intervieww.f. deedes
Lord Deedes was editor of the Daily Telegraph (1974-1986) and currently is a columnist for the paper.  Its readership is very interested in and supportive of the Monarchy.



q:  When the Royal Family emerged as such a focus of national pride and morale-boosting during the war, do you remember how the Royal Family appeared as a family to you during that period to people?

deedes:  They were living really, really rather humbly at --what's it called? Windsor Lodge. Some quite small abode around Windsor and they did appear to be or they made themselves appear to be a very typical English family tightening its belt a little bit as everyone else was having to do. And I think this had a very fortunate effect. Apart from being bombed in a Palace, which was a very endearing episode, they looked as if they were sharing a more modest life with their people and that was agreeable.


In some ways they had great advantages in the way they were living in that King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and the two Princesses were much closer together than modern life makes it possible for the Royal Family to be today. They appeared to be like any other family group and well-respected movement. They weren't going abroad or perpetually leaving their children behind. I think that was a very major contrast with what we find today with younger members of the Royal Family and a heavily occupied Queen and nothing like as close a relationship as Margaret and Elizabeth enjoyed with their parents.

q:  What effect did that whole image and that closeness have on how people of your generation saw the role and function of the Royal Family?

a:  The war you mean? That had a very large effect because there were some pretty bad days during that war. In any form of leadership the sight of a King and a Queen walking down streets where buildings were still smoldering, it's a simply act of leadership really. They provided the leadership that people most wanted to see and then in uniform he'd be going off to see the troops and so on. No, I think that the war enabled both of them, if I may put it this way, to shine more brightly than they might have done in peace.

q:  Can you remember what you thought about the televised coverage of the Coronation? Particularly how important for your generation with this first Royal spectacular on television was Richard Dimbleby as a commentator?

a:  It was the beginning of a new age of communications. It was unavoidable. Television had arrived. Television demanded a place at the Coronation. It did present the scene far more intensively. I mean it was an entirely new style. I don't think Dimbleby with his loyal comments, well he did set a new standard. He did set something that other people began to mock, which was this genuflection whenever the name of the Royal Family was mentioned.

You remember-- there used to be rather a joke about the BBC, how the announcers went, when it came to a member of the Royal Family, sort of lowered their voices. You could imagine them rather straightening their tie and all the rest of it. So I think that phase, it's what I call the Supermac phase - it's what did in MacMillan in the end--was just beginning then through television.

q:  There was a special relationship between the institution of the Monarchy and the BBC at the time. They became very close I think from the 1950s onwards. They covered all the royal events and so on and so forth. Why at the time did it seem like a natural marriage? It doesn't seem so natural now but in those days why did it seem like a good partnership?

a:  Well going back a bit you may remember there were two historic occasions in which in a sense the BBC felt it was representing the nation. The first was when John Reith himself elected to announce 'the King's life is moving peacefully towards its close.' That was the death of King George V. Well given that sort of patronage by the BBC your question is answered. From then on in a sense it seemed to be a natural relationship.

q:  In fact it was Reith who wanted the BBC to be the fifth pillar of the state didn't he?

a:  Well a great number of people made the mistake of thinking, abroad in particular, that the BBC was in fact the voice of Government. I mean that was the handicap of having a corporation in the state it was, with the Charter it had, but.....

q:  ..The 1970s-- was there a point when you felt that the reporting of the Royal Family became more intrusive. Some of us have cited the coverage of Princess Margaret in the 1970s at a point where things began to change. What do you think about that view?

a:  Princess Margaret's affair with Townsend and all that went round it was the first piece of really sort of that kind of news we'd had out of the Royal Family. Undoubtedly in a sense it received more Press attention than anything that had happened before. But if we're talking about the 1970s, I think there's a whole range of things which there's no simple solution to the question Why did the Press appear to become more intrusive etc.

