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How the BBC did the near-impossible and persuaded the Queen to do an interview

January 13,2018 15:22

In an interview with Business Insider, producer Anthony Geffen said securing access to the Queen for himself and presenter Alastair Bruce was a 22-year enterprise. It eventually came off because they impressed the palace with the impressive track ...and more »


The Queen touching her coronation crown in the BBC documentary "The Coronation." BBC
The BBC is airing a documentary about the Queen's coronation 65 years ago.
It features a rare on-camera, sit-down conversation with the Queen.
It took the film's producers 22 years to get her to do it.
They won over palace gatekeepers with a track-record of thorough, well-reported documentaries, they told Business Insider.
This weekend the BBC is broadcasting a journalistic rarity: A full, sit-down conversation with Queen Elizabeth II.
The project, a retrospective on her coronation ceremony in 1953, was 22 years in the making, and a media coup given the Queen's historic reluctance to engage directly with the press in any way.
Her Majesty has granted behind-the-scenes access to royal life before. She also gives occasional televised speeches. But "The Coronation," which airs on BBC1 at 8 p.m. on Sunday, will be one of her first televised exchanges with a journalist.
It also shows her interacting with various crowns involved in the ceremony, and giving a vivid description of the experience of being installed as ruler of huge swathes of the world (when she took the throne large parts of Africa, the Middle East, and the Caribbean were still British colonies).
The Queen examines her coronation crown. BBC
For decades an interview has been a boundary she and Buckingham Palace officials were unwilling to cross and, indeed, the BBC and presenter Alastair Bruce prefer to characterise the encounter in "The Coronation" as a conversation. He was not allowed to ask her questions, but he did at least ask one, according to the Radio Times.
Nevertheless, it is a huge novelty and only came about after a respected team of experts, commissioned by the BBC, convinced Her Majesty.  
In an interview with Business Insider, producer Anthony Geffen said securing access to the Queen for himself and Bruce was a 22-year enterprise.
It eventually came off because they impressed the palace with the impressive track record of Geffen's company, Atlantic Productions, and the personal expertise of presenter and royal expert Alastair Bruce.
The occasion is the 65th anniversary of her coronation. The discussion sees the Queen's reflecting on what it was like to wear her coronation crown, which weighs almost 5 pounds, and her uncomfortable journey to Westminster Abbey 65 years ago.
Teaser footage released ahead of the broadcast shows the Queen discussing the artefact, which she recalled being heavy enough to break her neck.

Geffen told Business Insider: "Alastair Bruce and I started trying to get permission to do this project 22 years ago, and it's taken a long period of time for it to happen.
"In that time, things have changed. There's my track record as a filmmaker and Atlantic's track record."
Geffen's past works include documentaries with big names like David Attenborough, Judi Dench, and a major series on the British Parliament, "Inside the Commons," which he said particularly impressed the palace.
He continued: "We've been inside the House of Commons, which the palace had seen, and they were impressed by how the series managed to balance out the political systems in place there."
"Alastair Bruce also became a recognised royal correspondent and expert on the Coronation and the royal family."
The Queen at her coronation in 1953. BBC/ITV Archive
This meant that Buckingham Palace felt comfortable enough to agree to the filming, although it came with certain expectations and etiquette.
Discussing the exchange on BBC Radio 4 Friday morning, Bruce termed the exchange a "conversation," and emphasised its difference from normal media interviews, often characterised by direct questioning.
He said: " You pose a point and then the Queen sometimes responds, and often conversation follows from there. But posing direct questions was not on the cards. This was a conversation with the Queen."
Speaking to BI, Geffen contrasted their heavyweight work with other media coverage of the royals, which "on the whole has been about what they’ve been wearing. This is very different. This is about the meaning of monarchy."
Of the film itself, Geffen said: "You can really see the Queen in a different light. You finally hear from the one person who can tell us about that [the coronation]."
Bruce, who speaks to the Queen in the documentary, added that the making of the documentary was the first time the Queen had touched her coronation crown in 65 years.
He said: "She may have seen it, but she hasn't touched it since. It was very moving to see her lean forward to check the weight of it."
Recalling what it was like to wear the crown at her coronation in the film, the Queen says: "You can't look down to read the speech... Because if you did, your neck would break."
And on her journey on the golden carriage that took her from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey? "Horrible."
The documentary also features eyewitness accounts of people who were part of the coronation, such as a maid of honour who almost fainted in the abbey, and a choirboy who had to sing solo when his fellow choristers lost their voices, the BBC said.

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