David Starkey

It has been a pretty good week for Dr David Starkey. The TV historian once dubbed the "rudest man in Britain" seems to have mellowed a touch.

Perhaps landing a £4.5 million deal with Channel 4 and Granada to make a series of special programmes about the British monarchy has something to do with it.

Teletext bumped into the venerable 57-year-old at the launch of a new campaign to promote Britain's fantastic country houses. He was remarkably genial.

"If there is one place we must all see this year, what is it?" I asked him.

Ah hah, you can tell he liked that opener. He replied: "There's no way you can choose a single English site. The country is so rich.

"If you're interested in Henry VIII, for example, you go to Eltham Palace, if you're interested in Queen Victoria you go to Osborne House. You pick, you choose the ideal site for you."

History was described as the new "new rock and roll" last year with more people than ever before watching and reading about our past.

But aren't we still blase about it? " We take it less seriously than, say, the French or the Americans," replies Dr Starkey.

"Part of the reason is that, like the Italians, we have so much of it. And also partly I think it has been so badly taught in our schools and there's been no conscious sense of teaching people a national story.

"In fact it's been regarded almost as a bad idea. Unlike the Americans, because of their history of their constitution, and the French, because of the self-consciousness of their national identity."

"We English should start doing the same. We have something that is profoundly to be proud of."

Hear, hear, I say to that.

The Royal Family has shown itself to be spectacularly dysfunctional in terms of public relations. David Starkey says lessons can be learned from the past.

"I certainly think that what is instructive about Queen Elizabeth I is her awareness of the importance of popularity," he tells TV Plus.

"It's her awareness of the need to play to the gallery, as it were, and not to be ashamed of it. But is a dangerous lesson. There are as many problems � as Princess Diana demonstrated � as advantages. Monarchy isn't risk-free."

As you would expect from a man who was educated at Cambridge, Dr Starkey presents an intellectual defence to charges that he is getting paid too much.

"I'm not surprised. I put forward the arguments that enable me to get those payments. Television is a popular medium.

"As with newspapers you are paid by how many people buy your paper and it is an entirely rational calculation - and indeed I would argue that I am probably rather underpaid on a comparative basis.

"If you bear in mind that the series Six Wives of Henry VIII got a larger audience than anything recently on Channel 4 apart from Big Brother."

Like every Lottery winner, he claims it won't change him. Unlike every Lottery winner you actually believe him.

He tells us: "I'll only spend a bit of it. I already have a very nice lifestyle and I think there is nothing sillier than to reinvent yourself just because of a certain degree of fame.

"There's a thing called modesty, there is a thing called good sense. In my case, there is a need to work very hard."

(Published TV Plus Teletext ITV) 

Image courtesy of Bath University.