First of all it was the advent of Private Eye which people overlooked that I think was very influential. Private Eye was in a sense saying things about people that nobody else was saying and I've always accepted - and Richard Ingrams I know agrees with me - that Private Eye was a big factor in getting newspapers not to be more intrusive but to be more candid if you like about people.

Then there was the fact that the national newspapers were becoming more and more competitive. It was the advent of Rupert Murdoch with, first of all, the News of the World and then tabloids and then his method of going about things. I don't think Rupert Murdoch's best friend could claim that he was very pro the Royal Family and from that a good deal flows. He isn't in fact a British citizen. He's an American citizen so there's a certain disdain I think shown by Rupert and through his newspaper for all members of the Royal Family.

And then there is the fact that journalism generally became more intrusive. One newspaper would do something. Others would be compelled to follow suit and now everywhere we travel, as I have to sometimes, there's a pack of photographers that work with the Royal Family. You will see thirty or forty, leave out the paparazzi, representing ourselves, who are competing furiously to make certain they don't lose the best pictures. Now this very often does mean that a lens will be sloshed into say Diana, the Princess of Wales's face of six feet or less away.

I think that probably we have passed a point of good manners. I think intrusion has gone too far. I don't believe there can be a law on privacy for the Royal Family or anybody else because I don't think it's workable. Where I think the weakness is the failure of respected proprietors, not all of whom as I say are British citizens, the failure of proprietors and editors to set a standard for their own newspaper. I begin to see people not only disparaging those who govern them but doubting whether the system is really a good one. What say do I have and so on and so on and so forth. So I think that denigration now has become dangerously unbalanced not only of the Monarchy but also of public affairs in general. How is it going to go from now I simply do not know.

q:  You mentioned the influence of Rupert Murdoch. Was it in any way significant that it was the News of the World, the paper you mentioned, which was the first paper to send a photographer for the express purpose of filming Princess Margaret with her friend, Roddy Lewellyn on Mustique, that it was the News of the World that brought, the Editor of the News of the World has said he didn't see why this should be something just for Private Eye but he thought he would get the picture for a popular paper?

a:  Am I expected to look surprised at that? No, no you're quite right. That was the beginning. The News of the World began quite a number of things of that kind. There was an outbreak of public outrage when the News of the World threatened to publish the memoirs of Christine Keeler. That was more than people felt they could swallow particularly as Jack Profumo was making a very good job in the East End of London. Otherwise what one has to ask oneself is--When did you last remember any public outrage at anything any of the tabloid newspapers have done? What you have to look at I think is not only the standards of the tabloids but the reception of those standards by the public. My belief is that newspapers will only answer out, accusations of outrage when it costs circulation. The cries of prigs, that they're overstepping the mark, go nowhere. Until the public react, and I don't think they will, why shouldn't they continue in the same way?

q:  One of the things that has been said quite a lot in interviews is that the Royal Family don't like the idea of having public relations advisers, but that's actually what they need. What's been your impression of the kind of strategy for dealing with this intense Press interest that the Palace has from your own experience with them?

a:  Well I knew Michael Shea very well and I've known Charles Anson who has just retired from the job. They have done, I think, the best they possibly can in very difficult circumstances. I would be against the Royal Family taking on what I think is now in modern times called spin doctors in order to make sure they come out looking right. I don't believe you can change the system that you've got - a Press Office which answers questions by newspapers but nobody who actually tries to shape the appearances of the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh or any other member of the Royal Family. I think they have to take their chances with the system we've got and there is no answer to it until the public suggest they don't like the Royal Family being bullied and there being no sign of that the bullying will continue.

q:  Can you describe how the Palace invited editors to meet Michael Shea and the Queen to discuss the coverage of the Princess of Wales very early on in her marriage and the pressure it was putting her under?

