Palace aides launch inquiry into leak of home movie amid calls from MPs and historians to release material from private archive
|The Sun on Sunday. Buckingham Palace said it was disappointed that the film was|
‘exploited’ by the Sun and was investigating how it was leaked to the newspaper.
Photograph: Tim Ireland/AP
Buckingham Palace has refused to be drawn into the debate over the royal family’s private archives amid mounting pressure to release historical documents following the publication of a video showing the Queen performing a Nazi salute in the 1930s.
As palace aides launched an inquiry on Sunday into the leak of the 17-second home movie, the royal family refused to bow to calls from MPs and leading historians to open up the British monarchy’s official archives held at Windsor Castle.
Respected historians said that releasing some of the material, which stretches back over 250 years, would add to the country’s knowledge of the Queen and provide important historical context to the links between some leading royals and the Third Reich before the second world war.
Mark Almond, professor of modern history at Oxford University, said: “Opening up aspects of the Queen’s early years is not going to damage respect for the monarchy. It can only reinforce her standing with the public.
“This film reminds us of how many challenges this country has overcome in the last eight decades under the Windsors.”
The black-and-white footage is believed to have been filmed by the Queen’s father, the future King George VI, on the family’s Balmoral estate in Scotland in 1933 or 1934. It shows the future Queen – then aged six or seven – raising her right hand in the air as the Queen Mother does the same. The group were apparently being encouraged by the future King Edward VIII.
The 89-year-old monarch appeared briefly in public on Sunday morning as she made her way by car from Windsor Castle to a nearby church.
Meanwhile, royal aides sought to downplay the film’s publication, stressing that the palace was conducting “enquiries”, not a full-blown investigation, and that it was “business as usual” for the household. There were no plans to cancel any of the Queen’s future engagements in the wake of the disclosure, they said.
Dr Karina Urbach, of the Institute of Historical Research, who was approached about viewing the film 11 days ago, said the royal family were suppressing their own history in a form of censorship that had no place in modern Britain. “This is information that should have been in the public domain 50 years ago,” she said. “The royal archives contain matters of state. The role of the monarch is not a purely personal matter. We no longer have the divine right of kings.”
Ingrid Seward, a royal biographer and editor-in-chief of Majesty magazine, added: “The Queen becomes Britain’s longest-reigning monarch in September and any new information about her, however distant it might be, is of enormous interest. Archive images add to our knowledge of her. It would be great to see more.”
However, Buckingham Palace said it was disappointed that the film was “exploited” by the Sun and was investigating how it was leaked to the newspaper. Depending on the outcome of the investigation, palace lawyers will look at issues of copyright and possible criminality.
“There may be an issue of copyright and there may be an issue of criminality,” said a royal source who said it had yet to be determined whether the police would be called in to investigate. Royal aides said it was too early to decide whether a complaint would be made to the press regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organisation.
Archivists at the the British Film Institute are looking into whether the footage was held at its £12m cold-storage facility at Gaydon in Warwickshire or came from the Queen’s personal archive at Windsor Castle.
The inquiry will also seek to establish whether the footage was kept at the Paris villa of the Duchess of Windsor, the American divorcee who became the Queen’s aunt by marriage after Edward abdicated.
The contents of the duchess’s Bois de Boulogne home were bought by Mohamed Al Fayed, the former owner of Harrods, after she died in 1986, and later auctioned at Sotheby’s in February 1998.
Their 44,000 possessions – including the duke and duchess’s wedding cake, which sold for just under $30,000 – were later billed by the auction house as “perhaps the greatest treasure house of royal possessions offered at auction”. The collection raised more than £14m for charities supported by Diana, Princess of Wales and Fayed’s son Dodi, who were killed in a Paris car crash in August 1997.
The culture secretary, John Whittingdale, on Sunday backed the Sun’s decision to publish the eight decade-old footage but said he understood why the palace was upset by its use. “It is an editorial judgment. It is up to the press to decide what is and what is not appropriate to print,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.
“They decided clearly there was a public interest and the British public will judge whether or not they were right. Sometimes editors have difficult decisions. Sometimes people will think they are right, sometimes wrong. We have an independent press regulator which is available. But I can understand, in this particular instance, why the palace were upset by it.”
While several newspapers in Britain backed the Sun’s decision to publish the footage, the German newspaper Bild attacked the redtop in a scathing commentary.
The paper said the Sun and its owner, 84-year-old Rupert Murdoch, published the story just to shock readers. “It would be clear to even the most serious of Windsor despisers that a little girl would do what her uncle told her,” wrote the newspaper, referring to Prince Edward (later King Edward VIII), who allegedly taught his niece the salute.
The Sun’s decision was less to do with “outrage”, and more to do with the “lightning victory” that Hitler leads to at newspaper kiosks, said Bild. Citing the German weekly magazine Spiegel, Bild wrote that German, as well as British, tabloid and broadsheet publications were also guilty of publishing such stories.
However, it added: “It seems hard for the British to understand that we ‘Krauts’ don’t really find Hitler so funny. And so it’s clearly said here: the man is the biggest mass murderer in history. In contrast, the British find it ‘funny’ if Prince Harry turns up at a party with a Nazi armband.”
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