It seems almost common today: a royal promoting a favourite cause will film a documentary highlighting their work in the field; another royal will feature in a retrospective of their life during a milestone year; and yet another will grant an interview to a mainstream outlet offering up soundbites that will be dissected around the world.
But back in the 1950s, when The Duke of Edinburgh found himself a consort with causes to promote, it was relatively unheard of. In fact, Prince Philip was the first member of the British Royal Family to grant a televised interview, and that only came in 1961, when he spoke to the BBC’s Panorama about Commonwealth Technical Training Week.
That may have been the first television interview, but Prince Philip had appeared on television long before 1961. In 1956, he spoke from the Royal Yacht Britannia when it was still exploring the South Pacific to introduce The Queen’s Christmas message. His brief comments, over radio, appeared on the programme Voices Out of the Air.
This was also the last time The Queen’s Christmas message was not televised—prior to 1957, it was broadcast over radio and shared without live imagery on television.
In 1957, to mark the International Geophysical Year, Prince Philip appeared on a special BBC programme to talk about what the year represented: The Restless Sphere: The Story of the International Geophysical Year. It aired on 30 June 1957.
According to the BBC, “Scientists from across the globe collaborated in their efforts to investigate and explain universal and geophysical natural phenomenon.
“The International Geophysical Year project encompassed an unprecedented global-scale scientific discovery operation, with researchers stationed all across the globe seeking to unearth the natural philosophical secrets of the earth. Using an array of new technologies scientists hope to capture and explain how the earth has come to exist in its current state.”
Prince Philip presented the programme from the Royal Society’s headquarters in London and was joined by its president, Sir Cyril Hinshelwood, and Richard Dimbleby provided commentary. Dimbleby would later conduct Prince Philip’s Panorama interview.
Prince Philip had, of course, participated in interviews throughout his long royal career. Among the countless, he granted an interview to the American morning news show TODAY in 1969; and spoke with 60 Minutes Australia in 1981 in his capacity as President of the World Wildlife Fund.
Of course, we must mention the BBC/ITV documentary Royal Family, a documentary that was meant to lift the veil on the monarchy and show the Royal Family in a normal, modern light. It coincided with Prince Charles’s investiture as Prince of Wales. Prince Philip was heavily involved in its inception, and all scenes needed to be screened and approved by a committee chaired by the Duke before they could be included in the final documentary.
It aired in 1969 to great reviews and last aired in 1972 before it was pulled from rotation and has never officially been seen since—though it did pop up on YouTube earlier this year for a brief period. Once it became widespread knowledge that Royal Family could be viewed online, the BBC placed a copyright claim and had it removed. At the time it was first broadcast, an estimated 350 million people watched.