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Is The Crown true to life? A royal expert’s analysis of season 4, ep. 6-10
ep 1-5 https://www.reddit.com/TheCrownNetflix/comments/jvsyf9/is_the_crown_true_to_life_a_royal_experts/
Episode 6 Terra Nullius (Nobody’s Land)
Off we go to Australia to pick through what was in reality a highly successful Antipodean royal tour undertaken by the Prince and Princess of Wales in March 1983. They visited both Australia and New Zealand, and in a move from accustomed practice they took baby Prince William (born the previous June) with them.
The episode opens with Bob Hawke becoming Prime Minister (as indeed he did on 11 March 1983) and thus involved with the visit instead of the outgoing PM, Malcolm Fraser. Princess Margaret warns that there are problems in the Wales marriage – hints of bulimic behaviour. Meanwhile it is made clear that Prince Charles is whooping it up with Camilla – a jokey scene at Badminton, in the heart of hunting country.
The real Bob Hawke was an avowed republican, but he did not campaign for that during his premiership, possibly because there was no appetite or political advantage to be had. He had a good relationship with the Queen, partly based on a mutual passion for horse racing. He was respectful of the Queen and would never have expressed himself in the foul language put into his mouth in this episode.
The stance of this episode is that it was to be an important tour for Prince Charles. Waiting for him with jaws open was Hawke, reckoning that a visit from this ‘jug-eared bonehead’ would finally stir the Australians into severing links with Britain to become a republic – to finally escape ‘subjugation by mother Crown’.
The Prince hopes to shine, but it all gets off to a bad start – Diana is evidently at loggerheads with Edward Adeane (who interestingly suggests that the royal couple have ‘an audience with the Prime Minister’ and not the other way round), she talks of where the baby will be, needing stability. Apparently she will not see baby William for two whole weeks. Of course, in real life, she would have known the whole programme well in advance and would never have insisted on making last-minute alterations. Nor did she need to.
The Waleses were based at Woomargama, in New South Wales, the home of the well-known philanthropist Gordon Darling between 20 March and 17 April. It was halfway between Sydney and Melbourne and handy for Canberra. They were able to fly anywhere from Albury airport and be back there each night. They were not separated from baby William, which was the whole point of them staying there. So no programme alterations.
The Darling family might be surprised to see their substantial sheep station depicted as a colonial villa in the desert. The real Woomargama had six bedrooms, four bathrooms and three large living rooms, was decorated ‘straight from the pages of Home Beautiful’, hung with magnificent Australian paintings and surrounded by rolling English gardens with roses, pastures beyond, and boasted a small lake. There were a number of other housing possibilities on the estate.
In this episode, Prince Charles mocks a shepherd’s pie ‘unimaginatively’ served up at the sheep station. Why? In real life, they had their own cook on the tour, Mervyn Wycherley, and the Darlings employed a fine chef. Provisions came in from Arthur Butt, who ran a well-known gourmet smokehouse at Young St Albury, was famous for his smoked trout and supplied culinary delights to clients as far away as Switzerland. As it happens, in real life, the entourage in attendance on the Waleses – there were 23 of them – did themselves proud on Mr Darling’s cellar, and it was a shame that the real Prince of Wales never wrote him a thank-you letter. Diana did. Baby William did indeed take his first steps at Woomargama.
In this episode, the Waleses begin with a bungled press conference, in which she is a ‘thicko’, calling Ayers Rock ‘Ayers Dock’, and she throws wobblies. But one evening, at Woomargama, it all turns round on the flick of a coin. After a serious row, Prince Charles says he loves her and that he is the luckiest man in the world. He even blocks a call from Camilla Parker Bowles, the Waleses dance together, she starts to shine, the public adore her and finally Bob Hawke tells Prince Charles that the Princess has made them both look like ‘chumps’ and how disappointed he is that her popularity has put the lid on the republican mission on which he was set.
This ends with a deeply resentful Prince of Wales bemoaning the fact that the tour was meant to focus on him – ‘my tour’ – and Diana miserable, with her head down the loo again. On their return to Britain, he goes straight to Highgrove and she to London. She visits the Queen to complain that her husband resents her, and the Queen bites her head off for enjoying her own success rather too much and playing excessively to the gallery. The theme of this episode is a cold Queen, heartless and dismissive, shocked when Diana gives her an unwelcome hug.
