interviewsir peregrine worsthorne
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previous
q:  When you were the Editor of the Sunday Telegraph did you find that the members of the Royal Family actually courted press coverage to the extent of inviting Telegraph journalists to cover events?

a:  I don't recall myself any example of the Palace courting publicity but of course everything they did was obviously , the media asked for access to it increasingly and the Palace, whether they wanted it or just didn't have the guts to resist it I'm not quite sure, but certainly increasingly during my period in journalism, the last sort of thirty or forty years, the media has become more imperious in its demands..

a:  Over my period in journalism, which I suppose goes back thirty or forty years, I think the media have been more imperious in their demands for access to the activities of the Monarchy and whether the Monarchy actually, the Royal Family have encouraged it they've certainly become increasingly unwilling or felt themselves unable to say no and I think again the Monarchy and the Royal Family would be wise to summon up the courage to shut the doors on the media much more and maybe it's too late. Maybe it's, the media have got their foot in the door and can't be pushed out. But there certainly should be, if the Monarchy is to prosper, much more reluctance on their part to have an open door policy to the media in my opinion.

q:  And so what did you make, if you remember it at all of a film that Alasdair Burnett made in '86, about the Prince and Princess of Wales' public and private life that was shown?

a:  The most important thing for the Monarchy surely to recognize is that there has to be a very, very rigid distinction kept between their private life as human beings - private lives inevitably show you as a human being - and the public perception of the Royal of the Institution of the Monarchy as emblematic, as symbolic, and I think this does mean keeping the private side of the Monarchy out of the public gaze. I mean it was always said, Sir Walter Bagehot said that the mystery of the Monarchy and the dignified side of the constitution, this is what people looked to the Monarchy for, the dignified side. Well human beings in their own domestic settings very seldom are dignified.

Certainly once the bedroom comes into the picture obviously increasingly undignified. And I think this again was a great error on the part of the Monarchy not to realize that, if you do humanize the Monarchy and show the Monarchy in sort of respectable side of, of private life, the disreputable side is going to be equally demanded and the media are not going to simply respect the human side when it's lovable and not when it's unlovable and this is something that was overlooked and has been very damaging to the Monarchy I think.

q:  What did you make at the time of the decision by Andrew Neil to publish the Morton book?

a:  My reaction to the Sunday Times' decision to serialize the Andrew Morton book was that this was not the action of a newspaper that understood the importance of a Monarchy in the national life. That a responsible paper that did understand the importance and central role of the Monarchy would not have chosen to give publicity in a, in a reputable quality paper to a book which, although obviously authorized by one party to the marriage, the Princess, had in fact taken no consideration to the position of the other party in the marriage and therefore was a very unbalanced and a very distorted picture of that tragic imbroglio.

I think if you love a couple as the British public in a way obviously did love the Prince and Princess of Wales, a sympathetic member, a friend to an ordinary couple doesn't simply take one side of the marriage squabble as gospel without taking the other into consideration.

The Morton book was a one-sided view of that particular miserable marriage imbroglio and I think the Sunday Times was irresponsible and unfair to the couple and also to the Institution of the Monarchy in doing that. So I was shocked and think that in the old days a reputable newspaper like the Sunday Times would take a more responsible attitude.

q:  At the time, you were really angry about it and you wrote of the barbarians being at the gate and you described the proprietor I think and the Editor of that paper as being moral whores. Casting your mind back to how you felt when you sat down to type or write whatever you did for that article, what did you feel so angry about?

a:  Well I think I was outraged because my generation, as I was saying earlier, did see the Monarchy from the War, because of its role in the War as being an enormous blessing for Britain, really a unique blessing, absolutely something which we should treasure and cherish and maintain in the interests of future generations because this is a very valuable Institution which we're lucky to have.

Against that background and holding that view, the behavior of the Murdoch press to the Monarchy is sacrilegious and is damaging to the public interest and I think if we do get rid of the Monarchy as Murdoch and the Murdoch press - although they may deny it but that is what they want to see - I think that Britain will be enormously diminished. So when you see a paper like the Sunday Times serializing the Andrew Morton book, which gives a very one-sided picture of a Royal marriage, I think you feel and I did feel outraged. Well now later generations or younger generations obviously don't feel this way about the Monarchy. If we ever had another national crisis comparable to the Second World War they would realize the importance of having this public feeling or respect and love for the Monarchy but of course we can now maybe disregard national crises as part of, we think we've escaped those kind of horrors but, if we ever did come back to that kind of horror, we would realize we want the Monarchy as a valuable Institution which the Sunday Times has damaged.

