interviewroy greenslade
Greenslade was editor of The Daily Mirror, 1990-1991 and formerly worked at The Sun for six years

q:  Can you recall how the Royal Family came across to you as a young journalist in the 1960's?

greenslade:  When I grew up in the fifties, the Royal Family appeared to be both practically, and through the Press, immovable, inviolable. This was still the age of post-war deference and people accepted that they were always going to be there and the Press seemed to accept that too.

q:  Do you have any specific recollection of how you saw them?

a:  I remember at the age of six I was taken by my mother to stand at the end of a road in Walthamstow in East London and wave at a car that went past. I couldn't really remember actually seeing anyone in the car although of course I probably told tales that I had and that was in a sense how the Royal Family were viewed not just by youngsters of six but by everyone as just a figurehead who went past in a car and a lot of the reporting in the newspapers had the same kind of feel about it. When one read the papers it was always couched in such wonderful terms like the Queen is known not to be too keen on people speaking directly to her. She stamps her foot or clicks her fingers or whatever.

q:  Now when you were a journalist in 1981... How did the newspaper you were working on at the time react to the marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales?

a:  I was working on the Sun in 1981, but what was so interesting about that is that Kelvin McKenzie and myself had just joined the Sun during the romance of Charles and Diana and so the wedding was the culmination of what had been a massive Press interest in the 1980's. This was the era of the creation of the Royal Correspondent as distinct from the Court Correspondent. So we had the rise of those people like James Whitaker who's probably foremost among them, who would follow Charles around wherever he went. And, of course, they followed Diana around as well.

And this intense interest which had grown up during the eighties reached full flower in 1981. Endless pages of the paper were devoted to every little iota, every detail of the lives of this couple and the wedding itself, I think the whole paper was given over that day to the Royal Wedding and it seemed like there was nothing else in the world that mattered. It was the true fairy tale, if a fairy tale ever can be true, brought to reality in newspapers which were themselves caught up in what they thought was the romance of the occasion.

q:  Can you describe when you were working on the Sun with Kelvin McKenzie, how there was the competition between Arnold on the Sun and Whitaker on the Star for the royal stories? How did you look at them as a senior sort of editorial figure on the paper? I mean what was that your attitude towards that area of the paper's journalism?

a:  Obviously it was very important for each paper to get scoops about the Royal Family. It was thought that this would sell newspapers. We knew that a simple picture of Diana sold the paper. We watched magazines just put her on the front and their sales go up. So every little story, every little half-scoop, every scoop of interpretation became important.

So the Sun's Royal man, Harry Arnold, and its photographer Arthur Edwards were put into a constant daily competition with the Daily Mirror's James Whitaker and photographer, Kent Gavin, and it became incredibly important, the rivalry between them, to get perhaps who was wearing what? Did she utter one word? Is it possible that we have got something over them? And within the office I remember sometimes when I stood in as Editor for Kelvin McKenzie, my first call would be to Harry Arnold and say I got anything for us Harry? Any possible exclusive Sunday for Monday to kick the newspaper off? Imagining, perhaps the imagination was actually born out of reality, that this would add to reader interest and would be sure to put on sales of the paper.

q:  What was the Editor of the Sun, Kelvin McKenzie's, attitude towards the Royal story?

a:  Kelvin's attitude towards the Royals was one which was foremost in his mind always of how can I sell more copies of my newspaper? What's guaranteed to sell? And the relationship between Charles and Diana, particularly Diana, was always in his view a guaranteed seller. Indeed it wasn't just his view. It was quite clear that was the case for a considerable period and it didn't really matter in the sense what level of intrusion would go on because after all you knew you were going to sell, you didn't expect the Royal Family ever to sue, you weren't generally discovering anything very intimate anyway. A half-said sentence on a ski slope would be good enough for a splash. I remember one Royal Correspondent, I think it was James Whitaker, once said to me If you get two sentences dear fellow you've got a book. And it was really that kind of attitude that it didn't matter what was said. It would be a winner with readers and winning with readers is what counted for Kelvin and all of us at the Sun.

