The royal family was also skeptical. “Why doesn’t Edward let the TV people get on with it and just turn up to accept the cheques?” Prince Philip allegedly quipped. “He’s making us look foolish.”
For a time, it seemed Prince Philip’s assessment was correct. Ardent’s first credited production was 1995’s Real Tennis, a TV documentary focusing on an obscure aristocratic racquet game, which garnered 8,000 British viewers. Next was Annie’s Bar, a 1996 satire about backbenchers in the House of Commons. Canceled after one season, it was savaged by British critics as “fifth rate.”
Having lost money every year, Ardent Productions quickly changed their tune. “I never said we wouldn’t make programmes about the royal family,” Edward claimed in 1996. That year he would be the host of Edward on Edward, a documentary about his infamous great uncle Edward, the Duke of Windsor. This backflip was immediately seized on by the British media.
“He is neither a historian nor a journalist; as far as one can tell, his only qualification for the job is that he happens to have the same Christian name as his subject,” Francis Wheen wrote in The Guardian. “It is most generous of ITV to offer work to members of the royal family…Perhaps the whole gruesome clan should form a production company—the Really Useless Group—and start preparing a few sequels: Andrew on Andrew, in which the Duke of York chooses his favourite melodies from the musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber…and Queen on Queen, a personal tribute by the monarch to the late Freddie Mercury.”
Although The Guardian claimed Edward on Edward suffered from a “dearth of revelations and a leaden, cliched script,” it was surprisingly successful. When asked if his family had seen it, Edward said yes, but “I’m not going to tell you what they thought.”
Whatever the royals really thought about Edward’s career, their tacit support sparked resentment in the British entertainment industry. In 1997, Ardent released Windsor Restored, a documentary which chronicled the rebuilding of Windsor Castle after it was devastated by fire in 1992. Not only did Prince Philip, the then Prince Charles, and Prince Andrew sit for interviews, the Royal Collection also gave Ardent license to years of footage of the restoration project free of charge. “Dealing with the Palace is not just frustrating, it’s not like dealing with anyone else: They speak a different language,” a contemporary producer told The Independent. “Ardent, at least, has an interpreter on the team.”