IS PHILIP REALLY NECESSARY?
He does a tough job heroically—often with an uncivil tongue in his head
As THE FOG closed in at Milan airport, cutting visibility, the control-room crew were suddenly startled to see the tall figure of the Duke of Edinburgh striding out to the runway. Hastily, an official ran up to him. “Excuse me, Your Highness,” he said. “But it would be most unwise to leave just now. The fog makes
all flying highly dangerous.”
“Rubbish!” said Prince Philip, who had been paying a short visit to Italy. “I have flown in worse conditions.” With the mantle of regal authority bestowed on him as the husband and consort of Queen Elizabeth, he shrugged off protests, and within minutes he was at the controls of the Andover of the Queen’s Flight — the same aircraft in which he was to pilot him-
self around on a visit to Canada this spring.
The incident at Milan pointed up two of the traits that have become indelible parts of Prince Philip’s colorful public image — adventureseeker and sharp-tongued critic.
An adventure-loving swashbuckler, he has not only flown jets, helicopters, hovercraft and small single-engined planes, but has tried his hand at the controls of a glider, armored tanks, and half a dozen sports cars (several of them at speeds of more than a hundred miles an hour). Philip is one of the best polo players in the world, has hunted crocodile and tiger and once icily faced a charging boar and brought it down at his feet with a single shot. In boat races he has / continued overleaf
taken several duckings, and on one occasion was nearly killed: the heavy crane boom of his yacht Coweslip splintered and came crashing down, missing his head by inches. Onlookers heard Philip swear, and then they watched, still shaken, as he walked off jauntily for a restorative glass of rum.
Sometimes it seems as though there is no limit to his feats of derring-do. Companions rate him not only as an excellent swimmer and a skilled water-skier and skin diver; they like to relate how he has even splashed around with harpoon in hand, knowing the surrounding waters were infested with man-killing sharks.
When he attends film premières, usually without his wife, the lean and handsome duke is invariably photographed chatting animatedly with a gaggle of eager actresses who seem fascinated by his charm and wit. And he has much the same effect on young school girls, even though he is now forty-four and obviously balding. Once last year when he stopped and spoke to a fifteen-year-old pupil at a girls’ school in Wales, the girl found the encounter too much for her: she broke into tears.
But with all his dashing charm goes an aristocratic arrogance that some victims of his caustic remarks have found almost unbearable. Newsmen assigned to cover his tours have often felt the whiplash of his tongue. Often he has thrown curses and insults at photographers, knowing that they cannot answer back. Once in Gibraltar, visiting the monkeys on the rock face, the supposedly dignified husband of the Oueen suddenly turned toward accompanying newsmen, tossed a handful of peanuts and cried, “Here, you lot. You’re a finer bunch of
He never apologizes for the intolerance in his makeup. “Speaking from arrogance,
monkeys than these Gibraltar apes!” And on his trip to the Caribbean this February, when a broadcaster pushed a microphone toward him to catch what he was saying to the crowd around him, Philip turned suddenly and threatened, “One of these days I'm going to say something rude into that thing!”
Newsmen aren't the only ones who have suffered humiliation at remarks he has made in public. Once, on a visit to a housing development in London, the duke asked a blond housewife, “Are you wearing a wig?” His blunt question angered and embarrassed the woman, who, because of the prince’s august position, felt powerless to reply. Afterward she said indignantly that her hair was her own and
was naturally blonde. One of her neighbors told the press, “It’s all very well traveling the world, making himself a hero, then coming here and insulting us. His ‘wit’ does not impress me. He can only do it because he is the Queen’s husband . . . and seeing that he has a position of privilege he should respect it a little more.” Even Philip himself admits to a streak of intolerance in his makeup. “Speaking from arrogance,” he once said, “is not a novel experience for me.” When Philip was a lad at Gordonstoun, where he rose to be headboy, his headmaster, Dr. Kurt Hahn, summed up his mettlesome pupil: “Philip’s leadership
qualities are most noticeable, though marred at times by impatience and intolerance.” However deplorable such arrogance may seem at times, Philip at least comes by it honestly: he is a descendant of a Danish pirate king named Harald Bluetooth, and as a young man he underwent naval training that taught him to be blunt and straightforward. And even those who have reason to wish he had acquired a little more tact in the process cannot help admiring the other qualities his early training developed in him: especially leadership and personal courage, along with an undisguised contempt for inefficiency, antiquated customs, fools and blundering bureaucrats.
But there’s no doubt that some of the irritation he displays on public occasions arises simply from his being under constant strain and pressure. He is never able to forget that his every word, every action, every gesture, every facial expression are all carefully scrutinized by reporters, columnists and TV cameras and relayed far and wide. When Philip tells Britons
they must “pull their fingers out,” his words are flashed around the world, discussed, analyzed and commented upon by millions.
