Writing from his prison cell in 1660, the regicide John Cooke, who prosecuted Charles I, regretted the tendency of the English people to lean towards subservience in times of crisis. "We fought for the public good and would have enfranchised the people and secured the welfare of the whole groaning creation," he wrote, "if the nation had not more delighted in servitude than in freedom." Three and a half centuries later, delight in servitude seems to be the order of the day. Witness, if you can bear it, the orgy of collective boot-licking and forelock-tugging that is Andrew Marr's series for the Royal Jubilee, The Diamond Queen.
Traditional BBC objectivity seems to have been suspended for this hour-long propaganda roll. Given that a substantial proportion of us still think of the monarchy as an embarrassment at best, and at worst, to quote Cooke, "dangerous to the liberty, safety and public interest of the people", you would think that there would be at least some acknowledgement that not everyone is happy to be a subject. Some mention, perhaps, of Northern Ireland, or the long, bloody history of English republicanism.
Instead, we are served a twee little panegyric to the many unlikely hats of Elizabeth Windsor. Here's the swelling theme-music with its bombastic brass, a little like a cross between one of the more military English hymns and the Death Star overture; here are some crowds of adoring children screaming excitedly for the Queen; here are American tourists gushing over her visit as footage of her meeting presidents plays; here are rows of marching men in uniform from every corner of the world saluting her, almost as if Britain were still a nation of imperial significance.
Subtle it is not. The interviews with the grandchildren are unremarkable in themselves -- Marr treats all his royal subjects with the deference due to rank and privilege, which is to say that he never asks them any interesting or pressing questions at all. To see the young princes and princesses actually speak is rather like watching a trained dog eat with a knife and fork: they could drool out of the corners of their mouths and it would still be worth a round of applause. Marr nods and tuts in shiny-eyed wonder, so clearly thrilled to be in the presence of his interviewees that you feel a stab to the solar plexus as another little piece of pride in British journalism spasms and dies.
Marr's rhetoric approaches the pornographic, describing the Queen's writing-desk as "glossy with royal history" whilst the camera zooms in in soft focus. I confess that when they played the archive footage of the young Queen, looking piercingly into the camera, some early 1950s reelman getting a bit creative with the close-up on her plump lips articulating, in that gorgeously nasal trill, the desire "to serve", I too had the unthinkable thought. I scrubbed it from my mind with hot tea, because I'm British.
"We don't live in a Tory country or a coalition nation -- governments are merely lodgers, " says Marr, obsequiously describing the point of all this panting and groaning: the desperate notion that royal pomp and circumstance can bring together a country which is, in reality, only growing more divided, and the idea that the burgeoning representative crisis in Britain doesn't matter because an unelectd aristocracy is actually in charge. That this is supposed to be comforting says much about the state of the nation. Whether or not the Queen herself is a lovely old lady with a fantastic array of hats is beside the point. This is not history. This is masturbation, and Britain is in too much trouble right now to sit around playing with itself.