RICHARD THE THIRD – The Real Game of Thrones: Can CHARLES THE THIRD resolve the enduring mystery?


Once upon a time, politics was truly a blood sport.

As Shakespeare tells it, King Richard The Third murdered his brother, three of his in-laws, a cousin, several friends, countless rebels, and, most heinously, two nephews, the Princes in the Tower, in a blood drenched plot to steal the throne of England. He then poisoned his wife, in order to marry his niece.


Shakespeare got it wrong. He fashioned Tudor propaganda into one of the greatest plays ever written. Then, like base metal turning into gold, drama transmuted into accepted history, culturally reinforced during the last hundred years by a gallery of stage and screen stars portraying the ultimate wicked uncle.

This was the first silent movie version in 1911, with famous speeches conveyed by title cards. It ran 23 minutes. In 1939, Basil Rathbone, seen here getting final touches of make up, played Richard The Third in Rowland V. Lee’s ponderous Tower of London, for which Shakespeare’s material received no screen credit.

Roland  Lee had a track record in swashbucklers (The Count of Monte Cristo)  and horror (Son of Frankenstein) and he tilted Shakespeare’s catalogue of Richard’s crimes towards horror, casting Boris Karloff as Richard’s fictional executioner Mord, with a clubfoot no less. The mixture does not gel.  Universal spent $580,000 to make it in black and white. Expensive battle scenes shot in Tarzana, Los Angeles, were marred when rain machines caused papier mâché helmets on 300 extras to melt.

A young Vincent Price  played the luckless Duke of Clarence.

Price would take on the role of Richard The Third in Roger Corman’s threadbare $200,000 remake in 1962, which borrowed battle scene footage from the original.

Vincent Price plays Evil Richard with his customary gusto, as you can see in this  clip from the torturing of Jane Shore on the rack.


This never actually happened. It was Henry The Eighth, 65 years after Richard’s death, who had a woman racked almost to death, tearing ligaments, dislocating limbs,  before ordering her burned at the stake. Henry was the real monster. The real Jane Shore, wife of a prominent London merchant, and mistress of the late King Edward, was sleeping with at least two of Richard’s enemies, when they were caught in a conspiracy against him. Some conspirators were executed.  Richard punished Mistress Shore with the harlot’s walk of shame. She was made to parade barefoot through the London streets wearing only a petticoat, to be jeered at and pelted with filth.  This historical incident inspired the naked   “ shaming of Circe Lanister” in Game of Thrones. Here’s a clip from the expurgated version on UTube.

In 1955, Laurence Olivier, after acclaimed stage performances, filmed his version  of Richard The Third in VistaVision and Technicolor. It’s interesting to compare the interpretation and vocal delivery of Price and Olivier.

Of the various films of Richard The Third, my personal preference is the Ian McKellen version, setting Richard in a 1930’s fascist England.

Contrary to Shakespeare, Richard was a faithful husband and an embattled reformer,  outmaneuvered by multiple conspiracies in the final chapter of the thirty year fratricidal conflict known as the Wars of the Roses.  15th Century  historian John Rous described him as a “good lord” with a “great heart” who punished “oppressors of the commons”. He reformed the law, requiring free legal advice be available to the poor. No longer could juries be bought, or corrupt land lords forcibly confiscate property based on flimsy accusations without due process. At the microlevel,  he even protected the rights of Yorkshire trout fishermen, preventing magnates penning the rivers and harvesting the majority of the trout themselves. He was a promoter of literature and the burgeoning printing industry, causing Chaucer’s work to become popular. He ordered all laws previously written in French or Latin be translated into English to be understood by the commons. Richard was a religious man, mentored as a child  by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and introduced to values of justice and chivalry.