q:  Now apart from regarding the Royal, the Royals as a good story which they obviously were Kelvin McKenzie also has quite clear views on the Establishment and he used to write great leaders about how the Sun wasn't an Establishment newspaper and all that. I mean he was primarily a newspaper man but was there any sense of a sort of personal crusade, a strong feeling about whether the Royal Family in the new Britain of Margaret Thatcher was actually providing value for money in his mind?

a:  I think it's clear that the Royal Family stood at the apex of an Establishment that not only Kelvin McKenzie but perhaps Rupert Murdoch and perhaps all of us who work for the Sun felt was old-fashioned, out of step with the new meritocratic Britain particularly under Margaret Thatcher. And to a greater or lesser extent, whether it was conscious or unconscious republicanism.

Part of the use of the Royal Family and the use of the Royal couple as mere fodder to increase sales was obviously involved in that set of decision making. It's quite clear that the Sun identified with the working class of Britain and identifying with them also meant having a chip on the shoulder about the privilege and inherited status of the Royal Family. And in that sense, although people supposedly loved Diana and loved the Royal Family, they were equally eager to see them pulled down. You raise them up and you pull them down and I suppose the most obvious and telling slogan of the British Press anyway throughout a long period.

q:  Did you have any direct experience during your time on the Sun of what Rupert Murdoch's attitude toward the Royal Family really was.

a:  I never heard Rupert Murdoch say, certainly not in my presence, anything rude about the Royal Family. I never heard him urge us to do more on the Royal Family, just the reverse. The single occasion on which I can recall him mentioning them was to say...Do you need to do what you're doing. Couldn't you just lay off them a bit? And I think that he felt that one couldn't use this family, in spite of his hostility to the concept of the Establishment in Britain which he keenly felt coming from the outside and in some cases felt because of what had happened to him when he first entered Britain. I think that he also had a sense of sympathy for people in such a goldfish bowl. So I can't say that Rupert Murdoch ever urged knowingly us to intrude in the lives of the Royal Family.

q:  I don't suppose you can remember what it was specifically he was talking about?

a:  I can't recall it. I mean if you imagine the five or six amazing years in which I worked on the Sun and the number of times I took part in these kinds of discussions, it all goes into one amazing clutter.

q:  Now do you remember when Kelvin was asked to go along with other editors whom we've heard from to meet the Queen in 1981 at the invitation of Michael Shea who wanted the Press to lay off the Princess of Wales?

a:  I remember the occasion on which Michael Shea invited all the editors to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen. Kelvin's immediate response was that-- this wasn't a good idea. He always felt that getting too close to the people who were victims in his newspaper - it didn't really matter whether it was the Royal Family or politicians - was a bad thing. I think his mind changed later in his later years at the Sun but in those early years he felt keeping a distance was very important and his response was ...Look I know what's going on here. I know what they're trying to do. I'm not going to be wound into this. They're not going to soft soap me. I wish to keep my distance and I will not be so easily involved in a smooze.

q:  Can you remember what his excuse was for not going?

a:  Yes. I do recall what Kelvin said on that famous occasion, and it had something to do with needing to see Rupert Murdoch and that being more important than meeting the Queen. Meeting the boss is always more important than meeting the Queen. Of course what was so very funny about that occasion was that another Murdoch editor misbehaved so gloriously at that function, Barry Askew, then Editor of News of the World, who made a remark which even led the Queen to say 'How pompous'-- that became the enduring story so Kelvin not going was kind of overlooked in the News of the World Editor's misbehavior.

q:  Now in 1981 the Sun and Star were engaged in a race to get photographs of Diana on holiday. Can you remember the reaction in the office when the pictures arrived back, they were faxed or whatever it was back from the Bahamas? What did you think of them and why did your paper decide to run them?

a:  The response to the famous holiday pictures was I think Kelvin jumping in the air. I think the News Editor opened his arms wide and said Yes. I think one understands why. They thought they'd got the best pictures of all time and there were no, as far as I can recall, worries about publishing those pictures. We did have the kind of discussion, are we doing the right thing? And we all knew we were going to publish them whether or not we said we were doing the right thing or not. And they weren't seen at the moment of publication as being particularly controversial. What was so interesting about that episode was that after the publisher...let me start again.

