Missing Prince

Prince Harry’s TV Kidnap Debacle

Last night, the U.K.’s Channel 4 aired a dramatization of Prince Harry being kidnapped by the Taliban. Tom Sykes on why some Brits get off on watching the royals suffer.

10.22.10 7:06 AM ET

Well, at least now we know what would happen if Prince Harry were taken hostage by the Taliban while fighting in Afghanistan. Captain Wales—who has fought in Afghanistan once already, and has made no secret of his desire to return to the frontline—would be "used as a pawn in a propaganda battle," according to one of the talking heads on the what-if "docudrama" on this weighty matter screened last night on British TV’s Channel 4.

Cor blimey, you don’t say!

Amazingly, for a crappy, low-budget, incredibly boring, and badly acted TV program, The Taking of Prince Harry had somehow managed to become a bone of national contention by the time it was broadcast last night. Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup wrote to Channel 4’s chairman, Lord Burns, telling him that the program should not be shown because it would be distressing for the families of service personnel and potentially undermine the security and morale of troops in Afghanistan. Patriotic newspaper columnists were apoplectic with rage about Channel 4 giving succor to the enemy.

The broadcaster itself gamely persisted, saying it was a responsible piece of journalism being conducted in the national interest, "examining the risks faced by personnel in Afghanistan and the potential consequences of the capture of a high-profile individual."

In the end, it was simply a rather poor docudrama—complete with hammy jihadis squinting in the sun while they tugged at their evil black beards—about kidnapping with a celebrity angle. It's likely to have troubled service families less than the nightly news, and as for the morale issue, as one former soldier told me, “I can’t see them getting morose and dispirited because of a TV program. His nickname in Afghanistan was ' Bullet Magnet,' after all. And they’ve more important things to worry about. Like IEDs.”

So if it wasn’t really a valid journalistic exercise, and it was unlikely to trouble our boys, why did everyone in the U.K. get so worked up about The Taking of Prince Harry? I’d suggest that the real root of both Sir Jock’s outrage and Channel 4’s scheduling decision is to be found in the enduring conflicts enshrined in the British class system.

I suspect that Sir Jock is starting out from the position that anyone who works at Channel 4 (which has the temerity to transmit, at Christmas, an “alternative” Christmas message to the one delivered by the queen on the BBC) is a pinko rat, and that this latest affront to the royal family is just another example of their damnable impudence. Channel 4, for its part, is seeing the other side of the same coin, and knows that a bit of good old-fashioned class hatred can do wonders for ratings on an otherwise quiet Thursday night.

The fact remains that lots of British people still have enough energy to hate the royal family.

The fact remains that lots of British people—especially those who watch countercultural Channel 4—still have enough energy to hate the royal family, and The Taking of Prince Harry was basically a 90-minute wank fantasy created especially for them. The mock executions and other humiliations heaped upon this privileged, privately educated posho in receipt of our millions who has the gall to pretend he’s just like all the rest of us—well, I know lots of otherwise-kindly public-service workers, nurses and the like, who will have watched The Taking of Prince Harry and thought it’s all far too good for him and someone really should have put some live rats up his royal arse.

As Grace Dent, the acerbic TV critic for The Guardian rather astutely put it, “Sometimes I want Diva Fever in neon cycling shorts frolicking to Sunny by Boney M. on The X Factor. Sometimes I want fake Prince Harry in a cellar begging for his life.”

Unfortunately for Prince Harry, the royals seemed to have missed out on the recent ceasefire declared toward poshos in Britain. Both the prime minister, David Cameron, and the mayor of London, Boris Johnson—a.k.a. BoJo—are old Etonians, and the fact is hardly mentioned these days.

But there’s something different about the royals. From a purely practical point of view they are, unarguably, a gigantic waste of public money, and it sure doesn’t help when they dress up as Nazis and get caught inhaling huge amounts of lager and drugs. Even some of the poshos hate the royals, too. Confusingly, hard-core toffs think that the Windsors are a bit common.

Ultimately, the only lesson that one can draw from The Taking of Prince Harry is that the best thing to do when Channel 4 is screening a documentary you don’t like is to ignore it, which is exactly what the whole world would have done, had Sir Jock not gotten involved in the first place.