Paul Arnott: ‘Characters’ are real people who do not usually answer back

East Devon District Council leader, Councilor Paul Arnott. Picture: Paul Arnott

East Devon District Council leader, Councilor Paul Arnott. Picture: Paul Arnott - Credit: Archant

District council leader Paul Arnott writes about how film characters are real people who don’t answer back

Even if you don’t subscribe to Netflix you can hardly miss the coverage on the fourth season of The Crown. Priming the publicity furnace further, ‘friends’ of the royal family are claiming that it’s all a cruel travesty when the leading characters are still in play.

Where to begin with the above?

First, perhaps my casually using the word ‘season’ instead of ‘serial drama’, which in old TV parlance tells of returning characters progressing, one programme after another, though discrete and yet linked stories. That’s what The Crown is.

‘Season’ is a casual Americanisation. If any announcer one days refers to a ‘season’ of Dad’s Army I will move to an island with only Radio 3 and old records of wartime newsreaders for company.


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More importantly is the free use of the word ‘character’. These ‘characters’ are real people who – precisely because of their unique status – do not usually answer back.

Who among us, other than utter fantasists, would have wanted to be born a silenced prince? Especially such a sensitive prince, mocked – and some would say, bullied – as a teenager by the nation for his large ears and ruddy cheeks.

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There is no doubt that Prince Charles has quietly suffered the daily malice of red-top columnists all of his life.

Now that The Crown is moving on to his relationship with Camilla, these ‘friends’ of the royals are at last kicking back. Wouldn’t we all, perhaps?

I find myself conflicted. I really don’t like the debasement of television drama for profit by riffing on the private lives of public names.

On the other hand, I would wish to carry the reader back to the royal wedding summer of 1981 – you know, the fairy-tale.

This was the summer after my first year at Exeter University, and as ever for holiday work I was back at Harrods, where I did various jobs over many years from the sweet counter to the car park, from driving a van to working in its own estate agency.

I’d been put in the estate agency that summer where I was astonished to be told after only a week that I was to be seconded to work at Buckingham Palace for the rest of the summer to help out with the wedding.

Thus, I became assistant to the Chief Accountant and Paymaster, filling wage packets with thousands of pounds by hand to pay all the extra workers required for the wedding.

My office was next door to the Prince of Wales’ offices on the ground floor and every day in the corridor I would encounter Diana Spencer.

She was four months my senior. We always said hello and to be frank I thought, oh dear, she is obviously lovely and nice but she is exactly like many of my female student pals at Exeter who could hardly boil an egg let alone marry into all this.

The day before the wedding, Prince Charles’ open-topped Aston Martin was parked underneath the window of my office and I saw the betrothed pair climb in before sweeping out from the central courtyard and onto the Mall, the crowd cheering and parting, as they headed for the final rehearsal at St Paul’s Cathedral.

So what did I see in that moment under my window?

I saw a woman with love in her eyes, a young person ready to give this man everything – which she duly did. What I saw in her prince’s eyes was charm, huge charisma actually, and a twinkle, but not though the force of her emotion returned. Because, as it turns out, he was besottedly in love with another.

I can’t say I much approve of The Crown, and I certainly won’t be watching. But if it does depict one much older couple pursuing their own happiness at the expense of someone little more than a teenager, then if the cap fits...

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