If you've ever wondered what goes on behind the gates of Buckingham Palace, wonder no more. As it turns out, Queen Elizabeth, Philip, and the kids were the stars of their very own reality show back in the day. Yes, you read that right.
It was the swinging '60s and in a bid to show the public just how normal and down-with-the-times they were, the Windsors commissioned a 105-minute documentary, aptly called Royal Family. The film also coincided with Prince Charles' investiture as the Prince Of Wales and was released to celebrate the milestone.
According to The Queen's Speech author Ingrid Seward, at the time it was described as "the most fantastic piece of eavesdropping of all time." Nothing was off-limits — from the interactions between the queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, and Princess Anne at the dinner table to how the queen keeps that incredible poker face when she's on duty. It was a never-before-seen side of the usually stoic family unit, and it was understandably popular among the public.
In one scene, the queen recalls a particularly hairy moment to a young Charles and Anne, both in their early twenties at the time: "It is extremely difficult sometimes to keep a straight face. When Home Sec [the Home Secretary] said to me, 'There's a gorilla coming in. So I said to him, 'What an extraordinary remark to make about anybody. Very unkind.' And I stood in the middle of the room, pressed the bell, and there was a gorilla! And I had the most terrible trouble in keeping [a straight face]. I had the most appalling trouble." She giggled as her family erupted in laughter.
Royal Family was aired on the BBC on June 21, 1969, and then again on ITV the next week. According to Ingrid Seward, over three-quarters of the British population tuned in, and it was such a success that it was repeated for the rest of the year.
In another shot, the queen and the duke look like any other couple relishing in domestic life as they cook up a batch of sausages on the barbecue at their beloved Balmoral estate. "Are the sandwiches ready?" the queen, then 43 years old, politely asks her husband. But perhaps the most intriguing revelation is how jovial, funny, relaxed, and loving the royal is when surrounded by her nearest and dearest.
Clearly at ease around her young children, the viewers are shown a rare glimpse of an off-duty Queen — who is just like them. Gone is the stiff upper-lip, with the mother of four instead opting for a constant smile.
Later, she takes a five-year-old Prince Edward to the local milk bar for a sweet treat. "This is what he really would like. He always goes straight for the ice creams," she laughs at the shop assistant before carefully counting out her pennies and adding, "This is all I've got!" Who knew the woman whose face is on the currency would ever be strapped for cash? As she bundles her young son into the car, she warns him not to get his sticky hands on the seats.
However, by 1970, the queen was concerned the film was bad press for her family and portrayed them as too mundane. As a result, she pulled it from the air and it hasn't been seen in its entirety ever since. All that remains is a short three-minute snippet, which was featured in the 2011 documentary The Duke at 90 to commemorate Prince Philip's milestone birthday.
The axing of Royal Family was fully supported by Sir David Attenborough, who was the BBC's director of programs at the time and has worked closely with the monarch for years. "The whole concept of royalty is a mysterious one and not a logical one. It depends on the proposition that the monarch is different from us," said the naturalist. "If you then say 'No, no, no! They're exactly like everybody else. They fry sausages, they get up in the morning, and they're occasionally bad-tempered and do all the things that the rest of us do. In the end, if you're not very careful, you diminish the stature of royalty."
Meanwhile, in 2011, (add comma) Prince Phillip acknowledged the success of the unprecedented film with reporter Fiona Bruce: "It went down quite well. I think it achieved a sort of curious status now, which it never had at the time. We don't belong to a secret society. It's much better that they should know than speculate. We didn't invite them into the bathroom! People have judgement."
Years later, Princess Anne confessed she "never liked the idea" of the letting the cameras into their world. "I always thought it was a rotten idea. The attention that had been brought on one as a child, you didn't want any more. The last thing you needed was greater access. I don't remember enjoying any part of that," said the queen's only daughter.
Meanwhile, forums across the internet have urged anyone who may have taped the elusive series on VHS to share it with the world. For now, we can only hope that the full version one day surfaces. But until then, perhaps Prince William and Duchess Catherine may consider a Keeping Up With The Cambridges special? Or better yet, Newlyweds: The Duke and Duchess of Sussex edition?
This post was originally written by Bella Brennan. For more, check out our sister site, Now to Love.