It’s time again for another look at the invented history and jewels behind this season of The Crown, everybody! Buckle up — “Bubbikins” takes a bumpy ride through the “history” of the royals in the late ’60s.
We begin in Athens in 1967. Prince Philip’s mother, Princess Andrew of Greece and Denmark — generally called by her birth name/title, “Princess Alice,” in the episode — is dressed in her customary gray habit inside the walls of the nursing order she founded, the Christian Sisterhood of Martha and Mary. She’s informed that the order needs more money. (Alice wasn’t living with the sisterhood at this point — she had her own flat, and she even lived briefly in the Royal Palace after the 1967 coup. But more on that in a minute.)
Meanwhile, across the ocean in America, Prince Philip makes an appearance on American television’s Meet the Press. He talks about the need for more funding to support the monarchy. This appearance is real, but it didn’t happen in 1967 — it happened in November 1969. Some of the Crown dialogue is taken directly from his actual comments on the program, including his note that “very considerable corners that have had to be cut” because of the budget shortage. He also stated that the royals “had a small yacht which we have had to sell.”
A fictional British reporter (from Northern Ireland, judging by the accent), John Armstrong, happens to catch the show while working abroad and telephones his editors at the Guardian, asking for space to report on Philip’s statements. As Philip’s appearance was reported weeks in advance — it coincided with the 22nd anniversary of Meet the Press, which is the longest-running show on American television — surely the British papers were more than aware it was happening?
Harold Wilson meets with the Queen, who is wearing a little invented gold and pearl brooch and oddly-placed pearl clip earrings, after Armstrong’s article is published. Wilson notes that there’s a growing feeling that the royals shouldn’t be asking for more money at the moment.
Phil and Liz talk at the table after her audience about the funding issues. The Queen notes that there’s been discussion about the cost of Margaret’s “recent holiday in America” — which is, of course, doubly ridiculous, as it was in reality an official trip — and it happened in 1965, which is either two or four years before this scene is set. Anyway, Philip says that she should let him find a way to convince the public that the monarchy is worth the money.
Back in Athens, Alice takes a bus to a shop. You’ll note the tanks and soldiers in the background. Greece was ruled by a military dictatorship following a coup in April 1967. King Constantine II — the very one you’ll see sometimes on the blog today — made a major error of judgment when he recognized the legitimacy of new dictators, thus nominally remaining in power (at least for a short time).
She unwraps a handkerchief containing a spectacular diamond brooch set with a large Ceylon sapphire. (It appears to be based on the design of this real royal brooch.) The dealer scoffs, telling her that there’s no way it’s real — sapphires that large are just too rare. She barks back that he should test it to be sure. (To be fair, the production’s brooch really doesn’t look particularly like a real antique royal heirloom, but I think it’s mostly because it’s far too clean and sparkly. A little more tarnish would seem much more realistic, don’t you think?)
Once he realizes it’s real, the dealer assumes that Alice must have stolen it. He sends the police to the building where Alice’s sisterhood is housed and tries to have her arrested. They inform him that the woman in question is a genuine princess — and the mother-in-law of the Queen of England. Oops.
(Side note: there weren’t many princesses left in the area by 1967. Hugo Vickers notes in his excellent biography of Alice that the royal numbers had significantly dwindled as the family came under more and more political pressure. Along with Alice, only King Constantine, Queen Anne-Marie, Princess Alexia, Crown Prince Pavlos, Queen Friederike, and Princess Irene were left in Athens.)
Back in London, the Duke is using a newfangled intercom system to broadcast a call for “sweetie” to come to his office. His signet ring is featured in close-up. The Crown usually uses signet rings to represent positions of power, often in conflict with marriage and family. But in this case, the two are intersecting for Philip.
As Philip’s call booms over speakers throughout the palace, Michael Adeane stops in to make sure the “sweetie” Philip is looking for isn’t the Queen. In her pearls, the Queen drawls that she’s not “sweetie,” only “darling or cabbage.”
“Sweetie,” it turns out, is Princess Anne. Philip explains that they’re working on the public image of the family, and asks her to participate in a documentary. He guilts her a little by reminding her of his own childhood royal exile. She brusquely and reluctantly agrees. Just to place us in history here, the plans for Royal Family were put in motion in the spring of 1968, with filming beginning in June.
Next, he presents the documentary plan to the rest of the family. While it’s true that Philip chaired an advisory committee for the film, The Crown has left out two key figures in its conception and promotion. William Heseltine, the Queen’s Australian press secretary, dreamed up the project with Lord Braborne, the film producer who just so happened to be married to Patricia Mountbatten, daughter of Lord Mountbatten. (Where in the world is he in this episode, huh? His sister is a major part of half the plot, and his son-in-law was a major part of the other half.)