a:  Yes. At the time of the engagement on to this point the Princess had become increasingly disturbed, she wasn't accustomed to it, by the tremendous flock of photographers that followed her and I think made an appeal to the Queen who in turn asked editors to go to the Palace. And first of all we had a briefing from Michael Shea about the problems and then afterwards we met the Queen for an informal drink and the Queen was extremely reasonable, pointing out that it was rough on a girl to have thirty or forty photographers chasing her all the time, not in the sense aiming to bully her but aiming to beat each other. I mean very few people understand the nature of competitive photography but it invariably leads to rough treatment. I mean this is what she was up against. So the appeal was made. My impression is it fell on pretty deaf ears. Nothing changed after that.

q:  The Andrew Morton book on Princess Diana. What was its impact first of all on the image of the Royal Family as a happy family when it emerged that this book was authorized by the Princess?

a:  It was in a sense the first time not in a royal sense but a member of the Royal Family had delivered a point of view like this. In a sense it was repeated later with the Panorama interview. It can only have done damage because first of all, it invited further comment, examination, intrusion if you like. And secondly it demolished any air of mystery which I do think is important in royalty. It demolished any air of mystery that had been left by the rest of the media. These things happen and as you know, the Prince of Wales in a sense came back with something of the same. I think that was a very unfortunate phase and furthermore it, it didn't just justify, it stimulated further excitement among the media into intrusion, into private affairs that had no right to be out in the public eye.

q:  Given her experiences with the Press and the harassment that they inflicted on her, why did a member of the Royal Family choose to put her case through the very organ, through the media that had so harmed her, made her life so difficult?

a:  I think she was in a state of great depression. I think she felt that her side of the story was remaining untold. I think she felt that a great deal was being invented about her by sections of the media which needed correcting and I think she was persuaded that in telling her own story she could sort of kill three birds with one. She could correct misapprehensions in the media, she could get it out of her system and in a sense she could tell her side of the story which had hurt her very deeply. Now that I think was the motivation.

q:  One of the other things that she was aware of was that her husband's camp if you like was talking to the Press about her in a detrimental way before 1992.

a:  Well I think perhaps her husband's friends they stayed with, in fact, did. The Royal Family of today have a very wide circle of acquaintances and in a sense this circle of acquaintance the outer ring probably did more talking than the inner ring. But it is one of the unfortunate facts of life in recent years that the public has become very much divided between the rights of the Prince of Wales and the rights of the Princess. As one who writes a good deal about it in the Daily Telegraph, I know from the correspondence I get there is deeper feeling among supporters of the Prince or the Princess of Wales than there is today in the party political field. People care more for one or the other and write more passionately than they would about Mr. Major or Mr. Blair.

q:  But suppose there were people who in the Palace if you like who suspected what she'd done and knew that it was coming and that attacking her and drawing attention to the damage that she caused was not very helpful to any efforts to contain the situation?

a:  This is quite right but then human in crisis are very often unaccountable. I wouldn't attempt to explain this to you. There is a factor that we haven't mentioned here which is that the Princess of Wales, perhaps unfairly, held an extraordinary view about the whole Royal entourage. I think she almost felt she was a prisoner of war inside the apparatus which is there to uphold majesty. I mean there's a very important as it were apparatus that surrounds the Queen, surrounds a Monarch. This I think she found impenetrable and became almost phobic about it. That accounts for some of the bitterness which spilled into this book.

q:  Are you saying in essence that she also felt that she couldn't confide or trust anyone who was employed by Buckingham Palace to advise her?

a:  I think she lacked an intimate friend to whom she could, I mean all girls like to have someone very intimate of their own sex who they can confide to. I think she probably lacked this. I think that her position in the Royal House at that period made such intimacies much harder and I can understand why a certain amount of mental strife went on inside her about all this. I mean in retrospect, having heard her talk about this, I am more sympathetic now than I was at the time.

q:  Why is that?

a:  Because I think one sees the whole thing in better perspective. I thought the remark which she made in Panorama interview--'there were three in this marriage and so it was a bit of a crowd'-- did ring true and it explained a great deal that up to that point had been inexplicable. That's why I'm saying that my view now is more sympathetic than it was when, shall we say, the Morton book was first serialized in the Sunday Times.