Contrary to Shakespeare, Richard’s marriage to Anne Neville was not an exploitative exercise in spoils of war, an attempt to grab her wealthy estate. Richard and Anne Neville grew up as cousins, often in each other’s company. She too had been a sickly child, Perhaps Richard and Anne were bonded by the political chaos that afflicted their childhood. Each suffered traumatic reversals of fortune, as power shifted back and forth between Lancaster and York.   Both lost their fathers in battle. Anne had been unwillingly married  at 14, widowed a year later.  The estates of her husband and father Warwick as rebels were forfeited to the Crown, It is probable that 19 year old Richard felt sorry for his 15 year old cousin’s undeserved misfortune, which was about to get worse. Richard’s older brother, the greedy, duplicitous Clarence, had his eye on Anne’s estates, but also wanted to keep the fallen enemy Warwick’s daughter as his ward to make an advantageous marriage with another influential family.  Clarence, claiming ignorance of her whereabouts, even concealed Anne in his wife’s household, requiring her to dress as a maid, until Richard personally rescued her.He waived any right to her estate to placate Clarence. Richard married Anne Neville, if not out of love, then, at least, kindness. So much for my reading of Richard’s underlying character.

The disappearance of the Princes in the Tower is the principal cause of Richard’s historical  infamy.  Thirty years later, Sir Thomas More wrote that the Princes were murdered by Sir James Tyrell, John Dighton, and Miles Forest, on the orders of Richard The Third, describing the crime thus:  “keeping down by force the featherbed and pillows hard unto their mouths, that within a while, smothered and stifled, their breath failing, they gave up to God their innocent souls.”

Sir James Tyrell was hanged seventeen years later, not for their murder but for treason against Henry The Seventh.  About 10 years after Tyrell’s execution Sir Thomas More wrote that Tyrell had spontaneously confessed this additional crime before his execution. There remains no record of such an important confession, something Henry The Seventh would have surely made public, to further legitimize his reign. There are many reasons to question More’s account.


Here’s a portrait of Sir Thomas More, as he rose through the civil service ranks. More was seven years old when Richard  died at Bosworth. More grew up in the household of John Morton, Bishop of Ely, one of Richard’s implacable enemies, from whom More got most of his information. Some historians have suggested that More was copying, or perhaps translating, Morton’s original material, written in Latin.

Pictured here in stained glass, John Morton was Bishop of Ely and a member of Edward The Fourth’s council, At this time, bishops were civil servants  who were awarded bishoprics and access to their revenues. Morton was a wily Church politician, a serial conspirator, and at 60+ years of age, an active participant in two unsuccessful uprisings, forced to escape to France till Henry Tudor invaded. After Henry  took the throne, he made Morton Archbishop of Canterbury and ultimately a Cardinal.  Morton played as successful a Game of Thrones as Henry Tudor.

Yet More never published The History of Richard The Third. Years after More’s  execution by Henry The Eighth, it was discovered among his papers, ending unfinished in mid sentence. More had been executed by Henry The Eighth for refusing to accept Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. In 1935, Pope Pius XI canonized More as a martyr, thereby rendering More’s writings as virtual holy writ.

Over the last century, several historians have disputed More’s account. In 1997 three Justices of the United States Supreme Court held a mock trial of Richard The Third for the murder of the Princes in the Tower. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Stephen G, Breyer ruled unanimously that Richard The Third was NOT GUILTY. Narrowly reported, soon forgotten.

This got me thinking

It’s time for a wrong to be righted, I decided one day, while in a quixotic frame of mind.

Naturally, my next thought was : a movie is the quickest way to present the case for the defense to the widest possible jury pool, Indeed, such a film, if well publicized, might stimulate popular debate, and in the process, challenge the enshrined verdict on the most infamous child murder in British history.  Maybe this will serve to further encourage Buckingham Palace to authorize DNA testing, hitherto refused, on key circumstantial evidence pointing to Richard’s guilt: the two skeletons found in the Tower of London centuries later, presumed, but never confirmed, to be the Princes. The latest technology that authenticated Richard’s skeleton could confirm, or refute, whether the bones now resting in Westminster Abbey shared Plantagenet DNA. Certainly I had chosen a quixotic mission for my next spec script .as writer/director. Who Dares Wins, right? So sticking closely to contemporary records, I wrote a script that followed Richard, Duke of Gloucester from the crisis that enveloped him in April 1483, precipitating his seizure of the throne, to his death two years later in the battle of Bosworth.  It was styled as a coup d’ état political thriller in medieval dress.

