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Palace at war with BBC over slur on royalty

London, Dec. 1: Buckingham Palace has sent a furious letter to the BBC complaining that a report by its “flagship political programme” on the future of the monarchy was biased and inaccurate.

In a rare move, one of the Queen’s most senior officials formally protested about last Sunday’s “On The Record” on BBC1, which her aides thought was irresponsible and potentially damaging.

They were particularly incensed that a public service broadcaster should screen such a one-sided report.

“The programme was inaccurate and extremely biased,” said one royal official yesterday. “Our letter takes the BBC to task and criticises it for broadcasting a diatribe against the monarchy.”

The Daily Telegraph has discovered that the letter was sent by Penny Russell-Smith, the Queen’s press secretary, to David Jordan, the editor of “On The Record”, on Friday.

It was done with the knowledge — and support — of the Queen’s private office.

Russell-Smith criticises the BBC for not seeking a “right of reply” from Buckingham Palace and for not checking facts, particularly over the Civil List payments, the money paid annually by Parliament for the royal family’s expenses.

There has been a series of disagreements between Buckingham Palace and the BBC in recent years.

In 1995, the BBC’s “Panorama” programme broadcast a sensational interview with Diana, Princess of Wales. It was screened without Marmaduke Hussey, then the chairman of the BBC, being forewarned, because his wife, Lady Susan Hussey, was a lady-in-waiting to the Queen.

The following year, in apparent retaliation, the palace ended the BBC’s monopoly of producing the Queen’s Christmas broadcast. Two years ago there was private anger within the royal family at the BBC’s refusal to broadcast live coverage of the Queen Mother’s 100th birthday celebrations.

Buckingham Palace has become more active in challenging inaccurate and unfair stories. Last weekend, Prince Philip publicly denounced as fictitious claims in the Mail on Sunday that he had called the late Princess of Wales “a harlot” and a “trollop” in letters to her in 1992.

In the “On The Record” report, Gloria De Piero, the BBC reporter who presented the item, said the Golden Jubilee celebrations had been “spectacular but expensive”, costing nearly £500,000 from the Civil List, “the £7.9 million a year we give the Queen”.

The BBC in its poll of MPs asked whether the Civil List should be cut back, which in turn “would reduce the money available for the Queen’s extended family, for her staff and for a suitably regal lifestyle”, said De Piero. There was no mention of the Queen’s reforms to the Civil List.

Since 1990 she has repaid all parliamentary annuities to members of the royal family with the exception of those for the duties carried out by herself, Prince Philip and the late Queen Mother.

Payments for eight other members of the royal family, totalling more than £1.5 million a year, are reimbursed to the government. There was also no mention of the Queen’s decision in 1993 to pay income tax.

De Piero opened her report by saying that “a poll last week showed even lower public support for the royals than at any time since Diana’s death. An embarrassing court case, allegations of rape and rumours that you’re raising cash on the side are bound to spoil the festivities”.

The report continued with interviews with committed republicans and Left-wing Labour MPs.

Paul Flynn, the Labour MP for Newport West, said the popularity of the monarchy had “collapsed in ruins and we had these stories that are more reminiscent of a porn movie, or the fencing that takes place in an Arthur Daly shop”.

A spokesman for the BBC declined to comment on the criticisms of “On The Record”, which is presented by John Humphrys. “We have no indication that a letter of complaint has been sent or is being sent,” he said.

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