The Queen, Queen Mother and Princess Margaret discuss all this, the Queen Mother dismissing Diana as an immature little girl, while Princess Margaret (played throughout the series as one wounded by the royal system) warns that in the worst scenario, Diana will break.
So where is the truth? I refer to Dimbleby, who was given access to contemporary documents for his biography. This was a long and arduous tour. The Princess had been depressed the year before. She had been given to binge-eating. She was suspicious of Camilla Parker Bowles. She saw a therapist. Dimbleby wrote: ‘It was not for lack of effort on the part of either of them that she was able to escape only intermittently from a pattern of behaviour that steadily wore away the insubstantial foundations on which their marriage had been constructed.’
However, Australia was a memorable experience. They loved Woomargama, and enjoyed time alone together with baby William. There was adoration for ‘Lady Di’. It was the Prince who found the tour a strain, not least because he was concerned at the effect this was having on his wife. She was variously elated and exhausted, but was able to rely on him for support. In consequence there were no black moods. He described the excessive reaction to her as ‘a circus’ but equally praised her for keeping him going when he felt gloomy. So, rather different from what we are shown here.
We know that, in time, Prince Charles came to resent that people seemed only interested in his wife, what she was wearing, and that in consequence no one reported his speeches. It was hard for him to compete, and to get his messages across.
Episode 7 The Hereditary Principle
As should by now be evident, The Crown focuses on the dark side when they can find it. This episode brings in the two sad Bowes-Lyon cousins who were put into a state mental hospital and forgotten about. The episode is based on an entirely false premise which is cunningly delivered and then refuted at the end. Meanwhile it is an opportunity for the film-makers to explore the unhappiness of Princess Margaret and have her expressing sympathy for her poor cousins. And they give the Queen Mother the most shocking lines of this particular series, ricocheting away from Morgan’s professed determination to stick to the truth.
The episode opens with Princess Margaret dressing and dancing about, and the Queen preparing to go to a gala. Then it cuts to the mental hospital and the pathetic inmates. A figure called Derek (‘Dazzle’) Jennings (played by Tom Burke) is around. He is about to become a Catholic priest and there is somewhat more than a hint that he wants Princess Margaret to convert to Catholicism. This, I assume, the film-makers got from a tabloid biography of her by Noel Botham, known for inventing and sensationalising (so, not a respectable source).
The real Father Jennings did exist and was a friend of Cardinal Hume. He knew Princess Margaret well enough to invite her to his flat and to occasionally dine with her. There was never so much as a hint in real life that Princess Margaret flirted with Catholicism, but it is not impossible that Jennings had a go at trying to persuade her. The real-life Jennings died in 1997. Richard Coles described him as a man ‘for whom intimacy was so difficult, and who could be so waspish and sometimes snarly, but who was finally able to love people through his priesthood’. As in this episode, so in real life, Princess Margaret dropped him like a stone, probably wisely, leaving him upset.
Some conflating of incidents then takes place – at least in the timeline. Princess Margaret goes into hospital in 1984 for an operation on her lungs due to smoking (she did). Prince Edward celebrates his 21st birthday (actually 1985, not 1984). Princess Margaret wants to be more involved (a theme already promoted in earlier episodes). In this episode, the Queen and the ever present Martin Charteris come round to tell her the bad news. Prince Edward now being of age, Princess Margaret will no longer be eligible to be appointed as a Counsellor of State. Fair enough, but in this episode, they take this to mean that Princess Margaret can no longer be of any use as a member of the Royal Family, whereas the only issue is what would happen if the Queen went abroad. Of course she could still ‘deputise’ at other times. They did not ‘strip away’ her official role.
