Early on in the new series of The Crown, we find the Duke of Edinburgh on board the Royal Yacht in 1956. Half-way through a round-the-world trip and bound for the Antarctic, he is arguing with the captain and ordering Britannia to alter course for Tonga.

There he and his private secretary, Mike Parker, are serenaded on the beach by dancing Tongan maidens, one of whom lures Parker into the undergrowth. The scene ends just before the audience sees what happens to the Duke. Parker's boastful letter to the chaps back at his raucous London lunch club, however, is full of innuendo.

Thus ends yet another beautifully and expensively filmed plotline of a production that continues to draw rave reviews as a new series is released. Like so much else in The Crown, however, it is not a mere distortion of events. Much of it is utter rubbish.

This Netflix series cannot be mentioned by the critics without glowing references to its cast and script, predictions that it will scoop up a hatful of awards and a shrewd apercu to show the reviewer has observed some "inner truth". The series' writer, Peter Morgan, claims as a badge of honour that he was never interested in royalty, describing the Queen as "this countryside woman of limited intelligence". But he insists, equally proudly: "I've just done my best to stick to the facts as I have them."


To which one is entitled to ask: what facts?

Of course, any dramatisation of history is entitled to artistic licence and, within reason, to bend events. But this is a drama in which the central characters are not plucked from a history book. They are very much part of our national life today. They are still doing the same job they are purported to be doing in this cruel melange of regurgitated fact and fiction.

The Queen and Prince Philip may justly wonder why, a few weeks after celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary, they deserve to have their marriage reimagined as a £100 million blockbuster in which, for example, the Duke is not only blamed for the death of his sister in a plane accident but then hits a 13-year-old Prince Charles for being afraid of flying.

Claire Foy and Matt Smith in The Crown. Photo / Netflix
Claire Foy and Matt Smith in The Crown. Photo / Netflix

So let us return to that episode on board Britannia. The Duke wants to sail to Tonga to drop off an injured fisherman rescued by the Yacht and ends up at a beach party. Not only did it never happen, but there was no row with Britannia's captain, Vice-Admiral Sir Conolly Abel Smith.

It would have been inconceivable for the Duke, one of the ablest officers of his generation, to quarrel with the ship's captain, let alone mock the man's war record. We see the Duke sneer that Sir Conolly spent World War II safely on "shore duty".

In fact, Sir Conolly actually fought in two world wars. He was at the Battle of Jutland in the Great War, one of the first pilots in the history of the Fleet Air Arm and was mentioned in despatches (like the Duke), in his case during the 1942 Allied landings in north Africa.

So, a gallant naval officer has casually been traduced. Never mind. He died in 1985. He won't be complaining.

There is no record that Mike Parker wrote anything to the Thursday Club, a men-only weekly lunch gathering at Wheeler's restaurant in Soho co-founded by the society photographer Stirling Nahum, known as Baron.


The series depicts it as some sort of depraved secret society. In reality, it was an ever-changing assembly of London luminaries — actors such as David Niven and Peter Ustinov, the Duke and his uncle, Lord Mountbatten, and several newspaper editors — who would swap stories and bawdy jokes over flagons of house wine.

But the plotline of this series demands that a vast cloud of unhappiness and Establishment denial should hang over the marriages of both the Royal Family and the ruling cadre of Tory toffs.

The Thursday Club is a vehicle for that and is elevated to a cross between the Freemasons and the Bullingdon, with Baron reciting tales of royal misdemeanour to the weekly gatherings. Never mind that Baron was actually dead by then.

The whole series rests on the idea that the Duke's 1956-57 Commonwealth tour was some sort of debauched, globe-trotting rugby club jolly with girls in every port.

Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret in The Crown. Photo / Netflix
Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret in The Crown. Photo / Netflix

Mike Parker's over-familiarity with his boss certainly borders on comedy. My favourite moment comes as the Duke and Parker watch the ship's cricket team playing a team of tribesmen. As the Britannia XI takes the last wicket, the Duke and Parker hug and kiss each other like triumphal modern footballers. It's about as plausible as Queen Victoria in a bikini.

Morgan's nugget of truth for all this is that Mike Parker's marriage really was in trouble, as it had been well before this tour. When it emerged, during the tour, that his wife, Eileen, was seeking a divorce, the world's press did start asking questions about the whole tour.

Parker flew home early to calm the story down (though he was still working for the Duke months later). This was the Fifties and any sign of the "D"-word in the royal orbit was big news.

Yet, in the series, the Queen stalks Eileen Parker and even turns up at her house to beg her to rethink. Pure guff.

Nonetheless, the publicity surrounding the Parkers' divorce had in turn resulted in foreign press speculation about the state of the royal marriage, prompting the Palace press office to issue a statement in 1957, saying: "It is quite untrue that there is any rift between the Queen and the Duke."