First you need the backstory: A month before his death Edward The Fourth wrote a will making his brother Richard Lord Protector of the Realm, and Guardian of Edward’s children, three daughters and two sons; the firstborn, also named Edward, being his designated successor. The threat Richard faced was one that dynasties and crime families have faced throughout history. when hereditary leadership passes suddenly to a minor.  Rival factions will try to take control of the child till he comes of age, enabling them to rubber stamp the elimination of their enemies.  Immediately upon King Edward’s death, conflicts that had roiled beneath the surface for years burst into the open and would engulf Richard.

Loyaulté Me Lie – Loyalty Binds Me – accompanied by the white boar of York was Richard’s personal motto, emblazoned on banners and tapestries. He served his brother the King with unswerving loyalty despite numerous inducements to betrayal from his envious brother Clarence. He even pleaded for Clarence’s life, when Edward ordered his execution. Contemporary records reflect a man with a moral compass.

I presented Richard as an idealist, who wanted to reform the law and curb the power of the magnates and the Church. You could say that’s like herding cats with a touch of wack-a-mole. Writing  as I was at the beginning of the Obama Presidency, perhaps influenced by the nightly cable news slugfests, I wove in how propaganda was as powerful a weapon in politics then as it is now. Paid rumor mongers at taverns, pamphleteers, graffiti; the lo-tech equivalent of the internet. To address the central mystery of the Princes in the Tower, I proposed Harry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham as the one who commissioned the  murder; the most likely suspect with access, motive and opportunity. With hindsight Buckingham can be seen as the Iago-like advisor in Richard’s ear, pushing him towards a pre-determined trap.  I supported the theory that one Prince survived to become Perkin Warbeck, the Pretender, ten years later, thereby offering the possibility of a follow up movie.  To sugar the history lesson, the script was spiked with bawdy humor, bursts of action and a rousing Battle of Bosworth climax. This featured Richard leading an heroic death or glory charge with only 80 knights that plowed through Tudor lines, and according to contemporary reports, brought Richard within 10 yards of Henry Tudor, killing his bodyguard with a battle axe, before he was cut down.  I wrote a screenplay that I believed was achievable  – as a UK/EU co-production in 2009 – within a 20 million dollar budget, depending on casting.

Casting. Aye, there’s the rub.  A star of significant wattage would be needed to play the starring role, or a brilliant unknown actor with a gallery of stars around him. While resemblance to portraits of historical figures is helpful in movies, it is not essential. This is a facial reconstruction of Richard created after his skull was digitally scanned.

Richard’s relatively slight stature would be the important element to maintain in the casting choice. A brief digression on Richard’s physical appearance.

“Richard liveth yet”, a family chronicler once wrote. He was a sickly child. then an undersized lad, a foot shorter than his eldest brother Edward, and not as handsome. He was not the charming extrovert his older brother Clarence was. Quite the opposite. Quiet. Introverted.  Perhaps regarded as the runt of the litter, expected to die in infancy as many children did.  However Richard’s  health improved once he began training in horsemanship and military arts, a major part of a young noble’s education, starting at age seven. At age twelve, Richard was reported riding in armor recruiting troops for his brother. Extended practice with lance, axe and sword would lead to his right arm and shoulder being overdeveloped. Also examination of Richard’s spine has revealed a distinct rightward curve of between 65 and 85 degrees with some twisting. This scoliosis had a spiral quality that would have been noticed, when after Bosworth his naked corpse was slung over a horse and taken to town for public display. This gave rise to the subsequent hunchback rumor that Shakespeare embraced.

If I was casting today, I think Daniel Radcliffe would make an interesting    Richard The Third, as a noble, determined, tortured soul. From Harry Potter to Kill Your Darlings to Weird Al, he has dared to take risks, and his persona  guarantees audience identification with his characters.

