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Phillip, My Dear

Terry Joseph
March 06, 2002

After an unusually long lacuna from his predictable pastimes of playing polo and irritating carefully selected minorities, the irrepressible Duke of Edinburgh is at it again, this time targeting black people.

With a 50-year stewardship whose best-remembered highlights are almost exclusively a string of reckless remarks levelled at defenceless British subjects, Phillip hit the dregs last Friday as he and Queen Elizabeth II wound up an Australian tour; part of Her Majesty’s official golden jubilee celebrations.

At an official function in Queensland, Phillip turned to Aborigine businessman William Brim and asked the singularly tactless question: “Do your people still throw spears at each other?”

Brim, clearly the only diplomat present at that exchange, replied politely. “No, we don’t do that anymore,” he said, later telling reporters he was more surprised than offended by Phillip’s “question”.

Well, that is he!

I am not only thoroughly offended, but surprised at the mild reaction by Australian and British press who could muster no greater level of mortification than “Oh, Phillip”, the headline carried in England’s Evening Standard.

Now, had Phillip proffered the question in 1902 I may not have been astonished, given the historical disregard by colonial powers for the culture and sociology of their subjects. To think, however, that 100 years later the Consort to the Queen should be even wondering about the people whose land his lady’s forbears stole from the Aborigines then brought them decimating diseases; is really a little bit much.

If Prince Phillip is still that stupid or so uninformed then by royal decree he must be given only non-speaking parts in public. If, however, he thought it funny, we are into a different ball park, one in which the very throne is brought into disrepute by one who will just never have a claim to its orb and sceptre.

And I’m not here trying to usurp the Prince’s portfolio by being unkind to the elderly. Phillip, 81, has made his life’s work honing this singular skill at insulting people, liberally spewing his lack of taste around the Commonwealth and invariably without the slightest provocation or subsequent censure.

Among his most scandalous utterances while on diplomatic missions are jokes about the shape of Chinese people’s eyes, a suggestion that all Scottish citizens are hopeless drunkards, derisive statements about the hearing-impaired and patently insensitive comments on the lifestyle of Indian people.

Nor has the male head of Britain’s royal hierarchy confined himself to the denigration of foreigners. Even his daughter was not spared. Speaking to reporters about Princess Anne’s penchant for equestrian sports, Phillip said: “If it doesn’t fart or eat hay, she is not interested.”

In a sweeping statement on British women, he publicly articulated a prejudiced perception that they were all hopeless at cooking.

While he continues to deliver low blows in equally inelegant packaging, apologists for the crown say Phillip merely has an unclassifiable sense of humour. The British press has been atypically lenient in its review of his atrociously indecorous behaviour.

Of course, there is a more than even chance Prince Phillip’s damning record of consistently inappropriate colloquy may be identifiable cause of nervous disorders among protocol officers at Buckingham Palace. What is certain is that we’ve all had more than enough of his tactless tattle.

But he is routinely pardoned by officialdom at every sequence. Quite understandably, royal biographer Ben Pimlott insists that Phillip means no harm. “In any of the gaffes of the last 55 years, I don’t think there has ever been any suggestion of malice,” Pimlott said last week.

By Pimlott’s admission, this is not an isolated lapse resulting from a drunken binge, advancing age or chance slippage. It has been more than half a century of derision from an exemplar, all being swept under the carpet with a soft broom; a few of the episodes actually passed off as cocktail jokes and in the final analysis, rewarded with continuing respect.

During the recession of the 80s, Phillip betrayed his innermost feelings for common folk by saying of the then increasing number of jobless people: “Everybody kept asking for more leisure time. Now they have it, they’re complaining.”

But as recently as October 13, 1999, after more than 50 years of aggravating relations between the British throne and the rest of the world through sheer stupidity, the prestigious Cambridge University re-appointed him Chancellor; a position not reserved by policy for the male head of the monarchy.

It is difficult to avoid thinking that the Duke of Edinburgh Awards Scheme is precisely what it says, a ruse by which he can be annually exposed to even greater numbers of people, offering him major opportunities to foist his prejudices and unseemly humourous style upon fresh meat.

All of this may be fun “fit for a king”. Indeed, history is replete with episodes of unseemly behaviour among royalty and at the expense of their subjects.

But Phillip, my dear, if you must spout these extreme insults, try to limit your excesses to either genetically passive peoples or those that will pretend no feeling of offence.

Remember in your next outburst that we are not of that persuasion.

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