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Anybody else remember Peter Egan as “The Prince Regent”? It’s the Prince Regent’s Birthday incidentally. Not Peter Egan’s.

August 12, 2017

regent

There are certain viewing recollections that I don’t want to revisit especially.  I’ve a very strong impression of Peter Egan as the Prince Regent in a BBC costume drama series in 1979.   The redoubtable and jowly Nigel Davenport played his dad George III.  I even bought and read and then re-read the attendant paperback – with the front cover as shown.

Peter Egan’s performance was a little more restrained than Hugh Laurie’s in the same role a few years later.  It was also more restrained that Peter Ustinov’s interpretation of the prince, in a film called Beau Brummell, co-starring Stewart Granger and featuring Robert Morley as George III.  Bizarrely, this 1954 effort was chosen for a Royal Command Performance, based on the assumption that the young queen would be most entertained by some of the most dysfunctional decades of her own family history.

Peter Egan is a wonderful actor.  He appeared a few years later in the much under-rated sitcom Ever Decreasing Circles where his main purpose in life was to wind up Richard Briers.  The appearance of Egan wandering through a shopping centre holding a placard saying “Lenin is a Nice Man” is one of the funniest moments of the televisual ’80s.

George IV died essentially alone and unloved, having alienated the affections of just about everyone who had ever crossed his path.  Here of course, is the royal obituary in the times (1830):

obit

But Egan portrayed poor old Georgy Porgy Pudding and Pie with a degree of sympathy, a sympathy based on the structural problem of not being allowed to be the thing you are supposed to be until you’ve lost your pa or ma (or both).  In short, to be Prince of Wales, is to occupy a position not compatible with certain basic and biological affections.  George I hated (and was hated by) his son George II.  George II hated (and was hated by) his son Frederick.  Frederick didn’t live long enough to be hated by his son George III. George III and his son were always at loggerheads.  Victoria had a terrible relationship with her son, the future Edward VIII, and so on and so forth…

You could suggest there might be something genetically wrong with the Hanoverians, but the real problem is the hereditary principle itself.  My memory of Peter Egan as Prince Regent is a study of someone whose selfishness and casual cruelty was the product of a life only half lived.  Egan’s George was a man not permitted to live as other men, or be tried, tested, judged, and recuperated like other men.  As he grows in size, he diminishes in stature.  His costumes  get bigger and his life gets smaller.

Sadly, I don’t think Peter Egan did the real life dress up scene in which George IV arrived in Edinburgh in a strangely pleated kilt and tights, a costume he deemed appropriate based on his understanding of the works of Walter Scott, and which nobody in Scotland has ever worn before or since.

 

 

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One Comment
  1. Interesting post! There is indeed something about the nature of the hereditary principle that breeds a form of emotional dysfunction. Edward Hyde, Earl of Clarendon characterised primogeniture as ‘drowning five pups in a litter of six’. Bt you are right in that even the surviving the surviving first pup is left damaged in a profound way. Nothing has changed!

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