LONDON -- Whatever Robin Janvrin, press secretary to Britain's royal family, knows about the alleged scandals currently swirling around the Windsors, he is not telling.

Question: Is there any truth to tabloid press reports that Princess Diana, wife of heir to the throne Prince Charles, is carrying on with a handsome London banker? Answer: "We very rarely comment on matters involving their personal lives."

Question: Is it true that the queen is furious over the recent antics of her offspring and their families, and the fact that the press has been having a field day at their expense? Answer: "We wouldn't comment on that."

What about Prince Charles' reported interest in nubile young Italian heiress Fiammetta Frescobaldi? The relationship between Princess Anne's husband and a "blonde beauty" Canadian public relations executive? Deadly fashion competition between Diana and her new sister-in-law, Prince Andrew's wife Sarah? Prince Edward on the emotional ropes after being dumped by the Royal Marines?

No matter how relentless the pursuit, there will be neither comment nor confirmation from Buckingham Palace on this year's crop of hot new rumors about the royals. It has been only six weeks since Janvrin, a 40-year-old career diplomat and former Royal Navy officer, took over as chief spokesman for what is perhaps the most written about and photographed family in the world. But he already has the job's No. 1 rule down pat: No matter how vicious the rumor, how shocking the allegation, how salacious the story -- say no or say nothing.

The palace tries to keep a stiff, preferably closed, upper lip, trying to nudge attention toward the Queen Mother's visit to West Berlin, or Charles' latest speech about inner-city architecture. But "the fact is, people are very interested in the royal family, particularly the more salacious sides," says James Whitaker, an affable, curly-headed behemoth of a man who has covered the royals for 18 years and currently is court correspondent for the Daily Mirror, one of five daily tabloids and five more Sunday-only papers for whom the Windsors are bread and butter.

"They are a sort of 'Dynasty'-type family, whether they like that or not," Whitaker says. "They don't like being treated in a sort of 'Dynasty-Dallas' way, but the plots are so incredible."

Even the demonstrably true ones. In a monumental 1985 scoop, Whitaker revealed that the father of Princess Michael of Kent, wife of the queen's cousin, had been a member of Hitler's SS. Just last month, five other cousins of the queen, two of them long listed as dead, were found as inmates in a Victorian-era mental institution. In years past, Prince Andrew has been publicly in love with a soft-porn movie starlet, and Prince Charles involved with a string of movie stars (pre-marriage for both men). Andrew risked his life as a helicopter pilot in the Falklands war, and Prince Edward did quit the Marines under some emotional strain.

But what about the ones that are not so easily proven? If the palace doesn't talk, who does? Whitaker says his sources include "people who work on the estates, courtiers, members of the family." The cafe' society set that swirls around the younger royal family members, he says "are big yakkers around town. Everybody loves to be able to tell somebody else something they didn't know.

"Most people around the royals are pretty discreet," Whitaker says, "but all it needs is just a little indiscretion. Just one."

Dickie Arbiter, court correspondent for Independent Radio News here for the past seven years, says he goes down to the royal pressroom, located in the northeast corner of Buckingham Palace, through the Privy Purse entrance, every day. "The household know me, the royal family know me. Sometimes they stop and talk; they call me by my Christian name." Paradoxically, however, Arbiter says the secret to his success with the family is that he never reports anything they tell him, lest he lose his access.

Asked why a grown man would want to spend his time chasing the royals, Whitaker notes that a reporter often has to hang around with strange characters, and covering the Windsors is a lot better than "hanging around on street corners with criminals." Besides, he says, he'd much rather drink champagne, the preferred beverage for those around the young royals, than beer.

Neither Whitaker nor Arbiter, it must be noted, has reported what is far and away this summer's biggest royals story -- serious trouble in the marriage of Charles and Diana, the prince and princess of Wales. For those who have been wasting their time watching the Iran-contra hearings instead of keeping up with the real news:

In the spring, Charles left the family nest for several solitary vacations, including one to Scotland's Hebrides islands (where he helped in dipping the sheep) and another to Italy. Because Charles is not nearly as interesting as his young, attractive wife, attention and blame for what were somehow interpreted as meaningful absences focused on Diana.

Some accounts were sympathetic. As she approached her 26th birthday, she was reported to be going crazy inside the confines of the palace, condemned in the glorious blush of youth to motherhood, endlessly boring official appearances, a stuffy set of in-laws and an uptight husband 12 years her senior. Her frustration began to leak out publicly, and she was spotted doing silly things like poking her umbrella into the behind of a friend at Royal Ascot ("Up Yours!", headlined the Mirror) and giggling uncontrollably.

An additional bit of tension was detected in mid-June, when Diana went to watch Charles play polo, only to be publicly reprimanded by her husband, according to some reports, for sitting on the hood of his car. A different version held that photographs of her sitting, him talking and her jumping up in embarrassment reflected concern communicated to Diana by Charles that her slip was showing.