Canadians, of course, already know how outspoken Philip can be. On a previous memorable visit, he criticized the whole nation for being a bunch of rather poor physical specimens. “Canada’s sporting achievements,” he jolted his audience by declaring, “are, with a few notable exceptions, hardly in keeping with a country which claims almost the highest standard of living in the world.”
And though tradition demands that members of the royal family refrain from criticizing the law of the land, Philip couldn't restrain himself the first time he encountered Ontario’s con-
tentious liquor laws. His flat-out verdict: “obsolete and old-fashioned.”
Sometimes the duke’s frankness embarrasses the Queen, who evidently feels a keen sense of duty to maintain the dignity, prestige and position of the monarchy, especially in an age. when many people feel that all royalty is an anachronism. It is a neat enough trick in any case for the Queen to remain both dignified in her manner and democratic in her attitude; such a task hardly becomes easier when her husband remarks, as he did on a tour of Paraguay, “It's a pleasant change to be in a country which isn’t ruled by its people.” Philip later explained to the Queen that his remark was taken out of context and had been
he has observed, “is not a novel experience for me”
meant as a joke. Gloomily he told an old naval friend, “I feel as though I am in a zoo with the whole world watching me. One day I am sure that I will read in the papers what brand of toilet paper I use.”
To his chagrin, Philip has never quite managed to convince the world that when he makes a controversial remark, he is speaking as an individual and not as a mouthpiece of the monarchy. When the duke says, “To understand what ministers [of the Crown] are saying, you must buy a gobbledegook dictionary and add an arbitrary ten years to every promise they make,” he may be expressing a popular view, but it’s not a remark likely to enhance the Palace’s reputation for regal impartiality.
In some parts of the world there are people who, quite clearly, do not quite know what to make of Philip. Many unsophisticated people reason that since he is the Queen’s husband and master of the Palace, he must be some sort of king. Even a well-educated Russian, Eugene Stephano, the glider ace, once addressed the startled Philip as “Mr. King.”
Philip himself once tried to explain his role in pidgin English: “I heap big fella married Mrs. Queen.” And it's not much consolation for Philip to reflect that his only predecessor, Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort, also regarded the position as “most peculiar and delicate.” Albert once observed bleakly, “I am only the husband and not the master in the
house.” But it remained for Queen Victoria herself to put him in his place. Having just dealt with some state papers, the Queen reported with perhaps unintended asperity, “Albert helped me with the blotting paper.” Even at that, Albert managed to grow in stature and influence until Charles Greville, the famous diarist and student of royalty was able to record with admiration, “He is King to all intents and purposes.”
The same process is taking place with Philip. Like Victoria’s husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, being outspoken, independent by nature, masterful and dominating, is managing to exert more and more influence over Elizabeth. Though she / continued on page 24
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For young men: “A taste of fright, discomfort, adventure”
is sometimes shaken hy his public conduct, Elizabeth is deeply devoted to her husband and in private family matters she invariably bows to his wishes. The education of Prince Charles is a demonstrable example. Against the wishes of both the Queen and the Queen Mother, young Charles was sent by his father first to Chcam
prep school and later Gordonstoun. (Elizabeth wanted her son to begin his studies privately in Buckingham Palace and then go to Eton.) And when Charles arrived in Australia early this year to begin a rugged term of study at Timbertop, the bushland annex of Geelong Grammar School, and announced it “wasn’t my idea,”
there was no doubt whose idea it was. Philip had already said it, not only for Charles but for his contemporaries: “Britain’s young men should have a taste of fright, discomfort and adventure.”
Philip has been equally forthright in implementing his idea of how Buckingham Palace ought to be run. Eliza-
beth hadn’t been on the throne long before Philip made it plain that he was horrified by the antiquated and inefficient methods by which Buckingham Palace and other royal residences were run. He soon saw to it that modern equipment was introduced, administrative procedures were streamlined, and costs were closely scrutinized. At Sandringham, lawns and flowerbeds were plowed up and vegetables were planted instead. Managers at every royal estate were clearly told that Philip expected them to operate in the same efficient manner as modern, competitive businessmen.
Philip had an efficient central-heating system installed throughout Buckingham Palace. And he banished from his office suite the heavy Victorian furniture, substituting modern furniture and equipment, including electric typewriters and tape recorders. Soon the whole palace had an intercommunications system wired into it, and the royal cars were fitted with two-way radios.
Now hear this!
