A Royal Whodunnit: Is the Sun's footage of the Queen & Queen mum posing with Nazi salutes the Scoop of the Year?

Being talked about is the lifeblood of a tabloid newspaper and with its 82-year-old archive footage of the Queen, as a 6 or 7-year-old, giving a Nazi salute the Sun has certainly achieved that in spades.

It adds up to an old fashioned 'scoop' of the type the American media used to call a 'Hey Martha'....only in the cyberspace age it went globally viral in the equivalent of a blink of the eye.

The BBC, Sky and TV networks worldwide were swift to screen the Sun's front page and-predictably--the Twittersphere and social media generally went into hyper-drive with monarchists and Sun-haters generally lambasting the newspaper while raucous republicans, not often the paper's greatest admirers, rallying robustly to its defence.

Rival UK newspapers (torn, I suspect between envy and admiration) were wrongfooted. Some, like the Daily Mail, were swift to 'lift' the Sun's front page photo unattributed while running a whole page inside acknowledging the paper's involvement, acknowledging the 'historic interest' of the photo while flagging up the potential of Palace or police action over how the home movie came into the Murdoch tabloid's possession.

Other titles either chose to ignore or downplay the story or project it on their websites only, as the Palace's understated de facto 'We are not amused' reaction gave the Sun's scoop extra legs. 'Disappointed'--the word initially used by one Palace spokesperson--hardly reflected the real mood behind royals.

An official statement accusing the Sun of 'exploiting' private archive footage gave a better clue to how the Queen and her senior advisers really felt.

As the fallout mushrooms, it will be interesting to see if the Palace decides to lodge a formal complaint with the Press's relatively new independent self-regulator, IPSO. My hunch is they won't----unless it can be proven that the Sun's footage was illegally obtained from the Queen's own archives.

Well-connected royal biographer William Shawcross, who now heads up the Charity Commission and has sometimes been a Sun contributor on royal issues, attacked the newspaper for its 'prurience' and told Sky News that the archive film must have been stolen and predicted the Sun could end in 'serious' legal trouble and also face a reader backlash. But he failed to address suggestions from other sources that the film had been copied a number of times and was also in the possession of the Duke of Windsor's estate.It's even possible, suggest some royal sources, that the film could have been 'accidentally' released to some media sources without anyone spotting its embarrassing potential as part of a mass of material linked to recent landmark anniversaries in the monarch's reign. In other words, more cock-up than conspiracy theory, perhaps?

Either way, one thing can be guaranteed: Royal advisers and lawyers are spending the weekend and beyond pondering how to respond further and no doubt launching a royal 'whodunnit ' drama worthy of Agatha Christie to solve the mystery of how it came into the Sun's hands.

As a former tabloid editor and media commentator, I was invited on-air to give my opinion and had little hesitation in backing the Sun's publication. Not least because the Sun handled its controversial scoop rather cleverly. By putting up its managing editor Stig Abell (who just happens to be the former director of IPSO's predecessor the Press Complaints Commission!) to do the broadcasting interview round, the Sun vigorously defended its decision; a tactic that was in marked contrast to the Kelvin Mackenzie era when the paper sparked agenda-setting controversy but ducked opportunities to defend its corner.

Abell proved, well, an able advocate for the Sun's decision to publish and be damned inevitably in some quarters of the establishment and among diehard monarchists in the court of public opinion. And it was significant that some of the 'usual suspects' in Sun-bashing circles, both inside and outside the media world, either came to its defence or became uncharacteristically mute.

In my view, Stig Abell was right to challenge the Palace's implication that the Queen's privacy had been compromised by arguing that the film's historical significance outweighed the 'privacy question'.

In my view too, the Sun's leader, headlined 'The images we had to publish' contained the killer justification: 'What gives The Sun's extraordinary images such historical significance, and the reason we believe the public has a right to finally see them, is the involvement of the Queen's uncle Edward. The man who briefly became our King was already a fan of Hitler--and remained so as late as 1970, long after the Holocaust's horrors were laid bare'.

OK, argued some ardent royalists online, Edward's Nazi sympathies have been well-chronicled over the years, so this was 'old hat' rather than a 'World Exclusive', worthy of a splash and six inside pages of Britain's biggest-selling newspaper in 2015. The answer to which is that even grainy old pictures can be worth a thousand words and the image of the man who (briefly) became King teaching his two small nieces and their mother to give a Nazi salute adds another memorable insight to history. In addition, it triggers the overriding thought: Thank God he preferred Mrs Simpson to the throne'.

If anything, the Sun could be accused of gallantly downplaying the Queen Mum's role as a fully-grown woman in smilingly joining the salute. Thousands of people on social media were rather less chivalrous.

It's also arguably sign of the Sun's subtle shift in style in 2015 that its coverage was cleverly balanced with positive images and headlines about the Royal Family's role in World War II, such as 'Queen of the Blitz... silly salute but a rock in country's bleak years', referring to the Queen Mother.

But the justification for the Sun's saturation-coverage scoop came less from its eye-catching, albeit painfully predictable splash headline pun, 'Their Royal Heilnesses' as the one across pages 4&5, 'Nazis wanted Edward as king and Wallis as a 'good queen', complete with the graphic, grainy photo of the smiling royal couple gushingly shaking hands with a certain Adolf Hitler in Berlin in 1937.

That, for my money, closes the case in favour of the Sun's decision to run....and risk the wrath of those who damn them for publishing. And I wouldn't mind an early bet that it might well win 'Scoop of the Year' in the British Press Awards.

Paul Connew is a media commentator and broadcaster, former editor of the Sunday Mirror, deputy editor of the Daily Mirror, co-author of the book 'After Leveson' and an active member of the Society of Editors and a longstanding judge of the British Press Awards

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