Watching the Duke of Sussex’s knockabout routine with comedian James Corden on America’s Late Late Show, you soon see why Netflix executives wanted to sign up the Duke and Duchess to make TV programmes.
Here is the impish, funny Harry of yesteryear. It’s rather reassuring to see he hasn’t been completely erased by Harry the earnest podcasting champion of ‘connection’ and ‘systemic change’.
However, where the new-look Harry seems to have gone entirely native in sunny California is with his glowing endorsement of The Crown — in contrast to the ghastly British media.
‘I am way more comfortable with The Crown than I am seeing the stories written about my family, or my wife or myself,’ he tells Corden.
Like all series of the Crown, the latest series (starring Olivia Colman and Gillian Anderson) is beautifully and expensively produced and yet it does not merely take liberties with the truth - it goes out of its way to subvert it.
At which point, one might expect him to declare a pretty hefty interest. For Prince Harry and The Crown are on the same payroll, answering to the same masters: Netflix.
The Crown is the glossy TV soap which has inflicted grave damage on his family through a catalogue of untruths.
I use that word advisedly because the writer of the series, Peter Morgan, has himself claimed: ‘I’m absolutely fastidious about there being an underlying truth.’
Prince Harry has now given it his own seal of approval.
‘It’s fictional but it’s loosely based on the truth,’ he says in this latest interview (they are coming thick and fast these days).
‘Of course it’s not strictly accurate, but, loosely it gives you a rough idea about that lifestyle.’
Netflix will, no doubt, be grateful for his remarks. Within the royal orbit, however, many are flabbergasted.
I fully accept that the Duke cannot abide the British media, whom he accuses, en masse, of ‘destroying’ his mental health. I can only say that I have never received a word of complaint from him about anything I have written.
The Crown hinted the Queen tried to undermine Margaret Thatcher (pictured together in Zambia in 1979)
However, if I were to suggest there was a grain of truth in some of the cavalier fabrications tossed around by The Crown, I’d have the royal lawyers stamping on my head. And with good reason.
Take the latest series. Like all of them, it is beautifully and expensively produced.
Yet it does not merely take liberties with the truth. It goes out of its way to subvert it. Harry’s father spends an entire decade solely engaged in undermining his first wife.
That is palpably not true.
I wouldn’t expect to see a whole plotline based around, say, the creation of the Prince’s Trust or countless other causes. But a casual observer might be forgiven for wondering what on earth the point of the Prince of Wales is. Because in this show, there is none.
Even worse, in my view, is the way in which it is not merely hinted that the Queen tried to undermine Margaret Thatcher.
In The Crown, the monarch cynically orders a dirty-tricks campaign against her elected prime minister, instructing her Palace press secretary to feed poison to the Sunday Times in 1986.
When it backfires, the press secretary is fired. Yet in truth, it was the press secretary who blabbed.
In real life, the Queen was appalled (Princess Margaret later told a friend it was one of the few occasions when she had seen her sister in tears).
The casual observer, however, will now think otherwise.
For therein lies the problem: most of those who watch The Crown are those casual observers — all over the world.
Unlike Harry, they do not know what is ‘loosely based on the truth’. Many won’t take it as gospel (though some will) but they will assume it is not wrong. ‘Yes, I know it’s a drama,’ people say, before letting slip that they have been duped.
For instance, there is a wholly bogus scene in the first series where Winston Churchill’s (fictional) assistant is mown down in the London smog thanks to (wicked Tory) pollution.
On three occasions, now, I have heard that stated as true fact. Ditto the ‘truth’ that the Queen ‘never cried’ at the wreckage of Aberfan in 1966. Utter, utter rubbish — but now taken as fact.
Suggestions the Queen did not cry at the wreckage of Aberfan, where 144 people including 116 children died, in 1966 is utter, utter rubbish but now taken as fact
The eminent royal biographer Hugo Vickers has spotted so many howlers that he has turned them into a series of enjoyable books.
Just over a year ago, I was listening to an LBC phone-in on Britain’s relations with the U.S. when a caller blithely reminded the audience that Princess Margaret had rescued the British economy by securing an emergency U.S. loan from President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965. No she didn’t. It was a made-up plotline from The Crown. Yet it went unchallenged.
No one, perhaps, has stronger grounds to be upset with the series than the Duke of Edinburgh. In some of the earlier episodes he is linked to a (bogus) ballerina and even randomly given a bit-part in the Profumo scandal of 1963.
It was certainly a sensational melange featuring a Tory minister, a Russian spy and a party girl — but no royalty. What the hell. Chuck them in anyway . . .
I would place the fallacies of The Crown in three categories. There are numerous lazy, sloppy inaccuracies — people wearing the wrong medals, dead people suddenly popping up, Churchill dying in high summer, etc. Then there is invention dressed as ‘dramatic licence’ — like the Windsors trying to humiliate guests at Balmoral (when they go out of their way not to).
Worst of all are the deliberate falsehoods calculated to smear.
In one episode, the Duke of Edinburgh is blamed for causing the death of his favourite sister, Cecile, in a plane crash. In reality, he was a schoolboy and had absolutely nothing to do with a horrific accident which mains one of the great tragedies of his life. I am told that while he has refused to watch any of it, he is mortified to be accused of ‘murdering’ his own sister.
Equally repugnant is a recent episode in which the Queen Mother confesses that two handicapped cousins were locked away to spare the monarchy from the stigma of mental disability. As Hugo Vickers points out, the two girls were diagnosed by their parents with a ‘severe development disorder inherited from the Trefusis family’.
However, the Windsors are the villains in this show. ‘What my family did was unforgivable, says Helena Bonham-Carter’s Princess Margaret.
They, in turn, might say much the same of Harry’s new friends at Netflix.