Tony Snowdon, who is sitting with the Kents and the Gloucesters, explains what a documentary is, that it’s basically like a wildlife film.
The Queen Mother, sitting with the Queen, Princess Anne, and Princess Margaret, reacts enthusiastically to the “wildlife film” bit. The writing of her character this season is so vapid that it’s bordering on cartoonish, honestly. There’s not even the tiniest bit of depth involved, and it’s disappointing.
Filming begins, which puts us in June 1968. The Queen, in pearls and no brooch, talks to Harold Wilson about the documentary. She’s not excited about any of it, but she essentially says she’s doing it for Philip. On that topic, Wilson tells her that it’s time to really start worrying about the political situation in Greece, which puts us between April and October 1967. (The timeline of this episode is completely shuffled.) He says Princess Andrew is now in some danger.
We finally get another royal replica on Olivia Colman in the following scene. She and Philip are both in gala dress for a dinner. (There weren’t any incoming state visits during the filming of Royal Family, so I’m not sure what this is supposed to represent.) Anyway, the Queen wears the replica of Queen Mary’s Fringe Tiara and production-invented diamonds as she warns Philip about his mother’s current situation abroad. There’s one big problem with use of this tiara, of course — the Queen didn’t own it in the 1960s. It was owned by the Queen Mother, who lent it to Princess Anne for her wedding in 1973 and then bequeathed it to the Queen in 2002. I guess we should just be glad they’re trying? Sigh.
The Queen wants to bring Alice to live with them at the palace. Philip, wearing all his medals along with the sash of the Order of the Garter and the neck badge of the Order of the British Empire, thinks she shouldn’t come at all — not while they’re in the middle of making the film.
(Worth interjecting here that this is completely untrue, and yet another bad characterization of Philip. Hugo Vickers notes that Philip “made immediate enquiries” about his mother when the coup began in April 1967. Philip and Alice were in regular contact by mail, and soon he sent his sister, Sophie, with an invitation from the Queen to come and live with them at Buckingham Palace. As soon as she heard that it was HM herself who had sent the invite, Alice decided to leave. She sold her belongings and left, arriving in Britain only a few weeks after the coup began. Philip was the one who did the convincing — not the one who had to be convinced. There are many legitimate criticisms that can be lobbed at the Duke. Morgan and his writing staff didn’t need to invent ahistorical ones.)
In the fictional world of The Crown, the Queen decides to override Philip and send for Alice anyway.
Alice arrives, and she’s a little overwhelmed by the palace.
This is also complete silliness. Alice was not a stranger to the royal family or to Buckingham Palace; she made frequent visits to family members, including Elizabeth and Philip, throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Hugo Vickers writes that Alice “was often in the country, her arrivals and departures discreetly noted in the Court Circular,” adding that while in London, she liked to spend time with her grandchildren and relatives, as well as making trips to department stores like Selfridge’s. She even spent time with the family aboard the Britannia.
Alice was present for many major family events in Britain and abroad during the ’60s, including the burial of Edwina Mountbatten (1960), the wedding of King Constantine and Queen Anne-Marie (1964), and Princess Anne’s confirmation (1966), as well as more than one of Prince Andrew’s birthday parties. She even visited Charles in the hospital after his appendix was removed in 1962. Elizabeth and Philip’s children called Alice “Yaya,” a Greek nickname for grandmother.
Elizabeth and Anne meet Alice as she arrives, and Alice is disappointed that “Bubbikins” isn’t there. Anne can hardly hold back her glee at learning her father’s pet name. (Of all things, this is what the writers got right: the Vickers book excerpts a 1965 letter from Alice to Philip that begins “Dear Bubby-kins.” Even more delightfully, the same book reveals Alice’s joint nickname for Philip and Elizabeth: “the Filibets.”)
While Real Philip helped his mother relocate from Greece to England, Show Philip is livid that she’s arrived in the middle of his pet film project.
But the show within the show must go on, and the family is filmed sitting around together in the palace watching television. You’ll note that one important person is missing: Prince Charles. He was featured extensively in Royal Family, but he’s totally absent here.
Everyone sits around with the corgis, complaining that they’re bored by the television show they’re supposed to be enjoying. Margaret points out that they can’t act naturally, because they really watch television alone in their separate palaces. The Queen Mother smiles vacantly.
Meanwhile, Alice — who really was a constant smoker — is desperate for a light, so she runs down and asks one of the BBC staff to help her out. He kindly obliges, but Philip sees the entire exchange and goes bananas.
