We commented some six weeks ago that Queen Elizabeth could not be looking forward to this year's Christmas message to the nation. The year started sadly with the deaths of the Queen's mother and sister. It recovered with an unexpected, but wholly deserved, brilliant climax to the Jubilee celebrations, but then fell apart in the autumn. Once again, the unintended legacy left by Princess Diana proved to be the catalyst of so much of the trouble. The business of the butlers was bad enough in itself but the revelations it brought of life in some Royal palaces was disturbing. Even worse was the realisation that “dysfunctional” seems the most appropriate word to describe the Royal family. The palaces scattered around Hyde Park and St James' Park are apparently at war with one another and Prince Charles only rarely speaks to his mother.

No one will envy the Queen the task she faces tomorrow - as difficult in its way as her broadcast at the end of the year of Diana's death. On Sunday evening television news bulletins ran a trailer showing a brief excerpt from the speech - an unprecedented and questionable concession to the need to arrest the declining audiences for this annual message from the monarch. Ten years ago it attracted almost 18 million viewers but last year less than nine million. And while all the main channels show the Queen, Channel 4 will have an “alternative message” from Sharon Osbourne, wife of Ozzy! MONITOR