So why has the Queen enjoyed such an enduringly good relationship with that somewhat cynical, circulation- or ratings-driven world we call the media? First and foremost are three inter-linked reasons – the personality and character of the Queen herself; the splendid way in which she has invariably carried out her duties, and the fact that these qualities are recognised and acknowledged by journalists just about everywhere.
Generally speaking, a Press Secretary to the Queen never has an easier time or meets a more sympathetic press corps than when on an overseas tour or visit. The Queen is liked, respected and positively appreciated and reported. It is, to be fair, just about the same in the United Kingdom, give or take the odd reporter with a vested interest.
The Press Secretary and his colleagues in the Buckingham Palace Press Office are the formal and official link between the monarch and the media. As everyone who has held the job knows, the Press Secretary is there to be approached by journalists when it is thought that would be helpful, and to be by-passed if a different view is taken! The immensely informative Royal Encyclopedia puts the position well: ‘The Press Secretary is constantly faced with fine distinctions between the ‘public interest’ (which newspapers use in the loosest sense to justify their attempts to satisfy every degree of curiosity about the private lives and activities of members of the Royal Family) and unacceptable intrusion. Such niceties are often lost upon the journalist in search of a story.’
In this age of ‘spin’ and ‘spin doctors’ and of ‘focus groups’ and media manipulation – often written of as a new phenomenon – it is interesting that the beginnings of the Press Secretary’s position go back to the reign of George III, when the office of Court Newsman was established. It was this worthy’s daily duty to distribute the Court Circular – the definitive document of royal activities – to the morning papers. By the reign of Queen Victoria, he was required to attend personally at the Palace twice a day when she was in London and once each day, Sundays included, when she was away from the capital. For these duties he was, in 1886, paid a salary of £45, but in 1909 this was reduced to £20 a year. The Newsman did, however, receive extra money from newspapers for any information he provided on his own responsibility.
By the end of the First World War the Court Newsman was replaced by a full-time salaried Press Secretary, but he could not have been kept too busy because in 1931 the post was abolished and the duties taken over by the Assistant Private Secretary. The position was reinstated in June 1944, at the time of the invasion of Europe by the Allied forces, and the Press Office has been in the front line ever since.