He takes it out on the Queen, lambasting her for bringing his mother there in the first place and accusing her of meddling. He says Alice “was never a mother,” which is definitely not how their relationship actually evolved during his adulthood! Ugh, this show.
The Queen goes to see Alice, who is smoking away with Princess Anne as they write letters trying to raise funds for the sisterhood’s nursing operations.
This is the Queen’s face when Alice and Anne suggest they should auction off a painting or a clock from the palace to fund the convent. (Note another appearance from the little invented pearl flower brooch, too.)
And finally, it’s time to watch the finished documentary. In reality, the Queen viewed and approved the documentary alongside Princess Anne at a TV studio a month before it aired on the BBC and ITV in June 1969. Prince Philip saw the same version a week before it was televised.
But on The Crown, she’s seeing it for the first time. (They’re also showing a color version, when the one initially screened in Britain was in black and white.) In her pearls, she complains about the way her hair looks in one scene.
The Queen Mother makes a “ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille” joke. She’s wearing a brooch that looks era-appropriate for her jewelry collection, but not based on any specific piece that she owned. (Another history check: the family was not all together to watch the initial showing of the documentary on the BBC. According to The People, “The Queen, Prince Philip, and Princess Anne watched the film with Princess George of Hanover, Prince Philip’s youngest sister, in the small private dining room at Windsor Castle. Prince Charles saw the documentary at Aberystwyth, where he has been studying at the University College of Wales. And the Queen Mother watched it at Royal Lodge, Windsor.”)
Princess Margaret’s face tells you how she feels about all of this, and the looming portrait of King George VI appears to agree with her.
One person loving the whole thing? The fictional John Armstrong, who writes a scathing review of the film for The Guardian.
The Queen is stunned by the review in the morning paper. In reality, the documentary earned almost universal praise when it was screened, as well as extremely high ratings. More than 30 million people watched in the United Kingdom alone, breaking the ratings record in the country (previously held by Churchill’s state funeral, watched by 27 million). The Observer, for example, called it a “perfect public relations exercise,” while the Guardian‘s most extended critique was that it was perhaps sometimes a little bit boring.
When alarm bells were rung, they were rung gently, and mostly for fear of what the increased access would mean for the monarchy going forward. One columnist, Milton Shulman, wrote shortly after the documentary aired, “Now that the monarchy has succumbed to the temptation of using TV, there is a danger that it, too, will lose its essential mystique and distance that has been the bulwark of its survival,” adding that “from the monarch’s standpoint the use of TV must be considered as a long-term proposition. If a precedent to reveal the intimate life of kings and queens is established, what will happen one day when a member of the Throne has a private life that is clearly in serious divergence from the image being projected on the box?”
The Queen wears a production-invented brooch that looks like a starfish as she discusses the challenges of media and the failures of the documentary with Harold Wilson. He reminds her that the people don’t want her to be normal, they want her to be “an ideal.”
Philip calls Anne to his office once more, telling her that she’s pretty much their only hope to save their image now that the documentary has flopped. (…okay.) He wants her to agree to be featured in an in-depth profile in the Guardian.
But on the day Anne’s scheduled to be fictionally interviewed by the fictional John Armstrong, she balks. He shows up for the interview anyway, and is quickly distracted by Alice wandering through the palace. (She’s been sent out by Anne as a distraction.)
He sits down with Alice, who is exceptionally open with him about her deafness, her mental illness, and her time spent in a sanitarium.
And the Guardian ends up publishing a (fictional) lengthy profile on Alice, calling her “The Royal Saint.”
The Queen and the Duke read the article over breakfast…
…and then Philip finally goes up to see his mother, reading the article in front of her. He’s moved by many of her statements. (Remember that The Crown is pretending that the two haven’t had a mother-son relationship at all.) Once again, the press teaches the monarchy how to feel in Peter Morgan’s world. Sigh.
They go on a walk in the palace grounds together, all thanks to the Guardian.
Meanwhile, Adeane tells the Queen that overseas broadcasters want to show the royal documentary. The Queen says no. In reality, of course, the film rights were sold even before the documentary aired for the first time in Britain. The film was shown for the first time in color on CBS in America in September 1969 — several weeks before Philip’s Meet the Press appearance — and it would go on to be shown in Canada, Australia, and several other countries. It was also repeated multiple times in the UK. The final showing was on the BBC on February 6, 1972, to mark the 20th anniversary of the Queen’s accession. Scenes from the film have been included in other documentaries, but the entire documentary has not been shown in public since then — not because it was a failure, but, it seems, because it represented a newer, more intrusive attitude about the monarchy and the media.