Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A limited defence of Prince Charles

So it falls to me to speak up for the old booby.

I have much sympathy for the view of Patrick Hannan, which I quoted the other day:
He often seems very like the persona created by the great comedian Tony Hancock, someone whose abilities always left him short of his aspirations in, for instance, intellectual matters, and who subsided into a state of truculent pique at each failure.
But the Guardian campaign against him and his influence over architecture seems to me to be based on a deceitful view. Reading the Guardian, you would think that the wider public is united in its love of the products of modern architecture, and only aristocratic reactionaries like Charles are standing out against this consensus.

Occasionally, however, the newspaper allows the truth to break through. Here is the Guardian from yesterday, mentioning in passing the Prince's role in torpedoing Richard Rogers' plans for the Chelsea Barracks site:
While local opponents of the scheme welcomed him as a conquering hero, his intervention also provoked a storm of criticism from architects.
And that surely is the key here. As ever, the Guardian is not speaking for the people but for the professionals. The long-standing rift between public taste and expert opinion is simply ignored because it would pose difficult questions for the paper's settled view of the world.

The photograph above shows the new National Trust headquarters in Swindon, which has also become caught up in this row. Given the number of vacant sites in the centre of the town, it is a shame it was not built there rather than hidden away behind the railway station.

From it, outdoor relief for the aristocracy and the shipping of herbal teas, luxury soaps and what Alan Bennett's mother called "out-of-the-way mustards" all around the country are organised.


Frank Little said...

The people had their opportunity to pass judgment via the planning process. What the PoW did was to pull royal strings to get the Rogers scheme aborted (Saudi royalty funds the development).

dreamingspire said...

Today I was consorting with someone close to the govt's Technology Strategy Board, which lives just across the railway line to the east of the NT HQ and is equally out of sight out of mind. Swindon, as I once said to a gathering wanting to hear about the bank cash card trial (Mondex) being run there 10 years ago, is in the western desert and is also an absolute paradigm of a town, with a broad and balanced demographic profile and (unlike the other one that trialists use, Guildford) doesn't have tides of people passing through.
One would expect NT to want to set up next to, say, Windsor Castle, towards which they would cast envious eyes, just waiting for the time when King Charles sets up an ashram for his HQ.
But I'm sure that the lure of that arid space north of the station was low cost land, unlike the centre of town.