palace safety curtains. She would have been leading the charge against the Sun this weekend.
But the years between 1933 and 2015 show a chasm of experience and understanding. In the 30s, when Edward VIII was locked in the abdication crisis, prime minister Baldwin could summon the press lords of Fleet Street and persuade them not to tell their readers what London-in-the-know had been buzzing about for months. The BBC, predictably, trooped along behind. Deference - and the frayed bindings of a decaying social structure - kept privacy in place. Deference wished to bury royal disillusion for ever.
Some of that attitude lingers still, to be sure. You can sense it when the BBC tops its news bulletins with reaction to the Sun scoop, rather as though the earth had moved. It is there through those eight pages as the paper hymns the Queen Mum's war efforts and underlines the obvious fact that a seven-year-old future queen was more likely to understand guide camp than Mein Kampf. There remains an instinctive twitch of the forelock, even when Rupert Murdoch mounts the charge (as he's done, occasionally, over the years).
Yet sometimes the occasional sight of the old Dirty Digger, lobbing mini-missiles on to today's palace lawn, is both useful and salutary. It isn't a secret that the wreck we used to call Duke of Windsor was a profound national embarrassment.
It isn't a secret that conflicting views of the Nazis split polite society, that Churchill was no universal hero in the 1930s - nor that the Windsors were a family divided. But tabloid treatment, putting the boot in hard, at least blows evasions away.
The Sun, by chance, launched its tale on the same day that the current UK government launched an ominous review of the freedom of information legislation that revealed the letters another Prince of Wales wings around Whitehall, a review advised by political luminaries who've long claimed that such freedoms went too far. Help the bureaucracy, keep it dark! There's no more pervasive theme over centuries of British public life. We trust the people, so long as we don't give them any real information to be trusted with.
It's one job of newspapers - noisy, fractious, unloveable newspapers - to break that conspiracy of silence, to show covert scenes and chronicle the deceptions deployed on high. Job done.