Sunday, September 20, 2020

Meghan And Harry's Netflix Deal Is A Real Royal Knock Out

Prince Edward and the Queen are not amused with Netflix.

Huzzah, movie lovers!

With all the crazy s!%& happening in the world at this moment, you'd be forgiven if you failed to notice that Harry and Meghan (the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to you) just inked a big bucks deal with Netflix to produce "uplifting" content, like documentaries and such.

While this announcement produced polite interest in the USA, it raised collective blood pressures in the UK. Remember, the Sussex's decamped for North America last winter and "stepped back" from their roles as "senior working royals". This remains a very controversial move and feelings are still raw. Some British Netflix users even threatened to cancel their subscriptions when they heard the announcement! Making things even worse,  H and M "forgot" to properly inform HM QE II about the deal. A simple over-sight, I'm sure.

However, the one "royal" I bet who is really stewed about this Netflix thing is Harry's Uncle Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex. Why?

Because as Junk Cinema lovers know, Ed Windsor is the Ed Wood of the royal family.

A royal inspiration?: Ed Wood relaxes between takes.

No, not because he's an angora sweater fan.

It's because, like Ed Wood, Ed Windsor is--or rather was--a film maker/producer with great ambitions, but very little talent.

Let me explain.

Way back in the mid-1980's, after he finished his university education, Ed, QE II's youngest child, joined the Marines. This was not unusual. In fact, for decades, royal males who had little or no chance of inheriting the throne were regularly farmed out to the armed services. This tradition A) got the guys out of the house, B) kept them out of trouble (at least until shore leave), C) gave them something worthwhile to do and D) made the royal family look patriotic.

Unfortunately, mere weeks into his military training, Ed decided to opt out. As this had never happened before, the hyperactive British tabloid press went into a frenzy. His folks weren't too happy, either. Yet Edward stuck to his guns and left the service. However, that begged the question: what was the prince going to do now?

 To the shock of his queen and country, Edward announced he was going into show business. 

The House of Windsor (and the British public) were shocked when Prince Edward left the Marines to enter the entertainment industry.

First Ed worked for Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Theatre company. Then he decided to strike out on his own to make movies and TV programs.

In true Junk Cinema fashion, Ed had never studied film or television production, directing, script writing or anything related to running a production company. In this way, he was following in the hollowed foot-steps of such Junk Cinema luminaries as Hal P. Warren and James L. Wolcott, who also quit their day jobs (as a fertilizer salesman and an accountant, respectively) to follow their dreams of becoming film makers...with delightfully dreadful results (see "Manos: The Hands of Fate" and "The Wild Women of Wongo").

Edward's first production was a made-for-TV extravaganza titled "It's a Royal Knockout!" (1987). Imagined as a fundraiser for various charities, "It's a Royal Knockout!" appeared to be inspired by the cheese-fest "Battle of the Network Stars", where "network stars" from ABC, NBC and CBS competed in various athletic competitions. However, further research revealed it was actually inspired by a British TV show titled "It's a Knockout!", where citizens from rival towns competed against each other in silly, humiliating "contests." Apparently, this was a favorite show of Ed's, providing an uncomfortable peek into the young royal's personal tastes--or lack there of.

As conceived by Ed, "It's a Royal Knockout!" featured various stars ( like Meat Loaf, Sheena Easton, John Travolta and Jane Seymour, among others) dressed up in mock medieval costumes while they ran crazy obstacle courses, got drenched with water and had pies thrown in their faces. This was done in front of a cheering (?) crowd of spectators and the BBC recorded every magic moment.

The teams of participating celebrities were each headed by one of Ed's royal siblings: Princess Anne, Prince Andrew, Andrew's future ex-wife Fergie (it was 1987, remember) and Edward himself. These "senior working royals" were also dressed in mock medieval finery, with Edward looking every inch like Mr. B Natural in mustard tights, pixie boots and a feathered cap. Although the royals were "the team leaders", and spent much of their time on the sidelines, Anne, Fergie, Andrew and Edward  did participate in some of the japes, like having fake hams pelted at them.