q:  The thing is that people who are less sympathetic - journalists, editors who are less sympathetic than you are to the Royal Family, to the Monarchy as an institution - point out that in the seventies and eighties the Royal Family positively courted this coverage in the Press. And they made themselves available to the media and that they can't therefore - draw up, pull up the drawbridge, haveless coverage, when the Royal Family appeared to want it. They didn't mind it when things were going well in other words.

a:  A theory that I totally reject. The fact that in the course of their public duties the Royal Family enjoyed photographs, television features etc. is no pretext or excuse for such bad manners as some of the Press and photographers now use against the Royal Family. The idea that Diana, Princess of Wales has enjoyed an enormous amount of publicity, lovely pictures in lovely dresses, justifies brutish treatment of her now simply doesn't add up.

q:  It wasn't just public functions and it wasn't just coverage of their trips and so on, but photographs they made....

a:  Films of the Royal Family, intimate pictures of the Royal Family-- but this was delivered in response to pressure. I rather doubt whether the Royal Family stepped out and said 'We would very much like to offer you this and this and this.' I think there was, I can remember a time when there was criticism about the Royal Family being totally out of touch, almost invisible, high time in a sense that they showed themselves for what they are. That's all forgotten of course when they give way perhaps mistakenly and people get what they want. They were under great pressure to do all this sort of thing.

q:  You mentioned the Dimbleby film and book [on Prince Charles] which lots of people have said to us they thought was very misjudged exercise in terms of talking about his private life. Was that a view that you share?

a:  Once he agreed to let Dimbleby write the book, once he agreed to let Dimbleby do the film, inevitably a question was going to be asked, the central question-- 'have you or have you not committed adultery?' And there was almost inevitably going to be an answer and I don't think that was conducive to a more sensible and happier future that's all. I mean I think that maybe, or perhaps both sides understood where it would have to finish up. If they did I think they made a mistake.

q:  Do you feel now that the Palace has entirely repudiated that project?

a:  I don't know what they did. I think that in a sense to some extent both the Princess and the Prince of Wales have acted unilaterally if you like without, clearly there weren't Royal consultations before these things took place. I think that had been one of the problems, that they had been acting unilaterally without consulting anybody else.

q:  Didn't it strike you ever as rather bizarre in a sort of media age-- which you've described-- to see, given your perspective and where you started out, two members of the Royal Family conducting their divorce negotiations on television?

a:  Bizarre? Bizarre? May I just say at this point that I think one has to set a lot of what we're talking about against the strange historical fact that from the start of George V's reign, given the hiccup we got over the abdication, through George VI's reign and now through Elizabeth's reign, we've rarely had a better patch of, if you like, Royal government in the whole of modern history.

And I think that while we enlarge upon these extraordinary occurrences, Dimbleby's book, admission of adultery etc., it ought to be surveyed against perhaps the most solid period of good government by Monarchy that we've enjoyed since, well in many ways better than Victoria because Victoria was rather reclusive towards the end and very unpopular.

q:  How does the Queen manage to rise pretty well above criticism of anything that goes on in her family?

a:  The Queen's round is centered really on public duty. I sometimes think it has been too centered on public duty at the cost of some closeness with her family. Be that as it may, I don't think there has been anyone recently on the throne who takes public duty more conscientiously than she does and I think she has now developed a mental robustness in respect of her duties and how they should be carried out that enables her to see in proportion somehow very painful criticisms that are made not only of her but of all her children. She has developed her own brand of serenity and I'm not saying she doesn't care. I'm not saying she isn't hurt by what happened but behind this if you like mask of duty a lot perhaps is concealed.

q:  Which no doubt we shall never know about. The institution can no longer be identified as being the ideal family unit. It's just another modern family with all it's concomitant, so what is it for now?

a:  When I look at the scandalmongery which has surrounded President Clinton of America almost since his first inception I ask myself--given the modern media--would any head of state, Monarch or President, be immune from the kind of intrusion which we have witnessed both in Washington and in London?