Another leading figure in the story was Elizabeth Woodville, who became Edward The Fourth’s Queen Bess.

I thought Nicole Kidman would be perfect as the proud, devious, and ultimately tragic Elizabeth Woodville. Like all writers I fantasized about my cast. Might as well imagine their chemistry even if it never happens. I saw Mel Gibson as the wily and energetic John Morton, rebel Bishop of Ely, played as a man of 50 rather than 64. I saw Tilda Swinton as Margaret Beaufort,  ambitious mother of Henry Tudor and Tom Hiddleston as the crafty Henry, Brendan Gleeson as Tudor’s uncle, the old war horse Sir Jasper Tudor. Jude Law as Hastings, Richard’s friend, who Richard executed for treason. Robert Pattinson as the ultra devious Buckingham,  Another key character is less well known – Duarte Brandao,  an adventurer and ship’s commander, who outwitted the Woodville fleet when it tried to abscond with half the national treasury. A short, largely CGI, fog shrouded naval engagement would add a fresh dimension to the recreation of the period.

Duarte Brandao was eventually known as Sir Edward Brampton. He was raised in Portugal by a Jewish mother, the  illegitimate son of a probable nobleman. After killing a man in a duel, Duarte was forced to flee Portugal and sought service with Edward The Fourth in England. He distinguished himself  in battles on land and sea  throughout the Wars of the Roses became a close associate of Richard The Third. Duarte  converted to Christianity – though in late life he converted back – and was knighted by Richard in 1484, as Sir Edward Brampton, the first man of Jewish origins to receive that honor. I wrote the role with a wry humored Antonio Banderas in mind.

If the script could snag two of the names in my dream cast, there was a chance financing could come together. My last spec script had been optioned. Would I get lucky with this one?

An early career as a trailer maker no doubt influenced my vision for the first three minutes of the movie:

Body on Page One. Always a good start.

Lotsa bodies, even better.

Dynamic action and title montage, succinctly synopsizing the 30 year Wars of the Roses, set to powerful music, precipitating immediate crisis.

Identify principal characters when introduced by name, and rank. to provide historical authenticity.

Keep history exciting. It is.

I also put my thesis out front and center. That’ll get their attention.



A white rose fills the screen. We cruise round its glorious petals, suddenly struck by flecks of blood. Gradually the rose turns from white to red, then divides into two, a White rose on the left, a Red rose on the right.



Thundering hooves sound of an approaching cavalry charge  build to a crescendo. An explosion of impact, as two waves of heavily armored knights collide head on. Lances transfix riders and horses.


The fallen are trampled by a hundred hooves.


A cloud of arrows pincushion a cluster of infantry.


Men in armor battle on foot. One falls, his arm sheared off at the shoulder.


In crimson water, a hundred men hack and slash at each other.


Another armored warrior is struck from his horse. A foot soldier quickly kneels and cuts his throat.



Burly executioners thrust the neck of the gibbering Henry The Sixth across the block.


“I am your King! I am anointed by God!”

Nonetheless, the axe falls.

A bleeding teenage knight rips off his armor. as he runs across a foggy battlefield strewn with dead and wounded.


Men in armor loom out of the fog. Edmund Plantagenet freezes, then sinks to his knees. A knight steps forward removing his helmet, revealing a man in his mid twenties, seething with triumphant rage.



“Thy father slew my father, so will I slay thee and all thy kin!”

He rams a dagger into the boy’s throat.


A soldier hammers a long nail through Edmund’s now severed head, securing it beside two other heads to a beam over the entry way. A crowd watches.



A coronation is in progress.


JUNE 28th 1461

The Archbishop places the ornate crown of England on the head of a tall,  golden haired 20 year old.


“By the grace of God, Edward The Fourth, King of England and Ireland.”

The camera homes in on Edward’s strikingly handsome face.


APRIL 9th 1483

Matching Angle: The same face, bloated by 20 years of excess, the fair hair now balding and streaked with grey, the breathing rasping and uneven.

