TV CHOICE: BBC veteran takes viewers on Queen’s journey

The Queen: Her Commonwealth Story - George Alagiah. BBC - Photographer: William Edwards
The Queen: Her Commonwealth Story - George Alagiah. BBC - Photographer: William Edwards

The Queen: Her Commonwealth Story airs tonight on BBC One, at 9pm.

Her husband’s from Greece, she has a thirst for knowledge. She studied in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (not a college).

In the early 1950s, Elizabeth II studied Commonwealth people, a world tour which some might say was the making of the young monarch.

The Queen’s tour to the far reaches of her empire was an epic achievement and helped cement a bond with millions that survives to this day.

In this film, George Alagiah explores the history of Queen Elizabeth II and her beloved Commonwealth.

He discovers how the role of heading this family of nations has affected the monarch as she grew and developed, both as a dignitary and as a person.

As a specialist on the developing world, the BBC veteran is well placed to visit Tonga, one of the furthest flung stops on the Queen’s first Commonwealth tour in 1953.

There he meets Princess Pilolevu, granddaughter of the Queen of Tonga, who welcomed the 27-year-old queen so warmly all those years ago.

From there George is off to Australia, Ghana, India and South Africa. In each country, he discovers how the shy young VIP grew into a monarch who commands respect, exploring moments of triumph, diplomacy, challenge and political intrigue.

It’s clear that making this documentary has been an education, even for one of the smartest, most well-travelled journalists at the BBC.

“I was born in Sri Lanka. I spent my childhood in Ghana, I’ve worked in South Africa, and of course Britain is my home,” explains George. “They’re all linked together; they’re all Commonwealth countries, but I never thought of them being linked together by the queen as head of the Commonwealth.”

The role was thrust upon Elizabeth after the death of her father. It had a mere eight members at the time, all former British colonies, including Australia, Canada, South Africa and India.

It was a voluntary club that supported peace, democracy and trade. Still in its infancy, it fell to the young monarch to make it thrive in a troubled world.

Her coronation was barely over before she embarked on the longest tour ever undertaken by a British monarch. For six months she was away from her two young children on a mission to promote the organisation and be accepted in her new role.

She circled the globe, visiting Commonwealth nations, British protectorates and colonies.

With the aid of testimony from people who have met the Queen across the years, and from experts who have followed her journey, George builds a picture of how skilfully she has played her unique role as head of the Commonwealth, through a passage of history that has seen some of the nations going through difficult and tempestuous times.

Princess Anne talks about her mother’s role as a woman in a male-dominated world. With more contributions including former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke.