The first installment in this four-part miniseries chronicling the history of Great Britain's royal family over the course of the twentieth century. The program begins with an overview of the Windsor family and the shifting public perceptions and media attention on them over time, with comparisons to the soap opera "Peyton Place." In 1935, King George V celebrated his silver jubilee, or twenty-fifth anniversary, and citizens comment about their sense of excitement and national pride. The king's grandson, The Earl of Harewood, comments on his grandparents' "knack" for creating the appropriate public image of a royal family. Biographer Georgina Battiscombe explains, however, that George was not brought up to be a king, as his brother Prince Albert Victor, called "Eddy," preceded him. Both boys were wild as youths and were sent into the Navy to gain discipline, and Eddy died from pneumonia at age 28 amid rumors of sexual scandal. George, next in line, married Eddy's fiancé, Princess Mary of Teck, and lived a "blameless and active life" of sailing and other sports. He ascended to the throne in 1910 and journeyed to India, then under British rule, for the Delhi Durbar festival, invented as a "bread and circuses" sort of entertainment to promote loyalty. In 1913, he attended the wedding of his cousin Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany's daughter in Berlin, though by the following year Britain was at war with Germany and Wilhelm was "a figure of hatred."

Anti-German sentiment gripped Britain, and by 1917, Germany looked likely to win the war and the British people began to suspect their leaders of disloyalty. Worried at the idea of seeming "alien" because of their German heritage, George and Mary decided to "reinvent" the monarchy as wholly British and change their official name. As biographer Philip Ziegler explains, their actual family name was unknown, though it was likely "Saxe-Coburg-Gotha." In July the king and queen named themselves after the famous castle and became the House of Windsor, also disassociating themselves from their German relations. George's other cousin, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, was forced to abdicate and asked for asylum in Britain, but George refused on the advice of his private secretary and the tsar and his family were secretly executed in 1918. Eventually Britain won the war, though strikes and rebellion continued plaguing the country, and George opened the British Empire Exhibition theme park as a distraction of sorts. The family projected both an image of grandeur and of down-to-Earth middle class-ness in the newsreels; hating the palace, George opted instead to live in the much smaller York Cottage, much to Mary's annoyance. Mary disliked George's strict nature and "rigid routine," and amused herself with a rather aggressive habit of collecting antiques.

George was close with his mother, Alexandra of Denmark, though not so with his father Edward VII, whose severe parenting techniques he imitated with his own six children, including youngest son John, who was born with physical and mental ailments and was "hidden away" until his death at thirteen. Harewood describes Navy-trained king as "gruff" and often insensitive, and Ziegler notes that Mary too was aloof and emotionally distant from her children. As a result, several of the children had "neuroses," particularly "Bertie," later George VI, and his infamous stammer. Prime Minister Lloyd George suggested that oldest son and heir apparent Edward VIII tour the empire and impress the people with his "star quality," and the trip was a success, though Edward's private letters revealed a near-suicidal anxiety and disinterest in the crown. He had a number of affairs with married women, and many worried that he was unfit for the throne. During the depression of 1931, George V advised the Prime Minister to form a national government, which ruled without opposition for a decade, much to the displeasure of the lower classes. He gave his first Christmas speech on the radio in 1932, and by his silver jubilee in 1935 was again adored by the people, though the public was unaware of the tension within the family caused by Edward's scandalous decision to bring his latest paramour, American divorcée Wallis Simpson, to the ball. When the king grew gravely ill in January 1936, his doctor Lord Dawson euthanized him with cocaine and morphine just before midnight in order to make the morning papers. Edward VIII became king, but his ideas about marrying Simpson were soon to cause great trouble. Commercials deleted.


  • DATE: November 7, 1994 9:00 PM
  • RUNNING TIME: 1:00:00
  • COLOR/B&W: Color
  • CATALOG ID: B:75135
  • GENRE:
  • SUBJECT HEADING: Documentary
  • SERIES RUN: PBS - TV series, 1994
  • COMMERCIALS: TV - Promos - "The Windors: A Royal Family" home video


    • Phillip Whitehead … Executive Producer
    • Austin Hoyt … Executive Producer
    • Kathy O'Neil … Producer, Director
    • Michael Bacon … Music by
    • Janet Suzman … Narrator
    • George Lascelles (see also: The Earl of Harewood) … Interviewee
    • Georgina Battiscombe … Interviewee
    • Kenneth Rose … Interviewee
    • Sarah Bradford … Interviewee
    • David Cannadine … Interviewee
    • Philip Ziegler … Interviewee
    • George V
    • Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale
    • Mary of Teck
    • Wilhelm II
    • Nicholas II
    • Alexandra of Denmark
    • Edward VII
    • Lloyd George
    • Edward VIII
    • Bertrand Edward Dawson, 1st Viscount Dawson of Penn
    • Wallis Simpson