I made a decision a few weeks ago not to watch any more historical documentaries on TV. You know my feelings about Fiona Bruce and her ubiquitous presence and since watching her, I have seen Amanda Vickery talking about Jane Austen and Colin Firth and behaving in a painfully girly way, Lucy Worsley (she of the hair slides and sensible shoes who was gambolling about on Blackpool Beach in a programme prior to this one) who I have christened the Irritating Elf, and it all got too much to bear. Then Channel 4, who are far worse at the Stating the Bleedin' Obvious school of documentary than BBC, produced one shown recently called Queen Victoria's Last Love, obviously hoping that by naming it thus salivating viewers eager to hear some scandal would watch.
Well, it was about the Munshi - one of QV's Indian servants who hugely influenced her in her later years. Once Albert had gone the Queen lamented that there was nobody 'to call her Victoria any more'. She really must have been incredibly lonely and isolated and tended to be in thrall to strong men, John Brown who bossed her about and then the Munshi who stuck by her and declared his undying devotion - just what she needed. I know a fair bit about the Munshi and was rather dubious about the slant this doco was obviously going to take but thought I would give it a whirl. I actually mentioned on Facebook or somewhere on line that I was pretty sure the fact that the Munshi used to cook curries would be brought up pretty quickly and be illustrated with a soft focus pic of an unnamed Indian in a turban brewing up a vindaloo. I was hoping that this would prove to be a feeble joke but we lasted all of five minutes before this duly arrived so reached for the remote and off went the TV and I then took my vow of eschewing all further progs.
However, I had to give in pretty quick because this week there was a feature about the abdication and one of the prime movers in the whole thing, Cosmo Lang, the Archbishop of Canterbury who sounds a prime bit of nastiness. Unseen letters have been unearthed in which it is clear that the Archbish put pressure on Stanley Baldwin to get rid of the King and even hinted that he was mentally ill. We were also treated to excerpts from the diaries of one of the Archbishop's chaplains, full of gossip and chat from one who had a ringside seat to all his master's Machiavellian dealings.
Nothing wrong with all this and it was fascinating BUT here we go again with the illustrations just in case the pig ignorant and stupid viewer doesn't know what is going on: shots of actor playing Cosmo wandering through a sinister darkened church, hands reaching out and lighting candles in the darkness, hints of secret meetings illustrated with a shot of a Victorian building at night with the lights burning indoors, shot after shot of the Obadiah Slope type chaplin watching and eavesdropping on all that was going on and slotting a piece of paper in his authentic 1930's typewriter and taking it all down. The fact that all the diaries we saw were handwritten is beside the point.
A really interesting programme with lots of chat from a biographer of the Archbishop (Mem: must get hold of a copy of his book) who was stunned to find this, previously embargoed, correspondence and fascinating excerpts from the Chaplain's diaries which surely would make a wonderful book if somebody would edit and publish them but trivialised by the presentation. I ended up watching a lot of it with my eyes closed, just listening to the discussion and the commentatary and by so doing really enjoyed it. An hour long TV documentary would have made an excellent half hour radio programme....
It was clear that Edward VIII and the Archbishop loathed each other and also a hint that the Duke and Duchess of York, by inviting the Archbishop to stay with them after being rebuffed by the new King, had set up a rival court thus infuriating Edward. Once Edward had gone, Cosmo Lang received a letter of thanks from the new Queen. I have always found it odd that the Queen Mother has long been portrayed by biographers (with the exception of Penelope Mortimer) as a sweet smiling gentle lady when really one gets the impression that she was as tough as they come and was going to take no truck from anyone, least of all Edward and Mrs Simpson.
The slant of the documentary seemed to be that poor old Eddie didn't stand a chance against Cosmo and was hounded off the throne and rather begged for our sympathy. Well, none forthcoming from this writer. Edward was selfish, lazy and ignorant and thank goodness he abdicated when he did. The Archbishop probably did us all a favour but one can hardly applaud the way he did it.
The Abdication seems to be one of those historical moments that continue to fascinate and as the years go by more and more documents come to light which reveal even more intriguing facets to the drama. Wonder what else is lurking in some dark corner somewhere in the Royal Archives?
Just wish somebody somewhere would come up with a different way of producing such programmes and stop reducing the fascinating to the trivial.