Propped up on pillows, semiconscious, King Edward The Fourth is at the point of death. Courtiers stand at a discreet distance. A choir intones a hymn. Beside the death bed is his wife BESS, 48 years old, still strikingly beautiful, and unaffected by her husband’s imminent passing.



The Queen’s gaze rakes the crowd lining the walls, focusing on a petite, fair haired woman, 38 and still seductive, tears on her cheeks.


Jane Shore contemplates her uncertain future.

Standing nearby is a silver haired, well dressed noble in his early fifties.,


Lord Hastings looks at Mistress Shore, compassion inflected with lust.

She notices.

The Queen turns to a Bishop standing beside her,.



“How soon will my son be brought to London?”


“Two weeks, if the weather is kind.”


“Keep the Duke of Gloucester away.”


“The King’s will has appointed him Guardian of the Princes and Protector of the Realm.  ”


“They must not be allowed to meet.”


“A sufficient escort will prevent interference.”

THE QUEEN (curtly)

“See to it.”

The dying king stirs.


“Can he hear us?”


“Place your hand on my breast.”


“Your Majesty?”


“You heard me.”

Edward’s eyes flicker. His breathing quickens.

Morton glances back at the retinue lining the wall, then steps beside The Queen as if to offer comfort by taking her arm. Instead, shielded from view, he places his hand lightly across her breast. She grasps his palm, pressing and rubbing it slowly round her breast. Edward, staring at them,  utters a groan of pain. She addresses her husband with honeyed venom.


“This is for all the whores you took when my bed was ever willing.”

The Queen kneels down, close to the King’s face as if to pray.


“Remember the day we met, did you think ahead to this day?”

Edward shudders.


“No, you didn’t  think further than the end of your prick. But I did.  You thought you could drink and gorge and fornicate forever.  God had other plans.  The kingdom is mine now…I shall rule through our sons.  Those who scorned me and my family will learn to fear us. So, dear husband, hurry along…I will soon send your brother to keep you company.”


A face snarls into camera.


“I am the Ogre! AGH! I eat you up!”

RICHARD, 30, a man of below average height, lean with muscular shoulders and arms, is playing tag with the delighted children of his key lieutenants at a family picnic outside the castle walls.


Richard scoops up a little girl squealing with delight, and whirls her round. ANNE, 27, Richard’s wife, smiles at her husband, whom she has known since childhood.


Beside her sits their seven year old son NED. He puts down a half finished apple and runs towards his father.


“Dickon, your son wants his turn.”

Anne watches her husband give Ned the sensation of flight, wheeling him round and round.


“Whee! I’m a  falcon!”


“Nay, an eagle! An eagle!”

Three more twirls, then Richard places the boy beside his mother, Ned keels over from dizziness.


“Thank you, father. Whoo!”


“This work is hard.”


“When men bear the children, we ladies will hear your complaints.”

All the women laugh. Noting a nearby retainer watching with his family, Anne whispers to Richard like a good political wife.


“And don’t forget Percy’s children.”

Richard appreciates her insight. She is the love of his life.

Anne sees a group of horsemen galloping across the field towards them, a royal pennant flying.  She knows this is not good news.


The screenplay ran 135 pages. My representatives felt there were only two companies that would be interested in taking on an expensive British themed costume picture: BBC Films and Working Title Films,  Both companies turned it down: one for being “too fawning on Richard”, the other, which had a competing screenplay, as yet not produced, concluded that “bad Richard” was more fun.  My mission to restore the reputation of a maligned King of England had failed. Who dares does not always win. But it’s always worth trying. My interest in Richard’s cause persisted.

Soon enough, BBC & STARZ announced plans to turn the best selling cousins’ war novels by Philippa Gregory into series. Those novels at least provided some counterpoint to the Thomas More narrative. Further impetus to restoring Richard’s reputation was provided by the discovery of Richard’s skeleton in 2012, under a car park in Leicester. He was subsequently buried with Royal protocol.