To put this into perspective, six Counsellors of State are only appointed to serve if the sovereign goes abroad (or is so ill as not to be able to serve for a time) though only two of them serve, acting in tandem. These would have been Prince Philip (who always went abroad with the Queen, so never served), the Queen Mother, and then the next four in line to the throne – in order of seniority. Therefore, when Prince Edward was old enough, these would have been Prince Charles, Princess Anne, Prince Andrew and him. It is correct that Princess Margaret would no longer have been eligible. The Queen Mother and Princess Margaret were the active ones when the Queen was on her Commonwealth tour, and later in the 1950s, and because quite often the Queen’s children were otherwise engaged in the early 1980s, Princess Margaret did serve as one of the active two. In real life, she was disappointed when she was no longer eligible for that role, though that is the fate of royalty.
In 1943, when George VI went to Africa, he appointed Queen Elizabeth and the next four in line to the throne who were not minors. These were his brother, the Duke of Gloucester, his sister, the Princess Royal, and two obscure cousins, Princess Arthur of Connaught and her sister, the Countess of Southesk, granddaughters of Edward VII, through his daughter, Princess Louise, Duchess of Fife. As usual only two acted.
This ‘demotion’ is the trigger for Princess Margaret to get thoroughly depressed.
We move to Mustique (where the runway seems to have enlarged considerably). Prince Charles visits her there (he did no such thing) and recommends she visits a therapist (which of course she never did). That is how she finds out about the cousins in the mental hospital.
In this episode, Princess Margaret gets Father Jennings to drive her to the mental hospital, Earlswood, a vast Victorian monstrosity at Redhill in Surrey. It was founded in 1847 and moved to Surrey in 1855, called the Earlswood Asylum for Idiots and Imbeciles. Ironically, the Royal Family of the day took a keen interest in it. Princess Margaret does not go in, but the Father does and finds the two sisters aware of their royal connections, etc. (In real life, completely out of the question.) The disgraceful Queen Mother scene – on the beach in Scotland – has her informing Princess Margaret that it was necessary to lock these girls up (and three of their cousins) on account of the Abdication. She says that they had a direct bloodline to the crown and it was essential that no hereditary stigma attached to the monarchy. So the girls had to play ‘a terrible price’. This is complete nonsense and one of the most shaming scenes in this series and should alert viewers to the message that the film-makers want to get across – the Royal Family sacrificing everyone and everything to retain the crown.
The real Queen Mother knew perfectly well that their disability was nothing to do with the Bowes-Lyon family. It was a ‘severe development disorder’ inherited from the Trefusis side, affecting all five girls. This is explained away at the end of the episode, but by then Princess Margaret is once again blaming her family for their heartless action. When the Princess Margaret figure discovers this, she says: ‘Then if they didn’t threaten the integrity of the Royal Family, the girls need never have been hidden away. Then what my family did was unforgivable.’
We leave Princess Margaret smoking and drinking. In real life, in the 1990s (so admittedly a little later on), she gave up smoking and only drank whisky in the evening, and Robinsons barley water at lunchtime.
For the record, the two sisters were Nerissa Bowes-Lyon (1919-86), and Katherine Bowes-Lyon (1926-2014), daughters of Hon. John Bowes-Lyon (1886-1930) and his wife, Hon. Fenella Hepburn-Stuart-Forbes-Trefusis (1889–1966), daughter of 21st Lord Clinton. Shockingly, as shown in this episode, editions of Burke’s Peerage from 1963 published that Nerissa died in February 1949 (in one version – 1940) and Katherine in 1961. (Debrett’s shows them alive in 1950, but they have gone by 1959). Their three cousins (literally no relation to the Royal Family) were Idonea Fane (1912-2001), Rosemary Fane (1914-73), twin with a brother who died before his first birthday, and Ethelreda Fane (1922-96). These last three also appear briefly in this episode, likewise incarcerated.
All five girls suffered from the development disorder. As I understand it, they were sweet fey children who did not grow up and could not cope with normal life. They were unable to speak. Their father died in 1930, and in 1941 all five were placed in the Royal Earlswood Hospital (then privately run), paid for by their grandfather, who lived until 1957. The hospital only became NHS in 1958. It was suggested that they were put there because they were grown up and because in wartime it was hard to find staff to look after them at home.
The Bowes-Lyon sisters were sometimes visited by a healthy sister, Anne, Princess Georg of Denmark, and by their mother, but as they did not recognise anyone, eventually visits were discouraged. When Nerissa died in 1986, Katherine was subdued for a few days, but then went back to being her usual self. Earlswood Hospital was closed in 1997 and Katherine moved to a care home nearby.