What was so really interesting about that episode was that after the pictures were published and the reporter and photographer returned, they told me that they got into the office quite early and Arthur Edwards, the photographer, said the most wonderful thing was that we expected after the controversy that we would be in some kind of trouble. I pushed open the double doors of the office in Bouverie Street, at the other end of the room was Kelvin McKenzie who ran towards me, put his arms out and caught me in his arms and Arthur--who was you know just a great luvie of a photographer--said See, that's the kind of backing you don't get everywhere. But it was also symbolic in the sense that Kelvin didn't care what the Establishment thought about those pictures. He backed his photographer and his reporter in what they'd done and he was showing--Look, I stand four square with you.

q:  What was the reaction of the Palace to the Sun at an editorial level or in senior management at News International? I mean what did they try to do about stuff like that?

a:  The Palace were in a particularly difficult position. In the old days when they knew that they could easily get in touch with a proprietor or with an editor and speak in the sort of old boy network they were always able to control papers. But by the 1980's all that had broken down. Rupert Murdoch was abroad and not responsive anyway to the Palace even if they did try to get in touch with him. He didn't have the kind of lieutenants in his organization who were part of the public school network so that was no good, and the Editor was totally unresponsive to any suggestions that he could be curtailed by the Establishment.

And in a sense the Palace perhaps suggested through various channels, perhaps the Press Council of those days, that there might be a way of dealing with this rogue newspaper but it was no good. I mean not only were the Sun prepared to publish but so were the Daily Mirror, who were equally unresponsive to those kinds of temptations from the Palace and the situation was impossible for them. They tried to retreat. They took the view that ,okay if we can't do anything when they go off and find pictures and stories, what we'll do is we'll not confirm them. We'll say we're not commenting whether that's true or not. And even that tactic of course blew up in their faces as well. It became impossible for the Palace to exert any proper pressure on these rogue newspapers.

q:  Do you remember how Kelvin would respond to to the Palace, the knowledge that the Palace --through one of their channels, through the Press Council or some politician or whatever-- tried to indicate that they were very unhappy with the Sun's coverage?

a:  Kelvin might announce at conference in the morning that such and such a story or picture had really upset the Palace and ....Kelvin's view was that this was an ongoing story and nothing would stand in his way. So he would adopt at a conference in the morning a mock and shock look and say 'I'm afraid we've upset the Palace--how can we do it today?' And I mean in other words, it was a two fingers to the idea of any restraint.

q:  Why were Royal Reporters not believed?

a:  I think many of us in the office began to feel that some of the stories that were emanating from the royal pack couldn't possibly be true. They would stand behind these stories and say that they definitely are. I think the defining moments were when it was suggested that Princess Diana and Charles weren't getting on. Stories were emanating from sources who we knew existed. A lot of people feel oh we just made things up. That wasn't true. Reporters like Judy Wade on the Sun and Harry Arnold on the Sun and James Whitaker were getting stories from detectives and from aides saying all is not well.

It was difficult for us to believe and some of the incidents were so extraordinary - the tears, the tantrums, the fact that he was turning up alone and she'd canceled at the last minute. This couldn't possibly be true surely in a well-adjusted couple who we'd seen cuddling and canoodling only a couple of years before. And so we ourselves disbelieved that the fairy tale could end. I can do more on that if you want.

q:  Was it that it was too fantastic or that you didn't want to believe it and you didn't think readers wanted to believe it?

a:  I don't think that we ever worried about readers' response to this because we were engaged - I know a lot of people don't believe this - in truth-telling. So it was a story and of course you can only tell a fairy tale once and the fairy tale went on for a couple of years and that was fine but the story, the running story was much more interesting. Is there a rift? What does it mean? How deep is it? Are they living separate lives? Why are they breaking up? What's the problem? And all of these things became a kind of fascinating soap opera within a soap opera and it was quite clear that the glittering pictures of this woman were very different from what was going on in the background, although we were ourselves skeptical about what we were hearing, these royal reporters would stand utterly behind them and would feel quite confident that they were true.