This was an amazing story in itself, and is now the subject of its own movie The Lost King. Sally Hawkins,  plays the real life lady Philippa Langley, whose single minded dedication to finding the actual burial place of Richard The Third led to his skeleton being uncovered and authenticated.

Naturally I was keen to watch the 2013 BBC/STARZ series The White Princess, which over 10 episodes depicted the turbulent era through the eyes of the key female characters involved, mainly Elizabeth Woodville played by Rebecca Ferguson. It was a star making role. Tom Cruise watched the series and cast her in his next two additions to the Mission Impossible franchise.  This version depicts the murders of the Princes in the Tower as having been instigated by Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry Tudor, the future King Henry The Seventh, to eliminate them as future claimants to the throne.

The White Queen, despite excellent performances, disappointed me overall.  Critics were a little underwhelmed. The Los Angeles Times  review concluded: ” Shoveling three novels and 30 years of very confusing history into even 10 hourlong episodes requires that “The White Queen” become a series of vignettes rather than a cohesive narrative, a “greatest hits of the Wars of the Roses,” as it were. Years collapse into minutes, intricate policy is condensed into cardboard personalities, and the characters are swiftly categorized as good or evil.”

Certainly, the writers were set a challenging task. Shot in Belgium on a budget that limited the scale of sets and crowd, the grandeur of the era was absent. Zippers and tourist guide rails visible in some palace locations were among the anachronisms critics pointed out. To disguise the lack of large bodies of troops. the Battle of Bosworth Field was staged in a forest. From my perspective, the most disappointing aspect was that the complex issues of Richard’s reign were crammed into the last three episodes of The White Queen. Richard deserves three seasons of his own.

However, this TV show coupled with the discovery and Royal burial of Richard The Third has focused public attention on the central mystery of his reign: did he, or didn’t he?  My view: To have ordered the murder of his two nephews whom he would have played with as infants at Yuletide gatherings, the sons of the brother to whom he was devoted, is incompatible with Richard’s character as revealed in the documented facts of his life.

King Charles The Third has recently stated that he is open to DNA examination of the remains of the presumed Princes, currently resting in Westminster Abbey. If neither skeleton contains Plantagenet DNA, a significant piece of circumstantial evidence against Richard is eliminated. If only one has Plantagenet DNA, that supports the Perkin Warbeck theory of one Prince’s survival – a page was mistakenly killed in his place., and the real Prince was smuggled to Flanders disguised as a servant in the service of Sir Edward Brampton, He would invade England as the rightful King and die as Perkin Warbeck, the Pretender.

I hope DNA testing goes forward. It will not solve the mystery, but it would be a good step forward.




ROYAL SCANDALS – We Can’t Get Enough of Them.

The Meghan Markle/Oprah Winfrey bombshell interview, with allegations of racist attitudes in Buckingham Palace, was a perfect storm of feminist and Black Lives Matter issues guaranteed to produce a media feeding frenzy, largely along tribal lines.. The situation was not unpredictable. British comedian John Oliver could see it coming when he appeared on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” in 2018 just months before the royal wedding.

“I don’t think you need to have just seen the pilot episode of ‘The Crown’ to get a basic sense of, she might be marrying into a family that could cause her some emotional complications. They’re an emotionally stunted group of fundamentally flawed people doing a very silly, pseudo job. That’s what she’s marrying into. So I hope she likes it. It’s going to be weird for her.”

So spoke an anti-Royalist, whose irreverent lampooning of the privileged and powerful is always fun to watch. Personally, I’m not an anti-Royalist. The Monarchy represents a thousand years of British History, and as such is a useful institution in governance, providing a titular head of state without any power to interfere in politics. Occasional behind the scenes influence maybe, but no effective power.

Constitutional monarchy provides a symbol of the country’s traditions, image, and values around which the citizens of different political persuasions can unify for the good of the nation. In my view, the Royal Family has great benefit for the UK, substantially in excess of its cost. They are an essential component in British tourism.

In this clip @ 3 minutes 30, you can see both sides of the debate on the economic value of the monarchy.

