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Before The Kardashians, The Royal Family Made Their Own Reality TV Show

It’s the basis of 'The Crown’s' latest plot

The third season of The Crown is currently airing and in episode four, they show a dramatised version of the real-life 1969 BBC documentary, Royal Family.

The documentary was essentially an olden-day version of Keeping Up With The Kardashians, where cameras followed the Queen and her family over the course of 75 days in 172 locations. The footage was edited down to a two-hour special that showed major monarchial moments, like the Queen having lunch with US President Richard Nixon, and mundane everyday activities like family dinners and Queen Elizabeth buying her son an ice-cream.

The Royal Family 1969 Documentary

The documentary’s intent was to humanise the royal family.

It was watched by 30.6 million people in the United Kingdom – over half of the population – as well as an estimated 350 million around the world.

Surprisingly, the documentary was met with a lot of criticism for hampering the family’s mystique – something The Crown touches upon. One such critic was David Attenborough (who controlled BBC Two at the time). Attenborough told Richard Cawston, who directed the film: “The whole institution depends on mystique and the tribal chief in his hut. If any member of the tribe ever sees inside the hut, then the whole system of tribal chiefdom is damaged and the tribe eventually disintegrates.”

Princess Anne was also against the project. “I never liked the idea of ‘Royal Family,’ I thought it was a rotten idea,” she said in the 2015 book, Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal Family. “The attention which had been brought upon one ever since one was a child, you just didn’t need any more…I don’t remember enjoying any part of that.”

Despite the documentary receiving the Queen’s full support and tick of approval before airing, for undisclosed reasons she had the documentary archived shortly after, and it hasn’t been broadcast in full since. Until recently, it has been shrouded in secrecy, hidden away from the public and only ever shown to a select few with express permission from Buckingham Palace. However, according to Elle, who spoke with the British Film Institute archivist in charge of Royal Family, non-fiction curator Patrick Russell, it is currently available for anyone to watch for free as part of the Institute’s “in venue offerings” at its multimedia library in Southbank in London.

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