Other reports, however, gave off the essence of more fundamental dirt. When Charles departed early from the wedding ball of the marquis of Worcester last month, Diana stayed behind, reportedly dancing the night away with Phillip Dunne, a bachelor banker who quickly was dubbed a "Superman look-alike" for his supposed resemblance to actor Christopher Reeve. The story picked up some speed when Nigel Dempster, columnist for the Daily Mail, reported that Diana also had spent a weekend at the country estate of Dunne's parents.

But it did not gain true momentum until a week later, when Diana and Dunne were reported -- and even photographed -- snuggled together in mouth-to-ear conversation at a David Bowie concert at Wembley Stadium. "Disco Di's Superman. She Rests Head on His Shoulder," front-paged The Star, one of three tabloids to run the story.

A somewhat grudging retraction came the next day in a much smaller item on Page 3 of The Star. Titled "My Night Out with Diana," it began: "The handsome escort who took Princess Diana to see superstar David Bowie in concert talked for the first time yesterday about his Royal friendship. 'We had a lot of fun,' Maj. David Waterhouse said. 'The Princess thoroughly enjoyed herself.' "

The mistaken identification of Waterhouse for Dunne, who was not present at the event, was explained by the paper as the fault of photographers. Noting that he had been invited to the concert by another occupant of the royal box that night, the queen's nephew Viscount Linley, Waterhouse said that Diana had put her head close to his, as shown in the photo, because "the noise was deafening" during the two-hour concert, and it was impossible for those sitting in the box to converse unless they yelled directly into each other's ears.

The Dunne rumors, for the moment at least, were put to rest. But Diana still was not off the hook. Within days, Dempster had reported information from a first-hand source (reportedly himself) that Diana had been seen at 2 a.m., driving her own car, alone on the streets of London. What's more, she had seemed distraught, weaving over the lines and causing a near-accident with a taxicab.

"Absolutely untrue. Total lies," counters Whitaker, who says this was obviously another case of mistaken identity. He notes with authority that Diana, who has a detective sitting next to her whenever she gets behind the wheel, is not even allowed to have the keys to her own car.

Whitaker is scathing in his criticism of Dempster for running with the story. Among the handful of senior palace hacks, in fact, there is often stark disagreement, and a story purporting to authoritatively knock down a rival's scoop is considered nearly as compelling as the scoop itself.

"Sure Diana danced with Phillip Dunne at that party," says Whitaker, "and about 12 other men. As for her running her hands through his hair," as was also reported, "the chances are pretty damn remote."

Another leading court correspondent, who declines to be named but claims an equally high level of inside palace information, insists that Diana "doesn't have the brains to have an affair. She's not overendowed with intelligence," he says, although she does have "an incredible sense of humor and can be quite wicked."

The "populars," as Britain's tabloid papers are known, are far and away the best read publications in Britain. The five top dailies and the five Sunday papers all circulate throughout the United Kingdom, and even the smallest of them has a million-plus circulation that is larger than the most widely distributed among the so-called "quality," or serious newspapers.

Competition among them for readers is fierce. At least one of them, and often more, is virtually guaranteed to have a front-page display on a member of the royal family on any one day. "It is a proven fact that if we put Diana on the cover of the Mirror, we sell a lot more copies," Whitaker says. "Even the people who hate it," buy it, he says. "I get a lot of letters from people who say 'how awful.' But they clearly read it."

"20 Vicars Have AIDS" may have been a knockout of a front page for The Sun last week. But can it really compete with last month's "Di in Porn Film Fury. Her Lookalike Goes Topless" in The Star? (The latter provoked a virtual torrent of words from the palace press office, which growled that "any impersonation of members of the royal family is not approved of -- let alone this.")

The British media are not alone in their fascination with the House of Windsor. Rumors flew elsewhere in Western Europe tying Prince Charles with Italy's Ms. Frescobaldi. Pictured on the cover of Paris Match magazine early last month, she was identified as a "Rival of Lady Di." Inside, the magazine ran a double-page graph charting the number of nights Charles and Diana had spent in the same bed, and apart, in recent months.

Majesty magazine, a glossy review of the family's activities, sells more of its 90,000 copies a month in the United States than it does in Britain.

Not every tale of alleged royal peccadillos is printed. The rumored infidelities of the duke of Edinburgh have been common cocktail party gossip here for years, yet rarely surface, even in the tabloids. Despite what he describes as "very well-supported allegations" in 1985 that Princess Anne had had an affair with her private detective, Peter Cross, Whitaker says he did not run with the story. Dismissed by the palace for being "overfamiliar," Cross is even rumored to be the father of Princess Anne's daughter Zara, according to Whitaker.

In some ways Anne, who has long made clear her disdain for the tabloid press, is considered too respectable and stern to be written about in such terms, no matter what she does. Her mother, the queen, also seems immune from gossip, although more from lack of interest than any other reason.