The story of these girls was exposed in the press in 1987, and later a rather thin Channel 4 documentary was made called The Hidden Cousins. This inspired The Guardian’s reviewer, John Crace, to write: ‘The only real secret in this film was why the producer had chosen this moment to rake over the shabby treatment of the Queen Mother’s two nieces.’
In real life, Princess Margaret never showed any interest in these sad girls.
Episode 8 48:1
This episode is given this strange title to represent the 48 Commonwealth countries wanting sanctions against South Africa, and the one that opposes – Britain and thus Mrs Thatcher. The episode is based on the entirely false premise that Michael Shea, the Queen’s press secretary, was an honourable man, forced to step aside to protect the Queen, who had authorised him to let it be known that she and Mrs Thatcher were on bad terms. This is completely opposite to what actually happened, and so it is hard not to conclude that this episode was cooked up in order to question the impartiality of the sovereign in respect of her dealings with her prime minister.
Just to run through what they show. The episode begins with Claire Foy reprising her role as Princess Elizabeth, dedicating her life to the service of the nation and Commonwealth in South Africa in 1947 and this being taken in by a young Margaret Roberts (later to be Thatcher) at Oxford. We then see a man putting the finishing touches to the typescript of a somewhat overblown novel, floridly entitled Ixion’s Wheel; a Threnody. He takes this to his agent in Bloomsbury. He is Michael Shea, the Queen’s press secretary (from 1978 to 1987) – played by Nicholas Farrell with rather more rugged good looks and dignity than the real-life Shea.
In the press office at the Palace, one of the secretaries (based on Sarah Brennan) raises an issue – Today newspaper wants him to comment on the Queen’s upset over Mrs Thatcher refusing to endorse sanctions on South Africa. On this he takes the moral high ground – the Queen is blameless and above politics. He refuses to comment to the newspaper. The real Shea, it may be recalled, once suggested to a reporter that palace staff sometimes referred to the Queen ‘putting on her Miss Piggy face’ if displeased. (Olivia Colman wears a Miss Piggy face in almost every episode of The Crown.)
Sir Sonny Ramphal, Secretary-General to the Commonwealth, tells the Queen that 48 Commonwealth countries want sanctions. Only Margaret Thatcher is demurring. Evidently the Prime Minister considers the Commonwealth ‘a ridiculous organisation. . . morally offensive’.
The scene moves to the Bahamas for CHOGM (1985) where the Queen addresses the conference. Mrs Thatcher listens with a stony face. The Queen summons her on board the Royal Yacht Britannia. Mrs Thatcher refuses to back sanctions. They argue. They give Mrs Thatcher an unfair line: ‘The Commonwealth. . . I recognise that for your family the transition of this nation from Empire to comparative supplicancy on the world stage must have come as a greater shock than to the rest of us. But I would argue that the Commonwealth is not the way to fill that gap.’ This implies that the Royal Family were stuck in the days of Empire, whereas they were supportive of countries taking on self-rule, and the Queen’s only concern was when a country left the Commonwealth. (And the Commonwealth has expanded considerably in her reign.)
There follow scenes in which Mrs Thatcher rejects many documents, refusing to sign them – ‘measures’, ‘actions’, ‘controls’, etc, etc. Eventually she accepts the word ‘signals’, evidently thought up by Shea: ‘The Iron Lady melted.’
Back in London, Shea’s agent says he writes well, but she cannot find a publisher for his threnody. She wants him to write a political thriller exploring the inner workings of Whitehall, Westminster and the Palace, based on the Queen’s frustration with her prime ministers. He looks horrified. He is far too honourable for such a thing! He comes out with a line: ‘Sadly I am old-fashioned and would never betray those confidences or the people I am proud to serve.’ Oh dear. In truth, his first thriller came out in 1971. ‘Most of his books are rather dim,’ noted an anonymous Observer profile at this time.