"It's a Royal Knockout!" was a ratings hit and raised a nice chunk of change for charity. However, critical reaction to show was universally negative, even scathing, which came as a complete surprise to Mr. Windsor.

"Say Cheese!": Fergie, Edward, Andrew and Anne smile bravely through their royal knockout.

The first hint Edward had that his debut production had not gone over well came shortly after "Knockout" ended its broadcast day. The producer/prince went to the press tent and asked the assembled reporters, "Well, what did you think?"

HRH was first met with silence, then nervous laughter.

"Well, thanks for being sounding so bloody enthusiastic!" Edward screamed, before stomping off in a huff.

Public reaction was even harsher. Citizens at all levels of British society acknowledged that "It's a Royal Knockout!" might have raised considerable funds for charity, but it did so at the expense of the royal family's public image as bastions of respectability, decorum and integrity, not too mention good taste.

Furthermore, critics, pundits and regular Jacks and Jills also wondered how such a nutty idea ever made it past the armies of courtiers and PR gate keepers employed by Buckingham Palace to make sure such things never happen in the first place.

"I should point the camera where?": Royal filmmaker Ed Wood consults with an expert before beginning filmming.

One of the great things about Junk Cinema is not only the films--which are priceless--but the back stories of how those films were created--which are also priceless. And the back story behind "It's a Royal Knockout!" is no exception.

See, when Ed began pitching his project, neither the flunkies at BP or his royal parents thought this was a good idea. According to the British newspaper The Independent, Prince Philip thought his children's involvement in such a program was "unwise and unwelcome". Pops also wondered why Edward and his siblings didn't "let the TV people get on with it and just turn up to accept the cheques? He's making us look foolish."

According to royal biographer Ben Pimlott (author of The Queen), even QE II believed her son's TV program wasn't a good idea. Quoting one of her friends, Pimlott wrote: "She was against it. But one of her faults is she can't say 'no'." Another source added, "'There was not a single courtier', one recalls, 'who did not think this was a mistake.' Their advice was confounded by youthful enthusiasm and the Queen's maternal indulgence."

Therefore, while  Prince Philip and the Queen thought "It's a Royal Knockout!" was a disaster in the making, they couldn't bring themselves to stop it. Penny Junor, author of The Firm, told the British newspaper The Express that queen's private secretary, Bill Heseltine, tried to halt the program. However, the combination of the Queen's reluctance to confront her son and Edward's insistence that the project go forward proved insurmountable. Therefore, once the queen gave her OK, the courtiers had no choice but to allow His Royal Halfwit to merrily bobsled straight into the bowels of PR hell.

Incidentally, there was one person in the royal orbit who did have the balls to see this project for what it was and refuse to associate himself with it: Prince Charles. Not only did the Prince of Wales refuse to participate, he wouldn't allow his future ex-wife Diana to join in, either, much to Di's reported distress.

Doting royal mum Queen Elizabeth's reaction to son Edward's "It's a Royal Knockout!" 

For having the brains to stay out of this lethal lunacy, Charles proved his right to be king.

Unfortunately, his foresight was not taken seriously by his fellow royals. 

In her first memoir (My Story, with Jeff Coplon) published shortly after divorcing Andrew in 1996, Fergie recalled, "When Charles and Diana declined the invitation, I remember feeling miffed...Later I realized how smart they had been--that you can't put your neck on the line when there's an 'HRH' by your name."

Indeed, while "It's a Royal Knock Out!" was Edward's baby, and it was the Queen who gave final approval, it was Fergie (in her opinion) who ended up receiving an unusually large portion of criticism for the program itself, seriously damaging her public image.

