After more than a decade as Royal Press Secretary, Dickie Arbiter has found himself rehashing old memories in his tell all book, On Duty With the Queen. The veteran of broadcast media has plenty to say about his long career.
He’s worked as a Court Correspondent for IRN, as a gamekeeper and, notably, spent twelve years on the Royal frontline. At 81 years old, seasoned broadcaster Dickie Arbiter credits, “a pretty good retentive memory” for his book, On Duty With the Queen, which covers his close relationship with the senior Royals.
Growing up in the aftermath of the Second World War, Arbiter discovered a knowledge of our latter day monarchy through his school history lessons.
“Post-war, things were hard,” he says, “I suppose my introduction to the monarchy was when I went to boarding school. In those days all you really learnt about in history was the monarchs from 1066 by rote and little else.”
This traditional education was altered by the death of King George, when lessons were instead focused upon his reign. “I suppose it picked up from there and I got very involved with the coronation as you did projects at school. I suppose by the time I was 10 or 11 the interest grew.”
But the role of Royal Press Secretary didn’t call quite yet. Arbiter spent time working on different aspects of the broadcasting game, and he got used to brushing over potential disasters during his years in the game. After all, communications problems aren’t a burden reserved exclusively for the Royals. Arbiter’s time working for the (then) Rhodesia Broadcasting Corporation in his early days also brought its fair share of blips.
“I was doing a TV sports programme and we were talking about football. There was a high up official who was extremely knowledgeable about the sport but his language left much to be desired; he had a reputation for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time…”
With the interview finished, Arbiter flipped the switch back to the main studio (“In those days you had to do everything yourself”) but not before the football star slipped up.
“He said to me: ‘Well if I say so myself that was a bloody good interview’ - but he didn’t use the word ‘bloody’, he used something else! The whole thing went out live over the whole federation, so Southern Rhodesia, Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland.”
While communications hiccups might sometimes be inevitable, Arbiter worked tirelessly to avoid them during his later Royal years.
Not that there was a ‘typical’ day,” in his role as Press Secretary, Arbiter explains. While, “The day would start invariably by checking all the newspapers for anything that vaguely resembled a Royal story or a mention of the Royal family,” after that, everything depended on the Royal schedule. “I could then go out on engagements which either the Prince or Princess or the Queen or maybe check that investiture with reporters was going OK.”
Arbiter might have left the Royal payroll in 2000, but his family are still involved with the House of Windsor: his daughter also worked as the Special Royal Correspondent for the Royal marriage 2011.
“The fact that she got parachuted in by CBS TV network to cover the wedding was purely out of the blue. I knew nothing about it till (Victoria) called me to say, ‘I’m coming to London, can we talk?’ and we spent the next two hours on the telephone.”
Arbiter does allow that perhaps his daughter got a taste for broadcasting from, “the early days, when if I didn’t have someone to look after them I’d take the children to the studio at 5 in the morning while I did a breakfast show…”
Arbiter’s career as Royal Press Secretary saw Princess Diana’s tragic death, the Windsor Fire – “I was there within an hour of it starting and left it a couple of days later” – and plenty, plenty more. With 12 years devoted to the Palace, his memoirs prove to tell an interesting story.