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In between bustle and triptofan slumbers, the holidays offer the opportunity to do gulp down some healthy portions of television. Over Thanksgiving I came across The Crown and was instantly hooked, taking in all 10 episodes by the time the last turkey leftovers disappeared. It deals with the accession of Queen Elizabeth II to the throne in 1952 and her early years as British sovereign. The production marks another stage in the emergence of Netflix as an entertainment powerhouse. The online media company spent over $100 million on the series, and spent it wisely. The cast, headed by Claire Foy as the young queen and John Lithgow as wily Prime Minister Winston Churchill, is first rate. The series explores the often intense family disputes that occur amid the palaces and privilege, especially the lingering resentments of the abdication crisis that paved Elizabeth’s road to the throne in the first place, and the pressure of royal responsibility on her marriage.
The politicians get their share of attention. Even the magisterial Churchill, in his 70’s and serving his second term as Prime Minister, found acquiring and holding power to be a challenge, and he used every ounce of eloquence and gamesmanship at his command to bring it off. (The scene where he steals the show at Elizabeth’s wedding is a classic.) There’s something in this series for everyone, from political junkies to royal watchers to history buffs to fashion devotees. And since this is an aviation site, it would be remiss not to mention the cameo appearances put in by airplanes, from the one engine trainer Prince Philip uses for his flying lessons to the venerable propliners that carried the Queen on her journeys in the 1950’s!
Recent events in the United Kingdom have shown that the British class obsession is alive and well. The Brexit referendum vote split largely along class, although geographic and demographic factors were also in play. The subsequent change in government really drove the point home, with the elite David Cameron set vacating Downing Street in favor of Theresa May, the vicar’s daughter, who took great pains to assure the British public that the government would be more responsive to people outside the upper crust.
Writers have churned out tomes of material on British class distinctions, which often revolve around speech. Remember My Fair Lady? For an amusing, more up-to-date look at the phenomenon, a couple of videos by Jade Joddle are embedded below. A “working class” girl who went to university, as the Brits would say, she has carved out a huge social media presence in her current incarnation as an English language coach. First lesson: if you want to be perceived as elite, you gotta talk posh! 🙂
The Conservative party of Great Britain chose Theresa May as its leader this week, which triggered her accession to the office of Prime Minister. In addition to political challenges, she faces constitutional ones as well. The vote by the British people to leave the European Union has enormous ramifications for sovereignty, parliamentary supremacy and the rule of law. It may also trigger a revival of the independence movement in Scotland. The incoming P.M. reaffirmed her commitment to social justice, outlining the many challenges globalization has created for the body politic. The peaceful transfer of power is always impressive. This one, in the world’s oldest parliamentary democracy, where the new leader is committed to a policy she voted against in the referendum, is particularly so.
Video via BBC News
Videographer Pieter de Beer caught this beautiful landing of a DC-6 on a short dirt airfield north of Pretoria, South Africa. It illustrates the versatility which made the Douglas propliner series a legend in aviation history.
I grew up near Idlewild (now JFK) airport and the wonderful sound of these piston engines always stirs up memories. The aircraft would follow the Van Wyck Expressway on their approach, and low enough that one could see through the passenger windows. Hooked on planes ever since!
How do you evaluate legacy cultures? Intelligence Squared organized this fascinating debate about the relative contributions of ancient Greece and Rome, held at Westminster’s Central Hall last November. The debaters are almost as interesting as their subject. Boris Johnson, the colorful outgoing mayor of London and a possible future prime minister of the United Kingdom, makes the case for Greece. Mary Beard, professor of classics at Cambridge and the engaging host of numerous TV documentaries, counters that the Roman heritage is more relevant to today’s world. Both call on actors Max Bennett and Niamh Cusack to read passages from ancient authors to bolster their arguments.
The organizers polled the audience about their preference for either Greece or Rome, and then polled them again to see who was more successful at changing people’s minds. Who won? That would be telling, wouldn’t it. Watch the video. It’s long, and maybe best digested in pieces, but worth it. Not all primary votes take place in the USA. 🙂
The modern political scene buzzes with talk of crony capitalism. But by historical standards, today’s practitioners are rank amateurs. Just 10 miles southeast of central London stands Hampton Court Palace, a stunning example of the munificence enjoyed by those with connections. Built by the fabled Cardinal Wolsey, chief minister of King Henry VIII, it is a testament to the stunning wealth accumulation made possible by the power of patronage, all the more intense in an economy dominated by royal monopolies and land grants.
Of course, kings being kings, the good Cardinal did not get to enjoy it very long. The splendor of the palace caught the royal eye, and before long Henry VIII decided it was fit for, well, a king. He took it over as Wolsey’s fortunes cratered in the wake of the Great Divorce.
In this video by Historic Royal Palaces, Jonathan Foyle introduces the viewer to the splendors of Hampton Court. The site today offers a blend of Tudor and baroque architecture, the latter being the result of expansions carried out by later monarchs. The Hampton Court website has a wealth of information for people interested in visiting the famous building and gardens.
Photo Credit: Steve Cadman via Wikipedia