q:  If there was a situation where there was some story of a terrific row, I think Harry Arnold had the story about falling down the stairs and all that, if it was a question of Kelvin McKenzie having to choose between his own skepticism that such an extraordinary thing had happened and Harry Arnold saying Look, trust me, I've got good contacts. This story's true. What would he choose and why? Can you sort of describe what his instincts would be in an issue like that?

a:  There were lots of occasions, lots of stories in which the Editor had to clench his teeth and ask himself -- Is Harry telling me absolutely the truth here? Has he got the right sources? And the interesting thing was also they relied very much also on the photographer, Arthur Edwards. But the feeling was after a time that Harry had got it right.

Now each story was subjected to the normal skepticism that any Editor would employ, especially the Editor knowing as he often said that it will be me in the tower, not Harry, if this goes in. But most of the time he grew to appreciate that his reporter was right. There was a great deal of tension between Kelvin and Harry over working methods and so on, but he never lost his faith in the stories that Harry was getting.

q:  What was it about the Sun at that time, Kelvin McKenzie and Thatcherism, which sort of start to capture a mood for several years really?

a:  It is hard looking back for some people to remember what that period was like but here we have a Prime Minister who was a radical, tearing up and tearing into the old norms that we'd come to expect from the sixties onwards. She refashioned society. She tore into the regulation of the economy, she up-ended organized labor and she did this in concert with the owner of the Sun, Rupert Murdoch and particularly with the Editor of the Sun, Kelvin McKenzie. This meant that there was a spirit abroad of all the old ways being up for grabs, that the old certainties could be turned round. And part of the irreverence towards the Royal Family and a complete lack of deference came from that and the feeling perhaps that if you took to a logical conclusion the Thatcher revolution then there was no need any longer for an unelected Head of State. There was a kind of unconscious republicanism in what the Sun was doing. Of course it paid lip service to the Royal Family. It said that all this intrusion is not trying to do them down. Ma'am, we are merely following a story. It's not our fault at what we're doing. We love you. It's your children we don't like.

But of course at the same time it was building a consciousness within its readers in which the readers themselves felt--do we need this family with all their money, all their inherited privilege and so on? And so the Sun was caught the spirit of the times. It was really a case of the zeitgeist.

q:  I don't know if he'd ever describe himself with this word but is unconsciously Kelvin McKenzie a sort of republican?

a:  What's been fascinating about this whole era is trying to spot whether Rupert Murdoch is a proper republican, was Andrew Neil at the Sunday Times a republican? Was Kelvin McKenzie? I think they are all small republicans. What I mean by that is it's not very clear whether they would go the whole hog and decide to do away with the Royal Family. However Rupert Murdoch appreciates American society because he feels that's more equal, more meritocratic. Andrew Neil and Kelvin McKenzie both feel that too and I think therefore that they didn't have any particular respect for a Royal Family and saw no need for it. They felt as many perhaps left-wingers would feel and it's the interesting thing between the radical right and the old-fashioned left is that there's a coalition of interests in which they probably feel that the Royal Family and all inherited privilege holds back British society.

q:  The Morton book. When you heard about that book what did you think??

a:  Well the Morton book was like a punch to the solar plexus of the Royal Family. But it was a bit of a punch to the solar plexus of the rest of the Press and it was a rather strange situation in which a lot of the royal reporters who had been friends of Andrew Morton were disbelieving of the book and many of them wrote saying that this book can't be true. Many of the incidents can't be proved. The very famous incident of Diana throwing herself down the stairs was poo-pooed by Harry Arnold, the man who had originally written about it. He said he knew it was a fall. It wasn't a case of her having thrown herself.

