Let me lay my cards on the table at the outset. I am not a big fan of the monarchy. Nothing against them personally, I don’t really like the institution. I suppose I would describe myself as a republican.
For me, the idea of having as our head of state someone chosen on the principle of heredity – based on medieval ideas of some kind of magic blood – seems painfully out of date for a modern supposedly forward-thinking nation.
And to those who argue that the Royals are hugely popular in this country and abroad, I say fine. I don’t dislike the royals as people and have no problem with flag waving royalists and if people in Texas love the House of Windsor good for them. Though I suspect that, outside this country, our royal family and all the pomp that goes with them reinforces outdated ideas that we as Britons are stuck in the past, living off former glories, and are not really a modern nation at all. But of course I understand many of you have different views, and I respect them.
Which brings us to The Windsors, Channel 4’s extremely rude cartoonish soap opera about the royal family that starts tonight. And my goodness is it rude.
The opening two episodes imagine our royal family as irredeemably stupid, lazy, self-indulgent and so absurdly posh that they can’t even pronounce the wordy “gyspy” correctly.
And gypsy is a word that crops up a lot because the joke about Kate Middleton (Louise Ford) is that she comes from a family of travellers and likes selling tyres. (Yes writers Bert Tyler-Moore and George Jeffrie are not afraid of tweaking the nose of politican correctness either).
Kate struggles to find her role in national life are repeatedly scuppered by Haydn Gwynne’s scheming Camilla who is always trying to thwart her at every turn, while Harry Enfield’s Charles doesn’t seem to know what the hell is going on. Hugh Skinner’s Wills is well meaning and decent but extremely, extremely thick.
And there is Kate’s sister Pippa (Morgana Robinson), a wide-eyed plotter who is cruel to her sister and desperate to snare Harry. Beatrice and Eugenie – beautifully realized by Ellie White and Celesete Dring – are a pair of airheaded OK-yah sloanes for whom the idea of work is abhorrent and who believe that a life spent almost entirely on holidays is perfectly acceptable. (I know, can you believe it?).
But that’s nothing like the problem faced by poor hapless Edward (Matthew Cottle) who fails to make a success of anything he tries, whether it’s window cleaning or being a removal man. Hard-drinking womanising Harry (Richard Goulding, AKA Tomothy from Fresh Meat) is easily the thickest though – he can’t even read. And his long list of middle names include the monikers “Adolf” and “s**t-for-brains”.
If you thought that was strong enough, episode three includes a plotline centring on a love child Charles had with one of the Three Degrees (“the middle one” he is told). This sends everyone into a tailspin – Camilla wants to breed her own heir (yes, you heard right) and seeks to dispatch the now grown-up interloper while Wills and Kate decide to give up being Royals and move to (gasp) Rickmansworth. As for what the Archbishop of Canterbury gets up to in episode 4… no, I won’t spoil it for you and you probably won’t believe me when I tell you what the leader of the Anglican Communion… no. I’ll stop there.
The only dash of respect this series seems to show is that there is no sign of the Queen on screen, though racist and abusive letters from the Duke of Edinburgh are occasionally read out.
Little wonder the joke at Channel 4 is that the broadcaster’s programmes director Jay Hunt won’t be getting a call from the Palace soon with the offer of a Damehood. But this is a brave and funny series.
In purely technical TV terms, the good thing about this show is that the quality is maintained throughout out the run. For me, episode four is as good as episode one, which is not always the case for TV comedies where the good material tends to be front-loaded in order to gain an audience. It really evokes the glory days of Spitting Image-style satire.
But I can’t help detecting a very politically subversive subtext to this that feels quite deliciously shocking. At one point William becomes totally disillusioned with the idea of the monarchy, expressing his doubt about an institution that “sucks up the cash” while “everybody else does all the work”. All very funny, but you know, it’s the kind of chat that in previous centuries would have seen people dragged off the scaffold. So good for Channel 4, I say.
The Windsors is on Channel 4 tonight at 10pm