The Royals make easy targets for cancel culture enthusiasts angered by centuries of colonialism and inequality promoted by the British class system. But I see the Queen’s extended family more as deer caught in the headlights of rapid social change. They are human and therefore fallible, like the rest of us. Their essential humanity is well depicted in the Netflix series The Crown, albeit in the style of historical drama rather than documentary.

The Crown Poster

Critics complain of its inaccuracies, political point scoring, and oversimplification, but on balance, having grown up in England and observed British life ever since, I find each season of The Crown is a compellingly believable portrait of a long standing yet vanishing institution; a Monarchy, struggling to adapt to the post World War Two world. The motivations of all the players are delivered in shorthand. But it’s great shorthand, full of wit and insight, broadly truthful and lavishly staged, with stellar performances from all the cast. This recap of the first seasons will give you a sense of the institution into which the Royal Family were born, one which they were indoctrinated from birth to support as a God-given duty.

This recap summarizes subsequent episodes to date. We’ll have to wait till 2022 to see how the events leading up to Princess Diana’s death and the subsequent fallout are depicted.

When Rupert Murdoch arrived on the British media scene, he saw how anti-Royalist sentiments could be harnessed to provide a cash cow for a public hungry for grievance issues. Born to wealth, profit was his motivation not social change. Racism, sexism, hyper nationalism were all useful buttons to press in Murdoch’s global quest for political power and influence. When Diana Spencer was chosen by Prince Charles, to be a compliant Royal wife, the opportunity for the Murdock press to build her up then tear her down was irresistible.

The moment she bucked the rigid control of the Buckingham Palace bureaucracy, the Murdoch media were there to pounce on every perceived infraction of protocol leaked by the Palace. Princess Diana died in a high-speed car chase caused by tabloid jackals hungry for the big bucks that a revealing snapshot would earn. Without conscience they swarmed around her dying body for that purpose. Will a future episode of The Crown re-enact that scene? It should. Of course Murdoch is not solely to blame for the toxification of news media. We, its customers, share the guilt, with our appetite for celebrity culture and envy-driven schadenfreude.

So, to return to the Oprah interview, it is no wonder that Diana’s son Prince Harry, robbed of his mother at age 12, would want to protect the woman he loved from the same fate. Certainly Harry and Meghan broke ranks when they went public, they bit the hand that fed them, they caused a sacred British institution embarrassment, with suggestion of endemic racism in British society. But clearly the Palace hierarchy, unwilling to modernize, and in thrall to the UK tabloid media, failed to see teachable moments in either the Wallis Simpson saga or Princess Diana’s mental health issues. They badly mishandled the smooth entry of another independently minded American divorcee into the complications of royal duties. I applaud the Sussexes for their painful candor.
Lord Louis Mountbatten

My personal connection to Royal circles has been only tangential. First I was asleep in a cot when my mother poured a couple of gin and tonics for Lord Louis Mountbatten when he visited my father’s RAF base. He was apparently a charismatic personality and enjoyed a drink. Pity I missed such an historic figure.

Lord Brabourne

My wife and I met Mountbatten’s son-in-law John Knatchbull, 7th Baron Brabourne, CBE, professionally known as John Brabourne, a twice Oscar-nominated producer, at an Australia film industry function in Sydney. We chatted about a movie he produced HMS DEFIANT/DAMN THE DEFIANT(US) a ripping yarn of Napoleonic warfare, which broke new ground in its day for a vivid flogging and gutsy boarding party combat. A couple of months later, John Brabourne survived the IRA bombing of a motorboat that killed his father in law, Lord Mountbatten, his mother, one of his sons and a crew member.

On the 9th of April 1951 my father Wing Commander Eric Trenchard-Smith attended a Royal Air Force Ball in Malta given in honor of the visiting Princess Elizabeth, who would become Queen the following February upon the death of her father, King George VI. All twelve attending officers were given one dance each with the Princess. In my father’s case, it was a foxtrot. He told me in his final years that the Princess was amply endowed and that he was glad to have the length of arm sufficient to avoid the risk of contact with the royal bosoms. My father had a wry sense of humor. He also recounted that the future Queen was charming and seemed genuinely interested in him, his Australian background, what RAF life was like, what his wartime experience had been. Princess Elizabeth herself had served in the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial service as a mechanic and truck driver during the war, and her new husband Prince Philip was a Navy man.