As Fergie admitted "It's a Royal Knockout!" "was all in good spirit and for a good cause, but it ended in a public relations debacle." She added, "I was ready to take my share of heat from the show. I was not prepared to be cast as the villain of the piece...but that is exactly what happened." Fergie would go on to lament, "'It's a Royal Knockout!' would be analyzed as my first great blunder. It seemed so unfair to me. As captain of the blue team, I might have mugged and cheered more freely than the rest, me being such a fun-loving sort. I was the new girl on the block--why should I be singled out as course and vulgar? What of Edward and Anne and Andrew, whose lead I was following? Why should I be blamed?"

Andrew: "I say, what's burning over there?"
Fergie: "I looks to me like our reputations."

For the record, Fergie felt because she was merely "royal by marriage" instead of "royal by birth", she was "expendable" and therefore the courtiers of BP felt no need to protect her as diligently as they did her in-laws.

After masterminding such an awful public debacle, one would think Edward would get the hint that film and TV production were not his thing. Or perhaps he would realize he needed some serious training and enroll in film school. Ah, no. Instead, Ed forged ahead and created his own production company called "Ardent". Unlike so many other Junk Cinema aspirants, who often had to make do with skimpy budgets and cheap equipment, Ed had deep-pocketed pals like the Sultan of Brunei to back roll him (Ray Dennis Steckler, on the other hand, got his nickname "Cash Flagg" because he would only accept cash payments from investors. That came about after too many backers wrote him checks that bounced).

Although money wasn't a problem for Ardent, coming up with projects that people actually wanted to see was. Other than documentaries about royalty, Edward had a hard time coming up with other ideas. Without anything interesting to pitch, Ardent quickly became an in-joke in the British entertainment industry. By 2011, Ardent closed its doors for good. The only time Ed's company posted a profit was because they hadn't been charged for office space...and since the office space in question was located in Ed's house, that seemed only fair.

With his dream of becoming another David Lean quashed, Ed returned to the royal family fold and devoted himself to his duties as "a senior working royal".

However, "It's a Royal Knockout!" would take on a life of its own. It would be mentioned alongside of Edward VIII's abdication, Fergie's topless toe-sucking photos, "The War of the Wales'" divorce conniptions, Charles' tampon confessions to future wife Camilla and Princess Margaret's affair with a hippie 17 years her junior as one of the more embarrassing events in 20th century royal history.

Edward, on the other hand, doesn't agree. Whenever he's asked about "It's a Royal Knockout!", Ed stoutly defends his production, asking how anyone could deem a program a failure when it achieved high ratings and raised about a million pounds for charity.

"Not Their Finest Hour": Actual contestants from "It's a Royal Knockout!"

To which I would respond, "Have you actually watched the show?"

Since he's still defending "It's a Royal Knockout!" some-30 years after it was made, Ed reminds me of Phil Tucker, the genius behind "Robot Monster" (1953). Like Ed, Phil had little or no experience in filmmaking and "Robot Monster" was his first directorial effort. Like "It's a Royal Knockout!", "Robot Monster" was met with howling critical disdain--so much so that Phil suffered a nervous breakdown as a result. After he recovered, Tucker would continue to defended his movie, pointing out he did the best he could under the circumstances, just like Ed.

So it's not too hard to imagine, is it movie lovers, that if the Queen is miffed about Harry and Meghan's Netflix deal (and secretly worrying about another "It's a Royal Knockout!" is in the works) Uncle Edward is probably fuming? No doubt he's sitting his study, nursing a brandy, complaining to anybody who will listen that if he had been given a deal with Netflix, just imagine the "uplifting content" he could have produced! 

Well, it's not all bad, HRH. For daring to go where royals should never tread, for convincing his siblings to make asses of themselves on TV, for joining the ranks of Phil Tucker, Hal P. Warren and James L. Wolcott (among others) by making a jaw-dropping and eye-popping cinematic suppository that has stood the test of time, Prince Edward earned the admiration of bad movie fanatics everywhere.

In other words, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, Junk Cinema salutes you!

His Royal Haughtiness: Ed Windsor (back in 1987) upbraids the press for failing to properly respect "It's a Royal Knockout!"