Under Philip’s critical eye, economy drives became the order of the day — not always with happy results for all. Once, a guest at the Earl Mountbatten’s estate near Romsey, Hampshire, complained that the newly installed toilets would not flush properly. An aggrieved plumber explained. “The trouble is that when the farm was mechanized the water was insufficient to fill the cisterns and Prince Philip won’t let you have more water. He says it is a waste.”
Philip reiterated this view last May, upsetting Britain's plumbing manufacturers with a blunt declaration: “This is the biggest waste of water in the country so far. You spend half a pint and flush two gallons.”
But the toiletmakers might have regarded themselves somewhat neglected if Philip hadn’t criticized them, for it is becoming harder every year to think of any sizeable group in Britain that has not felt the rousing sting of Philip’s criticism.
Denouncing British farmers for slaughtering immature animals for beef, Philip said, “This type of meat is inedible. You do not want beef today full of pink cotton wool.”
British manufacturers squirmed as he observed, “We lose out in design compared to other countries like Germany and Japan.” And if labor leaders had been hoping for his support in their struggle against automation, they were quickly set straight when he announced, “It is my firm conviction that our national economic situation can only be improved and strengthened by the most ruthless exploitation of technology.”
Considering his sharp tongue and notorious irritability, you might suppose that the duke makes pronouncements like these just to stir up controversy. But thoughtful observers who have studied the pattern of his public speeches and serious actions realize he has one enormously important saving grace: Philip really does care about the world around, and he makes his pointed and much-publicized criticisms with every hope of inspiring reforms and improvements.
Sometimes his pronouncements and
“I am prepared to have lunch with anyone for 5,000 pounds”
activities seem like jumbles of contradiction. His critics like to point out that between speeches advocating conservation of wild life, Philip goes out shooting game. But like many another conscientious hunter, he sees nothing incompatible in sensible hunting and commonsense conservation. What’s more, he is as dedicated to birdwatching as he is to shooting and he has even written a book on birds and has illustrated it with his own photographs of them.
In similar vein, he sees nothing inconsistent in his attitude toward money: though he acquired considerable wealth through marriage, he often attacks the evils of materialism. “The arts,” he said in one typical comment, “have more to offer in terms of human pleasure and satisfaction than the rat race for prosperity.”
Considering his wealth and security, his critics sometimes suggest Philip is a man who has discovered that words come easy and talk is cheap. A London businessman once told me acidly, “Speeches about modernizing industry — coming from a man who spends his time playing polo, going on jaunts around the world and who symbolizes a bygone age — are a bloody cheek. In his arrogance, the man passes opinions on just about everything. I would respect his views if he did a proper job of work instead of strutting around telling the rest of the country to ‘pull their fingers out.’ ”
A proper job
But in actual fact, Philip does do a job — and a proper job at that. By exhorting, pleading and quite ruthlessly exploiting his position as the Queen’s husband, he has inspired and promoted many a worthwhile cause. He has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds, for instance, for the National Playing Fields Association. He has accepted invitations to help and sponsor literally dozens of charitable funds and organizations. Last year he spent his so-called summer holidays rushing around Britain, spending at least two uncomfortable nights on trains, to keep a promise he made to attend six major engagements at the Commonwealth Arts Festival. His latest visit to Canada, as an honorary life member of the International Variety Clubs, will doubtless do far more for the clubs and their cause than it will do for Philip. But he has accepted the award in much the same spirit as he demonstrated last October at a luncheon on behalf of Britain's Housing the Homeless Fund: “I am prepared,” said the duke, cheerfully, “to have lunch with anyone for five thousand pounds.” The money, of course, would go to the charity concerned.
Whether he is criticizing Britons for their bad industrial design, or Canadians for their poor physical condition, Prince Philip knows full well that the reactions to his remarks, superficially at least, will be negative. He realizes British factories will not suddenly start producing the world’s handsomest goods and that Canadians will not immediately begin leaping out of bed
at dawn to take icy showers and spend an hour at physical jerks. But he does know that he can stir things up and get people talking and thinking about improving situations and habits he knows need improving.
Knowing that his every public remark — and a good many of his private ones — will be reported to mil-
lions of people around the world, he’s quite willing to take advantage of the situation and serve a useful purpose in the process. When he tells Britons they will have to work harder, there is bound to be a deluge of comment and reaction — anger, criticism and praise. Other public figures take up the refrain, the message is repeated
and perhaps even begins to sink into the minds of millions. Perhaps, by such means, he can create a climate of thought that even causes people to “pull their fingers out.”
At least he hopes it will all happen that way. Whether he succeeds or not is something only posterity will be able to judge.
In any event, he asks, how else can a man of his character and temperament play the exacting role of a queen’s husband? ★