The Today saga gets worse. They are about to run a front page about the increasingly sour relations between Buckingham Palace and Downing Street, following the recent CHOGM, reporting that relations between the Queen and her prime minister are in danger of completely breaking down. Shea tells the Queen that Today is inconsequential but recommends that the Queen issue some kind of statement of support, even of ‘personal affection’ for the Prime Minister.
The episode veers into further fantasy by suggesting that the Queen wants people to know about her lack of compassion. Shea considers this a misjudgement and warns that there could be serious harm done to relations between the Palace and Downing Street. Both Shea and Charteris consider this reckless. Shea states that he wants his objection ‘noted’. Back in his office he learns that Simon Freeman of The Sunday Times has been on the line. Shea meets Freeman and another journalist, one of them with tie askew, in a Fleet Street pub. In reality there was no face-to-face encounter between Shea and the reporters. Shea answered telephone enquiries from The Sunday Times and thought he had handled these cleverly.
Bernard Ingham (Downing Street press secretary) warns Mrs Thatcher about the article. ‘Queen dismayed by “uncaring” Thatcher.’ (This was Sunday, 20 July 1986.) All the Royal Family read it, as do the Thatchers. Mrs Thatcher announces that for the first time she is impatient for her next audience with the Queen.
The misinterpretations get worse. Buckingham Palace denies all accusations. There is a confrontation between monarch and first minister, with heavy music to heighten the sense of drama. Even the drawing room is dark and grey. Mrs Thatcher lectures the Queen. She tells her that in the last seven years there have been 164 audiences, but that now all of a sudden there has been ‘an isolated hiccup’ – that the Queen ‘never expressed her political views in public’. The Queen denies that she has broken this rule. Mrs Thatcher tells her that the ‘source’ was ‘unprecedentedly close’ to the Queen. Mrs Thatcher then goes through the article. And then she hectors the Queen about her mission, etc. What the Queen says is so completely out of character as to be risible.
Prince Andrew’s wedding is set for the next day – so 23 July 1986. Prince Andrew summons his family on the morning of the wedding to discuss their mother’s ‘inexplicable lapse of judgement’ which threatens to eclipse his happy day. (They are all drinking champagne – Princess Anne for one never touches alcohol.) Prince Charles is delighted as it is the Queen in trouble for once, not him. (There is also a small subplot, Prince Andrew inviting his brother Edward to be his best man to snub Charles. Members of the Royal Family usually have two ‘supporters’.) Prince Edward was the best man on the day.
Shea tries to damp down the situation in a telephone conversation with Andrew Neil, editor of The Sunday Times. Neil refuses. So it all gets worse. There is then a scene when Martin Charteris tells the Queen a culprit is needed to deflect blame from her. And so, when Shea comes into his office, he finds Charteris lurking there. Charteris tells Shea to fall on his sword for betraying his queen and Shea emerges as a kind of wronged saint.
That scene compounds the worst of what The Crown does. It is not the first time they have turned a story around, but to base the greater part of an episode on a falsehood is beyond reasonable comprehension. I have little respect for this series, but this compounds my worst suspicions, for it is clearly an attempt to put the Queen in the wrong. Why? Do they want to turn their viewers against her?
The episode ends with a caption to the effect that the Palace continue to ‘insist that the Queen has never expressed an opinion or passed judgement on any of her prime ministers’. It further states that Shea went on to have a successful career writing political thrillers.
The truth of all this is that the villain of the saga was Michael Shea, who took it upon himself to brief The Sunday Times, relaying to them his own dislike of Mrs Thatcher’s policies.
Princess Josephine Loewenstein was a close friend of Princess Margaret’s. She remembers Princess Margaret saying that the only time she saw the Queen cry was over the suggestion that she did not get on with Margaret Thatcher.
The real Queen has always made a point of supporting her elected prime minister, offering what James Callaghan once described as ‘friendliness if not necessarily friendship’. Margaret Thatcher wrote in her memoirs:
Anyone who imagines that [the audiences] are a mere formality or confined to social niceties is quite wrong; they are quietly businesslike and Her Majesty brings to bear a formidable grasp of current issues and breadth of experience. And, although the press could not resist the temptation to suggest disputes between the Palace and Downing Street, especially on Commonwealth affairs, I have always found the Queen’s attitude towards the work of the government absolutely correct.