RAF Pilot Eric Trenchard-Smith dancing with Princess Elizabeth

After the dance, Princess Elizabeth sat down with my father, and ordered a glass of Orangeade. When the waiter put the glass down, he spilled a little. My father had been taught always to carry a spare clean handkerchief to a social gathering. He was able immediately to pull it out and mop up the little puddle, softening the embarrassment of the waiter and getting a smile from the Princess. (You may be certain that if you have any social encounter with me, I will come equipped for spillage.) The future Queen continued to ask questions till it was time to dance and converse with the next officer. His good impression of the future Queen has no doubt transferred to me.

In Australia in the mid 1990’s I once chatted with a group in a cafe for five minutes without realizing one of them was Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York. She was then separated from Prince Andrew and on a promotional tour in Australia. I had stopped by to say hi to actor Shane Briant who introduced his three friends by name, the last being a redheaded lady in the corner he called Sarah. Lighting in the Avalon Cafe that winter was not up to scratch – that’s my excuse. I focused on Shane, not his guests, and thanked him, a Hammer Film veteran for taking a small role in my low budget supernatural horror thriller Out of the Body back in 1987. He had never seen it. I hoped I would be able to give him a decent role one day in the future.

The redhead spoke.
“If you don’t give him a decent role I certainly won’t help promote your movie’s opening.”
“Oh dear. ” I said, still unaccountably unaware of the context.
“I’m Sarah Ferguson” she said, extending her hand.
“Oh, forgive me for not recognizing you, silly me” I said. The focus of the table then returned to her. We chatted briefly, before extricating myself without further embarrassment.

Princess Alexandra and husband Angus Ogilvy

Flash back to March, 1967. The News Department of Channel Ten Sydney occasionally sent me out as a cameraman/field reporter when they were shorthanded. Once I was sent to Canberra, the nation’s capital, to cover Princess Alexandra of Kent, cousin to Queen Elizabeth, planting a tree at Government House. The shrub was already loosely positioned in the ground. All the Princess had to do was heap a last shovelful of dirt onto it for the photo op. I joined the gathered camera crews and photographers, equipped with a clockwork wind Bell & Howell. While we waited for Princess Alexandra to arrive, I took some scene-setting shots, and forgot Rule One of cameras powered by clockwork: rewind after every shot.

So, just as the Princess scooped earth onto her shovel, the camera cut out. I rewound frantically, but by the time I was ready to roll again, the Princess had deposited the requisite shovelful of earth at the foot of the shrub and was smiling at the gathered media. Applause all round. Oh God, I’ve missed the money shot! So without hesitation I asked: “Excuse me, Ma’am, my camera jammed, would you mind doing that again?” Sharp intake of breath issued from British embassy officials who were aghast at this lapse of protocol. But the Princess graciously obliged. Later at the press reception, I was able to thank her. She and her husband Angus Ogilvy, relaxed and friendly, asked me questions about Australia from a young ex-pat’s perspective, before a royal equerry steered them away to more important guests.

As mentioned, I’ve always had sympathy for the Royal Family. They symbolize British heritage and make an important contribution to tourism. Lifelong representation of an historic institution is a difficult job, made all the harder by a coprophagic tabloid media. Being on duty, under the microscope, all day, every day, for life, is a taxing job, which the Netflix series The Crown makes clear. The royal diadem is really an iron vise.

The success of The Crown has sparked a number of high quality depictions of major British political scandals. I enjoyed the latest account of the Profumo the BBC/Netflix production The Trial Of Christine Keeler:

You’ll get another perspective on the Keeler / Profumo Affair in this documentary.

Politicians behaving badly – both jaw-dropping sagas.

For more of my views on popular entertainment and British history check out my book Adventures in the B Movie Trade.