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David Behrens: The odd couple... America renews its own romance with Britain

Royal fans in Windsor ahead of the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. PIC: PA
Royal fans in Windsor ahead of the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. PIC: PA
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Leaving aside for a moment its singular and incomparable Britishness, today’s spectacle in Windsor is also a peculiarly American occasion.

Far be it from me to accuse them of condescension, but it has been fascinating to watch the American media gaze down upon us like fairy godparents, as if looking into a large and elaborate dolls’ house.

Changing of the guard at Windsor Castle as Britain puts on a show for the US

Changing of the guard at Windsor Castle as Britain puts on a show for the US

But in fairness, it is their show, too: the first time since Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier III of Monaco in 1956, that a member of their own royal family has married into one of Europe’s.

The schedule for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s big day

Meghan Markle is not a film star in the mould of Miss Kelly; Suits, the TV series in which she starred, is no High Society. But she is, nonetheless, a part of their showbusiness pantheon.

This explains the nature of some of the coverage since last weekend. The CBS network devoted the entirety of its revered Sunday Morning programme to reports from London that ranged from the ravens in the Tower to the niceties of taking afternoon tea at the Langham. It needed only Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke to dance across the rooftops to make the stereotype complete.

Royal fans outside Windsor Castle ahead of the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. PIC: PA

Royal fans outside Windsor Castle ahead of the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. PIC: PA

I’m not sure if they had noticed that the wedding isn’t actually in London – although Windsor is only 20 miles away and I’m led to believe they have gazebos longer than that.

Elsewhere on US television, you could watch Meghan Markle: An American Princess, Harry and Meghan: A Royal Romance and, on the Smithsonian Channel, no less, Million Dollar American Princesses. There is also a satire called Royal Wedding Live With Cord and Tish – though whether cord and tish are people or curtain accessories, I cannot say.

The insistence by Americans in presenting Britain as if it were a Disney theme park called the United Magic Kingdom is as old as the hills. There was a similar media circus in 2011 when Prince William married Kate Middleton, and an even bigger one in 1981, for William’s parents, Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer. But for Americans, today’s event is more significant than either – the groom may not be a future king but, as the titles of those TV programmes affirm, the bride is one of their own.

In that respect, and that respect only, it is the most significant trans-Atlantic romance to involve a British Royal since the one between Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII. Happily for Ms Markle, attitudes to divorcees have softened since then.

It was not a wedding but the Coronation that most exposed the gulf between American culture and our own. The BBC was Britain’s only TV channel in 1953 and videotape, let alone transatlantic satellites, had yet to be invented, so the NBC network filled in with still photographs and the BBC’s radio commentary until the reels of film arrived by BOAC.

The stills were what viewers to America’s breakfast show saw, but they were interrupted – I’m not making this up – by adverts for English tea featuring the programme’s mascot, a live chimpanzee called J Fred Muggs.

Even the critic in the New York Times thought this was beyond the pale and, though the footage was never seen in London, a city whose air was as stiff with deference as it was thick with fog, the news of it very nearly scuppered plans for the introduction of commercial television two years later. A tuppenny Punch and Judy show, said Sir Winston Churchill, who hadn’t wanted to let cameras into Westminster Abbey in the first place.

It had been very different during the Blitz, when the CBS commentator Edward R Murrow, speaking from Broadcasting House, just across the road from the Langham, had done more than probably anyone to prepare Americans for privations coming their way. When he went back to the States, the BBC engineers cut the cable of his microphone and gave it him as a souvenir.

Today’s Anglophilia on the part of the networks, even allowing for the gently mocking manner of some of the presenters, does us no harm; it’s actually an enviable shop window for our tourism industry and, come August in London, there will be Americans queueing around every block for their afternoon tea.

Let’s hope a few of them make the journey north to Yorkshire. It’s less than 200 miles and they seem happy to drive that far for a bucket of fried chicken of an evening. Now who’s being condescending?