Of course, under the circumstances, stories of clashes between ‘two powerful women’ were just too good not to make up. In general, more nonsense was written about the so-called ‘feminine factor’ during my time in office than about almost everything else. I was always asked how it felt to be a woman prime minister. I would reply: ‘I don’t know: I’ve never experienced the alternative.’
It is worth stating that the private secretary at this time was Sir William Heseltine, not the long-retired Sir Martin Charteris. He was forced to spend a lot of time finding out who had briefed The Sunday Times, having accepted Shea’s original denial. There was quite a search for a non-existent leaking source.
Mrs Thatcher was upset, and so, before the article was published, Sir William suggested to the Queen that she should telephone the Prime Minister to say she had no prior knowledge of it and did not subscribe to its contents. Heseltine later wrote a letter to The Times in which he explained the role of the Queen in respect of her prime minister and stressed: ‘After thirty-four years of unvarying adherence to these constitutional principles, it is preposterous to suggest that Her Majesty might suddenly depart from them. No sensible person would give a moment’s credence to such a proposition.’ Except the makers of The Crown?
The Commonwealth Games were taking place in Edinburgh, so on 31 July, the Thatchers arrived at Holyroodhouse to stay with the Queen. That night there was a dinner with the Royal Household, and the Queen placed Michael Shea between herself and Mrs Thatcher at dinner. That must have been interesting.
The rift saga occupied reams of newsprint at the time. Woodrow Wyatt, ‘the voice of reason’, did not blame The Sunday Times for printing the story but opined: ‘Nothing is too bad for the secret source who vilely misrepresented the Queen.’ The Mail on Sunday naturally attacked The Sunday Times. They had clearly spoken to Shea, without naming him, and concluded that: ‘He knew nothing about how that article was to be distorted for the front page and was horrified after publication.’ A.L. Le Quesne wrote to The Times on 21 July and got near the truth by suggesting that it was ‘one or more of the Queen’s personal advisers acting on their own initiative with the aim of influencing public opinion by doing so’. A young journalist at the News of the World, Andrew Morton (later to be Diana’s mouthpiece), tracked the source as Michael Shea by revealing that The Economist had claimed the article had been read to him. He confronted Shea: ‘On that basis then you are the Palace mole?’ Shea replied: ‘Ah. That might be your conclusion.’
Several books have since revealed that Shea acted entirely independently and that he misled everyone at the Palace. He was sufficiently self-delusional – and alarmed – to maintain that no responsibility rested with him, and when eventually he was forced to own up, even then he claimed that he had been grossly misrepresented.
Kenneth Harris wrote perceptively about the similarities in the characters of the Queen and Mrs Thatcher in his 1994 biography, The Queen, and Hugo Young discredited stories of a rift in One of Us, his 1989 biography of Margaret Thatcher. Sally Bedell Smith, a more recent biographer of the Queen, nailed Shea for expressing his own liberal views ‘that friends had heard him express at dinner parties’.
Buckingham Palace effectively sacked Shea by securing him a job with Hanson plc – which is the polite way those things are done. Years later, Noreen Taylor reviewed one of his novels, Berlin Embassy, writing: ‘Michael Shea gives the impression that he finds himself rather engaging. He just can’t help congratulating himself on a life of success, prosperity, personal happiness and even a little celebrity. His shoulders fairly bristle with epaulettes of triumph.’ I met Shea a few times. I support the Taylor view.
It has been suggested that when Shea left the Palace he went so far as to ask for a knighthood (KCVO). This was not forthcoming. The film-makers might perhaps have consulted the second volume of Charles Moore’s authorised biography of Margaret Thatcher: ‘Over a rather longer period of time, the government’s low opinion of Michael Shea’s behaviour was borne in upon Buckingham Palace, and he was quietly edged out of his post (“not fast enough” in the view of Sir William Heseltine).’ It defies belief that the makers of The Crown could create the greater part of a whole episode on a falsehood.