This leads me to think that we would not improve our affairs were we to switch from royal to republican. I do think that at the bottom of both these, as it were at the bottom of both the Washington and the London well there lurks excessive zeal on behalf of the modern med. And I go back to the point when I am not certain that a modern democracy can put up for long with the extent of intrusion which goes on not only in their lives but in public life as well.

q:  In order to promote her causes, the Princess of Wales is quite assiduous in her contact with editors and senior journalists in Fleet Street. Why is that important for her to have lunch with people at News International and the Daily Telegraph and so on and so forth?

a:  It's a good question to which I'm not absolutely certain I know all the answers because I don't pretend to be inside her thinking. I think she feels probably that newspapers tend to investigate more thoroughly what they don't know much about. In other words they like to explore unexplored ground and the closer you keep in touch with them the less intrusive they're liable to be. I think it possibly is in a sense say an exercise in damage limitation. I think I would guess that is what it's all about.

q:  She's not an exponent of the view that you should remain completely aloof from direct contact with journalists?

a:  Well there is another factor in this. She leads now a reasonably lonely life and I think perhaps rather enjoys company, outside company, particularly in spheres where in a sense she's interested. I think she has a great wish to shape in some ways the thinking and the future of particularly her eldest son and I think contacts with people in public life assist her in this duty and possibly may give the answer to the question you're asking.

q:  To what extent now do the Royal Family have to maintain good, friendly relations with the Press? How important is the Press to them now?

a:  I can't pretend to answer very expertly about this because I don't know the answer. I think possibly there is a feeling that, if they were to get to know the Press better, the Press would treat them less like strangers and would be perhaps less investigative than they are. There may be that feeling.

There are a lot of people in journalism, I hesitate to say this, who are quite well-informed and the Royal Family like to keep themselves well-informed and in a sense they're safer wining and dining with journalists than they would with politicians of one party or another. The Press would be the first to seize on any intimacies with either Conservative people or with Labor people or even with Paddy Ashdown's lot. So, if they want to keep in touch with public life, I hesitate to say this, journalists aren't too. I mean they know an awful lot about very little or perhaps it's a little about an awful lot.

q:  The Daily Telegraph has a big readership, an important, well-informed, literate etc. readership that take an interest in the Monarchy. Why is a paper like yours important to the Princess of Wales, the mother of the future King? Why are you important to it?

a:  I think the Telegraph readership probably comprises people who have a stronger feeling for all members of the Royal Family than anyone else. I mean there is a good deal of indifference now. I mean I think there would be for a President or anything else. The Daily Telegraph probably have got more readers who care for the Royal Family and are interested in them and therefore in that context it is natural that she should wish to be seen in a good light by the readers of the Daily Telegraph.

I think in the past that we have perhaps been more critical and less sympathetic which, looking back on it all now, we might have been. So there would be in her mind perhaps be a wish to mend past broken fences. I think that's very natural. I daresay it happens with other newspapers as well but seeing the sort of battleground which she's been over with the newspapers I think it might be, it's very sensible in a way to try and make a better relationship. It would come better from us than from her but I understand the motivation and I don't see any great harm in it.

I think one must remember what a big change has come about in the Princess of Wales's life partly of her own violation. She is no longer in a sense on the vehicle of the Royal Family. Why does she get harassed by photographers? Because she has discarded her police guard. Why has she discarded her police guard? Lest she be accused of costing the tax payers money in her private affairs, private life, defending her from photographers. I'm more sympathetic with her dilemma now than I have been with her position in the past. Therefore I can quite see why she would wish now to get, if she can, a softer approach from newspapers like the Daily Telegraph.

q:  Has your opinion softened as a result of traveling with her and knowing her then?

a:  I'm prejudiced. I'm very opposed to anti-personnel mines and I did remark to her--As long as you're on that side of the business with the anti-personnel mines I am solidly on your side. We all feel like that on causes that we're concerned with.




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