And that was my feeling and my resentment sprang from the fact that we are damaging something which is very precious and to old, the older generation still a hell of a lot of people over fifty in this country that I think was their reaction, a feeling of sadness, profound sadness, and it's so unnecessary. There was no, apart from the circulation requirements of the Sunday Times, which I suppose became, became paramount in the mind of Mr. Rupert Murdoch, it obviously sells papers but it damages the national interest and there's no doubt about this. And so I was angry and wrote a vicious article for which I would do again.

q:  Now Andrew Neil, in his defense.... Point One, he would say he's a journalist or an editor, he's a journalist and he had gone to great lengths to make sure that in terms of the sources and the story if you like, in purely journalistic terms, that book was right. It was verifiable, it was sourced and therefore it should be published because it stood up.

a:  It is completely impossible to say that he'd gone to every length to make sure that the book was right. The book was authorized by a party to a very bitter marital row and it was authorized totally from the horse's mouth - or the mare's mouth in this case - and it was completely authentic in terms of what she thought of the reasons for her dissatisfaction with the marriage.

But you can't regard a one-sided version of a marriage squabble, which has only taken the wife's in this case point of view and not the husband's into consideration. You can't regard that as a fully researched coverage of the marriage. If they were responsible and simply regarding it as an old, nothing to do with the Monarchy but as a coverage of a marriage row, to go, to take as gospel the wife's version and not the husband's or the husband's version and not the wife's, is an unbalanced, malicious way of going about the coverage of a marriage.

We all know that when we consider the break-up of our own friends', friends' marriages. We know that you can't take the wife's version as gospel because it almost certainly is parti pris in his prejudice against the husband's. We know this. We wouldn't behave like that. We would go to both if we wanted to be fair. He didn't go to both. It wasn't fair. Of course it was sensational because it was her point of view and it very clearly came from her, so it had tremendous journalistic impact, explosive impact, but he was not responsible. I mean if you, it, it, I mean of course as a journalist I might have been tempted to do the same but I wouldn't be proud of it.

q:  No and the other thing that it only dawned on people gradually. Initially people didn't believe that it was authorized. You now talk about it as an authorized book. That's actually for the benefit of things that have come up subsequently. When it gradually dawned on you as it did on other people who were looking at it that it was an authorized book, what, what was your reaction to that because some people came out and just attacked it purely as being a load of rubbish? It wasn't.

a:  It was totally true. I think a lot of people of course initially said "The Sunday Times is irresponsible to print gossip and it's probably just so to speak got from a ladies' maid or whatever it is" and when it of course became clear that it was got from Princess Diana herself this made everybody who had criticized the book feel oh my God, the Sunday Times was, wasn't just printing gossip. And of course those who criticized it for printing gossip were in fact unfair because it was much more than gossip. It was absolutely right but there again one felt absolutely let down on the part of Princess Diana because for a Royal figure to put their own desire to get their marriage case understood by the public against their husband, this was an irresponsible-- by the old rules of the game--thing for a Royal princess to do. Because, if you marry into the Monarchy you take the rough with and whether contractually in so many words - you are sort of morally contractually obliged to play by the rules which she didn't do. And I suppose this shows that the old convention that said princes should only marry people from the Royal, who had been brought up as members of another Royal family, simply because they are the only people who accept the rules, that had more sense than we used to think and that you mustn't marry outside.

Princes must marry within the other Royal families because they're the only people who are prepared to play by the rules and I suppose that in a way that is the lesson to be learnt from that.

q:  The other thing that Andrew Neil I think was saying or I know he was saying in his defense if you like, is that it became seen as a clash of two different cultures if you like and he was saying that he doesn't see his role as an Editor of a paper to act as an apologist for the Monarchy or as a branch of the Buckingham Palace Press Office and that what people like yourself disliked about his actions were that you didn't appear to you disliked the fact that he wasn't constrained by the chance of getting a knighthood or being able to go mix in Royal circles or whatever, that he was outside the Establishment and that annoyed all of the rest of you intensely.

a: I mean Andrew Neil's point of view would be that there is a kind of Establishment racket going on where the Monarchy is protected from their misdeeds and there's a conspiracy of silence and he would, of course, instance the way the media or the Press, as it was, covered up the Duke of Windsor, or Edward VIII as he then was before the War in the 1930's and there was not a whisper of the scandal between Edward VIII and Mrs. Simpson in the British Press, although it had been in the American Press, because the media was covering up, the Press was covering up and protecting the Monarchy.

