In Depth

Queen's Nazi salute: should clip have seen the light of day?

Buckingham Palace launches investigation after The Sun publishes clip of Queen in the 1930s

Buckingham Palace is "in danger of over-reacting" to the release of a black-and-white film showing Queen Elizabeth II performing a fleeting Nazi salute as a child, according to some royal-watchers today.

The Sun newspaper published the early 1930s footage, which shows Princess Elizabeth at the age of six or seven "larking about" with her younger sister Princess Margaret, the Queen Mother and her uncle Prince Edward, who would later become King Edward VIII. Each of them raises their arm in what appears to be a Nazi salute.

The Sun insists that the images "do not reflect badly on our Queen, her late sister or mother in any way", although it says that "Edward's links with Hitler and fascism are very well documented".

The newspaper also quotes Dr Karina Urbach, a top Nazi expert, who points out that the film was shot "long before the atrocities of the Nazis became widely known".

However, Buckingham Palace has said it is "disappointed" that the footage was published and has launched an investigation into how the newspaper got hold of the clip. It has been suggested that criminal or copyright infringement charges may also be brought, although the Daily Telegraph suggests the footage might have been inadvertently released to documentary makers.

Writing in The Guardian, Roy Greenslade says it is difficult to be critical of The Sun for publishing the footage. "Once the newspaper had obtained the film, what was it supposed to do? Suppress it? Hand it in to the palace? It was bound to publish it and, in so doing, make as much noise about it as possible," he says.

Culture Secretary John Whittingdale defended the right of the press to make editorial judgements, telling the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "It is up to the press to decide what is and what is not appropriate to print."

The Times says the Palace is "in danger of over-reacting". The royal family is both a private family and a public institution and, given the "extraordinary" content of the clip, the argument that there is a compelling public interest in releasing it is "surely unassailable", says the newspaper. "If Buckingham Palace worries that the footage will do lasting damage to the royal brand as embodied by the Queen in 2015, it has insufficient faith in the public's ability to see pictures in their proper context."

However, The Independent says the video should have "stayed unseen" as the main interest in publication was the Queen's embarrassment.

"One of the better arguments against the monarchy is that it is a form of child cruelty to bring up children in such an unnatural, minutely scrutinised environment," says the newspaper. "Given that we do have a monarchy, and that the Queen has served her country selflessly all her life, there is no need for newspapers to make things worse for her. No need, and certainly no defence in the public interest of the invasion of the privacy of a seven-year-old child."

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