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Review: We Are Sixty

Disembodied voices heave with royal compliments.

We Are Sixty: Radio 2

A serious jubilee documentary repeatedly tip­ped into comedy until an eventual blissed-out collapse. Celia Imrie narrated, calling to mind with every syllable the image of her spraying scent on a heaving angora sweater in Acorn Antiques. “The Queen,” she began. “She’s a landmark!” vox-popped someone else. “Elizabeth,” crooned Imrie. “Gracious is the word that springs to mind!” insisted a breathless third. Imrie again: “Queen of this realm”, and so on, dropped in between the compliments of disembodied others (“She is the most remarkable . . . definitely a fan . . . seems to have survived”).

In the background “Zadok the Priest” swelled, preparing us for the most stunning event in the history of the British monarchy. Much was made of the old king’s death and the breaking of the news to the 25-year-old princess. “On the verandah at Tree Tops in Kenya, Elizabeth looked at the animals of Africa going about their strange ways in the moonlight,” went the narration, now over music possibly from The Lion King. Jungle drums continued until “national treasure June Whitfield” was for no apparent reason invited to crack open a bag of Maltesers and share her thoughts in a voice that sounded like someone keen to project that – when called on – she can be a model of discretion. “What a responsibility – goodness,” sighed June about the coronation. By her own admission crushed when the royal yacht Britannia was decommissioned, she confessed to having been both outraged and impressed that HRH had sanctioned the tragedy, but had since worked her horror into a rational shape. “The Queen didn’t say, ‘Stop it.’ No! No . . . our Queen [a pause while Whitfield inserts inverted commas around the phrase, as though worried about sounding so contemporary] ‘goes with the flow’.”

Other memorable interviewees in this too-short, hour-long triumph (30 May) – which left one feeling dizzy, like an orphan wowed by
a chuckling old plutocrat – included a steward who let slip that while the Prince of Wales had a double bed in his Britannia suite (with a blonde in gold lamé pyjamas revving up the sheets?) the Queen and Prince Philip made do with single bunks. After which Terry Wogan confessed to having soundly kicked a corgi during dinner at the palace. Able-bodied pinkoes unite!

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She presents The Film Programme on BBC Radio 4. She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 04 June 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The royal makeover