What Covers "The Royal Family" Documentary in 1969? And Why The Complete Version is Banned?

There was a documentary about The Royal Family produced in 1969 that remained locked at the royal archive in Windsor Castle.

The documentary was made over a year in 1969 and showed the private lives of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh's family. 

Why the documentary is banned?

It was produced by Richard Cawston and Lord Brabourne (son-in-law of Lord Mountbatten, Prince Philip's uncle), directed by Richard Cawston, narrated by Michael Flanders, and aired in BBC and ITV in June 1969, running for 90 minutes.

The Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Princess Anne in the dining room

It was reportedly viewed by an estimated 350 million around the world. The Queen retained the copyright of the documentary and needed an approval from the Buckingham Palace for its re-airing. 

It has not been shown on British TV since 1977, and only used the short clips for royal family's important events. However, in 2021, footage of the documentary resurfaced online, but quickly taken down by YouTube.

Royal biographer, Robert Hardman, debunked a theory that the Queen banned the showing of the documentary from airing. And copies did not disappear. The reason why television networks could not re-air it is due to the copyright issues. 

Queen retains the copyright of The Royal Family documentary of 1969 and needed her approval and the Buckingham Palace courtiers for its re-airing, which is difficult to secure.

However, television networks are allowed the short clips for reporting purposes, for instance during the airing of Prince Philip's 90th birthday in 2011 and the Queen's Golden jubilee celebration in 2012.

But short version of the documentary resurfaced in 2021 to the delight of royal fans.

What covers the documentary? 

Filming was done over a year between 1968 and 1969 and gives insight into the private lives of the Queen's family and the role of the monarchy in the modern world. 

Contrary to popular belief that the documentary was conceived by Prince Philip, it was mainly the idea of the Palace's press secretary, William Heseltine, who wanted to present the royal family as a normal family to the world, just like the Queen's subjects doing ordinary things like watching television, water-skiing, sharing a meal, enjoying the outdoor, having garden parties.

Cameras were setup in the dining room where at one point shown Her Majesty, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Princess Anne engaged in a family conversation with plenty of laughter. 

The camera followed the royal family in Balmoral during their summer break, showing Prince Philip taking charge of the family barbeque, helped by Princess Anne, and the Queen joined them, asking Prince Philip is salmon is already done.

There was also a scene where Her Majesty took her youngest child, Prince Edward, who was five years old then, to a candy store and ice cream shop.

It also showed the royal family having lunch with President Richard Nixon of the United States who visited London in 1969.


Overall, the documentary was regarded as a triumph, reviews from the press were generally positive, praising the documentary as a revelation, presenting an intimate understanding about the lives of the British royals without jeopardizing their dignity.

However, it was not well-received by some staunch royalists who viewed the documentary as endangering the existence of the monarchy and exposing the well-kept secret myth. Princess Anne herself in later years was against with the idea of producing the documentary in 1969.

One of the most vocal critics was David Attenborough, the wildlife advocate.

"You're killing the monarchy, you know, with this film you're marking", Attenborough wrote Cawston following the release in 1969. "The whole institution depends on mystique and the tribal chief in his hut. If any member of the tribe ever sees inside the hut, then the whole system of the tribal chiefdom is damaged and the tribe eventually disintegrates", he said.

Here's the short clip of The Royal Family documentary in 1969. Credit: BBC and ITV.

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