Today is the birthday of HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. And at 88, he is spending the day working.
As Gerard Warner says on the London Daily Telegraph website, critics talk about a "privileged" existence. He was born on a dining-room table during a political upheaval and smuggled out of his country of birth in a cot made from an orange box. He spent the war in active service in the Royal Navy. I supect that few among his critics would have known similar hardships.
On 18 April this year he became the longest serving consort to any of our Sovereigns, passing the record of 57 years and 70 days set by Queen Charlotte, wife to King George III.
…His life and times….
On 6 February, 1952 the then Princess Elizabeth succeeded to the throne on the death of her father, the greatly loved King George VI. This meant he had to give up a promising naval career.
On leaving school in 1939, and without hesitation, he had joined the Royal Navy. In 1940 he graduated in 1940 from the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, the top cadet in his course. Commissioned a midshipman, he served on the battleship HMS Ramillies, protecting convoys of the Australian Expeditionary Force in the Indian Ocean. He later served in the Mediterranean on HMS Valiant in the Battle of Crete. He was mentioned in despatches for service during the Battle of Cape Matapan, and was awarded the Greek War Cross of Valour.
In a series of courses at Portsmouth, he gained the top grade in four out of five sections and then served in convoy escort duties on the east coast of Britain, and then in the invasion of Sicily. He was appointed first lieutenant of HMS Wallace and at 21, was one of the youngest first lieutenants in the Royal Navy. He saw service in the British Pacific Fleet in the 27th Destroyer Flotilla, and was at Tokyo Bay when the instrument of Japanese surrender was signed.
I remember seeing him on the Royal Visit in 1954. What a superb couple they were. The young Queen, a beautiful English rose, and the handsome Greek naval officer. They came not to exercise power, or to extract tribute, but as symbols of our oldest institution, the one which gives leadership above division and above politics.
The first consort to a Queen since Prince Albert, he has carved out a unique role for himself. A pioneer, he has probably done more to modernise the monarchy than anybody else. One of his greatest achievements has been setting up the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme to help young people, which has been a great success across the world and well beyond the Commonwealth. The scheme has, as Gerald Warner says, brought meaning and fulfilment to the lives of millions of youngsters: at any time there are around 225,000 in the 14-25 age group participating.
A conservationist well before it was fashionable, he has played a significant leadership role in the World Wild Life Fund. He has also played a significant role in several other organisations, including the English Speaking Union.
He has taken up a number of causes, from British industry to the environment, and has never been afraid to speak out on issues he feels strongly about.
…lazy journalistic campaign to caricature the Duke….
Sections of the British press have conducted a tedious and infantile campaign to reduce him to a caricature, as they do with other royalty, including his son and grandsons. In Prince Philip’s case, this has centres on taking obvious examples of humour, and categorising these as “gaffes.” He told the General Dental Council in 1960: "Dentopedalogy is the science of opening your mouth and putting your foot in it. I have been practising it for years."
But as Gerald Warner says most of his supposed "gaffes" were manufactured by the media. He says what everybody thinks but which “the PC nomenklatura forbids us to utter”.
Mr Warner recalls the revelation in Adam Boulton's book Tony's Ten Years: Memoirs of the Blair Administration of his clash with the Downing Street spin doctors at the time of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.The “pondlife in Number 10”, as Mr. Warner puts it were attempting to hijack the funeral and, in particular, to dictate roles for Princes William and Harry. “Down the telephone line from Balmoral thundered a classic Philippic: ‘**** off. We are talking about two boys who have lost their mother.’"
“How refreshing to hear that decent, humane voice disrupting the manipulative spin and guff that has dominated our public life for 12 years,” observes Mr. Warner.
But in the meantime some journalists have built up a caricature of the Prince as someone who is forever "gaffe-prone."
This then breeds a spectacularly lazy form of journalism.The lazy journalist merely asks someone what Prince Philip said, finds a witty comment and then circulates this as the "shock latest gaffe".
They could produce a computer programme to do this.The unfortunate result is that even fair and experienced journalists will find it difficult to ignore something which has been artificially manufactured as newsworthy. This contrived capture of the news is something which serious journalists should consider carefully. Should they be mere tools in the hands of people who abuse the privileges which the media enjoy for the most important reasons?
Prince Philip is of course a more substantial person than the caricature the media presents. But some journalists never let the truth get in the way of a headline. The public see through this robotic campaign and recognize Prince Philip for the formidable man he is.
…Happy Birthday, Your Royal Highness…
On his 88th birthday, we send Prince Philip our best wishes. And we are sure that most people of good will would join us.