Despite their frequent obstreperousness at home, the royal press corps is fairly tame when it travels out of the country with the family, such as on the current three-week-long visit of Andrew and Fergie to Canada. Although obedience to the rules of the royal road also is requested of the local press covering the Windsors in a foreign country, it cannot always be guaranteed. When Charles and Diana traveled last spring to Spain, for example, Spanish reporters invited to a press reception at the beginning of the trip were told by the palace spokesman that anything the couple said was totally off the record during what was to be the strictly social occasion.

The next day, Spanish newspapers headlined the news that Charles had said over drinks that he lived in fear of assassination by the Irish Republican Army, whose bomb killed his beloved uncle Lord Mountbatten in 1979. Under the guise of blaming the Spaniards for uncivilized reporting behavior, the British press then recounted the tale themselves.

But nothing is seriously considered off-limits anymore. "The lid on royal mystique" has been lifted, Dickie Arbiter says, and cannot be replaced. "The whole attitude toward reporting the royals has changed," he says. "It used to be extreme reverence, and now there's a free-for-all. You have to sell -- a paper rises or falls by its headlines, and it doesn't matter what is said, as long as it is not libelous." Besides, the royal family does not sue.

Not everyone in the media is happy with the change. As the rumors and reported antics of the younger royals crested late last month, the usually serious Sunday Times weighed in with a ponderous editorial titled "Some Lessons for Royalty."

"The royal family has become so used to being treated like a soap opera by large sections of the media," it said, "that some of its members are beginning to act as if they are in one." The paper cited a press conference in which Prince Edward had yelled at journalists, then walked away in a huff; the umbrella incident at Ascot; Prince Charles' anger over his car; and the boisterous behavior of Sarah, the duchess of York, at a charity fundraiser.

"It is the single biggest weakness of today's royal family that it is still too closely associated with the very upper classes, often of the more stupid sort," the paper said, "and some recent behavior has only served to remind everybody of this." Calling on the queen to rein in the antics of her offspring and their spouses, it said that "there is something deeply unhealthy about the public's currently grotesque appetite for all things royal," and noted that "the present intense public fascination ... cannot be sustained without doing {the family} great harm."

"Thereby," intoned the paper, voicing the fear that dare not speak its name, "runs the road to a republic."

The palace press office, say its veterans, can do little about the more titillating coverage the royals receive in today's anything-goes atmosphere. The size of its staff -- the chief spokesman and two assistants, plus four clerks -- has not increased in decades, despite the fast-expanding family it is responsible for.

It was not until Queen Victoria's time that the royal family felt any responsibility at all for dealing with the press. The first press releases, designed as "Court Circulars" came into being only after the birth of Victoria's first child, when her husband Prince Albert became concerned about rumors that the unseen young princess was suffering from a handicap or gross deformity. Albert reportedly authorized the release of details about his walks with the child, or her rides in the queen's carriage, assuring the populace indirectly that the princess was healthy.

Those dry circulars have changed little over the years, and are still the mainstay of the palace press office. Aside from planning the logistics of royal visits around the country and trips overseas, the office spends its time issuing dry pronouncements about which family member is going where, when, on any given day.

None of which is to say that the Palace does not know how to use the press when it wants to, or thinks it needs to. In 1980, when the queen was kept waiting in a stifling desert tent for more than two hours by Morocco's tardy King Hassan, then-press secretary Michael Shea communicated her fury and sense of royal insult, ostensibly off the record but in no uncertain terms to the traveling royal press corps. The next day, after the story turned up precisely where Shea had intended -- on the front page of virtually every British newspaper -- protocol demanded that the press secretary publicly deny both that the queen was mad, and that he had ever said she was.

This month, after the storm of stories about Diana's extramarital "romance," news photographers were invited into the Wales's normally private lives to shoot the happy couple running foot races against other mums and dads, and shooting their own family snapshots, at a parents "sports day" held at the school attended by their eldest son, 5-year-old Prince William. Pictures also were taken of Diana planting a big kiss on Charles' face at his usual Sunday afternoon polo match, a sight previously observed only on rare occasions.

In some respects, the family needs the press as much as the press needs the Windsors. The monarchy in Britain is not only a huge tourist draw, attracting millions of visitors and their money each year. More importantly, it is seen as a major part of the glue that holds this often bickering kingdom together. And, in order to inspire the patriotism and feeling of well-being that the royals are supposed to, they have to let people see them and, to a certain extent, know who and what they are.

In the view of the palace press office, and presumably the monarchy itself, however, there must be limits lest the royal family become more a source of amusement than inspiration.

"How many millions of words have been written about them?" asks Ron Allison, who served as press secretary from 1973-78.

"What's left to know apart from their real feelings and views? And that's what you're never going to get. The whole system is based on the fact that the monarch is above, or apart from" the rest of her subjects.

"They are different people from us. It is essential for the mystique to be maintained." It might seem "a bit of an anachronism" to outsiders, he acknowledges, and "it doesn't necessarily travel well. But it works extremely well for us."