'Banned' Royal Family documentary removed from YouTube after it resurfaced 50 years after filming

Rebecca Taylor
·Royal Correspondent
·6-min read

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A documentary showing the Royal Family’s life at home, which was effectively banned by the Queen, has been removed from YouTube a week after it was uploaded onto the platform.

The 1969 documentary Royal Family, made by Richard Cawston, was shown in the UK and the US to huge audiences, but hadn’t been seen in full for several decades.

Shortly after its first airing, it is understood that the Queen reclaimed the copyright and made the film viewable by her permission only. The exact reasons remain a mystery, with speculation that the monarch was concerned about overexposure.

She issued a written Christmas message only in the same year, to avoid too much time on camera.

Experts have previously suggested that the film would “cheapen” the royals, with David Attenborough, at the time controller of BBC Two, warning it risked “killing the monarchy”.

But William Heseltine, who was a royal press secretary at the time of the documentary, continued to have no regrets when interviewed for a book in 2012.

In 1977, the documentary was part of a National Portrait Gallery exhibition for the Silver Jubilee. Clips have also been used in other documentaries, including one for Prince Philip’s 90th birthday.

Some clips have remained available but in mid-January, a 90-minute version of the film was uploaded onto YouTube by a user called Philip Strangeways.

It’s unclear how the user got the longer version of the programme. It was removed a few hours after the link circulated, but not before a few thousand people were able to watch it.

BBC & ITV co-production, the 'Royal Family' was first transmitted on 21st June 1969. The documentary gave audiences an unprecedented view of a year in the private and public life of the Queen and her family. The 110 minute film was shown with a two minute tea break interval, and watched by 23 million people. It was sold around the world and seen by an estimated audience of 350 million. Camera crews accompanied the Queen on tours of Chile and Brazil, and Prince Charles to Malta and Cambridge. They also shot more than 40 hours of film in Sandringham, Balmoral, Buckingham Palace, Windsor and Holyrood, as well as on the Royal Yacht, the Royal Train and aircraft of the Queens Flight. The Queen was filmed performing official duties such as receiving the new American ambassador and at her regular meeting with Pri (Photo by Syndication/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images)
BBC & ITV co-production, the 'Royal Family' was first transmitted on 21st June 1969. (Mirrorpix via Getty Images)

Buckingham Palace has been contacted for comment. The BBC, which made the documentary with ITV, declined to comment.

A royal source told The Telegraph: "This is a matter for the BBC. From time to time, things pop up on the internet that should not be there. We will assume it’s going to be taken down."

The documentary was filmed over the course of 18 months and featured all sorts of royal moments – from the Queen working at her desk, to the family eating breakfast and royal tours abroad – giving an unprecedented view into their public and private life.

It was shown with a tea break interval and was watched by some 23 million people in the UK, and 350 million worldwide.

It is still the third most watched special event on television in the UK, beaten by the 1966 World Cup final and Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997.

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Charles, Prince of Wales, with his youngest brother Prince Edward.. (Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Charles, Prince of Wales, with his youngest brother Prince Edward in 1969. (Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis via Getty Images)

Filmmakers followed them up to Balmoral too, where Philip was shown rowing one of the young princes out on a loch, and grilling sausages on a barbecue.

In one scene, the Queen took Prince Edward to a corner shop for sweets and ice cream, paying for the items and asking the shopkeeper if she’d had many customers.

In another, all four of the royal children help the Queen and Philip decorate the Christmas tree at Windsor before going to Sandringham for the main part of their holiday.

A relaxed Queen was filmed driving Andrew and Edward around the Norfolk estate before walking puppies in the snow with Princess Anne.

The Queen Mother and Princess Margaret also featured, as did Margaret’s children, David Armstrong-Jones, now 2nd Earl of Snowdon, and Lady Sarah Chatto.

Royal experts have speculated that the Queen stopped the documentary being shown again because it had opened up the family to increased scrutiny and public interest.

Robert Lacey, historical consultant on The Crown, told an ABC special on the programme: “They realised that if they did something like that too often, they would cheapen themselves, letting the magic seep out.”

(Original Caption) Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth are shown here at their Windsor home.
Prince Charles and the Queen at their Windsor home in 1969. (Getty Images)

Joe Little, editor of Majesty magazine, who saw the documentary in 1977, said: “It's sudden appearance on YouTube has excited a lot of royal watchers, but I'd say it won't be there for long.

“I’ve never understood the reluctance on the part of Buckingham Palace to make it available for all to see. A product of the late 1960s, it's a positive account of the House of Windsor as it was at the time, and certainly not intrusive or critical in the way that modern documentaries can be.”

The documentary was referenced in season three of The Crown on Netflix, concluding with the family watching the film together.

Michael Bradsell, the film’s editor, said in a Smithsonian special: “We were all a little bit nervous of showing it to the Queen because we had no idea what she would make of it.

“She was a little critical of the film in the sense she thought it was too long, but Dick Cawston, the director, persuaded her that two hours was not a minute too long.”

June 1969: Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip look at their decorated Christmas tree during the filming of a television special about life in the British royal family.    (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
June 1969: The Queen and Prince Philip look at their decorated Christmas tree during the filming of a television special about life in the Royal Family. (Fox Photos/Getty Images)

It’s said that Prince Philip, now 99, was one of the main proponents of the film, as he sought to bring the monarchy into the modern day.

But his daughter, Princess Anne, was not a fan of the programme, saying in 2015: “I never liked the idea of ‘Royal Family’, I thought it was a rotten idea.

“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.”

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The film is marked in an anniversaries section on the BBC website, which quotes Cawston saying of the Royal Family: “Until we made this film, I really believe that none of them had ever spoken into a microphone anything which had not been carefully prepared.”

However the article continues: “The film reinforced the popularity of the Royal Family, even as it showed that they did mundane things such as watching television. In revealing their private lives, the programme spurred ever increasing media interest in what went on behind the formal facade.”

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