Peter Rhodes on mocking the Queen, taking an oath and signing a book of condolence

Read the latest column from Peter Rhodes.

Private Eye editor Ian Hislop
Private Eye editor Ian Hislop

For many years the satirical magazine Private Eye has referred to the Queen as Brenda, supposedly the character she might play in an imaginary soap opera. With Her Majesty in fading health, you might imagine the Eye would give her a break. Not so. The current issue, for September 9-22, begins an item on her illness with: “Brenda's world is crumbling.”

While most folk generally support freedom of expression, what is satirical, amusing or clever about poking fun at a stricken 96-year-old? The Eye's editor Ian Hislop might consider an apology.

After police nabbed a handful of anti-royal demonstrators, the civil-rights group Liberty thundered defiantly: “Protest is not a gift from the State, it is a fundamental right. Being able to choose what, how, and when we protest is a vital part of a healthy and functioning democracy.” Fine words. But isn't it sometimes nothing more than childish, self-indulgent posturing?

There is no universal entitlement to protest at whatever you choose, whenever you wish. There is no absolute right to disrupt a funeral, shout down a proclamation, cry “fire!” in a crowded cinema, publish the private addresses of public figures or prejudice a fair trial by disclosing evidence. A “healthy and functioning democracy” works best with responsibility, civility and consideration for others.

Meanwhile, the family of a nine-year old cub scout from Shrewsbury believes he may be the first in Shropshire to make his promise to the new King. I dare say all old Scouts will be reminded of an ancient joke which has not been heard since the passing of King George VI in 1952. It concerns a young recruit who, having made his Scout promise: “To do my duty to God and the King,” excitedly told his parents all about it. His father promptly visited the Scout leader to find out who Gordon King was.

We called at our parish church to sign one of the books of condolence. The volume was like the guest book at the finest hotel where every comment was warm and positive. After 50-odd years of typing and shorthand, my handwriting is appalling and I missed the spell-check, too. How many Ls did I need? I kept it brief: “In sadness and thankfulness.”

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