An appearance on Desert Island Discs is a sure sign that a personality has indeed arrived at the forefront of public perception. Earlier this year, a former pupil of the Northampton School for Boys, Matt Smith, made such an appearance on the programme. During the programme Matt Smith informed the listening audience that he turned to acting after realizing that, because of suffering a physical injury, a career in professional football was not personally attainable.
I am uncertain as to what kind of football player Matt Smith would have developed into – perhaps an imposing central defender. However, there is no doubt that he has become an actor of real stature, as evidenced by his role as a reincarnate Dr Who and a stately performance as Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, in the television series of The Crown.
My daughter attended the same school and was in the same year/class as Matt Smith. Both studied drama as Sixth Form students. They acted together in several school productions (the play Murder in the Cathedral comes to mind) and, whilst I would admit to some personal bias, my daughter suffered little by comparison. However, even as a sixth form secondary school student, Matt Smith was an exceptional teenage performer and he has gone on to be an excellent adult actor.
But what is the nature of the world he now lives in – away from the publicity that actors such as he attracts? To what extent does acting become a substitute for real life? What world do actors (male and female) actually inhabit? Is there the danger that the world in which they act the role of someone else starts to become their actual world? Do changes of character precede changes in personality?
Is the world of an actor similar to the world of a “royal” personage – a world of seeming make believe and virtual reality, despite the vain-glorious attempts by some royals to appear to make their lives relevant to the population at large. It is reported that the present line of young royals, the offspring of Charles Windsor and Diane Spencer, along with their partners, wish to make the British royals more modern, more “ordinary” and down to earth.
This is hard to believe after watching the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, awkwardly curtsey when being presented recently to Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge. Both were representing the UK at a World War 1 commemoration ceremony in France. They were on the same side! The practice of offering this form of obeisance to royalty is surely one of the first things that should be crossed-off the younger royals’ modernizing wish-list.
It is probably advisable, however, to suggest that one should refrain from holding one’s breath whilst waiting for this change to take place.
After all, not everyone, or even the majority, has the audacity of the former Australian Prime Minister, Paul Keating, to not only not bow when being introduced to Elizabeth Windsor, but also had the temerity to place his hand on her majesty’s back when he introduced her to others in a line-up of the good and the great down-under.
What is this strange aspect of democracy that tolerates a continuing monarchy that strives to maintain its existence alongside extremes of finance, privilege and social position?
I am convinced that the royals, from Elizabeth Windsor down to the least of their kind, see themselves as having a legitimate, even necessary, place in modern society, despite the reality that, rather than being the so-called “jewels in the crown of British society”, they are in fact an anachronistic throw-back to a previous age of deference, privilege and class inequality.
Perhaps the British royals, for whatever reasons, are seen in the same light as are actors of stage, screen, or whatever – as celebrities to which many common people wish to aspire? If this is the case, then we are responsible for our own fantasy worlds which lead to our eventual demise and humiliation, as individuals and as a nation.
Surely we are required to abjure “false consciousness”, to leave behind the confined cloisters of the “school” (be it preparatory or the Sixth Form) and join the adult – the mature – world, a world in which persons are afforded decency and respect not because of their juvenile attainments, historical background, societal standing, or self-professed importance, but because of their humanity, humility and integrity.
Further, the abdication of the British “royal line” is a necessary step towards the realization of a genuine British democracy and all that goes with it – a reclaiming of the real world and a more mature understanding of what and how society should be?
Insofar as the plethora of movies and TV series assist in making the British (and wider) audience aware of the need for a deeper and more meaningful understanding and realization of this reclamation, then they may have a legitimate role, as a practical persuader – a self-mirror, in the viewing habits of the masses. They can be seen as one stimulus amongst many effecting this realization.
The school, especially those educational institutions of the State that are void of private self-importance, class and financial influence and affluence, is a stage – of preparation, learning, social adjustment and human integration – that can enable young people to separate the real from the virtual, the role and function of the many and from the few, and the value of the wealth of the nation from that of a privileged minority.
However, the purpose of this multi-media insight into the lives of the monarchical menagerie (seen most appositely in the recent television series The Windsors) may be rather more otherwise, even sinister, in its intent.
It may be that the barrage of historical movies, television series and popular literature serve the purpose of inuring the public through a process of constantly thrusting the royals into their faces. They serve to promote both the traditional roles and contemporary disguises of the royals in order to maintain their privileged and un-earned status in society – the continuation of the Windsor’s false consciousness.
In the process, the “royal family”, far from disparaging the multiplicity of programmes featuring their kind, no doubt find satisfaction, perhaps even mirth, in the fact that the combined talents of the British acting fraternity – from Matt Smith to Colin Firth, from Helen Mirren to Claire Foy – unwittingly or otherwise, aid and abet this right-royal carve-up.