Inside the British Royal Family: 5 Photographs From Their 1969 Documentary

Imagine getting a behind-the-scenes look at Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in all their domestic glory. That’s exactly what happened in 1968 when the British royal family agreed to open up their private lives to cameras for a BBC documentary, Royal Family, that aired in 1969. 

British TV stations debuted the documentary in black and white on June 21, 1969, according to Town and Country, and a week later audiences got the chance to watch it again but in color. The documentary then went international before returning to TVs in the U.K. for five more broadcasts.

An estimated 40 million people tuned in to watch the 1969 broadcasts including 68% of adults in Britain. Since it aired in 1969, the nearly 2-hour film has yet to be seen again in its entirety. Luckily, a small number of photographs were snapped during the making of the documentary. Ahead, check them out and get more details on Royal Family.

Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II on a private jet
Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II on a private jet | Syndication/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images

Filming lasted 75 days spanning 172 locations

Filming for the documentary kicked off at the Trooping the Colour ceremony on June 8, 1968. In all, there were 75 days of filming and the crew captured footage of the family in 172 locations. All of the moments captured by director Richard Cawston, BBC’s head of documentaries, had to first be approved by a group of TV executives who sat on a committee headed up by Philip. 

Prince Philip painting in 1969
Prince Philip painting in June 1969 | Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

With the goal of showing a relatable, more personal royal family, the queen’s former press secretary, William Heseltine, came up the idea for a documentary and got Philip to help him. 

While the queen’s husband had been all for a documentary about the family as real people, he didn’t personally like to be in front of cameras. “Prince Philip became less enthusiastic when it came to being filmed himself, which he hated,” Heseltine told Town and Country. 

Princess Margaret with her children, Viscount Linley and Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones
Princess Margaret with her children, Viscount Linley and Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones | Bettmann / Contributor

Princess Anne: ‘I thought it was a rotten idea’

A then-18-year-old Anne, Princess Royal had been against Royal Family and said as much in 2002 during an interview for a documentary about her mother, the queen.

“I certainly never liked the idea of the royal family film. I thought it was a rotten idea,” she said. “The attention that had been brought on one ever since one was a child, you just didn’t want any more. And the last thing you needed was greater access. I don’t remember enjoying any part of that.”

Below, see a young Anne eating lunch across from her brother, Charles, Prince of Wales and their parents

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip having lunch with two of their children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip having lunch with two of their children, Prince Charles and Princess Anne | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Looking back on the experience, Heseltine recalled Queen Elizabeth being initially unsure. “The Queen was a reluctant convert, but became much more aware of the possibilities and was prepared to participate when it came to actual filming,” he said. 

‘Royal Family’ documentary ‘delighted’ Queen Elizabeth’s press secretary

When the documentary premiered, the response from the public had been mostly positive. And the queen’s press secretary, Heseltine, had been happy with the result too. “I was delighted with it, actually,” he said. Of course, not everyone had been a fan of the documentary but Heseltine recalled there being “very few critics at at the time.” 

Below, check out Philip and the queen admiring a Christmas tree. 

Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II
Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth II | Bettmann / Contributor

Reportedly because of the small criticism Royal Family received, the queen had the documentary put in the royal archives only to be seen in full with her permission. The last time any member of the public got a glimpse of the documentary was in 2011 when 90 seconds of Royal Family were released for an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London, England.