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Wednesday, October 19

1979 BBC documentary on the work of Thailand's king and queen to save a nation

Their Royal Highnesses, fighting Communism one remote village at a time 

This documentary, narrated by Sir John Gielgud, was posted in two parts at YouTube in September 2013. Unfortunately it is an edited version of the three-hour BBC documentary but even what's available is just incredible.

Part 1 YouTube

Part 2 YouTube

In some ways it is a dangerous film to show today because it reveals the king and his queen as such great rulers that I'm afraid the world's leaders in this democratic era come off very poorly in the comparison. The way is forward, not back, but there are many lessons for democratic societies in the reign of King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit.  

The BBC was given unprecedented access to the royal family so this is not just historical footage held together by a narrative; their majesties were interviewed (in English) throughout the film, and answered (in English) some pretty tough questions.  

In addition, the documentary was made while Thailand was fighting a foreign-backed Communist insurgency, and it's against this backdrop, as Communism continued its sweep through Southeast Asia and threatened to overtake Thailand, that the BBC tagged along during the workdays of the royal couple. 

So it provides a more in-depth look at King Bhumibol than the 2013 documentary presented by the History Channel, which I featured earlier on this blog (and still recommend).
A few points jumped out at me from the BBC documentary:

King Bhumibol paid out of his own pocket for the rural development he called for, and he and his wife (and much of his royal court, it seems!) spent eight months out of every year visiting the villages. Sir John in his narrative said that it was this close personal attention to the rural peoples that was key to holding off the Communist insurgency in Thailand.

(As to why his majesty had to personally fund Thailand's rural development, that's a good question, which the BBC tactfully avoided asking at least while the camera was rolling. From the very little I've read about the situation, I would suspect that the royal coffers had been raided by people who were running Thailand before Bhumibol settled into his duties, but that's just a guess.)

The documentary was also made at a time when many refugees escaping the horror of the Khmer Rouge had flooded into Thailand, further destabilizing the country. This human tide of misery hadn't been known about in the West for years, as Sir John points out. After the USA left Vietnam, we turned our eyes away from that part of the world.  

The parts about the insurgency, and the role of the Thai military in fighting it, also put Thailand's military coups in the modern era in a perspective that makes the military actions somewhat more understandable to outsiders.

Finally, when I think of regimes that fought the Communists with the most brutal oppression of rural peoples, the BBC documentary gives an indication of just how admirable the reign of King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit was. 

From the YouTube introduction:
This is part of a three-hour-long BBC documentary made in the 1970's containing rare and wonderful footage of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej talking with a BBC reporter and beautifully narrated by Sir John Gielgud.
The documentary also includes footage of Her Majesty Mom Rajawongse Sirikit Kitiyakara and Her Majesty Somdech Phra Srinagarindra Boromarajajonani, respectively the spouse and the mother of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and footage of many other members of the Thai Royal Family.
 Narrator: Sir John Gielgud
Interviewer: David Lomax
Camera: John Walker, Rick Stratton, Keith Hopper
Sound: Rodney Bond, Tony Dutton, Chris Lovelock
Dubbing Mixer: Lou Hanks
Music by: The Thai Classical Music Group
Lighting: Sam Taylor, Arthur McMullen, Peter Robinson
Graphics: John Eaton
Editors: Peter Pierre, Peter Batty
Produces and Directed by: Bridget Winter

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