April 18, 2014 6:35 pm

Lift your game, House of Windsor

‘We’ve gone from “Game of Thrones” to Lame as Clones. Do you realise we haven’t even had a decent beheading since 1697?’
Illustration by Lucas Varela of Queen Elizabeth©Lucas Varela

Everyone seems terribly excited about the new series of Game of Thrones.

There are many explanations for the popularity of GoT but, in Britain at least, it is clear that the real secret of its success is that our own homegrown royal drama has really gone off the boil.

For centuries we had a monarchy that cornered the market in lechery and treachery, but now viewers are forsaking it for the land of Westeros and the intrigues of House of Lannister for their entertainment. So there it is, the final indignity. We’ve lost the empire, we can’t play football and our monarchy is being bested by a TV series set in what sounds like a shopping mall and by a royal household that sounds like a furniture store.

This week, while Game of Thrones featured its usual heady mixture of dwarfs, dragons and death, the best the British Game of Thrones could come up with was Kate, William and baby George in New Zealand, where they weren’t captured by Maoris but pretended to play cricket and waved at crowds.

More

Robert Shrimsley

In just a few years we’ve gone from Game of Thrones to Lame as Clones. Do you realise we haven’t even had a decent beheading since 1697? I’m all for rarity value but … jeepers. Game of Thrones wouldn’t go more than 20 minutes without a good decapitation but, oh no, we haven’t had one since the Jacobite Rebellion. Prince George is nearly nine months old and he’s yet to murder a single cousin. As for violence, in general the best you can hope for these days is Prince Harry lunging at a photographer. No wonder the Scots are threatening independence.

There was a time when you could tune into our own saga in the certain knowledge that something exciting would happen. You may not have got dragons or sorcery but you could count on divorce, adultery and abdication. You had Princess Diana lounging on Dodi Fayed’s yacht in her swimsuit; now the best you can get is Kate Middleton in a terribly fetching scarlet jacket. What’s more, there’s only two of them in this marriage, which may work well in conventional terms but is, frankly, useless in narrative terms.

Admittedly, it did get a bit dull after the first world war, but from the moment King Edward VIII ran off with Mrs Simpson, we were into several decades of absolutely fizzing stories. Those writers really knew their trade. You would not have thought that some old royal with a speech impediment was particularly original but, 75 years later, it bags an Oscar for best picture.

And the 1980s were terrific. Princess Diana, Sarah Ferguson, the brilliant comic invention that was Prince Edward – any one of them could have secured their own spin-off series and, indeed, several tried. We had toe-sucking, phone-tapping and members of the same family character-assassinating each other in the tabloids. As long as Diana was alive we still had hopes of a rival court and a full war of succession but now there’s nothing. I had hoped Ed Miliband might be the Steerpike of this particular Gormenghast; the scene where he offed his brother was fantastic. But it’s all gone very quiet since.

There are those who think the new, dignified, well-behaved royal family is an improvement – that things got a bit out of hand and that a period of quiet stability is just the ticket. They feel the royals should be a model family – a blank canvas on to which we can all project our aspirations.

But if there is one thing we know about modern society, it is that it has absolutely no attention span. What the modern royals don’t realise is that they are now competing with a far wider range of entertainment, fighting for eyeballs with Grand Theft Auto V and box sets of Breaking Bad. On the daily commute, people who could be reading about the royals are instead playing Candy Crush. At this rate, I do worry about how many more series will be commissioned.

The British monarchy has not endured for centuries on the back of calm and courtesy; it has held the union together on tales of violence, debauchery and double-cross. At such a delicate stage in the UK’s history, this is no time to mess with a winning formula.

-------------------------------------------

robert.shrimsley@ft.com; Twitter: @robertshrimsley

To comment on this article please post below, or email magazineletters@ft.com

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2014. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.

LIFE AND ARTS ON TWITTER

More FT Twitter accounts