Welcome to Part Twenty-Three of my sequel to and contemporary inversion of The Prisoner of Zenda, the latest in our series of audio adventures, Tales for Our Time. Anthony Hope's enduring classic was first published in 1894, but we've re-cast it over a century on in a London as fantastical as any town in Ruritania. In tonight's episode, on the eve of Rudy Elphberg's big speech in Manchester, the media decide that the threat from Ruritanian content farmers has suddenly intensified:
The camera cut to a severe-looking blonde woman with an aquiline nose and pursed lips in the usual BBC black trouser-suit prowling what looked to be some sort of dungeon. She was labeled as 'Gabriella Waitrose, National Security Editor' and began to speak:
'For many Britons, that's their only acquaintance with a faraway country of which we know little: Every Tuesday we tune in for the comic adventures of dim-witted English man-about-town Sir Aubrey Tickell, Bart, and the brilliant Ruritanian manservant, Zlapp, who somehow manages to rescue him from all his scrapes. But what if the Ruritanians are far more brilliant than we suspect? And what if we unsuspecting British are too dim-witted to realize what they're up to? Tonight on Panorama a special investigation: Have Ruritanian content farmers stolen our democracy?'
There followed the usual doom-laden opening titles, followed by a clip of Hillary Clinton on a book tour to promote Why Did I Lose? Volume Seven. She was on a stage in Malibu sitting opposite Oprah Winfrey when a question about whether it was a mistake not to campaign in Wisconsin brought her to her feet, yelling, 'Have you any idea what it's like to have victory snatched from you by RURITANIAN... CONTENT... FARMERS???'
Oprah backed her chair away cautiously, and at that moment Mrs Clinton's legs buckled and she fell into the orchestra pit.
À propos dispossessed royal houses, Josh Passell, a First Weekend Founding Member of The Mark Steyn Club from Massachusetts, writes:
Now, this IS fun!
King Rudy can take heart from the Lobkowicz royal family of...where, exactly? Bohemia? Czechoslovakia? The Czech Republic? Usurped first by the Nazis and then by the Soviets, the royal family dating back six centuries endured six decades in exile. Come the Velvet Revolution, the scion of the noble line, William, whose family had taken up residence in Boston, now found himself not "just my Bill", but "Prince" or "Serene Highness". Like some Ruritanian take on The Beverly Hillbillies, Bill loaded up the shipping container and moved the family to Prague. Czech Republic, that is...tennis players...hockey stars. I know all of this because Bill had been the Harvard roommate of an editor of mine who assigned me the story in time to promote the Dvorak Festival the Lobkowicz family were sponsoring that coming summer. Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you.
Indeed, Josh. One of the heartening aspects of the post-Warsaw Pact east has been the return of royal and noble families booted out by the Commies. There is something inspirational in the Bulgars' dethroned king returning to his stolen realm, running for prime minister as "Mr Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha" ...and winning. (He and Cambodia's Sihanouk are the only monarchs to have subsequently been democratically elected as heads of government.) In Montenegro, Prince Nicholas, the rightful king, now receives a salary exactly equivalent to the President's, resides once more in the royal palace, acts as a "special representative" of the Montenegrin government and exercises not just ceremonial but certain other functions (including the power to pardon criminals). Indeed, Montenegro seems to have adopted the model proposed by Conrad Black for Canada - that of a "royal republic" in which the Queen and an elected president would be co-chiefs of state. I regard that as an eccentric and impertinent proposition for the Great White North, but, after Communism and the Yugoslav civil war, rather attractive in the Montenegrin context.
If you've only joined our club in recent days and missed our earlier serials (Conan Doyle's The Tragedy of the Korosko, H G Wells' The Time Machine, Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent, plus Kipling, Dickens, Gogol, Kafka, Baroness Orczy, Jack London, Louisa May Alcott, John Buchan, L M Montgomery, Scott Fitzgerald, Victor Hugo and more), you can find them all here in an easily accessible Netflix-style tile format.
If you have friends who might appreciate Tales for Our Time, we have a special Steyn Club Gift Membership that lets them in on that and all the other fun in The Mark Steyn Club. To become a member of the Steyn Club, please click here - and please join me tomorrow for Part Twenty-Four of The Prisoner of Windsor.