Was The Crown, Season 2 even better than the first?
I will let you be the judge of that.
@markmcginnesswrites is back for Season 2 with more fabulous insights into The Crown. What’s true and what is false? Did you pick up on these?
Over to Mark,
The Crown, Season 2: True Or False?
Episode Two: A Company of Men The Duke is at sea – the royal marriage is also all-at-sea. It is as if the 35-year-old Prince is on what looks like a much-delayed Gap Year – four months on the Royal Yacht Britannia – all testosterone and tournaments; beard-growing and ball-games. The Duke’s Private Secretary, Mike Parker, wrote a number of letters about their South Sea adventures, brimming with innuendo, to his friend, the photographer, Baron, who is seen reading them aloud to a dining room full of lunching pals at the Thursday Club in London.
FALSE – Baron died (during a routine operation) DIED five weeks before Philip and Parker even set off on tour (as Hugo Vickers points out in his authoritative pamphlet The Crown: Truth & Fiction). Parker was said to have only sent a single perfunctory postcard to his pals. What is fascinating (revealed by the Princess’s biographer, Tim Heald, but not covered in the series), is that after Baron, died, Mike Parker was sent to meet Baron’s apprentice, one Anthony Armstrong-Jones, with the possibility of him joining Prince Philip on their tour of the Commonwealth. Parker returned with the verdict that the young snapper was Not Suitable. The Prince later took delight in telling Parker that the man who was judged unsuitable to travel with him, had become the Queen’s brother-in-law.
Episode Three: Lisbon
The Queen’s reunion in Lisbon with Prince Philip, after his four-month tour, was a glaring face-off.
FALSE – It was not a frosty greeting but a hilarious hello. In fact, the Queen and her party were all sporting false red beards to greet him on the tarmac in Lisbon. Surely not the mask of a furious wife?
Episode Four: Beryl
A few years after the Townsend renunciation, the lovelorn sister of The Queen has forged her own circle, the Margaret Set, a loose, louche clique of debs and heirs. In 1956, at the wedding of her best friend, Lady Anne Coke, she sets eyes on Antony Armstrong-Jones, the bohemian photographer and posh precursor of free love, a diminutive Old Etonian with mother issues and lots of attitudes. He drove her pillion on his motorbike.
TRUE – ‘Tony’ did take to the streets with the Princess on his motorbike. But to have Matt Smith (as Prince Philip) describe Tony’s father, Ronald Armstrong-Jones, as ‘a jumped-up contract lawyer’ seems a bit rich. He was, in fact, a Queen’s Counsel with a country house in Wales. It’s true, Ronald’s third wife was a former flight attendant, which makes the fuss over Carole Middleton’s early career more than a little passé.
Episode Seven: Matrimonium
It was suggested that not only was Tony Armstrong-Jones sleeping with his proposed best man, Jeremy Fry, but with Jeremy’s wife, Camilla and that she was carrying Armstrong-Jones’s child.
TRUE – While it cannot be established that Tony slept with Jeremy Fry, it is true that the Earl-in-waiting had an affair with Camilla Fry. But neither ‘Tommy’ Lascelles nor Michael Adeane could have known that in 1960 the child was an Armstrong-Jones. It took a DNA test in 2004, 45 years later, by the child, Polly Fry, to confirm that Tony was her father (By then Princess Margaret was dead – so she never knew). Harold Macmillan used to relate the story of coming to Balmoral in the summer of 1959 to see The Queen and being met by her uncle, the crusty Henry, Duke of Gloucester, who confessed, “Thank God you’ve come . . . There’s a fellow called Jones in the library who wants to marry my niece.”
Episode Eight: Mrs Kennedy Fresh from a triumphant State Visit to France, Jacqueline Kennedy and her husband were guests of The Queen at Buckingham Palace at a private dinner. Despite the smiles, the First Lady was not particularly impressed.
TRUE – Uncharacteristically, the famously discreet Jacqueline confided in some indiscreet friends about her impressions of her evening at the Palace. According to the not-always-reliable Gore Vidal (his mother and Jackie’s were, respectively, the second and third wives of Hughdie Auchincloss), Jacqueline found the Queen ‘pretty heavy-going’. As Hugo Vickers’ notes, when Vidal repeated this to Princess Margaret years later, she said, ‘But that’s what she’s there for.’
Another guest, her exquisite sister Lee Radziwill, wrote with surprise about finding ‘plastic mats’ on the table. We see the Queen insist on showing Mrs Kennedy some of the State Rooms (The First Lady recalled HM pointing to a Van Dyk, noting, ‘That’s a good horse’). Mrs Kennedy had asked that the guests include Princess Margaret and the beautiful Marina, Duchess of Kent. She apparently told Vidal, “No Margaret, no Marina, no one except every Commonwealth minister of agriculture they could find”. But it was not a State Dinner and, in any case, the UK’s Minister for Agriculture was none other than Christopher Soames, Churchill’s son-in-law – not so shabby. The New Yorker’s critic dismissed this episode (which suggested The Queen was capable of that most human failing, Jealousy) as a ‘far-fetched glamour puss showdown’. Bette and Joan without the theatrics; Alexis and Krystle without the slapping?
Episode Nine: Paterfamilias
Having been reduced to ‘a bloody amoeba’ when it was decided his children would not carry his name. (Who wouldn’t want to be a Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksberg?) Prince Philip was allowed the say in the raising of his children. An accommodation was reached that She wore the Crown and He wore the trousers. So Gordonstoun in Morayshire was the Duke’s choice for Charles (and later both his brothers). It had made a self-reliant man of Philip and so it jolly well would for Charles.
TRUE and FALSE– But, as Hugo Vickers observes, Philip’s mentor and Gordonstoun’s founder, Kurt Hahn, was not still in charge of the school in 1961. He had, in fact, retired in 1953. But the imagined incident – by way of flashback – that genuinely shocks in this episode, is the suggestion that 16-year-old Philip was somehow responsible for his sister, Cecile of Hesse’s death in a plane crash in November 1937 because she flew from Darmstadt to Britain heavily pregnant to see him because he had been grounded for punching a boy at school. This calumny is compounded by a scene in which Philip and Cecile’s father – before a whole court in mourning – accuses his son of the death of his favourite child. Entirely baseless – simply a device for telling us that this is a complex man wrought by tragedy and unable to comprehend his sensitive son.
Episode Ten: Mystery Man
The last episode of this series returns to the first in Series Two, when The Queen found a photograph of the prima ballerina assoluta, Galina Ulanova, in the Duke’s briefcase, suggesting an affair.
FALSE – In 1956 Ulanova was 46 and most unlikely to have been at one of Stephen Ward’s party of nymphets. The trip was the first time she had visited London and she was accompanied by her husband. Philip was only in London for six days during her stay before he left on his Commonwealth cruise. In Episode Ten, when The Queen apparently confronts him about the photo, Philip sidesteps the association with Ulanova, but tells The Queen he is ‘ultimately the one person who is forever completely loyal to her’. Their resulting embrace suggests calmer seas after the choppy waters of the Britannia cruise, Suez, the unsettling wave of enthusiasm for the Kennedys, the surging Snowdon and the swimming pool at Cliveden.
Mark McGinness is a contributor to the Sydney Morning Herald, The Times, The National, Quadrant and The Spectator. More importantly, he is the best, most knowledgeable and wittiest dinner companion you could ever wish for.