Thursday, 22 November 2012

Noblesse Oblige

A new documentary series begins this evening at 9pm on Channel 4.

The Aristocrats tonight features His Grace the 11th Duke of Marlborough, JP, DL, at his palatial Oxfordshire seat, Blenheim Palace.

At 200,000 square feet, the house is the largest in the British Isles. For 300 years it has been home to the Spencer-Churchills, since John Churchill was given its keys after his victory over the French in 1704.

The documentary provides an exclusive insight into one of the most infamous - and historically one of the bitterest - father-and-son relationships.

This film follows a story of reconciliation and redemption.

Sunny Marlborough, a former Guards officer, is 86 years old, courteous and fastidious.

His 56-year-old son Jamie, a courtesy lord, is styled Marquess of Blandford; or less formally, Jamie Blandford.

Jamie's excessive lifestyle and battles with drug addiction have been widely covered British media for most of his life.

This is the first time Jamie Blandford has appeared in a documentary. At stake is the inheritance of the biggest palace in the British Isles, Blenheim.

The Duke has dedicated his life to maintaining and safeguarding it.

Bigger than Buckingham and Windsor, with 187 rooms, the palace was given to the Marlboroughs as a gift from a grateful nation after the 1st Duke fought the Battle of Blenheim in 1704.

But after the Duke fell out with Queen Anne, he was saddled with paying for the rest of the construction, and the family joke that they have been fighting the 'Battle of Blenheim' ever since.

His Grace's solution was to open it up to mass tourism, and every year Blenheim receives 500,000 visitors.

Worried about the potential repercussions for Blenheim of his son's addiction, the Duke went to court in 1994 to disinherit his son: the first time an aristocrat had done so for 100 years.

Lord Blandford contested the case and eventually the two men reached a compromise: when his father died Jamie would inherit the title and the right to live in the palace, but a group of trustees would control the place and decide how much influence any Duke has.

NOW CLEAN, and reconciled with his father, Jamie, eventually to inherit the titles as 12th Duke of Marlborough (the title is customarily pronounced "Mawl-bro"), is back living on the estate, hoping to prove to Sunny and the all-powerful trustees that he is fit and able to take on the 'Battle of Blenheim'.

The cameras are there during the peak tourist season, often thwarted with bad weather, and in the run-up to the completion of a £2 million new block at the palace, opened by the constituency MP, the Rt Hon David Cameron.

Jamie Blandford speaks openly about the regrets about his past, feeling daunted but ambitious about running this incredible and grandiose estate. But will his father entrust him with his life's work and the Marlborough legacy?

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