If there is an individual state more maddening than being badly misunderstood, it is to be understood quite well. I felt the pain of insight most recently when Crikey’s correspondent-at-large, Guy Rundle, returned from one of his Europe Goes Fascist tours with a gift: a book containing Cecil Beaton’s glorious portraits of Her Majesty. “How did you know?” I said, elated and embarrassed by the pleasure. “That you would enjoy images of the British monarchy captured by a queer modernist? Because I’ve actually met you.”
It’s true. I am mad for the object of Elizabeth, most particularly as it was offered to us by Beaton from the time before her accession to the day Princess Margaret married that hack Snowdon, who joined the Royal Family with a box brownie and immediately claimed official portrait duties. Snowdon snapped pretty pictures; notably of his wife. But what he did not do was painstakingly tailor an image of a family in tatters to a public ready, following the abdication of Edward VIII, to tear the whole fiction apart.
Now, let it be known: I would have been all in favour of an abolition of monarchy at that time, or any other. My family is Irish Catholic all the way up, and in the last 150 years, socialism skipped just a single generation. It is not possible to be Marxist in the streets and royalist in the sheets. However, I find it impossible not to admire how Beaton and Buckingham Palace collaborated to restore an institution that then seemed beyond repair and, following the end of Elizabeth’s reign, will forever be in ruins.