Episode 9 Avalanche
This is another episode based on tragedy, again not short of false premises. It starts with the well-known scene of Diana dancing with Wayne Sleep at a 37th birthday gala for Prince Charles – in connection with the Friends of Covent Garden – in November 1985 (a private ballet evening in December in fact). She surprises him with this dance, which is meant as a tribute of her affection for him, but he interprets it as a ‘grotesque, mortifying display’ of showing off. He yells at her in the car. At a reception afterwards, the real Wayne Sleep remembered that Prince Charles was aloof, making it all too clear that he had disapproved of Diana’s performance. In this scene he then departs to Camilla world – Highgrove.
Timelines are once again conflated since all of a sudden we jump to March 1988 – over two years on – and the tragic skiing holiday in Klosters in which Major Hugh Lindsay, equerry to the Queen and friend of Prince Charles, is killed in an avalanche when the royal party go skiing off piste. We see the avalanche, and we see the Queen waiting to hear if her son has been killed. Hugh Lindsay’s wife, the former Sarah Brennan, worked in the press office – the woman depicted in the press office scenes in episode 8. In real life, she had been married since 1987 and was pregnant. A posthumous daughter was born. Diana and the Duchess of York were also in Klosters (but the Duchess is not shown in this episode).
In reality, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were going round the Centenary Exhibition of the Lawn Tennis Association at the Queen’s Club in Hammersmith on the afternoon when news of the accident came through. Since there were rumours that the Prince of Wales might have been killed, a message was sent to her to reassure her, lest that rumour reach her. She was of course greatly upset at the news of her equerry’s death.
The avalanche and its consequent tragedy is used to symbolise opposing reactions by Charles and Diana to their marriage. In a nutshell, as shown here, he wants out, she realises how much she would have missed him and wants to make it work. To suggest that this was the moment of reckoning in their marriage is far from the truth.
In the episode, Princess Anne reports on the sorry state of the Wales marriage. Charles then tells Camilla that the avalanche served to make it clear to him that he really wanted her and would give anything to escape from his charade of a marriage, virtually a proposal from a married man to a married woman. This seems to me to be pushing it a bit. There is then a cooked-up scene in which the Queen summons the Waleses to tell them that the marriage of a future monarch cannot be allowed to fail, and while Charles is about to announce his plan, Diana says that the possibility that Charles had died in the avalanche showed her that they must override their differences, as these are trivial in comparison to what happened in Klosters. Heavy, dramatic funereal music brings this melodramatic scene to a close.
So on it goes: Diana dumps her lover, Major Hewitt and goes into therapy – all this as their seventh wedding anniversary approaches – 29 July 1988. Meanwhile Prince Charles is not giving Camilla up. The anniversary comes round and Diana brings her boys to Highgrove, where we see a maid removing an alien bra from the bed and switching Camilla’s photo for Diana’s. Prince Charles gives Diana an 1822 volume on the history of her family home, and she gives him a video of herself singing in Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera. He tells Princess Anne it was monstrous.
Princess Anne attacks him for being a fantasist (pronounced fentasist) about the whole Camilla thing. He stomps off. So he confronts Camilla – does she still have feelings for her husband? He wants to escape this calamity of a marriage. Calling him ‘sir’, she tells him it is important that he be realistic and then they kiss. The outcome of all this is that Prince Charles goes into a sulk and refuses all Diana’s calls.
Diana takes up with Hewitt again. All this is filmed to the accompaniment of music, sometimes frantic and sometimes ominous, as in a thriller. But Prince Charles has had her under surveillance and so the men in grey suits observe, confer and finally report. We are to believe that they have finally nailed her. A heavy roll of drums. The Prince is told. He looks positively murderous.
What can I say? If the wedding was the stuff of fairy tales, the gradual collapse of the marriage was a degringolade of epic proportions. The problem with addressing the decline in that marriage is that there are two versions and they are invariably contradictory. Jonathan Dimbleby described the real-life decline between 1987 and 1992 as ‘a drama in which the banality of the script was illuminated only by shafts of cruelty’. He wrote that the press reports invariably ‘cast the Prince of Wales as the “villain of the royal soap opera”’. That is the line taken here and it is further pursued in the final episode of this series.
Episode 10 War
Much of this episode concerns the fall of Mrs Thatcher. The other part, interspersed with the political drama, is the continuing collapse of the Wales marriage.
