This newspaper played a key role in the creation of The Lost Prince, Stephen Poliakoff's two-part drama for BBC 1 about Prince John (played by Matthew Thomas), the little-known fifth and youngest child of George V (played by the excellent Tom Hollander) and Queen Mary (Miranda Richardson, who gets to add to her portfolio of difficult monarchs).
The boy, known to his family as Johnnie, suffered from epilepsy and learning difficulties, and was thus locked away from public view in a remote cottage at Sandringham. Isolated and neglected by his family, he was redeemed only by the enduring love of a "surrogate mother", his devoted nanny Lalla (Gina McKee).
Poliakoff, the writer-director who has also been responsible for such memorable, award-winning TV dramas as Perfect Strangers, Shooting the Past and Caught on a Train, is taking a well-earned break from a concentrated editing session in a dingy bunker studio in Soho. Bearded, bespectacled, intense and charismatic, he recounts how the project started. "Years and years ago, when I was writing Clever Soldiers, a play about the First World War, I read one sentence in a general history book about Prince John. The idea lay dormant at the back of my mind until it was reactivated with a bang in 1998, when I saw a huge photo of Prince John on the front page of The Independent. It was in the Duke of Windsor's photo collection, which had just come into the public domain. The boy's face was simply staring out of the page at me - I found that image very haunting."
What is so remarkable about John's life, which stretched from 1905 to 1919, is that it encompasses such a cataclysmic period in our nation's history - and the young prince, peeking through a half- open door, was witness to much of it. The trailers for The Lost Prince have emphasised as much, by picturing epochal events - Asquith (Frank Finlay), say, dashing to Buckingham Palace to discuss the impending war with the King - through a keyhole.
Johnnie was born at the zenith of Edwardian splendour, when one family dominated most of the great houses of Europe. All that began to unravel, however, as various cousins fell out, resulting in the pan-European earthquake of the First World War. This convulsive conflict drove many of the rulers from power - including, of course, the King's Russian cousin, Tsar Nicholas II. Johnnie's short life mirrored that traumatic era - he even died on the day that the Treaty of Versailles was being thrashed out.
In Poliakoff's epic drama, Johnnie is like the little boy who dared to point out that the emperor was not wearing any clothes. He is not constrained by false notions of politesse. At a shooting- party luncheon, for example, his grandfather - King Edward VII (played with typical gusto by Michael Gambon) - grumbles that his morning's sport has been futile. Johnnie proceeds to tell it to him straight: "Maybe it's because you're so old, grandpapa." There is a deathly silence and a look of stunned horror on the faces of the guests before King Edward roars with laughter and declares: "The boy's right! The boy's always right!"
Like J G Ballard's autobiographical novel, Empire of the Sun, The Lost Prince interleaves a child's moving story with seismic changes in global politics. We view tectonic shifts in the world order through the prism of an innocent boy with a purity of vision. The child's eye often perceives the absurdity of the grown-up world better than the adult's. At one point, in the midst of the First World War, Queen Mary is distraught as it finally dawns on her that her family - whose tentacles span Europe - is about to disintegrate. She laments that "the Kaiser is being removed from his honorary position as head of certain British regiments". "But surely that's right, mama," her clear-sighted son replies. "We're fighting him."
Poliakoff has always been a challenging, poetic film-maker who fiercely resists the temptation to state the bleeding obvious. He comes at things from an oblique angle, and clearly identifies with Johnnie's outsider perspective. He sees the prince as a seer. "He stands apart from events, yet has a certain wisdom about them. That is particularly poignant when a great tragedy is engulfing both his family and the whole of Europe. Without ever going to the trenches, we view the darkening of the world from a surprising angle."
This approach gives free rein to Poliakoff's "supra-realist" style. Describing The Lost Prince as "heightened", he says that he has never subscribed to the school of social realism because "I don't believe that's how people are. Life is vivid, not even- tempered and grey and English.
"Taking a child's viewpoint allows you to notice things without it seeming odd that you're concentrating on them. It's more plausible to imagine peering down from a balustrade, getting a half- view of a Royal banquet, than sitting there as a guest. In this drama, you're plopped right into the middle of a world, and don't immediately understand everything that is happening."
Both exquisite to look at - its reported pounds 5.5m budget is all there on the screen - and richly thought-provoking, The Lost Prince genuinely merits that overused description, an "event drama". So keen is the BBC on this project, it is said to be spending its largest ever amount on advertising it - a cool pounds 1m.
The drama throws up all sorts of profound questions about the interplay between the personal and the political, the way that parents influence children, and the sometimes dire consequences when families row. (Although, admittedly, familial spats do not often lead to something quite as apocalyptic as the First World War...)
Poliakoff's film also passes the crucial test of any period drama: it tells us as much about today as it does about the era it is portraying. The director reckons, for instance, that on the theme of parenting, the piece should strike a chord with contemporary audiences. "Today, we often try to run our children along a particular set of rails. That's pretty rigid, and it would certainly be recognisable to the Edwardians. Johnnie didn't fit into that inflexible structure - just as a lot of children don't today.
"A hundred years later, I'm not sure that we're any better at allowing our children to realise their full potential. I don't want to over-sentimentalise it, but we should never forget that they can teach us a lot because they look at the world differently."
Poliakoff continues that, on a geopolitical level, The Lost Prince "has a lot to say about our relationship with Europe. Back then, there was a strong instinct to bind together the disparate parts of Europe so that it didn't fall back into the Dark Ages. Queen Victoria's granddaughters married princes across Europe, so that all the great royal families interlocked.
"They set great store by it, but it became one of the abiding tensions of the 20th century. They thought that if everyone was interrelated, there would be no war. Although that notion seems absurd now, the same instinct to bind Europe together exists today."
In addition, according to John Chapman, Poliakoff's long-term producer, The Lost Prince may prompt us to reconsider the subject of war. "What is behind George W Bush's current campaign?" he asks. "Is he trying to complete what his father left undone, with the help of all the people who failed last time? Is he attempting to sort out the world? Or lay to rest the ghosts from his father's era? This drama is asking: where do the personal and the political join up? For instance, if the family hadn't slighted Kaiser Bill by putting him at the back of an official photo of nine related European kings, could the First World War have been averted?"
Poliakoff closes by reiterating the warning from history. "Events always run away from politicians. Then as now, people enter into war thinking that it's going to be quick and easy, and, of course, it ends up as a catastrophe..."
`The Lost Prince' is on BBC 1 on Sunday 19 and 26 January at 8.30pm…