‘You’d think Prince Andrew would apologise,” says Frankie Boyle. He’s midway through his timely lament about what he takes to be the misogynistic, thick, inegalitarian non-entities of Britain’s monarchy, shortly before the fatuous institution’s continued existence is solemnised with Charles III’s coronation. “I apologise after consensual sex.”
And yet, for all the Glaswegian comedian’s republican posturing, there is a queasy sense that if Prince Andrew didn’t exist, Boyle would have to invent him. The Duke of York is the comedy gift that keeps giving. Symbols are important to the royal brand, Boyle tells us. Consider Prince Charles’s crest before he became King. It “shows a lion mounting another lion while a horse looks patiently on. Whereas the Duke of York’s shows a lion paying £12m to a sex-trafficked lion cub the lion claims he never met.”
Should the Duke of York’s people sue? Probably not. Legal action that involves denying your client paid hush money to a woman he denied raping when she was a teenager is something you learn not to do in Public Relations 101.
Boyle shows that, in Succession terms, the monarchy is Waystar Royco – a dying enterprise run by toxic narcissists that needs to be wound up. The dim, feuding siblings inheriting the failing brand would do well to get real jobs rather than parlaying their royal connections into eight-figure advances for self-regarding Netflix docuseries.
“The time has come to say farewell to the monarchy,” says Boyle at the outset. “Let’s raise a bottle to them,” he says near the end with unexpected cheeriness, which he immediately deflates, “filled with petrol and a burning rag.”
Boyle meets many royal experts to anatomise deference to what he calls Britain’s most boring crime syndicate. He also puts on chain mail and climbs on a horse to get inside William the Conqueror’s mindset. “Let’s kill some English!” says the wannabe Caledonian thistle, waving a Norman replica sword.
Today’s monarchy, Boyle suggests, is the toxic inheritance of previous kings’ and queens’ sociopathy and mental health issues. William the Conqueror? Rapacious plunderer of his new subjects to pay for his and his chums’ castles. Richard III? Putinesque narcissist. Henry VIII? Psychopathic misogynist and, Boyle argues, “the only husband to whom Johnny Depp can feel superior”. Elizabeth I? Power-crazed killer who reinvented herself as a fetishistic yet sexless Virgin Mary for like-minded Protestant perverts.
Boyle notes Queen Victoria’s obliviousness to the brutal forging of the empire in her name, and to the poverty and prostitution rife a few streets away from Buckingham Palace. The monarchy, which the 19th-century essayist Walter Bagehot hilariously called a dignified part of the constitution, has always been a fig leaf concealing barbarism, Boyle contends. Even though the world’s wealthiest empire had a female figurehead, Victorian society’s contempt for women, Boyle estimates, equalled that of Met police WhatsApp groups.
Kojo Koram, author of Uncommon Wealth: Britain and the Aftermath of Empire, tells Boyle there’s a parallel between Victorian imperialism and Britain’s international economic role today. The world’s leading corporate tax havens are British overseas territories and crown dependencies – the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands and Bermuda. Britain’s global role in the 21st century, as in the 19th, is to increase inequality with the connivance of the royals, argues Koram.
No wonder Barbadians voted to become a republic, and Jamaicans called on the Prince and Princess of Wales, during their entertainingly catastrophic tour, to apologise for the monarchy’s role in the transatlantic slave trade. Koram suggests we imagine a new constitution. “What kind of country does Britain want to be now? Do we want to have a monarch at all?” Perhaps it’s not too late to emulate Barbados and cancel the coronation. But keep the bank holiday.
This is a heady moment for bespectacled Scottish republicans. The Proclaimers’ song I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles) was removed from the official coronation playlist because of the Reid brothers’ anti-royalist views. And now the man who looks like the third Proclaimer blows his chances of an OBE by claiming that Charles and Camilla haven’t had children because different species cannot interbreed.
For all that, Boyle disdains to turn his comedy scattergun on his homeland’s royals. Perhaps, given what a joy this programme is, rather than a one-off it should become a series, in which he can tackle Robert the Bruce, through Mary, Queen of Scots to Nicola, Queen of Indyref2. After all, Scotland currently feels like an underexploited asset for Boyle’s mission to tell comedy truth to power. For now, though, we’ll have to content ourselves with this excellent take on the monarchy – even if its historical portions do focus exclusively on the royals of England. Or as Boyle calls it, “that isosceles triangle of wind and racism”.
• Farewell to the Monarchy aired on Channel 4 and is on All 4.