A banned documentary giving royal watchers unprecedented access to the British royal family resurfaced this week and caused quite a stir, as nearly 10,000 people were able to view the rarely seen film before it was taken down on Thursday.
The documentary, which filmed the royals from 1968 to 1969, showed the inner-workings of the royal family to the public for the first time, and captures what a usual day might look like for members.
Nearly 50 years after its initial release and its relegation to the royal archive, the film now seems almost dull at times ― until you remember the public didn’t have access to the royal family really at all until this documentary.
For anyone who missed the video, read on for some of the documentary’s most surprising moments:
1. Queen Elizabeth refers to someone as a “gorilla.”
By far the most shocking moment of the video comes at the very end, when the queen relates an anecdote in which she and an unnamed home secretary refer to a visitor — it’s not clear whom — as “a gorilla.”
“It’s extremely difficult to keep a straight face when the home secretary said to me, ‘There’s a gorilla coming in,’” the queen says. “So I said, you know, ‘What an extraordinary remark to make – very unkind — about anybody.’ I stood in the middle of the room and pressed the bell, and the doors opened and there was a gorilla. And I had the most terrible trouble in keeping — you know, he had a short body and long arms. And I had the most appalling trouble.”
Prince Charles responds, “If that happened to me, I’d dissolve.”
Some outlets have speculated that the queen was referring to a U.S. ambassador, all of whom have been white. But the term “gorilla” can be a racial slur when used to describe Black people. In this case, there are no indications, either in the queen’s remarks or elsewhere in the documentary, to specify whom the home secretary was talking about. Both Buckingham Palace and the BBC declined to comment on the scene.
2. The documentary says Prince Charles might not become king until after he’s 70.
In the beginning of the film, Michael Flanders, the prophetic narrator, speaks over footage of a young Prince Charles. He says the royal may be king when he’s 70, or he could become king tomorrow. It’s oddly on the nose, as the Prince of Wales, now 72, is still waiting for the top job.
3. The queen makes awkward small talk with President Richard Nixon.
Toward the end of the documentary, President Nixon visits with Prince Charles, Prince Philip, Princess Anne and Queen Elizabeth, and the group makes awkward small talk. The former U.S. president tells Prince Charles, “I’ve seen you on television,” just before the queen ventures into small talk that’s raised eyebrows before.
“And the world problems are so complex, aren’t they now?” Queen Elizabeth says. Nixon responds by saying, “You know I was thinking how much more complex they were than when we last met,” mentioning a year in the 1950s that’s difficult to make out.
After some chitchat, Nixon offers to send the royals a better official portrait featuring both himself and his wife, before Charles asks about “what awful television appearance” the president viewed. (Nixon says it was a news shot that had to do with Australia, before volunteering that his daughters follow the royals closely.) It’s unclear if Charles is nervous about the appearance or just wants to hear more about it.
4. Prince Philip jokes about Alcoholics Anonymous.
Prince Philip, whose reputation for offensive and off-color remarks precedes him, is shown speaking with someone at a reception, where he asks them if their tie is “Alcoholics Anonymous.”
5. Princess Anne and Prince Charles dangle over the open ocean for naval exercises.
In a moment that almost doesn’t seem real, Charles and Anne suit up for naval exercises on the Royal Yacht Britannia. The two separately don life jackets and are hoisted over the open ocean ― by what looks like a zip line ― from one ship to another and back. It’s quite difficult to imagine an heir to the throne participating in something like this now, to say the least.
6. News is delivered daily to the royal yacht by helicopter.
“For people in the public eye, a ship at sea has a certain type of privacy,” the narrator says while introducing people to the family’s royal yacht. But, as the narrator so hilariously puts it, “out of sea does not mean out of touch,” before footage shows a helicopter delivering the day’s papers to the royal yacht.
More luxurious amenities that come with being on a yacht are revealed, as the narrator says that the ship’s company on the upper decks wear soft shoes and give orders by hand signal “to preserve the peace and quiet below.”
7. A royal staff member serves carrots to a horse on a white napkin.
Even the horses get white-tablecloth service at the palace!
8. The queen takes Edward to a shop to buy candy.
On this solo outing for the queen and a young Prince Edward, the two stop by a store so Edward can get ice cream and candy. It’s a sweet moment between the two, but almost jarring to watch the queen pay for something with money, as it’s something the public has rarely ― if ever ― seen.
9. Charles showing Edward how to play cello ends with injury.
This sweet moment between the two brothers shows Charles explaining the instrument to his youngest sibling and demonstrating the funny noises the cello can make. At the end of the little lesson, a string accidentally snaps and hits Edward in the face, something that likely would’ve been edited out these days in place of a more perfect take.
10. The royal family watches TV together.
It’s a strange experience to watch someone watching TV, but of course the footage is considerably more captivating when you’re studying the facial expressions of the Queen Mother and counting the amount of times Prince Philip laughs. The more meta take is to watch the royal family watching TV in the documentary, while also thinking of nearly the exact same scene in “The Crown” where the actors portray the royals doing the same thing.
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