As we see in the series, the Queen did fly out to Lisbon to join the Duke for a state visit to Portugal.

Here, the truth was, in fact, more entertaining than the televised fiction. In the series, the Duke is reunited with the Queen who is so incensed by his behaviour that all she can bring herself to say is: "We'll talk later."

In reality, it was a comedy moment. Knowing that the Duke had grown a beard on his travels, the Queen had arranged for everyone on her plane — including herself — to put on fake whiskers just before he walked in. There were howls of laughter, not daggers.

There are so many departures from reality that the royal historian, Hugo Vickers, has produced a book about the series, The Crown: Truth & Fiction.

In one episode, we see the Queen paying a state visit to Ghana in 1961, as she did in real life. Except, in The Crown, the visit only happens because the Queen has had U.S. President, John F Kennedy, to dinner and is cross that everyone (including Prince Philip) is besotted with Jackie Kennedy. The final straw is when she learns the First Lady has been gossiping that the Queen is "unintelligent and unremarkable". Now where have we heard that line before?

To prove that she is no lightweight, the scheming Queen plots a state visit to newly independent Ghana where President Nkrumah is leaning dangerously towards the Soviets and away from the Commonwealth. Everyone says it is a mad idea. But she goes and it's a success.

In reality, her visit had absolutely nothing to do with Mrs Kennedy. The Queen was already due to go to Ghana the year before but cancelled when she was expecting Prince Andrew. The visit, though still fraught with security concerns, was already on the cards. Incidentally, I wonder if the makers of The Crown would have dared suggest that Jackie Kennedy was a drug addict while she was alive.

Claire Foy in The Crown. Photo / Netflix
Claire Foy in The Crown. Photo / Netflix

The series shows her having injections of drugs — cocaine? — to "pep" her up on tour. No need to worry about the Royal Family, though. They won't sue.

You do not need to be a royal-watcher to spot some of the cracks. In the episode on Prince Charles's misery at Gordonstoun, for example, we see a mysterious flying car. Prince Philip drives his son to the airport in a blue convertible, flies him to Scotland and then gets back in to the same car at the other end.

It is this episode which alarms Hugo Vickers most of all. For it blames Prince Philip for the death of his adored sister, Cecilie.

There's the usual nugget of truth. She really was heavily pregnant when she boarded a plane with her husband and sons to fly from their German home to a family wedding in London. The plane crashed in Belgium, killing all on board.

It is thought Cecilie went in to labour on the flight as a newborn was found in the wreckage. As those close to Prince Philip have attested, it was the worst thing to have happened to him in a life of many reversals and he travelled to Germany, with his father, for the funeral.

In The Crown, however, Cecilie is not meant to be on the fateful flight. She is going to stay at home in Germany and look after young Prince Philip during half-term.

It is only after he hits another boy at school and his half-term leave is cancelled that Cecilie changes her plans and sets off to the wedding after all. It is only at the funeral, a feast of swastikas and Nazi salutes, that young Philip finally meets his father who berates him in front of all the mourners.

"It's true, isn't it, boy?" he shouts at him. "You're the reason we're all here burying my favourite child."

Claire Foy plays Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown. Photo / Netflix
Claire Foy plays Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown. Photo / Netflix

This fabricated "guilt" so haunts the Duke that when he is flying with Prince Charles at his side on a turbulent flight and the boy starts to tremble, the Duke hits him.

While I doubt the Duke will ever watch this, I have spoken to friends of his who have. They are appalled.

The central premise of the entire series is that he is miserable and either loafing around or up to no good. All through this period, he was actually happy and hyperactive, founding institutions such as the hugely successful Duke of Edinburgh's Award (no mention) or the World Wildlife Fund (one passing mention) and so much else besides. That voyage aboard Britannia was not some glorified stag night. He went to open the Melbourne Olympics and then make royal visits to scientific missions and the furthest-flung outposts of the Commonwealth, places such as St Helena and the loneliest community on earth, Tristan da Cunha. Much of that, of course, doesn't make for exciting telly.

Peter Morgan's argument is that this is all based on solid fact — except for all the stuff that he has made-up. The idea is that we should swallow the latter on the basis of the former.

The programme makers have made it a point of honour that they have not talked to the Palace. The Palace is not going to dignify the series with a comment. The rest of us are entitled to make up our minds accordingly.

And I think much of this stuff should be challenged before it solidifies as received wisdom.

However, I am surprised by the number of people who, having enjoyed the first series, have already given up after an hour or two of this one. As one media expert put it to me last week: "The Crown has jumped the shark" — industry slang for when a series has stretched credibility too far for its own good.

Maybe they'll throw in a proper shark scene in the next episode. Perhaps we could see Prince Philip wrestling one during the 1970 tour of Australia. Did it really happen? Who cares?