So people stood back and they didn't believe Andrew Morton and it was such a tremendous shock. I think it was the turning point in the whole of Royal reporting. But as it emerged that what Morton had written was basically underwritten if not by Princess Diana herself, certainly by her friends. It was obvious that she'd agreed that the pictures could be taken from her personal album. There was a very famous incident in which Princess Diana was seen to visit during the period of this controversy one of her close friends who had been an acknowledged source for the book. It was quite clear that what Morton had written was with her approval. It may not have been the truth of course as, as Prince Charles's side in this dispute were later to make clear but it was certainly her side of the story of a marital breakdown.

q:  Many people have wanted to say it didn't matter that these marriages collapsed. The institution can survive. What's your view of that argument?

a:  It's quite clear that people take positions on the Monarchy based sometimes on the wrong reasons. It's clear that people began to lose respect for the Royal Family and therefore the Monarchy once the collapses of these marriages came about and there was a growing dissension among the public, which has been noted by the pollsters, about the concept of Monarchy because they thought that the Royal Family had misbehaved.

Now that's something that newspapers helped to bring about and some monarchist newspapers like the Daily Telegraph very early on spotted that that's what would be the end result. For instance Charles Moore, who was Editor of the Spectator and then Editor of the Sunday Telegraph and then the Daily Telegraph, he quickly spotted what was happening here was a problem in which people were perceiving the family as the cause of problems of Monarchy and he quickly split the two. He said that there is a difference between the Royal Family and the Monarchy. The institution of the Monarchy is important to the stability of Britain and important not just to the heritage but even to our future. And the family who happened to wear the ermine at that moment are less important. Okay, by actually creating for them a bad public image you are doing the Monarchy down, but let's try and separate the two.

It was a clever move on his part but of course the people, the mass of the people don't see it like that. They see the two together and they can't hold them as separate concepts.

q:  Looking back over the history that we're covering since the war, were people encouraged to think of the Royal Family as the same as the Institution?

a:  It's interesting that the Windsors as a family in their family house, Buckingham Palace, actually personified what the Monarchy was and the Monarchy, was a strategy adopted by them to perhaps in their view be more like other people. They were actually saying to people--'Look, we're just a family. We're a very special family but we are not remote, not different.' And so it formed a very definite strategy to build around that view that they were more modern. Of course it blew up in their faces that idea after forty or fifty years because, having carefully nurtured the idea that they weren't that different, were in some ways just a special family but only a little bit removed from people, blew up in their faces when people realized that okay, since they aren't very different what's so special about them? Why should we worry about them so much? They then had to fly back to the position they'd only previously held which is that they are different, that the Monarchy is a different organization, that they are to use the phrase no one ever uses nowadays blue-blooded, a different kind of aspect from the person. But it was too late. I mean that was the real problem for them. Having created this idea of a special family.

q:  Can you as a republican, could you have envisaged the extent to which the younger members of the Royal Family would advance your cause, if you like, through their own behavior? And I'm thinking, when I talk about their own behavior--perhaps not just of their marriage problems, but their behavior in talking to the Press and colluding with the Press.

a:  It's absolutely fascinating how the idea of remoteness from the Press was an original concept of the Palace and of the whole family and how, as the Press began to intrude more and more into the Royal Family's lives, they began to collude with the Press. You got leaks quite clearly from Princess Diana to Andrew Morton but later she would obviously contact other newspapers, most spectacularly of course the Daily Mail and she would use the institution of the Press to her advantage.

Later it's quite obvious that friends of Prince Charles, as they're always called, would be leaking on his behalf. It's clear that in the case of the relationship between Andrew and Sarah Ferguson that similarly there was collusion between those family and, that family and the Press. So what we've seen is a breakdown in the remoteness. At the very moment that they're most complaining about Press intrusion, they begin to use the Press. Now what, the extra facet of that of course is that them coming closer to the Press has enhanced this problem that they face, which is that in coming close they become more like other people and as they become more like other people the readers, the public become to say Well what's so different about them? What's so special? And so it enhances the view of republicanism. I've been a republican all my life and I didn't have any problem about that but I never saw it in terms of bad family. I mean I don't like good kings. I'm not interested in whether they're bad things. For me it's the institution in this country which is wrong because of the constitutional implications, the Crown prerogative and so on. However advancing the cause of republicans like me has been the behavior of the family itself. And there is no doubt in my mind that for every republican who've used the problem of Monarchy, the existence of Monarchy itself, there are nine people who are republicans because they think the family have misbehaved. Now that's an interesting split but it's one that's come about due to the Press intrusion.

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