With bated breath many Brits were waiting for the Duke to turn 100, but he skipped out early. So now the plaudits are flowing in everywhere, praising the man who preserved the English spirit and supported the Queen in perpetuity.
Here’s what Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “Like the expert carriage driver that he was, he helped to steer the royal family and the monarchy so that it remains an institution indisputably vital to the balance and happiness of our national life.”
What a metaphor. You may remember that a couple of years ago the Duke injured two women in a crash and totaled his Land Rover (immediately replaced by another). He finally apologized and gave up his driver’s license after a major media outcry forced his hand. Noblesse oblige is not dead.
Many good things are now being said about Prince Philip. His stoicism could be stifling but his character was to persevere in the impossible role of Prince Consort. He really did exemplify some typically British traits, as Anthony Lane put it in an excellent tribute: “The Duke was clever, restless, resilient, brusque, hot-humored, at one with the deep ocean, and oddly unreadable: pretty much as we expect our gods to be.”
What strikes me most about the Duke is how condescending his quips and gaffes could be. Otto English called him “the bigoted family uncle who couldn’t be trusted in company. Famed for his gaffes, he evermore resembled the kind of character Sacha Baron Cohen might dream up, an exaggerated version of what a xenophobic member of the English aristocracy might be.”
The Washington Post has tracked some of his more egregious comments:
During a 1986 visit to China, he told a British student: “If you stay here much longer, you will go home with slitty eyes.”
To a driving instructor in Scotland in 1995, he said: “How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to get them through the test?”
During a trip to Canada in 1976: “We don’t come here for our health. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves.”
To a group of female Labour Party lawmakers during a reception at Buckingham Palace: “Ah, so this is feminist corner then.”
When he met Nigeria’s president, who was wearing traditional robes, he declared: “You look like you are ready for bed.”
The Duke wasn’t just sneering. He seemed to favor a kind of native condescension that the Brits hadn’t seen since the days of Evelyn Waugh. Philip’s humor often had that edge.
There is very little of that in the U.S. Where are the honestly condescending put-downs? Our late-night comedians are a weak substitute. The only laughable substitute we have is Joe Manchin talking about bipartisanship, and he’s not funny.