Returning order to the court Essay: Britain's House of Windsor needs a major renovation. Advice is available here in the land of the spin doctors.

March 02, 1998|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,SUN STAFF

God save the queen!

Somebody has to, for things go badly for the ruler of Old Blighty, that moist and verdant land. The times are out of joint, the subjects out of humor.

They have indicated their displeasure in focus groups. Her Royal Highness, aware that she has become something less than the very model of a modern major monarch, commissioned the focus groups herself.

Said the focusers: Your brood, the issue of your royal loins, are wasteful. They are out of touch with the people, "remote and rigid." In short, the entire Windsor clan does not give good value for the public money lavished on it and may even be in some slight danger of losing its sinecure.

This is the news from London.

To such allegations the queen used to have a word: "Bosh." Or sometimes two: "Fiddle-faddle." These days she's taking it more seriously.

She wants to hire a media consultant to put the royal family in a better light. You know, a spin doctor, someone to manipulate the press, get them to write friendly stories about the royals.

The search is on; headhunters are out.

The pay? About a quarter of a million dollars a year. That should stir interest even here in the Great Republic, especially in Washington. Wasn't spin doctoring invented there?

Phyllis Brotman, a media adviser at Baltimore's Gray Kirk VanSant Advertising and Public Relations, is up to the challenge. "I'm going to apply for the job," she says. She already has a plan.

She'd get rid of Prince Philip: "Keep him in the background [not the Tower]. He has no warmth whatsoever."

The key to the Brotman strategy is the queen. She has to get out among her subjects more often. "She could be seen out shopping. She could hold social events at the palace. Invite entertainers. She should publicize them, let the public know what she's doing."

Another essential piece in her plan is Prince Charles, who in her opinion "has been doing better lately." She would involve him in "economic development."

This even though he's been trained to horses and hounds and prefers to go about London criticizing tasteless buildings. She thinks he's underused.

"He could stroll through Chelsea and look in the shops," she said. "Talk with the shopkeepers along King's Road."

She also sees him walking along the Thames when spring flowers are blooming, on the odd dry day. "He could say how pretty London is. It would increase tourism."

Though Brotman hasn't officially applied, nor been rung up by Buckingham Palace, she already has her opening move figured. Right off she'll get all the royals together and make them understand who's boss.

"They would do what I say and what I suggest rather than think they can do the job themselves," she said. "Some think they can do the job themselves, but I think most people can't. They're not media trained."

We can imagine a scene unfolding in the queen's bed chamber. Media adviser Brotman advises:

"No, queen. You can't wear the blue today. You have to wear the mauve!"

We can almost hear HRH's terse response:

"Guard!"

Yes, the task is more daunting than one might suppose. These days the Windsors are truly in bad odor. There are new causes of concern. The situation may even be worse than it was following their inept performance at the funeral of Princess Diana last year, when they failed to persuade anybody that they really felt badly about what had happened to their errant in-law.

First of all, there's Mohamed al-Fayed, the Egyptian owner of Harrod's and father of Dodi al-Fayed, Diana's boyfriend, saying publicly that the car accident that killed his boy and Diana was no accident. Is he suggesting a royal hit? Could anyone imagine a monarch of England having somebody snuffed? (Ahem!)

Then there's the problem of Australia. It's on the verge of embracing republicanism. Should it do so, the queen would lose her job as head of state in the former penal colony. Imagine being fired by Australia.

And if Australia goes, can Canada be far behind? Or Saint Kitts and Nevis?

In truth, anybody who has seen England's royals, been in their company, or even their country, can appreciate what a challenge the person who lands the job under discussion would face. They are a stiff lot, rich in Teutonic personality. Charles, for instance, perpetually wears an expression that suggests he fears being too far from a bathroom. And why does he always keep his one hand in his jacket pocket? It's not true that he has six fingers.

And even when he tries to do the right thing it doesn't seem to turn out well. Recently he announced he was hiring a black woman, Colleen Harris, as an aide. A top job, that.

But instead of applauding this gesture toward affirmative action in multiracial Britain, everybody started asking why no other person of color, any color, has ever held a high position in the royal household.

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