PRINCE PHILIP was the first royal to embrace television, submitting to the first TV interview in 1961 with Richard Dimbleby.

It was all about the Commonwealth Technical Training Week and the questioning didn’t deviate, and then in 1969, he was the driving force behind the first royal documentary, the Royal Family, which showed him barbecuing sausages. It was watched by 350m people, but hasn’t been seen since 1972.

Inbetween those TV firsts, the duke flew north for 80 minutes in an aeroplane for another first: his first network TV interview. This was for Tyne Tees and it was filmed in Newcastle, for a programme called Face the Press. It was screened on March 20, 1968, and the panel of journalists, squeezed behind a tight desk, was chaired by Ludovic Kennedy.

Beside him was Harold Evans, who had just started editing the Sunday Times having made his name in Darlington editing the D&S Times’ sister paper, The Northern Echo.

Also on the panel was Brian Redhead, the northern editor of The Guardian, and William Hardcastle, the Newcastle-born journalist who went to Durham School and edited the Daily Mail before starting BBC radio news programmes like PM.

“I was very flattered by the invitation and the letter seemed to imply that the people living in this part of the country felt they were slightly away from the centre of things, and if I can help by taking part, help people feel less out on a limb, I’m delighted to do it,” said the duke, explaining why he had agreed to take part in the programme.

“Coming from London to here, an hour 20 mins in the aeroplane, this isn’t out in the sticks at all.”

Speaking in the clipped accent that is only heard on black-and-white TV clips, he looked very relaxed, confident and good humoured. He sat in a Mastermind-style chair with his hair slicked back and was given a quickfire grilling by the journalists.

They asked profound questions, like “what is your job?”

“I haven’t got one. I’m self employed. It’s very difficult to answer. I think it is largely in response to demand. I try and react to what people expect. In addition, I feel that I may have a position or whatever influence I have, I want to use for the benefit of the country.

“The essence of every community that has a head, they traditionally and fundamentally have to concern themselves with the interest of the people they head. I feel I ought to be doing my best for the community in whatever way I can.”

Tyne Tees TVs first logo when it started in 1959 with its transmitter covering an area from Northallerton to Alnwick and west to Middleton-in-Teesdale

Tyne Tees TV's first logo when it started in 1959 with its transmitter covering an area from Northallerton to Alnwick and west to Middleton-in-Teesdale

They ask him how he pitched his more controversial comments – he had recently attacked the environmental desecration of the south Wales valleys by copper smelting – and he replied: “The essence is to slide along a knife edge knowing how far I can go. It is very easy to say nothing but bromides but it’s easy to fall flat on your face by saying too much.”

Kennedy quickly followed up, asking if his outspokenness had any effect. “I don’t know,” he replied, smiling. “The only real success I’ve had was when I complained about the rear lights on lorries when I was general president of the AA and within a month they had introduced a law to change that.”

The journalists quizzed the duke about the future for his eldest son, Prince Charles, who was approaching his 21st birthday,

“There’s no absolute reason he shouldn’t take on a job of some kind,” he said. “He is part of the structure so he’s always got to have one eye on the major interest which is the interest of the country and not his selfish interest. This is part of the contract, of the responsibility, that one accepts.”

Philip clearly feels that Charles should enter the family business. “It’s a very personal relationship with the monarchy and it only really functions if people know the members, so there’s a tremendous amount he can do,” he said. “I have been to this part of the world six or seven times in the last 15 years, that’s not a very high ration and I can’t split myself up.”

In truth, the duke doesn’t seem to know a lot about the area he has jetted in to.

“I don’t think of the North-East as an entity,” he said. “I think the east coast of any country has a peculiar climatic difference to the west coast. We have a house on the east coast of Norfolk. Here is an industrial area. The peculiar thing about this country is the countryside changes very quickly. It is the look of the place and the light, the smoke or the structure of the towns one notices.”

The only time the duke looks even mildly discomforted in the 38 minute question is when Evans reveals that his paper had asked its readers to vote for the most fascinating and exciting man of the 20th Century, dead or alive.

Harold Evans, former editor of The Northern Echo, who grilled the Duke of Edinburgh on his first TV interview

Harold Evans, former editor of The Northern Echo, who grilled the Duke of Edinburgh on his first TV interview

“They put you well ahead of President Kennedy, Sean Connery and Albert Schweitzer,” said Evans, “and you were more popular among older age groups, and among more women than men.”

“Well, I’d better run for something then,” replied the duke.

He is at his most animated when talking about the “permissive society”. “It is a complete misnomer,” he said, shifting in the big chair. “We live in the most regimented society that has ever existed. You practically have to have a licence to breathe. You can’t move without someone asking what you are doing.”

He moves on to talk about how the press’ reporting of the royal family has changed since Elizabeth came to the throne.

“It is completely different relationship now,” he said. “We were a young family and as such were much more newsworthy and interesting than we are now as we are getting on for middle age, and, I dare say, were I really ancient, there might be more reverence.”

In 1968, the prince cannot have known how ancient he would become and how reverentially his death would be treated by the media – perhaps too reverentially for the record 100,000 people who complained about the BBC’s wall-to-wall coverage.

The final question of the TTTV interview was predictable, but the prince didn’t have an answer for it.

“What would like to be remembered for?” asked Kennedy.

“I don’t really know,” said the duke, fiddling with his fingers. “Perhaps the only thing I can think of offhand is the introduction of the awards scheme which has had an influence far beyond the people who have taken part on it. It has liberalised the educational system and people have recognised that education is more to it than reading and writing.”

The Duke of Edinburgh Awards Scheme was introduced in February 1956.

And with that, Kennedy faced the camera and said: “Prince Philip, thank you very much for coming here to Newcastle to answer our questions. That is the end of Face the Press tonight. Viewers in the North-East will see another programme next week. Until then goodnight.”

FOOTNOTES: Albert Schweitzer was an Austrian theologian, musician and medical missionary who had died in 1965 at the age of 90. The word “bromide” was very difficult to work out and probably isn’t heard very much these days. The prince was using it to mean conventional or trite views, and it seems to come from the bromide paper on which photographs were copied.