And that, to Andrew Neil this sounds an improper thing for a newspaper to do. Yes and no. If you regard the Monarchy as an important Institution and very much in the national interest then I think this is not an irresponsible thing to do from the newspaper. I mean it's journalistically self-sacrificing to do because you are missing an opportunity to have a scoop but I'm very glad that the media allowed the problem of Edward VIII's adultery with Mrs. Simpson and marriage to Mrs. Simpson to be handled by the Establishment so that it was a, the Monarchy came out unscathed. I'm very glad that the country had an Establishment who operated so skillfully in the 1930's that when we came into the Second World War - and you must remember that we were approaching the Second World War when that previous Royal scandal broke - that it was managed so that when the War did come we had on the throne George VI with the Queen Elizabeth by his side, ideal Monarch to play the part, the extremely effective part they played in helping us to get through the Second World War.

I'm very glad there were no Andrew Neil's around at that time who disrupted the Establishment, a skillful Establishment - Baldwin, the Archbishop of Canterbury, okay the Establishment, who managed to steer the ship of state through that, that particular rough water. And I wish to God we had an Establishment equally skillful to have steered the ship of state through the Princess Di/Prince Charles rough waters. We didn't. We had Andrew Neil there, instead of trying to get the Monarchy through that crisis, wanting to muddy the bloody waters. Now he says it's irresponsible to want to get the ship of state through the, the difficulty, the choppy waters. I say it's irresponsible to want to muddy them. We approach it from a totally different point of view. I think that the Institution of the Monarchy is something which we need to protect against its own mistakes if you like and I think that's a responsible thing for the media to want to do. He thinks that the media has a duty to stir up the muddy waters. I mean you take different generations may take a different view to this but that is my feeling and I, I think if you want to keep the Monarchy, the Monarchy has to, the, the media has to accept that certain restraint is required.

q:  Now exactly. During the 1980's and the early 1990's particularly when this Institution was going through a very bad period it was obvious that politicians didn't return to its rescue in any way attempting to curb the Press's intrusions. Did you ever talk to anyone about that or make any observations or have any observations to make about the fact that the regulation of the Press during this difficult period for what you consider to be an extremely important Institution was sorely lacking?

a:  I don't at all want to see the media controlled by Government and the Government try and muzzle the media in what it does about the Royal Family or indeed about anything else. I think the restraint can't come from the Government in any formal sense. Clearly it can come from a Government - and particularly from a Tory Government - in an informal sense and of course if one looks back at the collusion as Andrew Neil would probably call it between Mr. Baldwin, the Prime Minister in Britain at the time of the Edward VIII crisis, and the newspaper proprietors they, the Government, the Prime Minister had the Editor of the Times and it was all if you like on an informal basis, not at all the Government playing a heavy-handed putting the frighteners on the Press because they hadn't got any leverage then to do that as they haven't now.

It was done informally, appealing to the public interest and appealing to the newspaper proprietor's sense of public responsibility and that's what I would like to have seen the Major Government, Mr. Major's Government, the Tory Government have done. I think one of the great disadvantages now is that there is no informal link between Mr. Major and Mr. Murdoch except when Mr. Murdoch wants some concession so that he can make more money from a Government. He doesn't enter into any kind of understanding that the media and Government do have some joint responsibility for keeping the national institutions in, in shipshape order. This is something that Gov, a Tory Government no longer either has the desire or the ability to do and I think this is unfortunate. I think we need a, an Establishment of which the media is a part in certain circumstances as it would have to be if we ever had another war.

q:  When the Government set up a regulatory body to sort of protect the members of the public, members of the Royal Family who felt that their privacy had been intruded or that they had been misrepresented in the newspapers. To what extent is that body serving the interests of the politicians who need the support of newspapers rather than protecting institutions now?

a:  There's obviously a self-interest for Governments to want to stop the newspapers printing stories that are embarrassing to a Government and clearly it is one of the jobs of, of the newspaper to print stories even if they are embarrassing a Government and not to allow the Government to lean on them and stop them printing stuff which the public has a right to know.