It begins with Geoffrey Howe lumbering out of bed, with his ditch-Mrs-Thatcher speech to the ready. This he delivers to devastating effect in the House of Commons. Fair enough – he did. A wounded Mrs Thatcher battles on, and according to this episode, while the Prime Minister focuses on the Gulf, the Queen asks if she expects a leadership crisis, to be told: ‘I shall see them off in no time.’ The contest goes to a second ballot, and Mrs Thatcher sees her duplicitous ministers one by one. Denis comments: ‘Bastards. . . Murderers.’ So far so good, but then they introduce a ridiculous suggestion that Mrs Thatcher wants to ask the Queen to dissolve Parliament in order to save her skin. This the Queen refuses, on the grounds that there is no power without authority: ‘The country is against you.’ Why do they cook up such nonsense?
So goodbye, Margaret Thatcher. The episode goes back into focus at the end, with the Queen summoning Mrs Thatcher to see her, saying: ‘I was shocked by the way you were forced to leave office,’ and pinning the Order of Merit on her for ‘exceptionally meritorious service’. I remember being told at the time how shocked the Queen was – a comment along the lines of ‘she may have been tired but. . .’ The Queen did not like the way the Conservative party forced her out of office. What a pity the series did not have more scenes like that, which capture the relationship – instead of continually perverting the truth. This scene was genuinely moving.
Interspersed with this is the roller-coaster collapse of the Wales marriage to which I can but echo the views expressed at the end of the last episode. There is a trumped-up bit about Prince Charles announcing that Diana has resumed her affair with Hewitt, and wishing to institute proceedings against her. No. The Waleses go to Ludgrove School to watch a rugby match in order to contrast the affection of the mother with the cold and distant approach of the father. Prince William is hugged by Diana and given a pat by his father. Then we get Prince Charles doing her down as usual and with real venom.
The apparently Machiavellian Edward Adeane tries to scuttle Diana’s first solo visit to the US – which happened in 1989. Patrick Jephson, her private secretary between 1988 and 1996, assures him she is healthy enough for the trip. Needless to say it is a wild success. This is a device to introduce the caring Diana, hugging a child in Harlem, visiting an AIDS clinic and so on, all of which disgusts the Prince Charles figure. There are more bulimic scenes, and we are left with the image of the princess as a poor, crumpled creature.
This is contrasted to the Prince Charles figure cavorting with Camilla (smoking and drinking) and wanting her as his wife – complaining that the world just wants a fairy tale, whereas he wants her – the reality and that that can be the fairy story. On Diana’s return from America, there is an unpleasant scene in which Prince Charles yells at her for ‘hurting’ his mistress. ‘Camilla is who I want,’ he screams. Unacceptable nonsense. History does not corroborate any wish for divorce or separation at this time. Right up until 1992 he believed it could still work publicly if not privately.
The series ends with the Royal Family heading for Sandringham for Christmas in a convoy of Rolls-Royces. The customary dead birds are hanging up, presumably to stress to the viewers what a brutal bunch the family is. No one speaks to Diana, the Queen brushes her off, but nor does she want to listen to Prince Charles and his whingeing. As we come to the end of this season, the film-makers have firmly stuck the knife into Prince Charles. There is no hint at the work he does in real life, his achievements or that he has any interest other than Camilla. The portrayal is completely negative.
Diana stays in her room and is visited by Prince Philip, who tells her: ‘It might reassure you that we all think he’s quite mad.’ He urges her not to break away, suggesting that might end badly. She replies: ‘I hope that isn’t a threat, sir.’ I guess that is a hint that we are to be served up conspiracy theories in a later season, when she is killed in the tunnel in Paris in 1997.
Prince Philip tells her he was an outsider when he met the Queen, a 13-year-old princess. He delivers lines which are perhaps meant to bang home one of the messages of the series. He was an outsider then: ‘And after all these years I still am. We all are. Everyone in this system is a lost, lonely, irrelevant outsider apart from the one person, the only person that matters. She’s the oxygen we all breathe, the essence of all our duty. Your problem, if I may say, is you seem to be confused about who that person is.’
Season 4 ends with a group photograph of the Royal Family, Diana a lonely figure on the fringes, tears in her eyes.