“A puppy, who’ll roll over and let you scratch its tummy, but will eventually bite.” No, not the corgis trotting the halls of Buckingham Palace, but the press, self-described here by veteran royal reporters, in their ‘it’s complicated’ relationship with the House of Windsor. This programme, presented by Amol Rajan, has already (allegedly) bitten the Beeb, with the rights to Kate’s Christmas carol concert being switched to ITV. Squabbles like this are inevitably one of the things Rajan finds under the bonnet of the relationship, but alongside them some of the dynamics underpinning our public life and national story. The royal family are ‘in office but not in power’, and court the press to help justify their existence, yet are furious when they question it. In turn the royals make headlines for the press. This is ‘The Deal’. Here we see what happens when it breaks down.
The Telegraph’s Anita Singh thinks that while he “once expressed republican sympathies in print”, Amol Rajan is “excellent”, but that this is “not his finest work”. She notes that “bar one former courtier, no one from the royal side was involved”. This is “a storm in a royal teacup… [which contains] no bombshells”. Hugo Rifkind in The Times is surprised to hear ITN’s longstanding royal editor Tim Ewart suggest that the press got fed up of the royals not playing ball – such as, um, Kate “sometimes hiding behind her hair” – and “a decision was taken” to “do them over”.
The trouble here is that while the royals can only play the ball – attacking particular moves by the press – the press must play the man: naming individual royals, or publishing leaks about them from inside the household. And we cannot but sympathise with Harry and William, whose own mother was hounded by the press (having often played them deftly) and ultimately perished while being pursued by them. But while Rajan indulges in many of the journalistic tendencies he claims to analyse, Stuart Jeffries in The Guardian thinks the show “eloquently if unwittingly made the case for the republicanism he [Rajan] once overtly espoused”, adding “This isn’t the sort of issue that should trouble citizens of a mature democracy but when it comes to royals, Britain is neither mature nor, let’s face it, democratic.”
First shown November 2021.