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Megumi Arai

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The Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II

Megumi Arai
Professor, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: English Literature and Comparative Literature

Focus on Britain's Royal Family in 2011

Last year, all eyes were on the British royal family for the first time in a long while. First of all, the British film The King's Speech grabbed the limelight by winning several awards at the 83rd Academy Awards in February 2011, including best picture, best director, and best actor. The film depicted the moving story of George VI, the father of the current Queen Elizabeth, who obtained the help of Australian-born speech therapist Lionel Logue in order to deal with his stutter and be able to perform his duties as king. Under normal circumstances, George VI would not even have been king. However, his elder brother, King Edward VIII, abdicated the throne in the same year as his accession in order to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson, and younger brother Prince Albert had no choice but to take the throne. Edward VIII, in the manner of the typical aristocrat, was a daring and free-spirited personality, and rumours of his affairs with women had been rife even before he fell in love with Mrs. Simpson. The scandal was talked about in Japan too, where it was covered as the romance of the century, a country's monarch choosing to marry the woman he loved instead of keeping his throne. The King's Speech puts the spotlight, not on the romantic hero himself, but on his younger brother Albert. Edward VIII, who later became the Duke of Windsor, and his wife are therefore presented as the "bad guys" (although Mrs.. Simpson was for the rest of her life regareded as the villain in this affair in the UK) while George VI was somewhat romanticized as a modest, sincere family man devoted to his wife and daughter.

Then in April 2011 came the wedding of Prince William, eldest son of the Prince of Wales, to Catherine Middleton. Since the death of their mother Diana, Princess of Wales, in a traffic accident in 1997, William and younger brother Harry have received a lot of sympathy from the British public. William is particularly popular, being seen as more gentle and amiable than brother Harry, whose image has been affected by many questionable comments and actions. Also, William's marriage to an ordinary middle class girl whom he met at university, rather than an aristocrat or upper-class lady from social circles, is seen as evidence that the British royal family has become more democratic. When Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, Diana too was depicted as an average young woman with an "ordinary" lifestyle, having worked in a pre-school and shared a London apartment with friends, whereas in fact she was born into an aristocratic family with a long lineage. In contrast, Catherine comes from a genuinely middle class background, which has captured everyone's attention. Even the British press blessed the couple's wedding, seeming to have completely forgotten how they had previously joked that the social class of the Middletons was the cause for the couple's temporary split in 2007 (although this was in fact far from the truth), and mocked, in particular, her mother's "non-U" way of speaking.

The Popularity of the Royal Family

Amid this renewed focus on the British royal family, 2012 is the 60th anniversary of the accession to the throne of Queen Elizabeth II. It will only be the second such anniversary in British history following that of Queen Victoria in 1897. Anniversaries in general are each given a name, such as paper for the first anniversary, wood for the fifth, crystal for the 15th, and so on, and on wedding anniversaries people give gifts associated with the corresponding symbol. The British queen held a large celebration on the 25th anniversary of her reign, her Silver Jubilee, and on the 50th anniversary, her Golden Jubilee. This year's 60th anniversary celebration is her Diamond Jubilee.

Like her father, George VI, Queen Elizabeth has consistently won the hearts and minds of her people for being a down-to-earth and respectable monarch. She has also conducted a number of democratic reforms. For instance, it was she who abolished in 1958 the practice of debutantes, upper class young women about to enter society, formally presenting themselves to the Court. It was also she who began the custom of the walkabout, where members of the royal family mingle and exchange words with the people who have gathered to meet them, something now taken for granted. She also tried to bring the royal family closer to the public, allowing television cameras into the Palace to show people the "everyday" face of the royals. Her marriage to the Duke of Edinburgh is known to be a happy one, while the Duke, who celebrated his 90th birthday last year, is also loved by the people as a man who has always supported the queen. In fact, the Duke is also famous for his slips of the tongue. For instance, the Daily Telegraph, a major British newspaper, celebrated his 90th birthday by publishing a list of the "Duke of Edinburgh's best gaffes" going back all the way to 1963. Here are a few examples.

When visiting Hungary, he said to a British tourist: "You can't have been here that long - you haven't got a pot belly."

He asked a British student who was visiting Papua New Guinea: "You managed not to get eaten then?"

"People think there's a rigid class system here, but dukes have been known to marry chorus girls. Some have even married Americans."

To the President of Nigeria, who was dressed in traditional robes, he said, "You look like you're ready for bed!"

Although it is dubious whether such remarks could be regarded as gaffes (as opposed to tactless comments), the fact that he gets away with them is no doubt due to his popularity.

This year sees a number of glamorous events being held in the UK, including the London Olympic Games. On the other hand, last year's riots have reminded the British people of the serious issues their country is still facing, including class issues, gap between the rich and poor, racism, immigration, and the education and morals of the young. As Britain approaches this critical time, it will be interesting to see where the country is going next.

Megumi Arai
Professor, Faculty of Law, Chuo University
Areas of Specialization: English Literature and Comparative Literature

Hakusuisha Publishing; British Culture of Pride and Prejudice - The World of Jane Austen

Born in Tokyo. Spent her childhood in Hong Kong, Japan, the Netherlands and the UK, and returned to Japan after graduating secondary school in the UK. She graduated the College of Liberal Arts, International Christian University in 1984, and later left Graduate School of Art and Sciences, The University of Tokyo after earning credits on the Comparative Literature and Culture program. Became a full-time lecturer on the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at Toho University, the joined the Faculty of Law at Chuo University in 1992. Became Assistant Professor in 1993, Professor in 1998.
Publications include: The Two Sides of Butlers and Maids - The Image of Servants in British Literature [Shitsuji to meido no uraomote - Igirisu bungaku ni okeru shiyounin no imeeji] , Hakusuisha Publishing; British Culture of Pride and Prejudice - The World of Jane Austen [Jifu to henken no Igirisu bunka - J. Osutin no sekai], Iwanami Shinsho; The Perverse British Empire [Hesomagari no Daieiteikoku], Heibonsha Shinsho; Unfriendly Mary Poppins - Class in British Novels and Films [Fukigen na Mearii Popinzu - Igirisu shosetsu to eiga kara yomu "kaikyuu"], Heibonsha Shinsho.