I think if we are to keep a Monarchy the media has to accept the fact that the Monarchy is not part of the Government and in a democracy you want, the people have got to be informed about what a Government is up to even when it's up to mischief. The public's got to know. I think that there's got to be in the media's mind some distinction between the Monarchy if we want to preserve this Institution and I think that the media has got to be less inclined to embarrass the Monarchy than it is prepared to embarrass a Government.

I think that our system of government requires that the media makes a distinction, not a clear-cut distinction. Clearly if the Monarchy is behaving in an unconstitutional fashion, it is the job of the media to point this out and draw it to the attention of the public and stir the public up about such a thing. There is no suggestion in any of the stories that have been appearing about the Monarchy that the Monarchy or the Royal Family are behaving in any unconstitutionally. Of course if they were Mr. Neil and Mr. Murdoch would be doing their duty to draw this to the to stir up and muddy the waters, make life difficult for the Monarchy. It is not like that. It isn't what is happening. The media isn't saying, isn't fulfilling any public interest requirement. It can't hide behind that. Embarrassing a Government, of course it must do. Embarrassing the Royal, the Royal Family is a different kettle of fish and the media have got, if they want, which of course Murdoch doesn't. We're assuming that the pubic wants the Monarchy to stay. The media has got to be made to recognize this distinction.

q:  Given everything you believe so passionately what on earth is your reaction to members of the Royal Family giving incredibly intimate and confessional interviews on television. I'm thinking of the Dimbleby program and the Princess of Wales' Panorama interview. It doesn't help your case does it?

a:  Bringing the Royal marriage issue, into the public gaze, public arena which was initially done by the Princess of Wales and then immediately followed by the disastrous interview by the Prince of Wales, I think is completely mistaken and I think those two members of the Royal Family have played into the hands of their critics and have enormously damaged the Monarchy in so doing and have been very ill-judged and very ill-advised And you could argue that they have brought their troubles on their own head and I don't wish to deny that and I think blame for the Monarch, for the Royal Family to blame the media if they do would be unjust because I think they must take a lot of the blame for themselves. But I think they should learn the right lessons from their mistakes in the last ten years and realize that the best thing is to go more back into their shell rather than to try and stay in the limelight because I think they'll get into deeper trouble if they do. I think a lower profile Monarchy much more, one which doesn't open itself so easily to the media is their best hope and I hope they go down that path.

Q Finally, if you have to apportion blame for the break-up of the Royal marriages and the difficulties that the Royal Family has experienced over the last few years between the Press and the people in the Institution itself, how would you divide it up?

a:  I would put the primary blame on those parts of the media which do basically pursue a Republican agenda while pretending not to. Of course they don't admit it because that would be very damaging to their circulations even now. So they pretend that they are basically on the side of the Monarchy and, of course, use the Queen, they don't whisper a word against her.

So they undermine the periphery of the Monarchy and say they don't really want to undermine the central the core of it, but I think that is a lot of humbug. And I think that you have got a very powerful element of the media that is contemptuous of the Monarchy and see it as part of old Britain that is not part of the new dynamic, entrepreneurial, capitalistic country that they want to see emerge and see develop and so they regard the Monarchy as basically something that we would be better off without.

They don't admit is as I say for prudent reasons but that is their agenda and I think they pursue it with great skill, great vigor, all the more skillful and vigorous because, of course, it promotes their commercial success because people buy the papers who do this kind of thing. And I think they are very much to blame but that doesn't mean to say that the Prince and Princess of Wales have not helped them in that endeavor by their both astonishing indiscreet, injudicious public behavior.

q:  Yes. You know what the Editor of the Sun says about that is --why on earth would he want to destroy his biggest source of circulation.

a:  Well I mean it, if the Editor of the Sun says that he likes to keep the Monarchy there because by attacking them he can get a good story which puts on readers, if that is the cynical attitude of the Editor of the Sun to the Monarchy-- it says more eloquently than any words of mine that part of the media is rotten, corrupt and shouldn't, the fact that as a nation our fate should be in their hands fills me with horror.

q:  Thank you. I'm afraid that's what he does say.

a:  Yes, I'm sure. I'm sure. Yes.




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