Kelley could do a job on Prince Philip

Harold Brooks-Baker

April 26, 1991|By Harold Brooks-Baker

IT IS rumored that Kitty Kelley's next project is a demolition job on Prince Philip, duke of Edinburgh. If a Kelley "biography" of the consort of Queen Elizabeth II approximated Nancy Reagan's, the monarchy could be greatly damaged.

Perhaps Kelley or her greedy emulators, beloved of the chattering classes in England and America, will find commercial inspiration to do a book on Philip in the extraordinary media coverage she received on a visit to London this week. Her book tops Britain's best-seller list.

Prince Philip would certainly not be entirely free from the wounds inflicted by Kelley's McCarthyite pen.

His detractors in Greece, Denmark, Germany and France would be interviewed. Lovers of royal biographies could expect complaints, innuendoes, other calumnies. Given the guilt-by-association principle of Kelley, a report on Philip would, like her books on Frank Sinatra, Reagan and Jacqueline Onassis, consist of trash, half-truths, fiction and image distortion.

Kelley-type biographies thrive on celebrities' behavior that is basically unacceptable to the morals and mores of middle-class society. Up to the 1960s, the middle classes on both sides of the Atlantic clung to puritan codes: Illegitimacy and perversion were taboo. Paradoxically, today the middle and educated classes accept virtually every sexual failing in themselves, but demand that the royal family be untainted by hints of excess.

If many royal stories of yesteryear had been presented in the Kelley manner, the abolition of monarchy would have been assured. Historical figures are often remembered primarily for insatiable sexual appetites, despite other positive distinctions.

Royal courts have ever enjoyed great privilege and little privacy. They have never been free of what might seem scandalous to the puritan mind. The encroachments of those in quest only of hearsay have compounded royalty's problems and contributed nothing to preservation of the monarchy.

British libel laws may give greater protection than do U.S. libel laws. However, publication abroad (as in the case of Peter Wright's "Spycatcher") of a slander of Philip would be devastating. Possibly the only solution would be international laws to protect the inhabitants of royal and presidential palaces.

Harold Brooks-Baker is publishing director of Burke's Peerage. B He writes from London.

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